|BibleTexts.com Book Review|
Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up
A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity
reviewed by Robert Nguyen Cramer
Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity, by David W. Bercot (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), is a very valuable book. Bercot presents the writings and accounts of pre-Constantine Christians (prior to 313 A.D.) to constructively challenge our current beliefs and practices of Christianity with what actually was historically genuine primitive Christianity.
After beginning with an account of Polycarp's inspirational martyrdom, Bercot presents these early Christians' consistent teachings and practices on issues such as baptism, capital punishment, conservatism, divorce, entertainment, equality, ethics, fashion, free will, morality, predestination, salvation by faith alone, war, and wealth. He also explores the significance of Constantine, Augustine, and Martin Luther to the history of Christianity.
Two issues on which Bercot should seriously reconsider his treatment are (1) the role of women in the early Church and (2) the role of Christian healing in early Christianity.
1. Regarding the first issue, Bercot has accepted the long-held view that Paul taught that women should not speak and act in church leadership roles. The traditional belief is that Paul wrote 1Co 14:34-35 and 1Ti 2:11-12 and that he taught that women should remain silent in church. Many scholars, seminaries, and major biblical research publications -- representing the best in both Protestant and Roman Catholic scholarship -- have conclusively documented that these two passages were not Paul's words. Contrarily, they explain that Paul was in fact an advocate of women being in the ministry and in church leadership roles.
For some documentation of women's participation, see http://www.bibletexts.com/women.htm. To explore some relevant books that further document women's active roles in the early Christian church, see http://www.bibletexts.com/bibliogr/12his-nt.htm#women, especially:
2. Regarding the second issue, Bercot comments, "Early Christians believed in divine healing, but their testimonies about healing miracles indicate that such miracles were primarily administered to non-believers as a sign." (page 89) This statement is not consistent with other early Christian reports of their dependency upon Christian healing and their rejection of other methods of healing. This is verified by the many healings noted in the gospels, in Acts, and in the writings of very early Christians such as Justin Marytr and Tatian. Hector Valos' book, Health Care and the Rise of Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999, provides an excellent treatment of the subject. So do many other books. To explore some relevant books on the history of Christian healing, see http://www.bibletexts.com/bibliogr/12his-nt.htm#christian-healing, especially:
Aside from these two areas, David Bercot's Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up is an outstanding, thought-provoking book with a well-documented, authentic message that all Christians should heed. Bercot has made an important contribution not only to our historical knowledge but most of all to our faithful practice of genuine Christianity.
To further explore the significance of 313 A.D. and how Constantine changed Christian theology & practices , browse http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/war.htm#teachings-change-313.
Some other works that provide needed balance to Bercot's book are listed below. Though each book represents a different editorial position and individual conclusions, and no one book does complete justice to the subject, those in bold are particularly useful.
History of efforts to reinstate earliest Christianity, including those efforts labeled and persecuted as heresies by opponents
Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, 2nd Edition, by Walter Bauer (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1996)
Modern exploration of what historically constituted earliest Christian teachings and practices
Copyright 1996-2003 Robert Nguyen Cramer