Heresy and the Heretic
Most people today define heresy as any idea or teaching which is contrary to their particular religious ideology or belief structure: Therefore, any other ideology or belief which is in opposition to theirs is considered heresy, and the person who believes or teaches it is a heretic.
Because the words heresy, heresies, and heretic are used in the New Testament to define concepts, teachings, and wrong attitudes, which must be eliminated within the congregations of the Father's elect, it is necessary to understand what constitutes heresy and who is to be considered a heretic.
The word heresy is borrowed from the Greek language. A literal translation of the word heresy is simply a choice, but in the Septuagint, heresy is translated as a free choice. In later classical Greek literature, heresy takes on the meaning of a philosophical school or sect of one's choosing. The Jewish historian Josephus, uses the word heresy to denote a religious body. Today, the word heresy is mostly used to convey a sense of condemnation for a particular belief or opinion.
Although the early technical meaning of heresy referred to making a choice or belonging to a religious sect, the scriptures where the words heresy, heresies, and heretic are used show that, with the establishment of the early church and the introduction of an expanded understanding of God's plan for the salvation of humanity through Jesus Christ, the words heresy and heretic took on a completely different meaning when used in reference to God's truth.
The words heresy, heresies, and heretic as used by the writers of the New Testament have meanings that embrace the concept of being in opposition and hostile toward God's truth or holding or teaching doctrines which are in opposition to his truth. Moreover, these words connote the condemnation of those who believe and teach things in opposition to established truth.
"Then the high priest rose up and all they that were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees) and were filled with indignation" (Acts 5:l7 KJV).
Here, the Greek word heresies was translated into the English word sect to denote a certain group of people who held certain beliefs concerning the laws and teachings of the God of the Jews.
The Heresy of Circumcision
The Book of Acts shows that the apostles and elders of the early church held a conference in Jerusalem in order to decide certain doctrinal issues, one of which was the doctrine of circumcision:
"There arose certain of the sect of the Pharisees, which believed, saying, it is necessary to circumcise them [Gentile Christians] and command them to keep the law of Moses" (Acts 15:5 KJV).
Here, the English word sect (i.e., heresies) refers to those who hold certain opinions concerning the law of circumcision and the law of Moses and their application to Gentile converts. During this conference, these subjects were discussed and both sides presented their opinions about these issues.
Paul goes Before Felix
"For we have found this man a pestilent fellow. . .a ringleader of the sect [heresies] of the Nazarenes. . .But this I confess to you, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets" (Acts 24:5, 14 KJV).
Tertullus accuses Paul of being a trouble maker and a leader of those who are called Nazarenes and Paul confirms that he does believe in the way called heresy. When Acts 24:1-14 is reviewed, it becomes clear that the word sect (heresy) is used to criticize the religious group with which Paul is associated. These are the first indications in the New Testament of the word heresy being used as a condemnation of a system of beliefs.
Although the Greek meaning of heresy appears to have originally been a neutral term used to indicate a difference of opinion rather than a strong condemnation, Acts 24, verses 5 and 14 show that heresy took on a new meaning within the religious community.
Paul in Rome
After Paul arrived in Rome to appeal to Caesar about the accusations the Jews made against him, he called for the leaders of the Jews to meet with him so he could explain why he had appealed to Caesar:
"For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain. And they said to him, We neither received letters out of Judea concerning you, neither any of the brethren that came showed or spoke any harm of you. But we desire to hear of you what you think: for as concerning this sect [heresies], we know that everywhere it is spoken against. And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the Kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets, from morning till evening" (Acts 28:19-23 KJV).
No condemnation is intended in verse 22 by the use of the word sect (i.e., heresies), although the followers of Christ were condemned by the Jews who lived in Judea.
The Corinthian Problem
Paul's letter to the Corinthians gives us more insight into the word heresy as it is used to denote something objectionable among the Father's elect :
"For first of all, when you come together in the church, I hear there are divisions [schisms] among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you" (1.Cor.11:18-19 KJV).
