The Protestant Heresy

The theological tenets of Protestantism as a movement within Christianity are, for the most part, fairly orthodox. And while there is much room for debate, that is not my aim in writing this article. Nonetheless, there is something much more dangerous going on in this ‘Protestant’ movement. It is the danger of a forced division within an institution meant to be unified in love. The Church, from the very first centuries, was called ‘catholic’ for a reason. Ignatius of Antioch, in 107 A.D., first used the word in a letter he wrote to Christians in Smyrna on the way to his martyrdom. Catholicity: it is a sign of love for Christ and a sign of purpose in adversity. It is a unification which produces strength in contrast to the division that produces weakness.

We’ve replaced the word today, in the Protestant movement, with universal; it is a replacement brought forth by a reaction stemming from a 500 year old disagreement between Martin Luther and the Church.

But catholic means much more than universal. It means to be unified. While there is truth to the universality of the Church, it does not adequately do justice to what the Church is meant to be. It ignores the unification of Christians all over the world into one body with Christ as our leader. It subtly says that division is okay.

Division is not okay. Disagreements are okay. Conversation is okay. An argument is even okay every now and then. A willingness to listen to various theological ideas and respectfully, intelligently, and lovingly discuss them is okay. This would have been ideal for Martin Luther and the Reformers; they had legitimate concerns over the practices of their beloved Church. Nonetheless it is not what happened; division resulted. And division has been perpetuated. As a result, people are influenced to react against the word catholic in an association against Roman Catholicism.

They were called protesters. And the protesters embraced it. It was not what they were for that defined them; rather, in claiming the identity of Protestant, it was what they were against that defined them. It was a motivation of division.

Love, specifically the love of Christ, conquers division. Isn’t it time that we allowed our love to overcome an argument from half a millennium ago? Perhaps, on our path to seeking holiness, we can embrace our fellow Christians from around the world, and even those brothers and sisters who might think just a little bit differently theologically, in a true unified fashion. Maybe we can quit our ‘protesting’; by hanging on to this word – protestant – that is, in essence, what we are doing. We are clinging to a separation, a label with motivations that come out of objections, complaints, dissent, strife, disapproval, and even hate. We are embracing the negative over the positive. We are clutching onto a fear of perceived threats instead of welcoming a healing love.

This is not a Christ-like, holy love that encompasses healthy disagreements, fellowship within the body, and grace and forgiveness. It is a reaction. It is a word that states most clearly exactly what it is – a backlash and a division in the holy body of Christ.

Thankfully, the tradition of Christianity that I belong to, the Church of the Nazarene, recognizes that we are a part of the worldwide body of believers. I am grateful for that. We do not need to deny our Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Syriac, Anglican, Lutheran, or, yes, even Calvinist, family in Christ. We do not need to push away Pope Francis or Patriarch Bartholomew or Archbishop Welby; they too are our Christian leaders.

Yet we still bind ourselves, slavishly, to that word, as if we are still in some sort of protest! Perhaps it is better to define ourselves first as Christian, then as Reformed, or Calvinist, or Wesleyan, or Arminian, or Baptist; that would be a step forward. Maybe we can finally embrace love for one another, and as a sign of that love, remove our protesting root as an identifier, this word that promotes the dangers of division and adds, as one of my seminary professors put it, “scar tissue” to the body of Christ. Division is not orthodox; it is not a characteristic of the kingdom of love that we are supposed to proclaim.

In true medieval fashion, and indicative of practices from the period of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, I may be burned at the stake for this article by some of my fellow protesters whom I still love. I will most likely be put on some sort of list as someone to be careful of. But these are chances I am willing to take. The healing of scar tissue is too important. The message of God’s love in a unified, worldwide, universal, catholic body of Christ is just too critical to be rendered ineffective by a heresy of division and protest.

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Unlocking ‘Inception’ (and a reference to 1999)

“You need the simplest version of the idea in order for it to grow naturally in the subject’s mind.”

Eames states these words in a conversation with Cobb as the two discuss the idea of inception – successfully planting an idea in a subject’s mind.   The characters, played by Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively, unlock the key to Christopher Nolan’s 2010 movie, Inception, with this sentence.   The movie, unfortunately to some puzzling and not worth the time to figure out, is both complicated with its plot layers, yet at the same time more simple than we first realize.   Therein lies the beauty of the story.

In a way, it reminds me of the story of God and his creation: complicated layers of depth and meaning in its plot, yet very simple to understand in the theme that unlocks it.   But, just as in Inception, the simplicity needs the complexity and the complexity needs the simplicity in order to tell the story in the best way possible.   It is the only way to grasp the full and nuanced detail yet focused truth.

Granted, I finally saw the movie almost three years after it first came out; therefore this post might be a little late.   Oh well!   However, Inception is perhaps one of the best and most original stories out there.   The greatness of Inception is that the film does just that – inception – to the viewer’s mind, especially in light of the final scene.

There are two possibilities to explain the movie.   The first is that there was indeed a level of reality evidenced by Arthur, Ariadne, Eames, Saito, Yusuf, etc.   From this level of reality, the crew progressed into dreams in order to work in Fischer’s subconscious.   This understanding is more clear cut and easier to handle.   However, the problem with this idea is that, considered against the second possibility, this explanation renders the movie flat and without an extremely rich layer of storytelling, depth, and meaning.   If you are one who is happy and content with this idea, read no further.

