The Original Heresy?

The Original Heresy? December 23, 2011

What was the original heresy? It’s not false teaching with respect to the Trinity, or perhaps it is. It’s not denial of the deity of Christ, or perhaps it is… Rodney Reeves’ new book, Spirituality according to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ, suggests it is connected to baptism and, in particular, what baptism dramatizes and enacts: namely, our burial.

Listen to this one:

“… in every case but one (Rom. 6:1-4), Paul refers to baptism when he is trying to get his converts to learn how to get along with each other (Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 1:13-17; 12:13; 15:29; Eph 4:5; Col 2:12)” (96).

The original heresy is schism in the church, and Reeves points us to Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:17-19).

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.

There’s so much to say…

Does your church sign advertize oneness in Christ or difference from other churches? How does it do so? Does your church website market your distinctiveness or your union with all churches in Christ?

Reeves offers an admirable sketch and ties it all into the rock-solid foundation for the problem: in baptism we are buried with Christ, we die to our ethnic identities and emerge a diverse body with a Christian identity. We don’t lose our ethnicity, our gender, our status. Instead, they merge with the identities of others to form one body, under one Lord, worshiping one God, with one faith, and one baptism, all in one Spirit.

The theme of burial with Christ is that we are raised to be one. The original heresy was to cut up the body of Christ and hack it to pieces.

For Paul, Spirit baptism and water baptism are mingled together. Trying to separate them radically won’t work; they are distinct but inseparable.

One of my favorite lines yet:

Therefore to see all relationships through the lens of being one in Christ should mean that the church couldn’t exist without Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male or female and shouldn’t be divided because of Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female (102).

And Reeves pushes us to see that we are to see ourselves as baptized, baptized as a death, burial and resurrection, baptized to a new life in Christ where we are all one — though diverse.

And this can’t be ignored: “In fact the body of Christ would be incomplete without Pentecostals, evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics and Anglicans” (108).

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  • JoanieD

    “In fact the body of Christ would be incomplete without Pentecostals, evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics and Anglicans” (108).

    I like that, Scot. Many rooms…one house.

  • I think I saw this as I was glancing through the book at a bookstore yesterday. Read the first chapter. Powerful and moving. Love this, as well. Had been thinking after seeing it yesterday that I want to read it from cover to cover. Now thinking that even on my limited book budget that maybe I want a copy.

    I usually avoid homiletical books, though his scholarship is evident as well. But this book seems to be a really good model of weaving in story, and helping us see Paul’s spirituality, to get a good, full glimpse of that, as well.

    I love the thought here. Our baptism makes us one in and through Christ. With all our differences. We’re to bring all of that to the table in communion with each other in Christ.


    Does the essential unity of the Body of Christ compel us to tolerate denominational divisions or to seek to transcend them, or even eliminate them?

    Would the right result in Corinth have been to say, “I am of Cephas, you are of Apollos, but we will embrace our different identities?” Or to say, “I will identify with Christ alone; I am done with other loyalties”?

    I want to embrace denominational differences only on the way to obliterating them. And in fact, I believe such is probably underway. Denominationalism is at least sick, if not dying, in this generation.

  • Rick

    I think the problem with such some schisms comes from the soterian gospel. Getting my ticket punched to heaven is the only thing that matters, so the fact that horizonatial barriers should be gone is not considered.

  • JohnM

    Yes, but a few questions:

    Isn’t this what the RCC would say? So why aren’t we all Catholic?

    Is the original heresy really schism from one another or schism from Christ and how else would we respond when we see the latter?

    Does it have to be either/or – distinctive or in unity?

    For everyone affirming Reeves’ point – does it work both ways for you; are progressive churches willing advertise essential one-ness with fundamentalists for example? Will churches that champion egalitarianism downplay distinctivness from hardline complimentarian churches, or trumpet union instead?

    What do we all do with, say, Westboro Baptist?

  • T


    I think it’s because Westboro Baptist is one of us that we argued so strongly they should not misrepresent Jesus and his church in the way they were intending.

  • This is a primary concern for me.

    I pastor a church that is fairly uniform–20-35 year olds near a colorado university. And we cannot keep, attract or retain older seasoned Christians. We have a few converts who are older who do life with us, but apparently the approach, temperament, music, spirit of our community does not connect. The problem gets pushed much further when speaking of the two other cultures in our town–latino and somalian.

