Good teachers come up with illustrations. That’s what we do. Jesus taught with parables, and we see the value of following his lead.
I can preach a sermon for twenty minutes, and while most people will forget what I said, very often the story–the illustration–will stick with them.
We humans may not be great at memorizing the spoken word, but stories and pictures are things that can really capture our attention. Jesus knew this, and that is why He taught using parables.
But not all parables are good ones. Some illustrations only serve to trivialize an important point, and thus to make it less clear.
As an example of a bad illustration, consider the following article, where a person uses S’Mores to illustrate the differences between orthodoxy and heterodoxy:
The word “orthodox” comes to us from the Greek, orthos (right, true, straight) and doxa (opinion, praise). It means adherence to the accepted norms, especially of religious beliefs. To be orthodox is to toe the line.
The opposite is heterodox, which means “other teaching,” and from which we get “heresy.” To commit heterodoxy is to stray from the accepted belief.
If you go off the rails altogether, you are guilty of apostasy; you are an apostate. That’s someone who has abandoned the belief system completely.
In order to understand this series of words, let us use the S’more as an example.
The orthodox version would be to toast a marshmallow to puffy meltiness over a campfire on a long stick, then at the exact moment when the sugars caramelize, to pull it off the stick by sandwiching it between two graham crackers (that is to say, one large one that has been broken in half), within which already lies half a bar of Hershey’s milk chocolate. The hot marshmallow then melts the chocolate to exactly the right consistency to form a unified gooey center. The S’more is then eaten like a sandwich, only with an ecstatic smile upon one’s face.
The heterodox version of this ritual is to use, say, something other than milk chocolate, or a different kind of cracker. Perhaps the violation is to attempt a S’more using unmelted marshmallow, or one that has been toasted over a regular stovetop burner. The absence of an actual campfire could be considered a heterodox S’more-making environment. One could, presumably, simply buy a ready-made S’more from a purveyor of unholy summertime snack foods.
An apostate would simply end their campfire meal by smoking a cigarette instead of making S’mores at all. Or not even go camping. Or they could approximate the S’more experience by using this recipe and failing utterly to enjoy life.
While the above article is not without its humor, it fails to be a good illustration of the difference between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Instead of making the point clearer, it only serves to trivialize orthodoxy.
It is true that the differences between orthodoxy and heterodoxy can sometimes be separated by a very fine line. The phrase, “Jesus is God” is only three letters different from the phrase “Jesus is not God.” But those three letters make all the difference in the world.
Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus has two human natures (divine and human) within his one person; thus we accept the Council of Chalcedon. Meanwhile, there are some people who appear to be Orthodox in every other way, yet they reject the idea of Christ’s two natures, and they reject the Council of Chalcedon. Thus they are heterodox, and are outside the Church, as St. Paisios has pointed out. Again, this difference between “one nature” and “two natures” makes all the difference in the world.
And you simply cannot make these sorts of illustrations using things as trivial as S’Mores. It really doesn’t matter what sort of heat source you use, what kind of chocolate you use, what type of graham crackers you use, or even whether you use ice cream cones instead of graham crackers like one very creative Matushka did.
With S’Mores, swapping out graham crackers for ice cream cones is merely a change to the recipe. Nothing wrong with that.
With Christology, though, we are talking about very central aspects to the Christian faith. It matters whether or not Jesus Christ is God. It matters whether he has one nature or two. It matters whether he truly is human now, or whether he just appeared that way for a while.
These things matter, because it matters who Jesus is!
It is fine to use parables as teaching tools. But when discussing something as important as the difference between orthodoxy and heresy, we need to use illustrations that show the life-and-death importance of such things. And S’Mores simply are not capable of carrying such a weighty message.
Please, choose your sermon illustrations carefully.