“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Gen 3:15) “And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one.” (Matt 13:37-38) “So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (Rev. 12:17)
Lately, I have been focusing my blog posts on the subject of heresy. I am convinced that American Christians, for the most part, have completely lost touch with the true nature of heresy. This is due in no small part to ignorant pastors who, for the last 30 years have been bellowing from the pulpit that doctrine doesn’t matter. I used to attend an Independent Baptist Church where the pastor loved to bash those who took doctrine seriously by characterizing them as people who treated the Bible like a math book. While that statement can be true in a certain context, it is not true in the context in which he presented it. In fact, he did more work for the kingdom of darkness in those moments than he did for the kingdom of God. That is regrettable and more than a little unfortunate. It was and is irresponsible for any pastor or elder to belittle Christian doctrine. As I have always said to men who do this: Christian love never elevates itself at the expense of Christian truth. Heresy was an immediate threat to the Christian Church, has been a threat throughout her long and rick history, and remains an ever-present threat to her today. Christians, elders, and pastors ought to respond accordingly.
A heretic is one who is unregenerate, but who resembles, even remarkably at times, and portends to be, one of the regenerate. He is one that has rejected the faith while pretending to accept it. He claims to love Jesus, to be loyal to God, and to love the Church, all the while spreading his false and damnable teachings. That makes me wonder, whatever happened to damnable doctrines? In modern American Churches, the incidents of heresy are growing at an alarming rate and it is especially growing among the young. It is as if the Christian culture must mimic the worldly culture and where the worldly culture is overthrowing traditional values because it is the interesting thing to do, many young Christians have fixed their attention on orthodoxy and her creeds and confessions, see it as dull and uninteresting, and in the name of carving out their own spot, they have climbed into the seat of heresy and buckled-up for the excitement it promises to offer them. The hiss of the serpent can be heard in nearly every evangelical community. What can I say? A little hyperbole is a good thing now and then.
It is no small matter to call into question the sacredness of things like the nature of Sacred Scripture, the divinity of Christ, and the sacred institution of marriage. But at nearly every turn, evangelicals find themselves doing precisely that. We are debating things we are obligated to receive and believe with all humility. And for some strange reason, we think this behavior is somehow more sophisticated, more expressive of progress, even more noble than not. Young evangelicals seem to view the practice of challenging orthodoxy through the lens of updating an outdated policy manual at work. The casual approach to such things is telling and reveals a very disturbing trend in many, if not most, evangelical churches. I believe this trend can be traced to the refusal of the Church to test those who claim to be believers and teachers and leaders who are not! I believe the trend is in no small part to be blamed on pastors and churches so interested in growing their membership and attendance that they have relaxed church membership requirements to the point that Satan would be a good candidate for the deaconate in many communities. They have deluded themselves into thinking that any standards for membership at all are the equivalent of legalism. The apostles of Christ who gave us the teachings of Christ would have disagreed!
Gonzalez points out that “the challenge posed by heresy provoked a series of reactions that would have great consequences for the future life of the church. The creed, the New Testament canon, and the doctrine of apostolic succession are three of those reactions.” [Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought] The church should be no less busy today contradicting and stopping the mouths of heretics as it was from its beginning. Instead, many in the church have adopted the tactics and strategies of the world. They begin by labeling people who are concerned with doctrinal truth as unkind and mean-spirited and overly critical of others. Perhaps some would accuse them of being intellectual bullies. This kind of name-calling and classification is used to manipulate people’s behavior. No one likes to be called a bully or unloving. Hence, the tactic succeeds in silencing those who are simply concerned about the well being of the church and it cuts the fence line so that sheep can wonder out, and wolves may wonder in! Don’t buy into the weak-minded tactics of these swindlers of God’s flock is my advice.
I hope to take you back in time to look at some of the ancient heresies with which the church had to contend from nearly her inception. It is my goal to link those ancient heresies with the modern ones about which we contend today. Moreover, my purpose is not merely to point things out and help you make these connections. My purpose is to influence change. I want the church to begin to excommunicate the heretics, be they simple members, Sunday school teachers, elders, pastors, theologians, and scholars. There is no place for the serpent in the church, regardless of the disguise he may use. When we find the snake in the garden, we cut its head off. When we discover the heretic in God’s community, we take swift action. We lovingly confront them, at first giving them the benefit of doubt. We continue to work with them while managing their influence. In time, if they refuse to recant, we excommunicate them and let them know they are not welcome in community until they repent and receive with all humility, that which has been preserved and handed down to us from the apostles at the beginning.