The Truth About Heresy

Introduction:

When I was in college, I made a friend named Peter. I began to share the Gospel with him and taught him the doctrines of the New Birth. He was very interested. There was just one problem:

Peter had a friend named Tim, and Tim was teaching Peter differently than I was, regarding salvation.

I didn’t want there to be a tug of war over a human soul; Peter would have to decide for himself whose teaching was accurate, and whose was spurious. But before that happened, Tim wanted to meet with me and talk. So we did.

It was cordial enough at first. But as time continued on, and it became apparent that we weren’t going to agree, Tim became more and more hostile. It seemed like he didn’t like the idea of me sticking to my guns. I had brought my Bible only. He brought Wayne Grudem’s gigantic tome Systematic Theology.[1]

Every time I quoted a Scripture and explained it, instead of turning to the Word and giving his own understanding, he would flip through Grudem’s book and read from it in an effort to, quid pro quo, disagree with me.

When I challenged him on his dependence upon the commentary instead of turning to the Bible, Tim became defensive (and offensive, too).

It was at that point he brought out the label heretic. His exact words are “You’re a heretic!”

I took it calmly. I looked him in the eye and said, “Well, if you really believe that, that I’m a heretic, then, as Paul wrote in Titus, since you’ve admonished me more than once, and since I’m not changing what I believe, why don’t we just end the conversation and call it a day? No anger, no bad feelings?”

This really got him mad. He continued his attack. I ended the conversation by saying that we could take our respective beliefs to the Judgment Seat and see how it turns out for us then. He went from upset to livid. I just walked away.

(By the way, this anecdote is being told from an approximately ten year old memory. I may not have every exact word or nuance just right, but the gist of the above is complete and true.)

This story then, brings me to my first point about heresy.

Part One:

Titus 3:9-11,

9. …avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.

10. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;

11. Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.

Often times, when someone decides to throw the pejorative “heretic” at someone, they only do so after a debate has sprung up over a “foolish” question. A lot of headache and heartache in the Body of Messiah can be avoided, and brothers in Christ can learn to not so quickly turn on each other, if we’d all just not care so much about the foolish questions some people ask.

A man approached Jesus one day. He begged the Lord to arbitrate an inheritance his father had left him and his brother. Christ remained uninvolved, stating quite clearly that He had no desire to be a “judge” in such matters (Luke 12:13-15). Now, we might honestly say that a question of financial inheritance is not a foolish question. Many important decisions have to be made when an estate is left to a family.

But Jesus wouldn’t get involved. So why do we involve ourselves in questions and contentions that have no real value to the Body? Why do we all too often and willingly strain at at gnat while swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24)?[2]

Consider what we all agree on. Why aren’t these fundamental truths of the Word of God enough to hold brethren together? Why do secondary, tertiary, and even lower items on the rungs of the spiritual ladder constantly take precedence over the BIG picture? Why do we let them separate us? Are we bored and indifferent? Are we too focused on self and the problems we perceive that we can’t set aside differences long enough to lift our hands together and worship the King of kings?

Sadly, the answer seems to be “No”. Differences are rarely if ever set aside. Everyone wants to have some final say, like they’re the Lawgiver (James 4:12) who gets to decide truth for everyone else, while denouncing all sincere brethren who disagree as rebellious heretics and dissidents to their established order.

I have not so learned Christ (Ephesians 4:20-21)[3]. Have you?

After avoiding foolish questions and contentions, we are instructed to also avoid strivings about the law. What does this mean? Well, first, understand that “strivings” is the Greek word mache and it means a battle or controversy. Secondly, understand that “about the law” comes from the Greek word nomikos, or things that pertain to the legal aspects of Old Testament Torah.

Paul very clearly indicates we aren’t supposed to do battle with each other over any of the various commandments that govern our ceremonial or ritualistic aspects of worship (Note, I’m not talking moral commandments, such as “love thy neighbor as thyself“). Fights over things like Sabbath observance, head coverings, facial hair, days of worship, holiday/festival traditions, vows, and etc. have no place in the Body of Christ.[4]

And while there may be a correct understanding to be found, these strivings about the law are to also be avoided.

