Disagreement vs. Heresy

Heretic.

If you’ve been on Twitter for a while, you’ve probably heard the term tossed around. Sometimes it is deserved, sometimes it is not, and sometimes it seems like “heresy” simply means “whatever I strongly disagree with.” In today’s American church culture, which is sometimes welcoming to a fault, how should we be using the word heresy?

Fr-Justin-BelitzWe’ll start with a definition – a heresy is a teaching within the church that is so wrong that the church must break away from the person, people, or group promoting that teaching and assume him/them to be unsaved. Heresy is the opposite of orthodoxy. A heretic is someone teaching or holding to a teaching that is heretical.

This is important – when someone says that someone else is a heretic, they are saying that person is outside Christian orthodoxy and is not really a Christian. To call someone a heretic is to say that they are heading for hell unless they repent of their wrong belief(s). Throughout church history, heresies have cause schisms in the church.

The charge of heresy is a serious charge that should not be used for simple disagreement. Complementarianism v. egalitarianism, infant v. believer’s baptism, premil v. amil v. postmil, grape juice v. wine in communion, choice of Bible translation, etc – these are peripheral issues to the gospel, not central issues, and therefore not issues over which we should be declaring others to be unsaved. While peripheral issues vary in degree of seriousness, ranging from difference in Bible interpretation to difference in preference, none of them rise to the level of heresy. While we may choose to not attend a church with someone who disagrees with us on peripheral issues, we should be able to be accept them as our Christian brothers.

Issues that are central to the gospel are issues where heresy is most easily seen. The bodily death and resurrection of Jesus, His sinless life, His dual natures (man and God), His atoning work on the cross, salvation by faith and not works – these are some of the doctrines to which you must hold to be a Christian. To deny one of them or teach something that is in direct disagreement with the Biblical and historical view is to hold a heretical position and to be outside of Christian orthodoxy.

Heresy isn’t something that came from the church or church councils, but from the Bible. In the Bible, Christians are warned that false teachers and prophets will rise up from inside the church, teaching dangerous and destructive things and trying to destroy believers (2 Pet 2:1-6). We are told to avoid people who teach things that are contrary to Biblical teachings (Rom 16:17-18; 2 Jn 7). Paul wrote that if anyone should come teaching a gospel opposed to what he had already taught, that person is under God’s curse (Gal 1:8-9).

Heresy is real, and it is important for the church to recognize and stand against it. People who teach and/or believe heresies are in danger of hell, and it is the duty of the church to love those people by calling out their sin and pleading with them to repent. Let us not use the charge of heresy to try to end an argument or make people stop listening to those with whom we disagree, but to point out false teachings that are destructive to men’s souls.

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Complementarianism and The Anon Church

A few weeks ago I asked the Twittersphere if anyone why_are_we_complementarian-400x246had any topics that they wanted me to write about, and got a suggestion to write about women bloggers, complementarianism, the Anon Church, and how all of it worked together.

Let’s start with a definition of complementarianism. From the Resurgence website:

Men and women are partners in every area of life and ministry together. Though equal, men and women have complementary and distinct gender roles so that men are to lovingly lead and head their homes like Jesus, and only men can be pastors in the church.

And the CARM website:

In the context of our discussion of women pastors and elders, complementarianism is the position that the man and the woman in the church complement each other with their different callings and giftings.  Complementarianism states that though there may be gifts of both women and men that overlap, there are biblically designated roles that do not. Both men and women can balance the books, be ushers, cook, take care of the kids, etc.  But the complementarian position would say that a woman is not to be an elder or pastor because those positions are prohibited to women by scripture.

So, complementarianism is a position on gender roles that states that, among other things, women are not to be pastors. Complementarians (by this I mean real complementarians, not abusive men using the Bible as an excuse) do not believe that men cannot learn anything from women ever. Female teachers in schools are not anathema, and many complementarian women are homeschoolers who teach their sons. I have heard complementarian pastors says that men who will not listen to their wives and take her opinions into account are being foolish. Again, complementarians do not believe that men can learn nothing from women.

