Heresy is a widely misunderstood concept. It refers, of course, to active disagreement with the formal doctrinal teaching of the Church from people and groups within the Church. So, the teaching that Mohamed was a prophet of God, for instance, while it contradicts Christian doctrine, is not, strictly speaking, heresy, because nobody (to my knowledge, at any rate) within the Christian community espouses that teaching.
If one imposes a purely political analytical map on Christian history, it is evident that orthodoxy and heresy are synonyms for winners and losers. An objective scholar is professionally bound to see it that way. A Christian teacher or pastor, on the other hand, is professionally bound not to see it that way, but, rather, to embrace the Church's formal teaching as an insider, as one with a bias. The faithful in Christ have a moral duty to make every conceivable good faith effort to submit their conscience to the teaching authority of the Church. (And when I say "the Church," lest their be any confusion, I'm not referring to the opinion of a voting majority of one province's synodical gathering at a particular moment in time, but to the consensus fidelium over several generations.) This is not Roman; it is just Catholic. Which is to say it is Anglican.
In this context, I found the following comment on the HoB/D listserv more than telling:
It occurs to me that this is deja vu all over again. History is repeating itself. We are in the midst of the Pelagian Controversy--the Celtic Catholic monk who had a high doctrine of human nature and the fiery North African Bishop who saw the world through the lens of 'original sin'.
The author of these remarks is an experienced rector of an Episcopal parish. She has an M.Div. from an accredited seminary. She's no slouch. Could she have meant to make herself such an easy target?
Some quick background: Pelagius believed that human nature is a little tainted, but not completely corrupted, by Sin. So we need a boost, a hand up, from God, but once we get some momentum, we can bridge the gap on our own. Jesus is, then, not so much a Savior as a motivational speaker. Augustine countered with his developed doctrine of Original Sin. Pelagius was ultimately declared a heretic; Augustine of Hippo was declared a saint and doctor of the Church.
What continues to amaze me is that a pastor under ordination vows can adopt even a neutral attitude toward the Pelagian controversy, let alone one that appears to favor the heretic. A professor at a public university can do that. A Christian priest doesn't have the option.
Granted, some of the ancient heresies, and their corresponding orthodoxies, seem a little arcane to contemporary ears. It takes some resolve and skill to draw out their practical spiritual implications. But this isn't one of them! It profoundly affects how we evangelize, because it affects just what the "good news" is. Are we "blind wretches" by nature (per Amazing Grace), or are we just a little bit morally challenged? Is Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, or is he a life coach who can help us get over the rough spots?
Many have suggested that crypto-Pelagianism is the spiritual Achilles heel of both Anglicanism and the British nation. I won't necessarily argue that point, but it does tend to make me a little hyper-vigilant about this particular form of heresy.