Monday, January 22, 2007

Redefining Heresy (Part 1)


"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works." (Titus 2:11-14)

A typical evangelical approach to orthodox teaching, and its antithesis - heresy, is a completely intellectual issue. A heretic is someone who believes, and teaches something different than the accepted orthodox positions.

Very early in the Christian Church this became the primary means of identifying heretics, and separating them from the church - thanks to such people as Augustine, who relentlessly pursued Pelagius - perhaps even to the death.

The writings of John have become sources for this position. John tells a house church in his second epistle to avoid inviting heretical teachers into the home. These heretical teachers rejected the teaching that Christ came "in the flesh."

Paul likewise warns the church about teachers bringing rules about keeping the law, and sporting a doctrine of salvation through obedience to the Mosaic covenant.

Yet this approach toward defining heretics is far too simplistic, and potentially detrimental to the life of the church. In the passage written to Titus by Paul we discover that the teaching concerning Jesus is a teaching which is connected to our behavior. It is tied to denying lusts, and ungodliness.

I have heard of people who were called into account for supposed false teaching, but when was the last time someone was called a heretic for something other than an issue of teaching falsely? If someone who denies that Jesus came in the flesh is a heretic, what is a Christian leader who lies, and destroys the ministries of other people for his own selfish gain? Is he not someone who is living out his "worldly lusts" and denying the "grace of God which brings salvation"? I would say yes, and I would also say that I know such people. I would say that I know Christian leaders who honor such people.

How did we get to the place where the guy with big church is the hero, even if he has harmed others to get there? How is it that he is not the heretic?

I am fan of sound teaching, but I find that I am becoming more of a fan of sound living. Those who teach mercy and mercilessly walk over others to get what they want, are heretics of the worse kind, and instead of being celebrated, ought to be rejected, and kicked out of leadership in the house of God.

8 comments:

Lily said...

This is a great one, Phil.

"I am fan of sound teaching, but I find that I am becoming more of a fan of sound living. Those who teach mercy and mercilessly walk over others to get what they want, are heretics of the worse kind, and instead of being celebrated, ought to be rejected, and kicked out of leadership in the house of God."

I like the way you have said that. I'm gonna quote you.

Pastor Phil said...

Quote me!? Yikes! You're spreading my heresy around. ;-)

Thanks Lily

Webb Kline said...

Yeah, but the wicked prosper. They almost always get off the hook. Their misdeeds get overlooked. When you try to indict them, you are made to look the fool.

Guess it's just something to do with the fact that the world is the devil's playground.

But then, who am I, a heretic, to say?

Pastor Phil said...

Wow Webb,

You've been there done that haven't you? You could tell my story I think.

Mike said...

i don't have a problem with the definition of heresy as it is.

we have a name for "a Christian leader who lies, and destroys the ministries of other people for his own selfish gain?" - Wolf in Sheeps Clothing.

Or even an anti-christ.

the problem isn't with how we use the word heretic.

i look at this the same way i look at our sexual hangups.

we think that sexual sin is such a big ass deal, yet to use your example, a pastor can be a total bastard in order to build his empire and he gets book deals. while ted haggard is forced out because he was in a homosexual relationship. in my opinion, and i am just a simple carpenter, never been to bible school or anything, but in my opinion the most damaging and dangerous and deadly sin is that of the ambitious pastor.

the problem isn't in how we define words, or that we think sexual misbehavior is a sin. the problem is that we have neglected to also see that our hero worship of the megapastor, our blindness to materialism and unbound capitalism and consumerism, or even political partisanship is the problem.

what i am saying is that the word heretic as defined is fine. we shouldn't change the definition. bad teaching is obvious for the most part and easy to fight. it is the folks whose teaching is orthodox but whose praxis is problematic.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mike,

Great Post! although I disagree. ;-)

My reason for rethinking a definition of heresy is that I believe the teaching of scriptures are more than an intellectual commodity. They are life giving, life changing, life defining dynamics. If false teaching is heresy, then false living (which has its own neuthetic dynamic) ought to fall under the same category for those whose lives are teaching tools for the brethren.

This will be addressed in an upcoming post.

But then again a disagreement on this is only semantics and not heresy - uhm I hope. ;-)

Mike said...

yeah i think i see where you are coming from. you know when it comes to words there are two camps. the first wants all words to always mean the same thing they always have and the second understands that all words evolve in their meaning and usage.

i tend to fall in between. i think it is helpful if we limit how we use some words for the sake of clarity. why not come up with a second word for unorthopraxis?

i dono, like say, hypocrit.

Bruce said...

You said,
"
I am fan of sound teaching, but I find that I am becoming more of a fan of sound living. Those who teach mercy and mercilessly walk over others to get what they want, are heretics of the worse kind, and instead of being celebrated, ought to be rejected, and kicked out of leadership in the house of God."

And yeah, we let bad things go, too much, too long. Hurts the church. Hurts the little guys.

Well, they aren't heretics. They are immoral sinners. All heresy is sin of the mind, but some sinning is moral, not heresy. Heresy is about what we teach. People who sin morally need to be treated appropriately, but people who teach false doctrine need to be corrected according to Paul's words to Timothy, to teach the Word, reprove, rebuke and exhort--because some of them might come around, God granting them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.

I gather that Ted Haggard's doctrine was good, and his life was a moral shambles. And since I've been finding nice people in the gay-lesbian, polyamorous, new age, wiccan and pro-abortion communities, many of them deny the Lord and back up their theology with an otherwise well ordered life. Other than their particular favorite sins, that is.

So I think it's important to keep the two separate, at least in our minds. Satan inspires moral sins, and Satan also inspires false doctrines.