Posted by Pastor Pat on March 23, 2009
You would think with the ease in which the word “heresy” is used an understanding of it would be apparent. Unfortunately, such is not the case. The word is used carelessly of those who do not conform to another person’s position.
In the New Testament, it is used in Titus 3:10, “A man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition reject.” Our English word is a transliteration of the Greek. It means, “A schismatic.” It is used of a person who stirs up division. The noun form is used only here.
The verb form is only used in Matthew 12:18, “Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles.” The idea of “setting apart” is clearly seen.
The noun is used negatively and the verb is used positively. The heretic is not necessarily the one who differs from us in our theological position, but rather the one who makes the theological position a point of contention. If this is true, then perhaps there should be a greater level of tolerance toward those who differ with us on issues that are of no eternal significance. This would force us to determine what is primary and what should be considered secondary.
I would probably argue that those issues involving core tenants regarding salvation are primary and everything else is probably secondary. This forces the question, “What are the primary tenants concerning salvation?”
- First, our view of personal sin and its crippling inability and eternal consequence.
- Second, our view of the nature of the Godhead, its Tri-unity, their individual essence, and function as to salvation.
- Third, how one secures the finished work of Christ for personal salvation.
- Fourth, the Bible is inspired and without error.
To be sure, this is thin in its simplicity, but what more could be considered essential? Our view of the Church, End Times, Angels, the Bible, and Man are of little “eternal” significance. You can be wrong in these areas and still be saved. To be sure, the Scripture is neither relativistic nor pluralistic. There is a correct understanding in every one of the aforementioned areas. Nevertheless, this does not mean that separation from those who differ in secondary areas is essential. Now, there must be a certain level of uniformity for theological consistency and body harmony, though diversity in these areas would not be considered essential to eternal salvation. It does not mean that everything believed is correct. There is a correct body of revealed truth that must be maintained. Yet, this should “soften” our response to those who differ.
Perhaps a heretic is one who makes the secondary area an issue of separation and division. This does suggest that God puts a higher premium on unity than He does on disunity. How does this “work” in the context of local church ministry?
- First, there should be a greater level of tolerance toward those who differ (Mark 9:38-40).
38 “John said to Him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.’ 39 But Jesus said, ‘Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is for us’ ” (Mark 9:38-40).
- Second, there should be no flexibility in those areas that are essential to salvation’s provision and appropriation. This is clearly seen in the castigation of the Pharisees by our Lord in Matthew 23.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.”
- Third, those who demand complete conformity at the expense of unity should be warned and ultimately put out (Titus 3:10).
9 “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, 11 knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11).
- Fourth, corporate fellowship does not demand theological conformity.
- Fifth, theological instruction does demand the consistent examination of the biblical text for the purpose of a purer understanding and presentation. At this level, body harmony does require theological consistency (2 Thess. 3:6).
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us” (2 Thess. 3:6).
Yet the Scripture does exhort us to be discerning. Hebrews 5:14 speaks of those “who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” There is a body of truth that is considered to be “sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:10; Titus 2:1). Some things are contrary to it. “Sound doctrine” is also referred to as “wholesome words” (1 Tim. 6:3). We are exhorted “to hold fast the form of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13). As the end of time nears, “few will endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:3). Sound doctrine and wholesome words are also “faithful words” (Titus 1:9).
It is essential that we never stop being Bereans. Yet in the midst of our pursuit of Him and His Word, we must maintain three biblical attitudes. First, we must have humility. As right as you might think you are, there is always a margin of error in certain areas of study. We must not forget that finite man is seeking to understand an infinite God. In light of this, we must have humility. Second, we must have charity. Love is always a proper response to any situation. It has been said, “Some times we can be so right that we are wrong.” The “wrong-ness” comes in the form of our attitude. In all discussion, differences, and diversity, let us not forget to exhibit biblical love. Finally, we must have teach-ability. To be teachable assumes that you do not presently have all the information or that you have exhausted any one topic. Teachability assumes that the person you differ with could be God’s teacher in your life’s journey.