Spot The Heretic
“The Son had a beginning but God alone is without beginning. The Son is a “creature” of the Father and there was a time when he was not.”
Answer: Heretic – This quote is from Arius (c. AD 250-336), who was ruled a heretic by the Christian church at the Council of Nicea
How about another one: “Christ came down from heaven and began teaching, proclaiming a new kingdom and deliverance from the rule of the malevolent Demiurge. Christ only appeared to be a man, because matter is evil – the creation of the Demiurge.”
Answer: Heretic again. This quote is from Marcion of Sinope – declared a heretic by early church Fathers
Does labeling someone a heretic or a false teacher make you feel uncomfortable? It should; it’s not something that should ever be done lightly. However, that doesn’t mean that it should never be done. Indeed, today it seems that there is a reluctance to call anything heretical. Could the reason be that we are not really sure about our own theology? Given the shocking decline in Christians reading their Bibles regularly, this wouldn’t be surprising.
If our faith is rooted in Scripture, then God’s Word itself is should be our rule. There will be times that we differ on interpretation, but more and more we see historic, orthodox theology tossed aside in favor of the latest flavor. In fact, starting a heresy has become predictably formulaic:
- Begin by challenging an unpopular idea in today’s culture
- Try to show that you’re still orthodox by redefining theological terms
- Take verses out of context
- Add a dose of historical revisionism
- Appeal to some obscure “church father”
- Begin to teach what their itching ears want to hear
- Sign a book deal
What is strange about our reticence to call false teaching what it really is – false teaching! – is that the early church seemed quite active in warning about false teachers.
Should it not give the 21st century church pause that every author in the New Testament records direct or indirect warnings about false teaching? Every. Single. Author. Seriously…here’s a list:
- -Matthew (Matt. 24:11)
- -Mark (Mark 13:22)
- -Luke (Acts 20:21)
- -John (1 John 2:18ff)
- -Peter (2 Pet. 2:1)
- -Paul (2 Tim. 4:3, Titus 1:9, etc.)
- -James (3:1)
- -Writer of Hebrews (13:9)
- -Jude (Jude 1:4)
Paul and Jude warn that some of these false teachers would arise from within the church. Jesus himself warned about this in Matt. 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” If Jesus warns us to “beware of false teachers” and we call our selves Jesus-Followers, then we need to follow this command.
It seems that many believers have forgotten these warnings in their desire to explore the latest books of dubious theology (being tossed about by every wind of doctrine) or the podcasts of latest celebrity pastor (teaching what their itching ears want to hear).
Google the word “gospel” and you’ll find a plethora of different “gospels,” many espoused by those who would call themselves Jesus-Followers. This is nothing new. In his letters to the churches in Galatia and Corinth, Paul rebukes people who had turned to follow a “different gospel.” The difference between then and now, though, is that there are few godly voices calling out warning today. Imagine Paul’s words being spoken in church this Sunday about a specific group of teachers: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” (2 Cor. 11:13-15) What do you think the response would be to these stern words in many of today’s tolerant, pluralistic churches?
Please understand, I’m not calling for a witch-hunt; I’m calling for us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1). I’m certainly not advocating that we brand everyone who disagrees with us a heretic; but I am advocating that we “encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9) I’m not promoting dogma; I’m promoting discernment.
So how do we do this? First, we need to place a priority on “watching our life and doctrine closely.” (1 Tim. 4:16) When my guard is down, it’s easy for the enemy to get his foot in the door. Secondly, I need to improve my biblical literacy (read my blog on this here). It’s the tuning fork principle. If I know the true pitch of a note, I’ll recognize when something is out of tune. Similarly, if I know the truth of God’s Word, I’ll be able to recognize false teaching.
There is true and false when it comes to matters of theology. And I believe it gives the Father great joy to find his children walking in the truth, just as he commanded us (2 John 4).