    Question: We are a missional community, seeking to evangelize a fairly specific population. If we do look culturally uniform would that entail that the Spirit is not at work in our community?

  • “Does your church sign advertise oneness in Christ or difference from other churches?… Does your church website market your distinctiveness or your union with all churches in Christ?”

    Excellent point. In my experience, churches that claim distinctiveness are in reality no different than others.

  • Adam Huschka

    I’m prone to agree to disagree with other Christian communities and in doing admit that my temperament results in my emphasizing some aspects of the Kingdom life and de-emphasizing others. This post leads me to wonder if the respecting of others differences (in Christ) while unapologetically playing to my/our own strengths qualifies as unity or heresy.

  • JTapp

    Over on his personal blog, Reeves made the point recently that he’s come to peace with the fact that he’s a Baptist because he was raised to be a Baptist (ie: not for any other reason– like Baptists being more doctrinally correct than others). That is a HUGE thing for most of us to admit. I’m not quite there yet.

  • What if our emphasis on immersion (church of christ/christian church) is what makes us distinct?

  • The first-century church struggled with this tension: How much to emphasize unity and how much to fight heresy. It is a worthy tension to maintain. In the same book (1 Corinthians) where Paul warns against the dangers of divisions, he also says this:

    In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. (1 Cor. 11:18-19).

    The context of Chapter 11 shows that there is both necessary division (to define and correct false teaching and practice) and harmful division (such as the economic disparities of their love feasts). It does not work to downplay the importance of good division when seeking to correct harmful division.

  • Sam Hancock

    I’ve always thought it bizarre that the two greta symbols of Christian unity, Baptism and Communion/Eucharist, are so divisive!! How we do it, when we do it, who can do it. Rules galore. Sound like law to me!
    An old preacher mentor of mine used to say, be wary when you hear, ‘Christ and……’. I like Mike Warnke’s, ‘Just Jesus’. Let’s gahter around the things we agree on rather than emphasise the things we disagree on! This puts ME in the ‘Community is more important that being RIGHT’ category!!!! Christian love to all this Christ Mass!

  • Gary C

    Would the body of Christ be incomplete without the “soterians”?

  • scotmcknight

    Gary C, yes, indeed. (Unless, of courses, they are from San Diego.)

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Though at least half of what I hear preached during each week’s sermons, and perhaps even more what I read blogged(!!), is (perhaps??) more a result of humanly tainted traditions than not, I was moved deeply tonight while experiencing once again the presence of Christ in the Spirit during a candle-lighting pre-Christmas service. While Paul was most incensed by those EXCLUDING others based on their “false gospel,” much of what we see today is self-proclaimed prophets incensed against those INCLUDING others based on supposedly false gospels. Jesus’ “he who is not with me is against me” and “he who is not against me is with me” are the brackets we should observe and establish as our credo. That should, it seems to me, be the appropriate starting gate for fully engaged mutual discipling into fuller understanding, no matter how far each of us may be now from knowing God our Father through Christ the Son. God seems to be far more tolerant of our diversity than we are. May Christ be re-born in our lives during this time of remembrance and re-celebration of God’s encarnation in Christ.

  • Ron

    while the ending is nice and warm. it is unreal. by that I mean there are protestant churches who have who have doctrines that are opposed to one another. take the apostolics and the oneness pentecostals for instance. They deny the trinity and if we are sticking with the original creeds then there is no communion. I will not say that they are not christians, but if they deny what is considered core christian teaching then there is an issue.
    When it comes to high church like lutheran, anglican, presbyterian there are many things in common with the catholic church. The issues that come up are soteriology and liturgy. Those can be hammered out in dialogue. The issues that divide the orthodox and the catholics have been the filioque and the papacy. As a catholic it has been a breath of fresh air for me when Pope John Paul II started a dialogue with the mainline protestant denominations and the orthodox church because he believed that the gospel had credibility when the church was unified.

  • Lon

    Don’t forget the Anabaptists in an article about Baptism.

  • Very interesting! Looks like this book has some parallels to my new offering – Will the Real Christianity Please Stand Up. I’ll have to check this out!

  • I think the original heresy is Dualism and was birthed into humans by the improper taking from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil back in the garden.