There are several important things to understand about the choices the Corinthians were making about their spiritual behavior. There were major differences of opinion among them concerning many spiritual issues, and because of these various opinions, the church was not unified in their worship of God.
Paul reprimands some of the Corinthians for making wrong choices about the things they had come to believe about God's laws, precepts, and principles. He says that, because of this division, those who understand the spiritual intent of God's laws, precepts, and principles are revealed, which implies that those who did not truly understand these things were either not part of the elect or were weak in their understanding of spiritual precepts and principles.
"Now the works of the flesh are certainly revealed, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lustfulness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, fighting, jealousy, wrath, strife, division, heresy, envy, murders, drunkenness, wild parties, and things like these; of which I tell you beforehand, as I have said before, that the ones which do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God" (Gal.5:19-21 Para.).
In Paul's critical assessment of the choices being made by some of the Galatians, heresy is listed as one of the works of the flesh. Here, the use of the word heresy clearly denotes something which is in opposition to God's law. Notice that those who make these wrong choices regarding their beliefs and behaviors will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
In the context of verses 19-20, heresy involves more than just making a choice or having a difference of opinion. There is something very wrong with the choices and opinions being made, because they are spiritually life threatening and will cause the loss of one's salvation.
All of these things Paul mentions in his critical assessment of the choices being made by some of the Galatians have to do with unrighteous lifestyles, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. These are all things which are wrong from God's perspective and are condemned because their practice will lead a person to the second death in the Lake of Fire from which there is no return.
In verses 19-20, the word heresy is not used in the purely technical sense; it is used to convey the thought that these choices and opinions are to be viewed as sinful and must be avoided by the Father's elect.
Avoid the Heretic
Many people have been ostracized from religious organizations because their lifestyles, personal choices, opinions, or beliefs are in opposition to the beliefs of their spiritual leaders. During the Catholic inquisition of the middle ages, many people were branded as heretics and put to death for their lifestyle choices and opinions. Since the demise of the early church, many of the elect have also set their own criteria for branding a person a heretic and have used their own reasoning instead of God's truth as a basis for removing people from their fellowship.
It is not within the authority of the Father's elect to set the standards for what is heresy or who is a heretic, because these standards have already been set by God the Father and Jesus Christ. However, it is the responsibility of each of the Father's elect to know and understand what these standards are:
"Stay away from foolish questions, genealogies, arguments, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and vain. After the first and second warning, avoid a man of heresy, knowing that such a person has been perverted, and sins, being self-condemned" (Tit.3:9-11 Para.). See also Tit.1:10-11.
Paul instructs Titus to warn the person who has caused division within the congregation with their foolish questions and arguments about the law. It is important to note that Paul does not say not to study these topics; he is referring to a specific type of individual who creates arguments and causes divisions in order to harm the Father's elect.
After a person is warned twice that what they are doing is in opposition to God and his truth, this person is to be avoided by the entire church, because of their perverted perspective of God's laws, precepts, and principles and their sinful attitude and behavior. It is also important to note that a person's heresy itself will reveal them as a heretic to those who have a solid spiritual foundation.
Although Paul does not specifically instruct Titus to put the heretic out of the congregation, it is clear that a heretic's beliefs, teachings, and practices should be avoided. It is also clear that, if a person is excluded from fellowship, that person essentially has been separated from the congregation.
People are not to be rejected from fellowship or put out of a congregation for making choices or holding opinions which are not in opposition to God's laws, precepts, and principles. However, it is important to understand there is a body of truth which is empirical and unalterable, which must be believed, taught, and observed by all who serve God the Father and Jesus Christ. When a person is in opposition to these foundational truths or teaches things which are in opposition to these truths, they must be considered a heretic.
DIVISIONS AND SCHISMS
"I plead with you, brothers, to take note of those who cause division and stumbling contrary to the teaching which you have learned, and turn away from them. For these people do not serve the Lord Jesus, but serve their own belly; and by their smooth flattering words, they deceive the hearts of the innocent" (Rom.16:17-18 Para.).
