If you read a lot of articles on theology or if you belong to online theology groups, you’ve surely seen the words “heresy” and “heretics” tossed around, and aimed at fellow believers in Christ. Use of those terms creates a desired effect. It creates the idea that the accuser knows what they’re talking about, and that what they teach must be the truth. In other words, it’s used as a means to bolster one’s viewpoint over another. It’s a method used to create doubt about what’s being taught by someone else, in order to create confidence by what the other teaches. Don’t fall for it.
Within Christianity, differing doctrinal positions doesn’t normally mean that someone is teaching heresy. It’s simply a matter of interpretation. True heresy only relates to teaching that is contrary to the foundational teachings of the Christian faith, and taught by those who deny those teachings. In other words, they are false teachers who are not part of the community of true followers of Christ — although many may claim to be Christians.
There’s a big difference between actual heresy and misinterpretation by sincere Christians who are sincerely trying to understand the Bible. It’s not easy. It takes time to learn God’s Word. It’s a growing process, a life-long process. Therefore, heresy should not be attributed to those within the Christian community, but limited to unbelievers who teach non-Christian doctrines, such as what the cults are guilty of. While growing Christians and young Bible teachers may teach something that is unbiblical, they should not be accused of being heretics. Heretics have a pattern of false teaching, and deny the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Thus, we must be careful not to accuse faithful followers of Christ of heresy whenever we read about a doctrinal position we don’t agree with.
As an arminian in my theology, I could call out Calvinism as heresy. As a proponent of Fulfillment Theology, I could call out Dispensational Premillennialism as heresy — and those who teach it, as heretics. While I believe both theological systems are erroneous, it would be neither charitable nor true to make the claim of heresy.
Examples of heretical teaching:
- Denial of the Trinity: that God exists in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not three Gods, but one God.
- God is a created being.
- There is more than one true God.
- Jesus is a created being, no more than a good and moral man, who taught some good things.
- The Holy Spirit is not a person, but merely an influence or active force from God.
- Jesus was not born of a virgin.
- The shedding of Christ’s blood was not necessary to provide for our salvation.
- Jesus did not rise from the dead, or did not rise bodily.
- Jesus is only one way to God. There are many Saviors. All religions lead to God if you’re sincere in your beliefs.
- We can get to Heaven on our own merits.
- The Bible only contains truth, but is not the written word of God.
All of those teachings are examples of true heresy and taught by true heretics. True heretics are enemies of the cross, and reject the true Christ and historical Christianity. They may profess to be Christian and use Christian terminology, but this is designed to deceive in order to lure you in. Examples of this would be Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and another that seems to be picking up steam today — what’s known as Progressive Christianity. All of these – and such – are examples of false Christianity, and thus, true heresy.
With all of that in mind, we need to resist the temptation to accuse fellow believers in Christ of heresy. We need to keep in mind that Christians are at different levels of maturity and understanding of the Scriptures. We must be charitable toward each other, and present what we believe about the Bible in a loving and gracious manner, realizing that we’re all just trying to learn the Bible the best we can. We need to forsake pride and arrogance and mean-spirited speaking, and be patient toward one another. Doctrinal discussion is not about winning debates. It’s about teaching and learning out of genuine love for the truth and out of love for fellow Christians who are trying their best to learn the truth as we are.