Heresy: When we really get God wrong.

When we’re wrong about the non-negotiables of Christianity.

HERESY 'hɛr.ə.si noun. Belief or opinion contrary to Christian orthodoxy.
[Heretic 'hɛr.ə.tɪk adjective, heretical hə'rɛd.ə.kəl adjective.]

Basically we define heresy by how we define orthodoxy. ’Cause they’re opposites. If it’s not orthodox, it’s heretic; if it’s not heretic, it’s orthodox.

There are other words people throw around, like unorthodox or heterodox. Technically they’re synonyms of heretic. But that’s not at all what Christians mean when they use ’em. What they really mean to say is, “I’m gonna question certain beliefs we take for granted,” or “I’m gonna say this in a way you’re not used to hearing.” But they’re not heretic; not at all. They’re orthodox. It’s just the way they explain their orthodoxy comes from an unexpected direction. They’ve chosen a unique way to describe the same traditional beliefs. It’s just unorthodox means heretic, and heterodox means “other than orthodox,” and therefore heretic.

Yeah okay; sometimes the way they’ve chosen to describe an orthodox belief goes too far. Fr’instance the Christian who’s trying to explain the trinity, and in the process winds up describing God as three gods, not one. Whoops; heresy.

That’s why I’ve gotta make it clear: Most heresy is unintentional. People aren’t trying to be wrong! They think they’re describing God properly. They think the way everybody else describes him—the way the church councils sorted him out, the doctrines our traditions have passed down to us, the faith statements most of us hold to—got it wrong. And they studied their bibles, or had some special revelation, or saw something everyone else missed, or revived something the ancient Christians called heresy. They got him right. Come into the light with them!

But yeah, they got God wrong. As we all do. It’s just their particular wrongness has to do with one of the non-negotiable beliefs, and stands a really good chance of leading people away from God, his grace, and his kingdom. It’s not a little error. It’s a whopping big one.

Legalists and heresy.

There are several false beliefs Christians have about heresy. One of the more common ones is that any error we make is technically heresy. Preach a sermon, mix up Elijah and Elisha, and that counts as heresy. Post a comment on Facebook, mistakenly say Jesus fed the 500 instead of the 5,000; heresy. Tweet a bible verse and forget to capitalize “God”: Heresy. It’s so easy to fall into heresy, innit?

Well no, it’s not. Orthodoxy is defined by the Christian creeds. They’re where our non-negotiables come from. Preach otherwise, and it’s heresy. Make an error in any other way, and it’s not heresy: You’re just wrong. Everybody make mistakes, but not everybody’s a heretic.

True, not everybody agrees with me that orthodoxy’s defined by the creeds. Fundamentalists insist it’s defined by their fundamentals. A lot of Calvinists insist it’s defined by the Westminster Catechism (the long one or the short one; either way). Individual churches insist their faith statements sort ’em out: If you can’t abide by the church’s official doctrines, you really shouldn’t stay in their churches. Sorry; that’s the line they draw in the sand.

Problem is, if you’re really legalist, everything’s a non-negotiable belief. If your church officially condemns gambling, but you like to play the lottery from time to time, they’ll actually worry you’re going to hell. ’Cause to their minds, a real Christian wouldn’t see gambling as a debatable issue, one where we’re free to disagree. To their minds, it’s sin, and if we claim to be Christian but sin, we lie, and aren’t really saved. It’s a stretched-till-broken interpretation of 1 John 2.4, but one they firmly believe. Yep, they think heretics are going to hell.

And they’re not alone. A lot of Christians think heretics are going to hell. It’s what they think “heretic” means: An unbeliever. An idolater. A pagan. A non-Christian. Ask your typical Evangelical what they think about any church who doesn’t match their faith statement. Depending on how different that church is from theirs, they’ll go from, “Oh, they’re probably Christian” to “They’re not Christian.” Doesn’t matter how creedal that church is. Doesn’t matter how Spirit-filled that church behaves. Doesn’t matter if they’re political allies. “We believe X and they don’t, so we can’t guarantee they’re in the kingdom.”

What about grace? Oh, grace is a whole separate discussion. Bring up grace, and suddenly these Christians’ll stop being so hardline. It’s because yes, they agree we’re saved by God’s grace. But deep in their core, they figure we’re saved by orthodoxy—and if we’re not orthodox enough for them, we’re probably not saved. Regardless of grace.

Just about all of us Christians suspect this, to some degree. We gotta purge ourselves of it. We’re saved by grace, not orthodoxy. Just about everybody who comes to Jesus on their deathbed is full of wrong beliefs about God. Will God save ’em anyway? Sure. ’Cause if we trust Jesus to do the saving, Jesus is all right with us, same as that thief on the cross. Lk 23.42-43 Not even heresy can stop his grace.

So it shouldn’t stop our grace, either. I’m not saying heretics aren’t wrong; I’m not saying we should let ’em into positions of church leadership. I’m only saying Jesus died for them too. Friend or enemy, let’s love ’em.

