Monday, 20 March 2017

"A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject"

One of the accusations made by evolution denialists in our community about both evolutionary creationists and those who do correctly do not regard it as a fellowship issue is that they are being divisive. Given that evolutionary creationists are not insisting on their views being normative for the entire community, have done considerable work behind the scenes in preserving the faith of young people who are struggling to reconcile the fact of evolution with a faithful reading of the Bible, and are asking only that their position be accommodated, this assertion is simply false. More to the point, by seeking to divide the community over this issue, ironically it is the hard-line evolution denialist whose behaviour could well be called divisive, and promoting of factionalism.

Yesterday, when reading a Facebook group post on this subject, I came across yet another example of projection by an evolution denialist:

This inflammatory rhetoric stands in marked contrast to what evolutionary creationists and those who are more than happy to accommodate them actually believe. A few years ago, a letter was sent to a number of the leading magazines calling for a calm, rational approach to the issue, the key points being
... but we are genuinely concerned for the unity of our brotherhood, and believe the current treatment of the issue of evolution in our community is divisive and destructive.

Faithful brothers and sisters are being charged falsely with beliefs they do not hold, and disfellowship without negotiation or discussion is being encouraged as a way of responding to those who accept evolution and those who are willing to accommodate them.

As an alternative we advocate calm discussion in a Christlike spirit with the aim of restoring mutual respect and understanding. Rather than setting up roadblocks our community should seek a way forward for the benefit of all.
The response by these magazines ranged from a refusal to publish the letter to an active ramping up of a campaign to drive evolutionary creationists out of the community by any means possible. Again, if anyone was being divisive, it was certainly not the evolutionary creationist.

What is truly frustrating is that the current campaign by militant evolution denialists to make evolution a fellowship issue and risk fracturing the body of Christ over this issue has resolutely failed to take on board the advice of some of the more respected figures from our community's past. Over fifty years ago bro. W.F. Barling pointed out that
[t]he real issue before us is whether (to use two much abused terms) “creation” and “evolution” are contradictory, or complementary, explanations of God’s activity as the Maker of all things. 

Traditionally, we have vigorously declared them to be contradictory. Now, a growing number among us are not so certain that this is so. What is not generally realized is that this section of our community is not an organized, self-confident group bent on converting the remainder to a new opinion, but a number of perplexed individuals, deeply loyal to the community, desperately anxious not to offend those who do not share their anguish—let alone transfer it to their minds—but who feel that they must be intellectually honest. What they ask of their brethren and sisters is not a change of viewpoint but a change of attitude. None would rejoice more than they if incontestable evidence were finally produced to warrant the most literal acceptance of the opening chapters of Genesis. Meantime, what they seek is not approval but tolerance. If a repudiation of the notion of slow change as God’s method of creation is demanded of them, then their loss to the community is inevitable. So too, alas, is the loss of many potential candidates for baptism who share their perplexity and, feeling that the Brotherhood will not tolerate them with their mental reservations, are being driven, in their desire to give themselves to Christ, more and more towards evangelical groups with less exacting theological demands to make on their converts than we have. [1] (Emphasis mine)
For me, my acceptance of the fact of evolution is, as bro. Barling said, one of intellectual honesty. It is impossible for me as a medical practitioner to ignore the overwhelming evidence for evolution just from human genetics, developmental biology, and comparative anatomy. One simply cannot ignore is evidence any more than an astronomer can ignore the evidence for an ancient universe or a geographer the evidence for a spherical earth. Evolution is just as much a fact as an ancient universe and a spherical earth, and by making membership of our community contingent on evolution denialism, all we will do, as bro Barling warned, is to see the lost of "many potential candidates for baptism" who will see that the community will not allow them to be intellectually honest, and drift towards other Christian denominations that do not make rejection of scientific facts a precondition of membership, or more likely, towards unbelief. The warning of Jesus in Mark 9:42 about putting stumbling blocks before those who believe should make the evolution denialist pause and consider the wisdom of what they are doing.

The term 'heretic' is often thrown around by conservatives, with the AV of Titus 3:10 often being quoted as justification for behaviour such as that seen by anti-evolutionary crusaders. Of course, as anyone who looks at contemporary version will quickly realise, Titus 3:10 is not a command to root out "false doctrine", but rather a warning not to tolerate those who promote factionalism and division in the body of Christ:
"After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions" - NRSV

"Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them." - NIV

"Reject a divisive person after a first and second admonition," Lexham English Bible

"Reject a divisive person after one or two warnings." NET Bible.

"Warn troublemakers once or twice. Then don’t have anything else to do with them." The Contemporary English Version
The question of whether it is the evolutionary creationists who advocates "calm discussion in a Christlike spirit with the aim of restoring mutual respect and understanding" or the evolution denialists who seek to make the fact of evolution "a doctrine to be rejected", have traveled the world seeking to make evolution denialism normative for the entire community, and who have already excommunicated faithful brothers and sisters in Christ for accepting evolution who are being divisive is one that I leave for readers to answer.


1. Barling W.F. "Letter: The Origin of Man" The Christadelphian (1965) 102:463–464.