Who Is A Heretic?

I recently examined a 563 page “Handbook of Today’s Religions” by Josh Mcdonald and Don Stewart, published in 1983.   Under the heading of Orthodox Christianity is this statement: “For the last two thousand years, the Christian Church has held certain beliefs to be vital to one’s faith.  While there is some doctrinal disagreement within the three branches of Christendom – Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant – there is a general agreement among them as to the essentials of the faith.  Whatever disagreement the church may have among its branches, it is insignificant compared to the heretical non-Christian beliefs of the cults.  We offer this section as a yardstick to compare the errant beliefs of the cults.” (page 26).   It may come as a surprise for many to learn that these three branches lie within the mainstream of Christian beliefs and practice.  By the way, there is not one word about these “branches” in the Bible.  Nevertheless, according to the book, these are all a part of the great universal church (see pages 37-38).  Again, there is no definition of the church, either local or universal, in the Bible that fits this description .  The writers tell us that the only real heretics lie outside of these main groups.  Although these authors claim to embrace all of these groups, as a student of religious history, I am not so naive as to think that all these broad categories are dwelling together in UNITY or would even agree as to what constitutes orthodox faith as defined in this book.  It is also a fact that many of the basic principles of humanism, Marxism and Socialism, described clearly as cults in this book, have penetrated and influenced greatly these three branches.  This in principle is no different than the falling away of New Testament churches as they were influenced and penetrated by false teachers and heretics (see Acts 20:29-30;  2 Cor. 11:3-4, 13-20; 2 Thess. 2:7-12; 2 Peter 2; Rev. 2-3).   So this clear distinction between what is called “Orthodox Christianiy” and the “Cults” does not hold water.

The authors proceed to go into the details of what constitutes “Orthodox Beliefs”.   The book defines orthodox as “adhering to established beliefs and practices, especially religious ones.  From a Christian perspective, an accurate adherence to biblical truth and worship”  (page 552).  They set forth the proposition that all three of these “branches” agree upon Christian orthodox truths, including the fact that the authority of God comes from the 66 books of the Bible.  Of course, two of those “branches” recognize other books as inspired as well.  Also never mind that the Catholic church recognizes other sources of authority which include  “the traditions of the church”, “the voice of the Pope” and the apocryphal or books of doubtful authority.  But none of this really matters.  To establish this, the book quotes 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20-21; Deut. 4:2 and Rev. 22:18-19.   Good passages indeed, but this totally ignores the fact that there are great fundamental differences between all of these “branches”, including such specifics as rejecting the Bible teaching of divine inspiration, having broad differences on fundamental things like church organization, homosexuality, women pastors, whether or not the Bible is real history, the teaching of theistic evolution, the function and purpose of the church and a very long list of rather substantial subjects.  Under the book’s basic definitions of what constitutes a heretic, many of the churches and teachers found in these three branches surely fit the description.  

Modern denominationalism is increasingly defined by this “big tent” monstrosity, which is ever changing and splitting into hundreds of different factions.  This is not exactly what Jesus prayed for in John 17:20-21.  The only real solution is to get back to the basics of the word of God.   Paul warned Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,  and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:2-4).  

The authors state again and again that man is saved by grace only through faith only as a tenant of the faith, which they quote from various creed books,  and anyone who denies this is a surely a heretic.  In the very back of the book is set forth the “Four Spiritual Laws” leading to conversion. The last law teaches how to receive Christ as your personal savior and experience the “new birth.”   As to this law, which the authors imply to be God’s law (or why teach it?), there are included many details, even the necessity of repentance.  However, there is not one mention of  “baptism”, although such is included in all the accounts of conversions recorded in the book of Acts (see Acts 2:36-38, 41; 8:12, 34-38; 10:47-48; 16:14-15, 30-33; 18:8; 22:16).  God’s record of how to be saved states clearly the fact and purpose of water baptism.  Does that make Luke, the author of Acts, a heretic?  Does this omission constitute some “brainwashing” by the authors which they condemn when practiced by the Cults?