Paul warns the church in Rome to take note of those who question the truths they were taught and those who caused some to believe things which are in opposition to God's truth. Paul says these people must be avoided because they do not serve Jesus Christ, but serve themselves and deceive those who are not well grounded in foundational truth.
"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1.Cor.l:l0 Para.)
Here, Paul appeals to the Corinthians to eliminate differences of opinions they have about God's truth and become unified in doctrine, so there will be harmony among them.
Unity of the Faith
"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ " (Eph.4: 11-15 Para.).
One of the primary purposes of the eldership is to help the elect reach spiritual maturity and perfection, and it is the responsibility of each of the elect to strive to know and understand the difference between spiritual truth and spiritual error. This knowledge will enable the elect to not be easily deceived by heretical teachings.
There are obviously going to be differences of opinion concerning many subjects within the scriptures; however, there should never be a difference of opinion about foundational truths pertaining to the Father, Jesus Christ, and how the elect are expected to conduct their lives to obtain salvation.
Heretics and Damnable Heresies
The apostle Peter gives a serious warning to be aware of heretics and heresies, and he shows that the end result of a heretic's beliefs and teachings is eternal destruction. A heretic receives no call to repentance, which seems to indicate that once a child of God has set their mind to believe and teach things which are in opposition to God's truths (i.e., heresies), a fatal mistake has been made which cannot be reversed.
"But there were false prophets also among the people, there shall even be false teachers among you, who surreptitiously bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them. And many shall follow their pernicious ways [i.e., that which causes ruin, or loss]; by whom the way of truth shall be criticized. And by deception and with clever words they shall make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingers not, and their damnation does not slumber" (2.Pet.2:1-3 Para.).
Peter says to be wary of those in the congregations who sneak around in private and teach things which are untrue about things of the spirit. Notice that the things these people teach are things which will cause them to lose their salvation. Without exception, people who teach things which are in opposition to God's truth deny Jesus and his teachings about himself, his Father, and his Father's good news message of salvation. In the next few verses, Peter leaves no doubt as to the intent of those who teach heresy and the punishment they will receive:
"For if God did not spare the angels that sinned, but cast them into prison, an delivered them into chains of darkness, there to be reserved for judgement; and did not spare the old world, but saved Noah the eighth preacher of righteousness, and brought the flood upon the world of the ungodly; and turned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes. . . making them an example to those who after them will live in an ungodly way: and he delivered just Lot who was vexed by the filthy conversation of the wicked;. . . the Lord knows how to deliver the Godly out of temptations, and reserve the unjust to the day of judgement to be punished" (2.Pet.2:4-9 Para.).
Those within the congregations of the elect who teach things which are in opposition to God's truth are in the same category as the wicked angels and the most wicked of humanity, because they are attempting to subvert and destroy those whom the Father has called to become his first born sons. It is extremely clear that God will have no mercy on those who teach heresies.
"But chiefly these walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise governments. They are presumptuous, self-willed, and not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries. Whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring railing accusations against them before the Lord. But these, are as natural brute beasts, which are made to be taken and destroyed, these speak evil of the things they do not understand; and they shall utterly perish in their own corruption. And shall receive the wages of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their deceiving while they feast with you" (2.Pet.2:10-13 Para.).
Peter shows the true priority of a heretic is physical rather than spiritual, and in God's eyes, their existence is of no more value than an animal whose thought process is totally inward. Peter calls heretics spots and blemishes that contaminate the sanctity of the elect.
"Having eyes full of adulteries and never ceasing from sin, enticing unstable souls: having a heart busied with covetous practices; cursed children: Which have forsaken the straight path, they went astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the way of unrighteousness; but was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice held back the madness of the prophet. These are springs without water, clouds being driven by a tempest; for whom the blackness of darkness is reserved forever" (2.Pet.2:14-17 Para.).
