What is Heresy?
The word, “heresy” itself, only appears in the King James translation one
time in Acts 24:14. It’s plural form, “heresies” occurs another three
times in 1 Corinthians 11:19, Galatians 5:20, and 2 Peter 2:1. All the
other occurrences of this same Greek word (“hairesis”) are translated as
“sect”. (The NASB, another ‘formal translation’ follows the KJV closely,
with only two verses translating the word as “factions” instead)(feel free
to ask about the difference between formally equivalent and dynamically
The Strong’s Concordance uses the
following words in defining this greek word: “choice”, “a party”,
“disunion”. Finally, Merriam Webster defines this generically as, “dissent
or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice”.
this all into account at a high level, “heresy” would be any deviation
from an accepted doctrine. Admittedly, this generic definition does not
take into account human reality. That reality, and real world application,
is that people disagree and not all those disagreements need be called
“heresy”, nor are they worth fighting about. Your views, by mere
definition of the term, may be heretical to me; however, mine could also
heretical to you. So who’s right? And how do we decide? Sadly, our sinful
condition, and pride, cause a lot of disagreement where none actually need
be. We’ll deal with that more in the ‘Long Answer’.
Heresy then, would be
any teaching and/or practice that deviates from a
of the Bible. This presumes of course the existence of absolute,
objective, and transcendent truth, that has been communicated by our
Creator to us, and is able to be understood. This heresy could also come
from within or without the Christian community.
Taking then from the
definition we’re working from, let’s talk about this more in depth. Heresy
again, would be any teaching and/or practice that deviates from a
of the Bible.
This then begs many questions. Whose
interpretation is correct? Who is qualified to decide? How much can we
disagree? Is every disagreement heresy?
It’s Hard Work
The first thing we must
say is that properly interpreting can be hard work. To me, it is very
annoying to hear someone say, “it’s clear in the Bible that”, or the
classic, “it says what it says”. Well, it DOES say what it says; however,
many times those verses require work, minus hidden agendas, pride, and
presumptions, to get to the proper interpretation. I admit that some
verses are easier to interpret; however, there are others that good people
disagree on. There are verses that Holy Spirit filled believers disagree
on. People may also disagree on which verses are easier to interpret
(“clearer”) and which are not. So then, let us be patient with one
another, remain teachable, and be willing to acknowledge that we could be
Do a search on all the
times the word “doctrine” (teaching, and proper interpretation) is used in
the Bible (please do this and read the verses). You’ll soon find that the
Bible writers considered a right doctrine an extremely important
thing. Indeed, how we live, and our Christian practices will flow from the
doctrines we hold to. A right doctrine also brings light on to what is
wrong doctrine, or “heresy”.
While doctrine is very
important, but so is loving the brethren. We must then take special care
to put at attitude of love and patience at the forefront of any doctrinal
discussions. We also MUST be careful not to part fellowship over issues
that are not dependent on salvation.
I have been literally yelled
at because I do not believe in a pre-tribulation rapture event. I believe
disagreement on that issue is not a reason for anyone to get upset with
anyone else. If a person is truly saved, the timing of the rapture should
be a secondary issue.
I would like to think that with enough study,
and enough debate, we could one day reach a day when everyone agreed, and
every was right. Since it is unlikely that day will come, we must deal in
love and patience, and pray for wisdom.
I have seen churches that
emphasize love, and shy away from doctrine. I have also seen churches that
are obsessed with doctrine and turn away those that would dare to disagree
on even the smallest points. Please notice that this is not an ‘either-or’
issue, it is ‘both-and’. In other words, doctrine AND love must be
balanced carefully, and one not forsaken for the other.
Part Ways and What to do About It
The Bible does indeed
encourage separation on certain things. We are not to accept anything and
everything that comes to us in the name of Christ or the Bible. So where
do we draw the line? When do we call it heresy?
I believe the first
line that must be drawn salvation. The Bible states that there is a way to
be saved and have eternal life. If the Bible says we must repent and
believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ (his finished work), then that issue is
not in debate. Thus, if someone comes along and says that Islam also leads
to eternal life, that view must be called heresy. You might know someone
who is Muslim, and they might be a nice person, and they should be treated
with the respect you should show any other human being; however, their
beliefs are NOT to influence ours as Christians. Groups or denominations
that add works to salvation are also to be challenged.
about non-salvation issues? What other lines should be drawn? This is
where Holy Spirit guidance and wisdom is key. Here I cannot give you a
cookie-cutter, one size fits all, solution. Here, you’ll have to do your
homework, put in the time, and make a prayed up decision.
example, there is an interpretation of some verses put forth by some in
the “Word-Faith Movement” that I personally qualify as heretical. On the
other hand, I know some people who hold those views that claim to have put
faith in Christ, and I believe they are real Christians. What do I do? Do
I break off fellowship and contact? Or stay friends?
has its’ own context. Each situation contains its’ own individual, unique
qualities. The Lord may lead me to have patience towards someone with
these views, until they come to certain knowledge on their own. The Lord
may also lead me to rebuke someone with these views, because they’re being
hardheaded. Only the Lord knows which one of those things is the right one
in each particular situation.
The question was
asked, “what is heresy?” I then proceeded to go a bit past that and talk
about how it works in real life. I like to get right to the point of an
issue, it’s how my mind works. I believe heresy is easy to define, and
hard work out in real time. That is why I spent time on that.
Please also remember that you could be wrong, I could be wrong. How would
I want someone to treat me? I can tell you I’ve been wrong about things. I
might be wrong about my belief on the rapture and not realize it. Ever
heard the phrase, “you don’t know, what you don’t know”? That is why
doctrine, love, and patience must all work together in identifying heresy,
and dealing then with it.
Answer to this question
was written and provided by John Lowe