When the book describes various cults, it clearly states that one characteristic of a cult is the teaching that one must be baptized for the remission of sins.  In condemning the World Wide Church of God, which I also condemn, the book states that they teach that “salvation is a process beginning in this life and culminating in the resurrection.  Salvation consists of repentance, faith and water baptism. . . . According to Armstrong a person must be baptized in order to be saved. . . ‘God commands water baptism; and for one who is able to either defy the command and refuse, or neglect. . . certainly would be an act of disobedience which would impose the penalty of sin and cause loss of salvation’.”  (page 118).  I would not use the words of Armstrong , but I would simply state it in the words of Jesus: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16) or in the words of Peter, “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:37).   However,  the authors of this book believe that such teaching is heretical. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I also reject the cults that are named in this book about world religions, and do agree that the most basic problem is a failure to believe and apply the principles of Biblical authority.  Over all, the book is very useful and informative as to various cults.  They do a good job in exposing the radical views of the cults. But the authors need to realize that many of the arguments used against the cults can be applied to the mainline churches as well.  To fail to do this would be like Isaiah the prophet condemning the pagans around Israel, but failing to condemn Israel itself for their great sins.  Isaiah calls upon Israel to repent and did not soft soap any of their sins.  The divisions and teachings of these mainline churches is one of the principle reasons the cults have been so effective.  To teach that one can be saved by grace only through faith only and that it is not necessary to obey Christ in order to be saved is a hole that even a big Mack truck can drive through.  So it is no wonder that these cults take advantage of this discrepancy to create doubt and then proceed to influence people with their particular brand of indoctrination.   Also the divisions of organized religions, with their multiple creeds and sectarian bias, give plenty of ammunition to the atheists as well.  How anyone can sugar coat all of this is beyond my power to understand.  The only answer to any heresy, and the Bible does talk much about heresy and false teaching, is the knowledge of the Bible itself.  As to this knowledge, Christendom as a whole is truly lacking.  But any honest reading of the scriptures leads one to understand that there have always been problems along that line even in the days of the apostles.

I have been discussing here the problem of who is a heretic.  This is connected with the problem of false teachers.   Both problems are discussed in the Bible.  As to a heretic, this is mentioned in 2 Peter 2:1: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;  Also consider this passage:  “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  Reject a factious man after a first and second warning,  knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned..” (Tit. 3:9-11).   In the context, controversies relating to the law had to do with those who wanted to impose Judaism upon Christians.  This matter was settled in Acts 15.  Heresy has to do with a “party spirit” built around a particular person or opinion producing division, rather than that which is built upon Christ resulting in unity.  (see also 1 Cor. 1:10-17).  False teachers are those who undermine the authority of Jesus Christ by teaching things contrary to sound doctrine.  But if one is teaching only what is clearly set forth in the Bible, and the Bible only, that person is not a heretic.

According to many of the human creeds used by most mainline protestant churches, the doctrine of salvation by grace only through faith only is a most wholesome doctrine and full of comfort.  Salvation requires no action on the part of man whatsoever.  However, this is not taught in the Bible.   It turns out to be deceptive and not full of comfort at all.  The Bible simply states that we are saved by grace through faith.  The word “only” is not in the text but is added by man.   One main passage used to teach this is found in Ephesians 2:8 which states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;”   If we are saved by grace alone then nothing else is required.  This would result in universal salvation.   But grace has a condition and that condition is faith.  Faith is the access to grace,  for  “ . . without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).   I might add that the only time the Bible speaks of faith only, it denies that faith only can save.   Faith must be active or else it is useless.  James expresses it this way, What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,  and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?  Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.  But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works."  You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.  But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:14-20).  

Dear reader, thank you for reading this article.  God has graciously given us the Bible by means of the Holy Spirit.   This is God’s gift to us.   Go to the word of God for all religious belief and practice.    

I am not angry with those people who actually believe that one is a heretic by simply believing and teaching what the Bible says.   In fact, I talk to such people all the time and am willing to reason with them as to what the Bible teaches.  I strive to always do this in a spirit of gentleness and humility and in the fear of God. How else can we serve Jesus Christ?   This also applies to the “Cults” mentioned in the book.

In the next issue of Pitching For The Master,  I will address the Bible teaching of “Salvation by Grace through Faith”. 

I do recommend a booklet titled, “Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up” by David W. Bercot.  You can access this book at www.scrollpublishing.com.

I like this particular comment on Bill O’Reilly’s book “Killing Jesus” (which was the subject of my last article) by David Smitherman.  He wrote:  A lot of interest lately in the death of Jesus due to the Bill O’Reilly book and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What follows is just letting the scriptures tell us what the attitude was of both Jewish rulers and Jewish people and what it led to. . . . None of this should be used as an excuse for anti-Semitic attitudes and mistreatment of Jews today for what their ancestors did 2,000 years ago. Nothing can excuse such things.  It’s simply a matter of looking at an historical event, and the only truly reliable documents which record that incident, and let the facts speak for themselves.

Whenever political correctness means more to us than scriptural correctness, the Bible ceases to have any meaning at all.  Its meaning will change with whatever the latest popular whim is, history will be rewritten and the concept of ultimate, objective truth will no longer exist”.

--- Lindy McDaniel, December 11, 2-13


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