Most of the more conservative to fundamentalist forms of Christianity place at least some emphasis on avoiding false teachers. The conservatives in every denomination – and those who claim not to have a denomination – can regularly be seen turning this weapon of religious competition against others.
Charismatics and Pentecostals warn against those who claim that spiritual gifts have ceased, Presbyterians and Baptists are prone to warn against those who claim they haven’t.Non-denominational Christians warn against the lure of denominationalism.
Catholics warn against departing from this historic faith. The Eastern Orthodox say the Catholics did precisely that around a millennium ago. Evangelicals accuse them both of liturgical formalism. And don’t even get me started on the appropriate age, form, and understanding of Baptism, or the Lord’s Supper.
These are just some of the bigger examples, but in every group, sub-groups and factions have emerged that focus on minutia and specific details that other have allegedly gotten wrong – making them dangerous heretics, allegedly.
As a one-time participant in such attempts at spiritual-rhetorical one-upmanship, and now as an interested observer and student of such behavior, there is one thing I find particularly curious:
Why do so few of those who take delight in finding fault in the beliefs and practices of others turn their critical gaze on the claims of young-earth creationists? It seems as though among the more conservative Christians, the claims of so-called “creation science” tends to get a free pass and is embraced with none of the critical scrutiny that is turned on those who are assumed or believed to be opponents.
But more importantly, as someone who regards young-earth creationism as the worst sort of pseudoscientific and pseudobiblical bunk, I really do wonder what would happen if the sensitive heresy-detection antennas of fundamentalists and conservatives were actually to focus on YEC claims.
I suspect that they would not last long under such critical examination – however selectively critical and lacking in much-needed self-criticism those doing the examination might be judged to be.
And that, of course, is the crucial point. If there are any beliefs that deserve the labels of “heresy” or “false teaching,” the only way to avoid them is to be willing to subject the beliefs that you already adhere to or are inclined to agree with to the same critical examination and careful scrutiny to which you subject the beliefs of others, particularly those with whom you are predisposed to disagree.