A heretic is one of the Father's elect children who, for whatever reason, has gone astray and forsaken the path of righteousness. The heretic is self deceived and has lost the ability to discern between truth and lies. Their spiritual life-force has dried up; they can give nothing of spiritual value, because they have nothing of true value to give.
"For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, by the lusts of the flesh, by unbridled lusts of the flesh, they entice those who were escaping the ones who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the slaves of corruption; for by whom anyone is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollution of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and the Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandments delivered to them. But it is happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" (2.Pet.2:18-22 Para.).
The apostles Paul and Peter have defined what heresy is and who a heretic is for us. A heretic's beliefs and teachings are extremely dangerous to the Father's elect who are diligently seeking to please the Father and mature spiritually, because the heretic believes and teaches things which are spiritually life threatening. Heretical teachings are not just opinions and choices on some small, minor point of Christian living that are without consequence; heretical teachings lead to the denial of the Father and Jesus Christ and their teachings.
This is why Paul tells Titus to "Stay away from foolish questions, genealogies, arguments, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and vain. And that after the first and second warning, avoid the heretic, knowing that such a person has been perverted, and sins, being self-condemned" (Tit.3:9-11 Para.).
The scriptures instruct the elect to deeply love and respect each other and watch for each other's spiritual safety. Therefore, each of the elect should continually be on guard for heretics and heretical teachings. It is by the opinions a person has and the choices they make concerning the Father's truth that they are recognized as a righteous person or a heretic. The key to not being seduced by a heretic's teaching is to be well grounded in the foundational truths about God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the things pertaining to one's salvation.
When a person continually promotes things which are inconsistent with the Father's foundational truths and continually attempts to persuade others to believe and practice things inconsistent with the Father's truth, this person is in one of the following spiritual conditions:
- This person has not been called to salvation and cannot understand spiritual concepts and principles in the same way as one who has the indwelling of the holy spirit.
- This person is either new to the faith or has not taken the time and made the effort to diligently search the scriptures in order to be well grounded in foundational truths.
- This person has been sent by an evil spirit to subvert and destroy the Father's elect .
- For whatever reason, the person has strayed from the path of righteousness and become a heretic who opposes the Father's truth and his right to guide and rule their life.
Jesus' warning about false prophets can also be applied to heretics and their beliefs and teachings, because no good can come from accepting them:
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but are in reality dangerous wolves. By their fruits you shall know them, Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs from thistles? So every good tree produces good fruits; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruits. A good tree cannot produce evil fruits, nor a corrupt tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not produce good fruits is to be cut down and thrown into the fire. Then surely from their fruits you shall know them" (Matt.7:15-20 KJV Para.).
The instruction from the Bible is to be continually alert to the danger of heretics and their beliefs and teachings, and not to encourage or tolerate people, beliefs, or teachings which are inconsistent with the Father's truth.
No matter how cleverly crafted and eloquently stated a heretical teaching is, it is a teaching in opposition to the Sovereign Father's truth. Although a false teaching may have some elements of truth within it, a false teaching will always have within it some error that will lead a person away from foundational truth, which will result in eternal death for those who believe or practice these heretical teachings.
In order for an evil spirit, a false prophet, or a heretic to counterfeit a biblical teaching with a perverted version, they must design their deceptive teachings to closely resemble what is genuine so that it is extremely difficult to distinguish between the two. There is a tremendous danger in accepting doctrines which sound correct without first examining them with cold, hard logic.
The teachings of most evil spirits, false prophets, and heretics seem plausible because they are cloaked in an aura of spirituality. These individuals can easily deceive those who allow their emotions or intellectual vanity to influence their spiritual discernment. However, the teachings of these types of individuals always have one or two major flaws:
- Their teachings never harmonize with the entire Bible.
- Their teachings always involve the breaking of one or more of God's laws, precepts, or principles.
The writers of the New Testament described teachings, beliefs, and practices which are in opposition to the Father's truth and way of truth as doctrines of demons or heresies, which if believed or practiced will lead a person away from truth.
By B. L. Cocherell b8w12