So, can men learn from women (the author of this blog included) on matters of theology and topics such as Bible interpretation and application? I believe the answer is yes for three reasons:

1. As protestants we do not believe there is a special group of people called pastors who can understand theology and the Bible better than laypeople. Pastors are in charge of churches because they have been ordained by a church that believes they are capable of that responsibility, not because they are the smartest or the most holy or more blessed by God or whatever. Most pastors are wonderful, committed Christians, but they can’t know everything about all topics. Laypeople can be more knowledgeable on theological topics than a pastor, and that neither puts the layperson in the position of pastor nor makes the pastor less of a shepherd.

2. If we ban women from teaching theology and the Bible to men in all circumstances because they cannot be pastors, we need to do the same for men who are not ordained. Complementarianism in the church means that women are not to be ordained and therefore cannot teach as pastors, but neither can non-ordained men.

3. For women blogs in particular – blogs are not a church. The Anon Church is not a church with pastors, elders, biblical membership and discipline, regular services, etc. It is at most a parachurch organization, but more accurately should be thought of as a loose fellowship of Christian bloggers. We write for the edification of the church, but we have no official authority. Even the pastors who write blogs cannot function as pastors for all their blog readers, because pastors are shepherds for local churches. A Baptist minister cannot walk into a Nazarene church and assume pastoral authority over that church body. We are simply Christians who have a desire to serve our brothers and sisters through our writing.

So, if you are a complementarian man, feel free to read Christian blogs written by women and learn something! We are called to encourage and build one another up and should do so gladly.

The Greatest Cause of Atheism

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

This quote by Brennan Manning is pretty famous. If you were a DC Talk fan in the ’90s, you’ve probably heard it so often you’ve memorized it. It’s famous for a reason – it plays so well in our moralistic, works-screen-shot-2013-02-08-at-9-40-44-amoriented culture. It’s a good bit of public self-flagellation for the church, a solid mea culpa. If the Church would just get right with God, get out house in order, and start acting more like Jesus, we’d see so many conversions that all the churches we already have couldn’t hold the new Christians. This quote has emotional and spiritual punch.

But before we repeat it, put it on Facebook or Twitter, or write a blog post about Christians who don’t act like Christians, let’s ask a simple question – is it true?

To answer that question, and all other questions of theology, we must turn to the Bible.

Romans 1:18-23 :

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Paul’s argument here is simple – everyone has rejected God. Everyone knows about God because He has not hidden Himself, and yet all have rejected Him. No one has any excuse for rejecting Him that would let them escape judgement. Further, those who rejected God (which, again, is everyone) reaped darkened hearts and minds which cannot understand the things of God but rather have idols – animals in Paul’s time, other things in ours, but idols just the same.

2 Corinthians 4:2-4 :

We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Here, Paul’s argument is a little different but just as straightforward – unbelievers don’t believe because the devil (the god of this world) has blinded them to the truth of the gospel. They cannot see the glory of Christ on their own. This dovetails nicely with the above passage out of Romans. After the sin of our first father Adam, everyone who has ever lived has been blinded to the gospel by the devil because of original sin – the original rejection of God and His ways because Adam thought he knew better.

No where in the Bible are we promised that living a good life will bring people to Jesus. In fact, the Bible promises the opposite – that people will hate Christians because we live good lives (2 Tim 3:12). “Try harder” is the voice of legalism, not of grace, and it should not be a loud voice in the church.

This is not to say that it doesn’t matter how Christians act. When we were washed and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, we were also given the power to live lives that are pleasing to God. We should follow the example of Jesus (1 Pet 2:21-25). To not do this is to give unbelievers opportunity to blaspheme and profane the name of our Lord (Rom 2:23-24). Christians are to do good (1 Jn 1:11), imitate the faith of those who went before us (Heb 13:7), put off our sin and clothe ourselves with Christ (Eph 4:22-24). We are to live peaceable lives (Rom 12:17-18) and have such good conduct that, even when we are reviled, unbelievers see that we have good deeds (1 Pet 2:12).

Christians who do not live out what they profess are absolutely going to be used as an excuse for unbelief. While no man can stand before God and say “my Christian neighbor was a poor example, so I deserve to get into heaven,” it is tragic that so many people believe they are justified in their unbelief by those who profess Christ but live a life that doesn’t line up with that profession. But to say that Christians behaving badly are the greatest single cause of atheism is to reject what the Bible teaches about unbelievers. It is to take much more responsibility for other people’s regeneration than we need or deserve.