So let’s sum up what we’ve learned so far:

1.) Foolish questions and contentions are a waste of time and should never be used to divide the Body.

2.) Battling over various legal traditions as found in the Torah have no place in the Body of Christ.

3.) We don’t do a very good job of following 1 and 2 above, so we constantly debate and quarrel with each other, even to the breaking of the bonds of fellowship, while haphazardly and callously throwing the term “heretic” around like it’s our sovereign right to do so.[5]

Titus 3:10-11,

10. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;

11. Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.

What does the word “heretic” mean? Chiefly, it refers to someone who has made a choice to believe (and possibly teach) something which differs from the Body at large.

Is this so wrong, automatically speaking? The answer is “No”. Sometimes we are supposed to stand apart and stand for truth, even if it means separation from the “Body at large”. After all, the Body at large is sometimes wrong. But Paul isn’t talking about someone who is making a choice to stand for truth for righteous reasons. The context proves it.

Rather, Paul is writing about someone who has made a choice to believe and possibly teach something that is not congruent with the Holy Scriptures. Further, by believing and possibly teaching such a thing (or things) a heretic will often end up causing division in the Body as he rallies people to his side to convince them his belief and teaching is true (More on this later in Part Two).

What Paul is NOT saying is that when a person in the Body holds to a different belief than the rest of his brothers, that he’s automatically a subverted heretic who “sinneth, being condemned of himself“.

What Paul IS saying is that when a person in the Body holds to a different erroneous belief than the rest of his brothers, and begins to teach it in order to divide the Body by forming a sect around himself, then he IS automatically a heretic who “sinneth, being condemned of himself“.

Now, note something VERY IMPORTANT. Paul wrote this verse to Titus, to a man he had sent to Crete in order to ordain bishops and elders in the various churches on the island (Titus 1:9) according to the qualifications inspired by the Holy Spirit. So, when Paul instructs Titus in 3:10 to reject a heretic, he is not writing to tell Titus to cast out of the church anyone who happens to be a true heretic, but rather, Paul is telling Titus to reject from the bishopric and eldership anyone who happens to be a heretic (or, possibly, to not let such a man be promoted to such positions in the first place).

What does this mean?

First it means that all these saints in our churches who have gotten the boot (i.e. ex-communicated) over accusations of heresy have been mistreated. That is not what Paul is instructing here. He is only indicating that if a man is found to truly be a heretic, he either has to be demoted from his oversight or role as an elder, or he must not be promoted to such a position until he repents of his schism-inducing, sect/party creating erroneous views and beliefs (i.e. he must be rejected).

Second, there must be at least two separate, formal warnings made to the heretic by an apostle or his representative. Titus was not a local pastor or bishop in charge of one church. He was the modern day equivalent of a district or regional superintendent. So the rejection must come from above, not from within the local assembly. Too often, at the local level, one man makes all such decisions to reject on these grounds. This is part of the nature of our broken system. Elders are to be appointed by apostles or their representatives, Scripturally speaking. Instead, we home-grow them and appoint them from within the ranks of the local assembly under the auspices of “the pastor”. Sorry, but this isn’t the Biblical model.

Third, in order to properly affirm that one in the midst is a heretic (i.e. a schism causing embracer of false doctrine), and so, in order to be able to admonish him properly at least two different times, a thorough/complete investigation of the accused man’s beliefs must be made, lest a true brother in the Lord be accused of something he isn’t. Just because it’s easy to call someone a heretic doesn’t make it so.

In the case of Tim and me, we spent nearly four hours going over what we both believed, in fine detail, and while I still think my understanding of the Gospel and New Birth is correct, at least Tim did a thorough investigation of what I believe before he (mistakenly) denounced me.

