Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
You read that title right. I am defending heretics. In fact, I’ll take it a step further; I like heretics.
At least I like our modern day heretics.
See, 1,700 years ago, a heretic was a person who taught things that were contrary to Scripture. We burned them at the stake.
Today, the title of heretic is given to pretty much anyone who doesn’t agree with the person who is handing out the title. We burn them on the Internet.
Why do I like heretics?
Heretics challenge us. Spend too much time talking with people who agree with you and soon you’ll start thinking everyone agrees with you. One of the best (and worst) things about the Internet is that conversations are now open forums. You say something in an unclear way, without context or without thinking, and someone is going to call you on it. Fast.
Heretics make us continually check our thinking and, in turn, the way in which we communicate. When I have spent too much time with people I assume agree with me, I find myself saying things like, “You know what I mean,” or “Surely SHE knows I’m not talking about THAT.” Or, when people do disagree, I immediately discount their opinion, thinking, “If she knew where I was coming from, she’d understand.”
When you’ve spent so much time with the same people, it’s easy to take for granted that you know each other, and it’s really hard to recognize the expected changes and growth in one another. One thing I have learned the last few years is that even with the people who agree with you the most, there is eventually going to come a time when you will disagree.
And when you disagree with the people who have “always been around” sometimes you find out that you’ve been assuming much more than you’ve been communicating. You’ve not been sharpening one another like iron, you’ve most likely been taking one another and your assumed agreement for granted. And when assumptions and expectations are challenged, a lot of pain can occur.
This is why I like heretics.
Those who vocally disagree with you do more for your sharpening than anyone who simply exists in your sphere of influence but never actually influences you.
We have developed this image of mentoring and Christian relationships that is soft and fluffy and emotional unity, and that’s not the completely biblical picture of Christian living.
Have you ever actually seen iron sharpen iron? It’s loud and violent and hot.
We’re told in Hebrews to spur one another on to love and good deeds. Spur. Like you spur a horse. Agitate those around you to break out of their routine and assumptions and consider just how apathetic they may have become.
To edify is more than writing a pretty note to a friend telling her you’re praying for her. Edify is a construction term. Construction is dirty and sweaty. It’s hard work.
Heretics sharpen us. They sharpen our thoughts and our communication. They force us to cling tightly to Christ while we learn to hold our labels and our heroes very loosely. I’ve learned in the last few months that I’m not nearly as “conservative” as I once was. And I am ok with that. The term has changed and I have changed, but if I had not been engaged in hard conversations with people I assumed I disagreed with, both theologically and politically, I would have kept sharp lines of separation drawn, and I would have missed out learning a lot about myself, about God, and about those who see the world differently from me.
So if heretics are the people who disagree with me, then I love heretics.
I love that they challenge me to put away my stereotypes and sweeping generalizations and force me to get to know individuals, appreciating our points of agreement while respectfully examining the points at which we disagree.
I love that their sweeping generalizations, the ones that cause me to say, “I hold to that label, but I do NOT hold to that belief!” cause me to pause and consider my own heart and my own convictions.
I love that heretics allow the complex nature of Christ to shine before a watching world. When others see us engage in civil discourse concerning issues about which we passionately disagree and we walk away from the conversation edified, the world marvels, “How is that possible?” And we have an opportunity to share with a watching world the hope that is within us.
Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit that unifies. Not our political beliefs or our theological platforms. Within orthodox Christianity, there is plenty of room to disagree, and even in our disagreements we have room to display the unity of Christ.
Do I have those people in my life who encourage me and love on me and wipe my tears and cheer me on? Absolutely, as everyone should. But I have also begun to develop an equally precious group of friends with whom I agree on very little theologically or politically. But what we do agree on is the fact that we have room to learn from one another. None of us has the monopoly on all truth, but the best part is that we are all more interested in being loving and holy than in being right.
So I would encourage you: find yourself a heretic. Invite someone into your life who doesn’t agree with you on everything and enter into a sharpening relationship. Challenge one another with the intention of building and growing. You just might find out that you love heretics, too.