Thursday, March 11, 2010

Call Heresy What it is, but Only if it's Heresy

When it comes to heresy, we Christians have a tendency to either use the "h-bomb" too carelessly or not at all. Despite what may be good intentions (or not), we on the one hand declare beliefs and practices to be heretical which are not, or on the other hand we shy away from calling anything heretical at all. Simply put, we either use the word too much or too little.

In one camp, some Christians point out doctrines and practices of other Christians and call those things heretical. This is what happens, for example, when someone who holds to believer's baptism calls infant baptism a heresy. Or, this is what happens when a Calvinist or Arminian brands the other group as heretical. Or, this is what happens when those who favor one type of music or preaching or church or whatever then call the opposing group heretical.

What we have in these situations is basically this: Christians saying that other Christians are actually non-Christians.

This is extremely arrogant and divisive. Who are we to question the salvation of other Christians?

This is not to say that we shouldn't discuss areas of disagreement. For example, I'm a Baptist and a Calvinist. It can be healthy for me to discuss issues of disagreement with non-Baptist and Arminian brothers and sisters in Christ. The point, however, is that they are, in fact, brothers and sisters in Christ.

We should never be calling others who are in Christ heretics.

In a second camp is another Christian group. These folks, also with good intentions (seemingly for the most part), shy away from saying that just about anything is heresy. Desiring to be humble and avoid discord, these Christians will try to avoid taking a hard stance against beliefs and practices that fall outside the bounds of Christianity.

Let me be specific. I'm talking about Christians who will not, for example, say that the denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ is heresy. Or, they will not label the denial of the virgin birth as heresy. Or, they will not label the denial of Hell as heresy. Or, they will not label universalism as heresy.

What we have in these situations is basically this: Christians saying that non-Christians are actually Christians (or at least O.K. in the sight of God).

Refusing to call heresy what it is leads to a lack of perceived boundaries between the gospel and the world. It suggests that everyone is really the same in their relationship to God. It strongly implies that gospel proclamation doesn't really matter.

So, how should we handle this issue? What should we call heresy and what should we not?

First, we must be humble. Let us understand that we are frequently incorrect about things. In fact, we are probably more often incorrect than we even realize.

Second, let's place a permanent moratorium on calling other Christians heretics and their practices heretical. We may disagree with them on biblical grounds, but if the issue is not the gospel itself, then we are not dealing with heresy.

Third, if we are dealing with issues that are outside the bounds of the basics of Christianity, we should humbly but steadfastly call heresy what it is - heresy.

Fourth, if we are dealing with an issue that falls somewhere in between and we are not certain that it is a gospel-centered issue, then shy away from the h-word.

In the end, let us stand strong for the gospel. Let us call heresy what it is, but only if it's heresy.

1 comment:

Jeff Nelson said...


The word heresy carries a great deal of historical baggage. Many died an unjust death, labeled as heretics. It is probable that most Protestant thought would have been considered heretical at some point in church history.

The possibility that I could have been executed for some of my beliefs instills in me a great deal of respect for the term. As a result, I am slow to pass judgment.

That being said, many of the prosperity teachings today come close to, if not entering into the heretical.

Is it possible that God uses even heretics for His glory?