The other possibility is that the only layer of reality was the relationship between Cobb and his wife, Mal.   Therefore, what we viewed throughout the entire movie was Cobb’s dream – a dream that ended up being at least five layers deep.   But here are the inevitable questions: why? and so what was the point of the movie then?   I point you to Eames’ words: “You need the simplest version of the idea in order for it to grow naturally in the subject’s mind.”   In a single word – inception.   The point of the movie: planting an idea in Cobbs’ mind. But even more masterful and genius in Nolan’s storytelling: planting an idea in the viewer’s mind.

In addition to other negative emotions from his wife’s death, Cobb was overcome by guilt, shame, anger, and depression.   Forgiveness – again, think of Eames’ statement – was being planted into Cobb’s mind so that healing could finally occur in his life.   The movie was not about Fischer and his father at all, but solely about Cobb’s healing.   This “simplest version of the idea” is present in the movie’s themes: forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing.

In the story of God and his creation, of which humanity is a critical part, there is a word that encompasses forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing.   It is the theme present throughout of all scripture.   It is both the “simplest version of the idea” and the key to unlocking scripture’s complexities and nuanced detail in order to find its focused truth.   This word is love.   More specifically, it is God’s love.   It is holy love.

The themes in Inception are demonstrated clearly with the forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing between Fischer and his father; however, this storyline is meant to illustrate and label these ideas so that we can apply them to what the story is actually about, Cobb’s overcoming of his own pain, anguish, and guilt.   Forgiveness and reconciliation are shown to Cobb – ‘incepted’ to Cobb if you will – so that he can finally see and apply these ideas as his own, and therefore be able to finally heal from his own trauma.

With this idea, the rest of the characters are projections of his own subconscious; his children, too, would be projections meant to symbolize the hope of healing in the story and the act of healing itself when he finally sees their faces.   It is a possibility that some of the characters, such as his father, could be the ones performing inception, though it is not critical to know who.    Moreover, the viewers see just how far his guilt is buried in his own being; he must go five layers deep in order to finally come face to face with his guilt and forgive himself. We also see the elaborate systems of protection that his subconscious has created in order to bury his source of pain, rather than confront it.

And while this understanding is a much richer understanding of both the complexity and simplicity of the story, the final scene is the pinnacle of Inception; the final scene is inception.   I asked myself – why would Nolan leave the end open in such a way that we do not know if the final scene was reality or a dream, with the top spinning in such a way where it could be either one?   The answer to this question shapes whether my first or second explanation is more plausible.

The answer is that it does not matter.   It is not supposed to matter.   Remember Eames’ words: “You need the simplest version of the idea in order for it to grow naturally in the subject’s mind.”   The simplest version of the idea is forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing.   Although in my second explanation they are revealed in a much deeper and more profound way, these are themes that are present in both understandings!   So whether the movie ends in a dream or reality, Nolan’s point hinges on neither – “the simplest version of the idea” remains the same.

Herein lies the brilliance of Inception, a movie, where similar to our dreams, we thought we were going to escape for a few hours: Nolan is able to perform inception on those who viewed the movie.   The viewers ask the question of whether it was a dream or reality, eventually coming to a conclusion on what really happened, while the “simplest idea” of forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing is planted within the viewers mind.

He quite literally spells out the answer to the last scene as soon as the movie is over.   Was it a dream or reality?   It does not matter; it is Inception.   It is incredible and genius storytelling.

However, the idea of inception existed long before Christopher Nolan was even born; it is an idea evident in God and his relationship to humanity, although not necessarily so subversive.   God gives us a choice in the matter.   Humanity was originally created to be together with God, operating in a perfect union with him and bound together in holy love to experience true life.   “The simplest version of the idea” was, and still is, love.   It was what gives people life, goodness, and an opportunity to participate in the kingdom and work of God.   In sinfulness and selfishness, though, humanity separated itself from a true understanding of life and love; as a result, we have death and all of its consequences.   We unfortunately see the effects of death all too often in our world.

But God is still there, calling to us everyday, attempting to plant a seed within us that there is something more to life than what appears on the surface; he is working to bring us back toward him.   For some, that seed takes hold and grows naturally; others might deny that seed.   But no matter who we are and whether or not we have denied the idea before, God is still calling to us with this “simplest version of the idea”: love.   It is up to us to accept it; in accepting it, we realize the forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing that Cobb experienced, but on a much deeper and cosmic level.   It does not matter how deep our guilt, shame, or depression is buried, or what walls we’ve built around it, God can and will break through if we allow him so that we may experience true life and love in God.   In communion with God, we return to the way we were created to be.

There was another movie released in 1999 which suggested ideas of a dreamworld and a harsh reality.   In The Matrix (yes – it’s already been 14 years!), when a person was unplugged, one realized the truth of what was happening; but the truth of reality was not as easy as living in the Matrix.   This may serve as a good warning to us: in choosing life in God, there will be times of difficulty when our faith will be stretched.   Christ warns us of this multiple times; nonetheless, there is truth, hope, and love in God.   We are no longer under the bondage and delusions that sin offers.   The truth is ultimately better than living in the Matrix.

God is calling us, each and every human being living on the planet, back to him.   His Spirit is planting seeds even in the most unknowing mind that might one day grow and mature.   God has extended grace to all the creation, evidenced by the work of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection; it is a reality offered to each one of us with life in God through the Spirit and Christ.   It is an opportunity for true life and love and an opportunity to begin to break free from the constraints of sin and death.

It was not only the first inception, but it is the continuing inception at work in all people.   I pray that this “simplest version of the idea” might begin to take hold in each of us today!