If you’ve been on Twitter for a while, you’ve probably heard the term tossed around. Sometimes it is deserved, sometimes it is not, and sometimes it seems like “heresy” simply means “whatever I strongly disagree with.” In today’s American church culture, which is sometimes welcoming to a fault, how should we be using the word heresy?
We’ll start with a definition – a heresy is a teaching within the church that is so wrong that the church must break away from the person, people, or group promoting that teaching and assume him/them to be unsaved. Heresy is the opposite of orthodoxy. A heretic is someone teaching or holding to a teaching that is heretical.
This is important – when someone says that someone else is a heretic, they are saying that person is outside Christian orthodoxy and is not really a Christian. To call someone a heretic is to say that they are heading for hell unless they repent of their wrong belief(s). Throughout church history, heresies have caused schisms in the church.
The charge of heresy is a serious charge that should not be used for simple disagreement. Complementarianism vs. egalitarianism, infant vs. believer’s baptism, premillenianism vs. amillenianism vs. postmillenianism, grape juice vs. wine in communion, choice of Bible translation, etc. – these are peripheral issues to the Gospel, not central issues, and therefore not issues over which we should be declaring others to be unsaved. While peripheral issues vary in degree of seriousness, ranging from difference in Bible interpretation to difference in preference, none of them rise to the level of heresy. While we may choose to not attend a church with someone who disagrees with us on peripheral issues, we should be able to accept them as our Christian brothers.
Issues that are central to the Gospel are issues where heresy is most easily seen. The bodily death and resurrection of Jesus, His sinless life, His dual natures (man and God), His atoning work on the cross, salvation by faith and not works – these are some of the doctrines to which you must hold to be a Christian. To deny one of them or teach something that is in direct disagreement with the Biblical and historical view is to hold a heretical position and to be outside of Christian orthodoxy.
Heresy isn’t something that came from the church or church councils, but from the Bible. In the Bible, Christians are warned that false teachers and prophets will rise up from inside the church, teaching dangerous and destructive things and trying to destroy believers (2 Peter 2:1-6). We are told to avoid people who teach things that are contrary to Biblical teachings (Romans 16:17-18; 2 John 7). Paul wrote that if anyone should come teaching a gospel opposed to what he had already taught, that person is under God’s curse (Galatians 1:8-9).
Heresy is real, and it is important for the church to recognize and stand against it. People who teach and/or believe heresies are in danger of hell, and it is the duty of the church to love those people by calling out their sin and pleading with them to repent. Let us not use the charge of heresy to try to end an argument or make people stop listening to those with whom we disagree, but to point out false teachings that are destructive to men’s souls.