Is this how we operate in the Apostolic Church today? Not usually. Usually, someone “gets a word” or has a dream and denounces a man, a brother in Christ, without so much as a face to face conversation to determine if what the so-called “heretic” actually believes is Biblical or not.[6] No questions are asked, the church or at least the other elders aren’t consulted (until perhaps after the fact—and then they are merely dictated to, and expected to uphold the decision), and so, a man, a brother in Christ is accused and sent packing without Titus 3:10 ever entering the equation.[7]

Part Two:

2 Peter 2:1,

1. But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

In trying to understand the truth about heresy, we must eventually come to this verse in 2 Peter 2. Even trying to understand heresy from Titus 3:9-11 isn’t enough. We need greater context. So with that, please allow me to exegete, from this passage, the truth about heresy.

The easiest way to make sense of this verse, and so, allow the reader to gain the quickest, deepest understanding, is to break the verse down into successive bullet points, as seen here:

  • Just as the nation of Israel suffered false prophets, the Body of Christ will have to suffer false teachers
  • These false teachers will spread their various heresies in secret, not openly, lest they get caught
  • The heresies in question are to be considered “damnable“, i.e. soul-destroying to the point of losing one’s salvation for eternity
  • The heresies in question will cause the false teachers and those who follow them to deny “the Lord that bought them
  • This means these false teachers were, at one point, true members of the Body of Christ
  • When this denial of the Lord who bought them takes place, they bring upon themselves “swift destruction

Now, with these bullet points highlighted, the exegesis can begin.

1.) False teachers: this speaks to the nature and content of the man’s character. He isn’t simply wrong on a matter of doctrinal importance, but otherwise sincere in his faith, he is blatantly a deceiver at heart, and he knows it.

Apollos wasn’t a false teacher, even though he was wrong about a few things (Acts 18:24-28). Elymas, however, was false in every way (See Acts 13:6-12). It is important to note this distinction.

If we are going to label a person a false teacher and a heretic, it can’t simply be because they are wrong about something in their understanding of the Bible (after all, who isn’t wrong about at least ONE thing, or even many things?). It is their attitude, their demeanor, the way they speak, act, and treat others, and the type of fruit they bear that must be weighed in order to determine whether or not one is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

2.) If a man is going to be labeled a heretic, then chances are he first must have tried to secretly divide the Body of Christ, even at the local level, by causing some to rally around him, privately so, in order to avoid the watchful eyes of the other church elders. This is a subversion tactic, and speaks to the duplicitous nature of the heretic. If any brother publicly teaches what he believes, shares it with other elders in council, doesn’t fracture the Body in any way, and is willing to answer any questions posed to him, while he may be wrong about some, most, or even all that he believes, he’s not a heretic or false teacher. Heretics/false teachers don’t do such things. They aren’t “above board”, if you understand my meaning.

3.) Only those privately held views which actually destroy the soul of the one holding them should be considered heresy. Making a choice and believing something different than the Body at large on non-fundamentals isn’t heresy, even if everyone else disagrees with the choice/belief. When a man chooses to go against the grain and believe something that has no bearing on his salvation, it is HIS RIGHT under the headship of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1-3). If he is wrong about these not-salvation-based views, his own Master will be able to help him get back up and on the right track (Romans 14:4). It’s not our place to judge the man, say he’s backslidden, is a rebel, or that he’s a heretic. If his views aren’t damaging his soul, and he isn’t using his views as a stumbling-block against other believers, it doesn’t make a bit of difference, as he’s not only not harming himself, he’s also not harming anyone else.[8]

4.) A choice to believe something against the grain will not damn a soul if the choice to believe something against the grain never causes the person in question to deny “the Lord that bought” him.[9] If the belief in question doesn’t cause a person to reject Jesus Christ as their Lord, then we have to be willing to admit the possibility that such a belief doesn’t cause Jesus Christ to reject them as His servant (therefore, we shouldn’t either).

Consider how many people in the world today have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Trinitarians, Unitarians, Oneness, Catholics, Baptists, Charismatics, Pentecostals, and etc. have all received the Gift of the Holy Spirit, and have spoken in tongues.

Acts 5:32,

32. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.

