What is Heresy?

There seems to be quite a bit of labeling of people as heretics in recent years.  It is easy to discount people with a label, but have people really thought through what this means?  The word heretic or heresy does not technically mean something bad or even false.  It literally means sect, opinion or sentiment.  Here are a couple of passages where outsiders described the early Christians as a sect.

“For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” (Acts 24:5, 14; 28:22 ESV)

The word translated ‘sect’ is the Greek word from which we get heresy.  While they may have been using this in a pejorative sense, they were actually correct: Christianity began as a sect or heresy of Judaism.  In this way, Roman Catholics are correct to see protestants as a heresy.  I just happen to believe that this heresy is more biblically correct than its parent group.

Well, what do we mean we speak of a Christian heresy?  It is very easy to describe positions that people disagree with as heresies, and by that they mean something un-Christian or unorthodox.  But where do we draw the line?  Should Calvinists see Arminians as heretics and Arminians see Calvinists as heretics?  How should evangelicals see Pentecostals or people who baptize infants see people who baptize believers?  How about amillennialists and postmillennialists and premillennialists?

That is not to say that we should not draw a line.  There is a difference between biblical Christianity and unorthodox belief systems.  I would make this suggestion of doctrines that must be present to be orthodox:

1) God as personal, separate from creation, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and triune.

2) Jesus as historical, God incarnate, crucified, atoning and resurrected.

3) Salvation by grace through faith, found only through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

We may disagree on other things, but I would hesitate to label a person or movement as heretical if they agreed on these doctrines.

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4 thoughts on “What is Heresy?”

  1. I think that heresy in the modern vernacular means a stray from the essential doctrines. There are many borderline cultic movements out there because they deny one or more of the essential doctrines. If it’s not an essential doctrine (i.e. women in the church, Calvinism/Arminianism), then it is just considered a non-essential and no one can judge another for what they believe regarding it. For a great book on what is considered essential and non-essential, I would recommend Conviction Without Compromise, by Geisler and Rhodes.

  2. 1) God as personal, separate from creation, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and triune.

    Hey .. Show me One single Scripture that says the ONE GOD is a Triune Being, let alone OMNIPRESENT

    2) Jesus as historical, God incarnate, crucified, atoning and resurrected.

    Show me one single verse where the Bible says Jesus is YOUR TRIUNE GOD incarnate.

    Your theology is so full of holes it is laughable.
    Nelson

    1. Hey .. Show me One single Scripture that says the ONE GOD is a Triune Being, let alone OMNIPRESENT

      Mathew 28:19 – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (NIV)
      Psalm 139:7-10 – Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (NIV)

      Show me one single verse where the Bible says Jesus is YOUR TRIUNE GOD incarnate.
      Matthew 28:19 (again)
      John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (NIV) (admittedly, this passage does not explicitly define the Trinity, but does reference two parts of it, supporting the idea in part)

      I take exception to your insistence that only a single text can be used to generate theological arguments. The assumption that putting together ideas and arguments gleaned from multiple references weakens an argument is backward. Unless there are multiple Biblical references supporting it, a theological argument is weak. Taking a single verse and building a theological premise upon it is the problem. Reading through the whole of scripture, looking for truth, and building one verse upon another and showing how scripture is consistent is how we become sure of our beliefs.

      Nelson, I found the tone of your reply to be disrespectful and inappropriate. I would encourage you to broaden your perspective, looking to learn from others, rather than ridicule them. I didn’t hear very much love or concern for others hiding behind your words. If your theological pursuits aren’t leading you in that direction, I would encourage you to take stock of the direction you are heading in and re-orient yourself.

      Andrew.

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