Dark Christians and heresy.

Another of the more common wrong ideas is heretics are evil.

Ever met a nice non-Christian? Unless you grew up really sheltered, of course you have. Many pagans are nice people. Same with people of other religions: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews. Some of ’em even have a reputation for being nice. Wish we Christians had a better one… but I digress.

Heretics are no more evil than anyone. They’re only wrong. Sometimes it’s their own view; they went heretic out of pride. Sometimes it’s another person or church’s view; they’re being led astray. Most of the time it’s an honest mistake. Rarely is it an evil plan to seize power and corrupt Christianity, and we can usually see such cults coming.

The reason Christians tend to assume heretics are evil? It’s what dark Christianity teaches. Dark Christians are the folks who fixate on sin, evil, the devil, and hell. They fear it, and try to fight it. Thanks to their fears, they see it everywhere—or think they do.

The dark Christian believes heresy comes from Satan. All heresy. Any mistaken Christian teaching is the result of some wayward Christian who stopped listening to the Holy Spirit, so the devil took advantage and tricked ’em into believing heresy. So heresy is never an honest mistake: It’s the product of a Christian gone wrong. It comes from unconfessed sin, secret evil, overconfidence, ambition, greed, lust, you name it. It might even come from someone who decided to turn traitor against Jesus, like Judas Iscariot did, and is working with Satan to undermine the church in a thousand little ways. You know, like a bad Cold War spy novel.

So to their minds, all heresy and heretics are devilish. All heretics are evil. Heretic churches are outposts of hell. The only exceptions are their churches, Jesus’s only true churches, who follow him correctly and properly, and aren’t secretly run by the Beast.

Thanks to dark Christians, our history is full of instances where heretics were persecuted and killed. Muslims and Jews were tortured to death. Witches were hanged, or pressed to death. Apostates were burned. Heretics were drowned, garroted, beheaded, or exiled. Thankfully, much of that evil came to an end… but dark Christians wouldn’t mind at all if it started back up again. There’s a lot of people they’d like to see dead, and they’re not just heretics.

Yeah, it’s entirely graceless, but dark Christians don’t do grace.

The fear of heresy.

Mormons are heretic. I don’t say this to put ’em down; only to point out their beliefs don’t jibe with traditional, creedal Christianity. To them, the trinity isn’t one being, and Jesus isn’t “begotten, not made”—he’s both. For that matter so was the Father, whom they believe was born on another world and became God through his God’s grace. Yep, they believe God once worshiped a different God. Like I said, heretic.

I learned all this stuff ’cause years ago I met some Mormon missionaries. At the time, all I knew about Mormons came from what dark Christians claimed they believe, so I decided I oughta hear directly from Mormons themselves. Spent a few months picking their brains. I didn’t want to lead them on: I warned ’em I already had a church and didn’t plan to convert. But they were kind enough to answer all my questions anyway. Mormons tend to be nice like that.

So one day I was flipping through the Book of Mormon in the local coffeehouse. (Since Mormons don’t do coffee, it definitely made me stick out.) A Christian of my acquaintance caught me reading it, and immediately voiced his worry:

HE. “You shouldn’t read that.”
ME. “Oh, are you afraid I’ll turn Mormon?”
HE. “You laugh, but you might. The devil will try to trick the elect.” Mt 24.24
ME. “Yes it will. Usually by hitting us when our guard’s down. You think I’m reading this with my guard down?”
HE. “I sure hope not. But you’re not so naïve as to believe you can’t be tempted.”
ME. “Oh, I can be tempted. But not by this. I’ve been a Christian all my life, and been studying it in depth for decades. Reading a book which I don’t consider inspired by God, isn’t gonna sway me.”
HE. “You think it can’t sway you, but that sounds like pride.”
ME. “You say that like it’s a bad thing. You realize pride is so powerful, it allows Christians to resist the bible? The bible. The word of God itself. And here I am using it on the Book of Mormon. If I can resist bible with my pride, what makes you think it’s gonna fail me with the Book of Mormon?
HE. “Well, pride belongs to the devil. So does that.” [pointing at the book]
ME. “Pride doesn’t belong to the devil. Pride’s morally neutral. It’s what we put our pride in. Paul boasted of God. 1Co 1.31, 2Co 10.17 I’m proud of him too. I’m proud of Christians who follow God. Pride’s good when we put it in the right things.”
He. “But when you read the Book of Mormon, you’re putting your pride in your intellect.”
ME. “No; I’m putting it in Jesus. I trust him. This, not so much. This, I’m skeptical of. This, I doubt. So it’s not much of a temptation.”
HE. “I dunno. I’ve known Christians who went Mormon. You don’t think you’re better than they are?”
ME. “Of course I think I’m better than they are. So do you; it’s why you’re not Mormon. We think we’re right, and think they’re not. Do you think you’d be swayed by the Book of Mormon?”
HE. “I’m not gonna read it.”
ME. “So you think you could be swayed by it.”
HE. “I’m not gonna risk it.”
ME. “Well, maybe you shouldn’t. Some of us have more faith than others. Me, I think I have enough faith in God that this isn’t gonna lead me astray. You might too. But you might not; what do I know? How long have you been Christian?”
HE. “About 10 years.”
ME. “How much have you seen?”
HE. “Seen?”
ME. “Miracles. How much have you seen God do stuff?”
HE. “I’ve seen a lot.”
ME. “So you know he’s real.”
HE. “Yes.”
ME. “This” [pointing to the book] “gonna change your mind about that? That we haven’t really seen God; that it was the devil, and the real God only does stuff in Mormon churches?”
HE. “No!”
ME. “So what’re you worried about?”