Acts 11:15-18,

15. And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.

16. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.

17. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?

18. When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.

These two passages prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the following:

A.) Anyone who has legitimately received the baptism of the Holy Spirit has “obeyed him“, i.e. God. This means that, in some way, shape, or form, their level of obedience to Him was sufficient for Him to acknowledge their faith and grant them the gift of His Spirit.

B.) Anyone who has legitimately received the baptism of the Holy Spirit has been “granted repentance unto life“.

Now, here’s the kicker: Believers from all denominations, movements, and traditions have received the Holy Spirit, and spoken in tongues. This is a fact. But are all these people right or orthodox in everything they believe? Not a chance. Errors abound in every denomination, movement, and tradition. And yet, God didn’t require a complete doctrinal overhaul of every error before granting individual members of all these different denominations, movements, and traditions the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

Trinitarians speak in tongues. Oneness believers speak in tongues. Catholics speak in tongues. It’s everywhere. So, if a person need not correct every belief before God grants them repentance sufficient to receive the Holy Spirit, how salvationally-based can some of these errors be?

The truth is this:

Romans 10:8-10,

8. … The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;

9. That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

10. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

If a person believes Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and believes that God raised Him from the dead, they are an automatic candidate for the Gift of the Holy Sprit, no other questions asked. Salvation is within their reach, regardless of whatever error(s) might be present in their way of thinking or believing. If they obey the Lord and repent and believe, and trust God to fill them with His Holy Spirit, He will, no matter what else they do or don’t believe.

This is where the Spirit of Truth comes into play (See John 14:26 and 16:13). People need to first receive the Holy Spirit before they can be led into ALL TRUTH. After God has granted them repentance unto life and sealed them with the Holy Spirit, HE will faithfully help them sort out the rest of their mess, subsequent to filling them, as long as they faithfully seek Him and are teachable.

Therefore, it should be quite obvious by now that making a choice to believe something that doesn’t damn the soul isn’t a heresy, because as long as it doesn’t cause a person to deny “the Lord that bought” them, that person can be helped by God to stand, through the Spirit of Truth, lovingly correcting and guiding him back toward a better understanding of all of these non-salvation based matters.

5.) Since a person has to have been truly “bought” by the Lord, i.e. redeemed, in order to deny Him, anyone who hasn’t first been saved shouldn’t be considered a damnable heretic or false teacher. Rather, they need to be loved and won to the Lord through the Gospel. Remember Apollos!

6.) Swift destruction will  eventually come upon a true heretic. However long it takes, if the divisive views are damnable, it will eventually cause the heretic to disavow the Lord. Once that happens, to put in plainly, they’re toast.

But note a key point: If swift destruction isn’t occurring in the man’s life, then he obviously hasn’t denied the Lord who bought him, meaning his view or belief isn’t a “damnable heresy“, meaning he’s not a false teacher, even if what he believes is different than what most understand to be true.

Conclusion:

It is true to say that heresy exists. It is also true to say that those who embrace heresy are heretics.

But it is not true to say that all differing views and understandings of the Holy Scripture are automatically heresy or make one a heretic.

It is true to say that if any man, after a thorough investigation and a refusal to repent, having been twice admonished to abandon his false views, is found to be a heretic, he must be rejected, either demoted or not promoted, into a bishopric/eldership.

But it is not true to say that a man, if he’s found to be a heretic, is automatically ex-communication worthy. He just can’t share in the oversight of the Christian community.

It is true to say that false teachers exist. It is also true to say that false teachers, because of their wicked nature, try to divide the Body in secret, under cover of pretense and deceit. Further, it is additionally true to say that such a false teacher will have embraced a damnable heresy, and if he doesn’t repent, he’s going to eventually deny the Lord and lose his soul.

But it is not true to say that if a man in the Body holds to some differing doctrinal views regarding certain non-essentials that he’s automatically a heretic who has lost his soul.

The truth about heresy is that, sometimes, the so-called “heretics” in our midst are actually the ones who are right.

