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 don’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. However, that does not mean that there aren’t true Christians who teach heresy. That’s because of a very basic understanding of the Scriptures, perhaps young in the faith. But generally speaking, heresy is normally applied to those who are not true believers.
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 and 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 incorrect, 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.
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. Jesus is a created being. The Holy Spirit is a created being.
- There is more than one true God.
- Salvation in Christ includes becoming a god, just like the true God we worship now (YAHWEH). We will be worshiped in the next life by a new class of created beings.
- Jesus was 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 force.
- 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.
- Universal salvation. Everyone gets saved, including Satan and his demons. One can believe in Jesus after death while in hell. Hell is only temporary punishment.
- We can get to Heaven on our own merits.
- The Bible only contains truth, but is not the written Word of God.
- Truth is fluid, that it’s ever changing and evolving and as God reveals it.
- The Bible was not written by God (except in the sense that God is Sovereign over all things), but merely by people who were struggling to understand the truth, and did the best they could to write what they understood at the time, with the information they had.
All of those teachings are examples of true heresy and taught by true heretics. True heretics are enemies of the Christian faith. They reject the true Christ and historical Christianity. They may profess to be Christian and use Christian terminology, but terms must be defined by them. What they mean by them are not the same as what we mean by them. In regard to cults, they use Christian terminology in order to deceive in order to lure you in. Examples of this would be Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Also beware of Progressive Christianity. All of these – and like them – 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 one another, 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 from each other 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.