He was worried because he was told he should be worried. ’Cause other Christians are worried. Dark Christians are especially worried.

They fear our knowledge of God isn’t strong enough to recognize heresy. And there, they might be right. There are a lot of ignorant Christians out there, teaching all sorts of wonky things. Not all of them heresy, though. But these worries tend to be based on the legalist belief that every error is heresy, and heresy sends us to hell.

It does not. Our resistance to God’s grace sends us to hell. Our rejection of Jesus sends us to hell. Really, we embrace hell, instead of God; we won’t let him save us. Heresy isn’t an embrace of hell; it’s an embrace of error. Now, if that error includes rejecting Jesus, and lying to ourselves about it, we’re screwed. 1Jn 1.5-10 It’s for this reason Jesus instructs us to watch out. Mt 7.15-20 Don’t fall for heresy!

Armor of God.

Watch out for fake teachers, fake prophets, fake Christs. Watch out for “knowledge” based on nothing, “prophecies” which people psych themselves into thinking came from God, “doctrines” invented by partisans with an ax to grind, “signs” which are nothing more than oddities plus fear, and “truths” which are lies. Watch out for the devil, who roams like a lion in search of prey 1Pe 5.8 —and if you’re not wielding the Holy Spirit, you’re the prey.

But Jesus never instructs us to flee these things and these people. Resist temptation, yes; and if you lack the willpower or self-control to do so, get away from it. Resist people who lack the discipline to do their homework and study the scriptures properly; I’ve known many people who were undermined by the fact they loved their teachers, and were blind to the ridiculous things they taught. But few of us are tempted to embrace someone we know is self-delusional, fraudulent, fruitless, or consistently wrong. Our eyes are wide open.

So what do we do with such people? We resist. Resist the devil, and it does the fleeing. Jm 4.7 Remember the armor of God? It’s not just so we can have Christian costumes for Halloween: It’s what we’re meant to resist temptation with.

Ephesians 6.10-17 KWL
10 Lastly: Get powerful in the Master, in the authority his strength gives you.
11 Wear all God’s gear, so you’ll be able to stand fast against the devil’s tactics,
12 because we aren’t in a battle against blood and muscle:
We’re against types of authority, power, things which govern the dark places in this world,
types of supernatural evil in the high heavens.
13 This is why you put on all God’s gear,
so you’ll have a fighting chance on the evil day. You’ll be entirely ready to stand fast.
14 Stand: Belt your waist with truth. Wear a vest of righteousness.
15 Lace your shoes in preparation for the good news of peace.
16 Carry at all times the shield of trust in God,
which you’ll use to put out every flaming arrow of evil.
17 Accept the helmet of your salvation
and the machete of the Spirit—which is God’s spoken word.

Heresy’s most certainly a spiritual force. So we resist it with the armor: Truth, rightness, good news, trust in God, salvation, God’s word. Plus prayer. These are our weapons. Get ’em, then stand and fight.

I constantly search for truth. So the Holy Spirit regularly leads me to it—either personally, or with the help of my fellow Christians. I trust God; I read his word; I’ve got the armor. It’s why I can read heretic books, and quickly identify the heresy. “That’s not biblical. That’s not true. That’s not the Spirit’s fruit. That saves no one. That’s not the gospel. That isn’t rightness. That doesn’t grow faith. That sounds problematic.” And so on. I know better than to let it slide; I keep my guard up.

I don’t just have my guard up when I’m reading books I know to be heretic. There’s a lot of crap out there, and the devil specializes in blindsiding us. Christians make mistakes all the time, y’know. Never take your guard down.

(“Even with God?” Don’t be silly. God is the armor.)

So yeah, don’t be afraid of heretic books. But never read them lightly. Never read anything lightly. (Even fiction. Notice how off-base Christians will get when we start to overanalyze the Narnia books.) Armor on. Test everything.

And if it’s weak armor, ask for God’s help: Pursue truth, faith, and rightness; listen to God’s word and get it in you. Draw close to God—and he’ll get you ready to stand your ground.