It’s the rest of us, because of tradition, lack of discernment, or a weak understanding of the Holy Scriptures, who are the real “heretics”. We’re the ones mistakenly leading others astray. We’re the ones dividing the Body, battling over foolish questions and strivings about the law. We’re the ones hurting God’s Family by not obeying the instructions of Paul to Titus. We’re the ones who might end up denying the Lord because we’ve been so busy damning everyone else we haven’t taken heed to our own souls.

In conclusion, my dear brothers and sisters, you owe the individual members of your family in Christ the benefit of the doubt. You owe it to them and to yourself, to know EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT before you randomly and/or carelessly dismiss a blood-bought saint of the Most High God as a heretic, simply for disagreeing with you.

I hope you have ears to hear…

Peace and God bless,

Aaron

_________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Systematic-Theology-Introduction-Biblical-Doctrine/dp/0310286700

[2] Maybe it’s because we’re Pharisees?

[3] Notice how Ephesians 4 starts off about unity and the oneness that we in the Body are supposed to have with each other. As the chapter continues, Paul eventually gets into things that destroy unity (See vs. 17-19), until, in vs. 20-21, he writes: “But ye have not so learned Christ…If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus…” If we have heard Christ and have been taught by Him, we will not allow petty disagreements over non-fundamentals to end our fellowship. And yet we do, thus proving, we haven’t heard Christ as well as we think, and we haven’t been taught by Him as much as we claim.

[4] Consider the Jewish Talmud, which attempts to answer a bevy of theoretical questions about various legal situations that may or may never arise and how to try and handle them just in case they should come up. Note, too, how, in Jewish Yeshiva, these foolish questions get fought over, for and against, for hours on end, to no avail.

[5] Remember the opening anecdote. I could have lashed out at Tim and called him a heretic in return. And before long, we could have escalated the discussion into a contest of “I know you are but what am I?” or some other childish antic not fitting for believers. (The point being that saying something about someone else doesn’t make it so, no matter how weighty you think your words are. You call me a heretic and I call you one; we can trade blows and duke it out all day and at the end of the day, no one has proven anything. This isn’t to say that there’s no such thing as a heretic, because there is, but it’s something WAY different from what we tend to think, as will be shown later in the blog).

[6] Understand I’m not talking about general questions of the faith. I am talking pointedly direct, yes or no, do you believe this or not type questions, with an opportunity to explain each answer according to the Bible. Even the Sanhedrin gave Jesus a chance to defend Himself and answer His accusers (See John 18:19). To do less than this is to be less than the council that denounced Jesus and had Him crucified.

[7] I know of one situation where a man, a brother in Christ was expelled as a heretic without any formal investigation into his views and beliefs. He was never admonished, or given a chance to prove his innocence or the legitimacy of his views. He was simply asked to leave without so much as a chance for him or his wife and kids to say goodbye. The whole church turned on him and dis-fellowshipped him, and treated him as a backslider. Some members wouldn’t even look him in the eye and say hello at the local Wal-mart. We reap what we sow, friends.

[8] This is where grace comes in (we are to forbear one another in love, right?). Conformity is not unity. Unity requires diversity. Although God is One, He is multi-faceted, and there are various aspects to His personality. The Body needs to be diverse in order to reflect those layers in God.

[9] Understand that the Greek word for “deny” in 2 Peter 2:1 means to speak against, i.e. contradict, which then entails a disavowal of the Lord. It’s a process, you see. Contradict the Lord who redeemed you long enough, and it will become a disavowal of all that He is and is supposed to be in your life. When the Lord is contradicted, the person speaking against Him is not acknowledging His right to rule over them as their Lord and Son of God. Note then, that from here on out, when I speak of denying the Lord, I mean it within this context (i.e. of speaking against/contradicting leading into a disavowal of His Lordship over them and the Church).

Advertisements

~ by votivesoul on 06/22/2015.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
Mark Showalter's Blog

Always seeking to know God more

Theo-sophical Ruminations

A collage of theological and philosophical musings

%d bloggers like this: