“Heresy!” They blurted out when the preacher said something that sounded suspicious. “He is preaching something that is out of the norm…” “I just do not like that guy’s vibe…” “Where was he educated?” “Whatever the Bible says, it can’t be that?” “I just don’t like him…” Steven Bullivant writes.
“Heresy is what sincere Christians, quite properly and prudently, are keen to avoid. It comes from the Greek word hairesis, which means “choice,” “opinion,” or “decision.” In the early Church, a heretic was someone who willfully chose to promote his or her own opinions (“heresies”) over and against the established teachings of mainstream Christianity. The opposite of heresy was orthodoxy which is a combination of ortho-, “correct” or “straight,” and -doxa, “belief” or “praise” (in much the same way that ortho-dontics has to do with correcting or straightening teeth).”
This whole week I had my inbox flooded with requests to look at so and so. To give an account of my friendship with a prominent Prophet and my laxness to call out other heretics. This is obviously not just me but other brothers in the Lord as well. I do not feel in any way like a victim. I have written about the dangers of sectarianism and heresy hunting before (link), and again I think my YouTube channel (here) shows quite clearly some of the difficulties I have with some people’s theologies.
Simply put, heresy is a religious or doctrinal belief or opinion that goes against the established teachings or doctrines of a particular religion or belief system. For example, it would be considered heresy in Christianity to deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, as this is a core tenet of Christian doctrine or even the Doctrine of the Trinity. In general, ideas or beliefs that are not considered central or essential to the core teachings or doctrines of a particular religion or belief system would not be considered heretical. However, this can vary widely depending on the religion or belief system in question.
What the Bible indicates as points of concern.
Biblically there seems to be an emphasis on the word ‘denial’ when the authors try to express some indication as to what we can look out for. Here are a few denials:
First, there will be a denial of God and Jesus Christ.
For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4).
Second, there will be a denial that Christ came in the flesh.
And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (1 John 4:3).
Third, there will be a denial of the transformative power of God and a persistence in ignorance.
…men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:2-7).
Fourth, There will be a denial of the Lord “that bought them,” which refers to the atonement.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (2 Peter 2:1).
Lastly, there will be a lack of godliness and an emphasis on cheap moralism.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fable. (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
What Heresy is not.
Heresy is not simply having a different opinion or belief than the majority of a particular religion or belief system. It is a belief or teaching that goes against the established and essential doctrines or teachings of that religion or belief system. In other words, simply having a non-mainstream or minority belief is not automatically heresy, as long as it does not contradict the core tenets of the religion or belief system. Some people can be ignorant, misinformed, traditional, and even obnoxious. But these are not heretical. Additionally, questioning or challenging established teachings or doctrines is not necessarily heresy, as long as it is done in a respectful and thoughtful manner and does not seek to undermine the core beliefs of the faith. Here are a few what not’s when considering heresy.
Heresy is not someone holding to different forms of preaching or church governance…
Heresy is not holding to Old or New Earth Creationism…
Heresy is not what you believe about the extent of atonement…
Heresy is not if women should be pastors or not…
Heresy is not if Prophecy should still be active in the Church or not…
Heresy is not if your church has drums and guitars or not…
Heresy is not when the gifts ceased to function in the first century or not…
Heresy is not if the pastor has long hair or tattoos…
Heresy is not if demons are expelled or not…
Heresy is not associating with Michael Brown or John MacArthur…
Heresy is not about which day we should have Church…
Heresy is not someone falling over in the service or not…
Heresy is not if we eat pork or meat with the halal symbol…
Heresy is not when the preacher asks for money…
Heresy is not when you do not wear a three-piece suit…
Heresy is not if you speak in tongues or not…
Heresy is not when someone practices spiritual warfare or not…
Heresy is not when someone laughs in the Church service or not…
Heresy is not when a Church only sings hymns or not…
What makes doctrines essential?
In their landmark book, “Conviction without Compromise,” Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes caution us that;
“What are the essentials? Because the essential Christian doctrines are the basis for our Christian unity, it is crucial that we be able to identify what these essential truths of the Christian faith actually are.”
Let me be very clear beliefs matter. I would not want to belittle the understanding of cardinal doctrines and their effects on how we live our daily lives. Let me also be clear that I have seen the effects of false teaching and heresies and how specific beliefs destroyed people’s lives as they moved out of cults. So here are some essential beliefs of the Christian that would be deemed essential:
- The belief in one God who exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the Trinity).
- The belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who came to earth as a human being, was crucified for the sins of humanity and rose from the dead on the third day.
- The belief in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This means that people are saved from their sins by believing in Jesus and accepting him as their Lord and only Savior.
- The belief in the authority and inspiration of the Bible as the Word of God.
- The belief in the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (communion) as sacraments signify and remember Jesus Christ’s work on the cross.
These core beliefs are shared by most Christian denominations and are considered essential to the Christian faith. While there may be differences in interpretation or emphasis on specific aspects of these beliefs, they form the foundation of Christianity. We should be zealous for the truth, and let me be the first to say when it comes to cults and false Christianity, we should be the first to speak out against it!
Before you cry, heresy or heretic.
Bearing false witness is a severe offense in scripture (Exod 20:19, Deut 5:20). Francis Chan in his new book ‘Until Unity’, writes that;
There’s a serious problem if the Spirit is grieving our division, yet we feel fine about it.
A lot of “discernment ministries” should rather be called discord ministries. Let me just remind you what God says about those that sow discord.
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19).
Another verse says;
But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:9-11).
There is a big difference between trying to build a YouTube or Tiktok following by trying to sow discord and taking on bad theology. Sowing discord is abhorrent to the Lord. Yes, we should not believe everyone and keep each other accountable (1 Joh 4:1), but let us stop labeling everyone that seems different than us with the label, HERETIC.
Who is your brother?
A few years back, I was standing in a very traditional Church, speaking with a specific individual asking me this question. Who is your brother? I thought, great question; there are various descriptions of brotherhood in the Scriptures, but what is the essential qualification for someone to be a brother? Jesus tells us.
There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother. (Mark 3:31-35).
Please mark well that Jesus did not make theological perfectionism, the doctrines of grace, or speaking in tongues the essential qualification for the brotherhood of believers. Brotherhood is constituted by those that do the work of the Father. What work? Jesus answered,
The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent. (John 6:29).
Paul writes clearly that the result of God’s sanctification work brings us to a place of unity in Christ.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father! The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. (Romans 8:14-16).
What is God the Holy Spirit’s testimony about the Son?
When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me. (John 15:26).
no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3).
A call for balance
Geisler and Ron Rhodes encourage us;
“On the one hand, there is the extreme compromise on basic convictions. On the other hand, is the extreme of conviction without compassion. We suggest that the proper balance should be conviction without compromise when it comes to the essential doctrines of Christianity and conviction with compassion on the nonessentials.”
Before labeling someone, just pause and ask if they are really violating a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith or if they are just simply ignorant. Try to approach the individual with charity and love. And when it comes to the non-essentials, remember the words of J. I. Packer.
“None of us… whatever his or her own personal convictions, should feel entitled to say with absolute confidence that the Bible excludes the other way. We are in the realm, not of certainties of faith, but of matters of more or less probable opinion. The most we can say is that “I think the Bible excludes the other way; I think my practice is the one Scripture directs.”
And remember the words of Paul “In humility regard others as better than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3). Confront heresy, and stand for truth, but make sure it is not just your opinion about truth, but the essential truth that you are defending and not a pet doctrine or personal preference.
 The Trinity: How not to be a heretic. Pg.11.