Sunday, February 20, 2011


Many years ago I bought a book on Heresies in the Church.  I was interested in learning about some of the false doctrines that have developed down the ages, although the book covered those it explained that "heresy" does not mean false doctrine.  "What is a heretic?  The Greek word from which the English terms 'heresy' and 'heretic' are derived simply means an 'act of choice' or an 'attachment'" (Brown p.1). Heresy simply refers to a group that we choose to be a part of.  It doesn't always have a bad meaning attached to it.  Luke often used it this neutral way.  For example in Acts 5.17 he refers to the "party of the Sadducees," here he is just referring to them as a group, he isn't using the word heresy to mean a false teaching.  Also, in Acts 15.5 "Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, 'the Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.'"  Here some Christians were still holding on to the old group they had belonged to, but Luke still seems to be using the word in a neutral way.  In Acts 24.5 the lawyer Tertullus refers to Christians as the "Nazarene sect," but Paul corrects that view and calls it "the Way, which they call a sect" (Acts 24.14).  To Paul the Church was not just some religious group, it was the only way of salvation.  Luke used the word two more times in Acts at 26.5 "strictest sect," and 28.22 "talking against this sect."

Paul also sometimes used the word in a neutral meaning.  In 1Cor 11.19 "In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  No doubt there have to be differences among  you to show which of you have God's approval."  The problems at Corinth were so severe that Paul could not see how they could help but have heresy (differences among you).  He didn't like it but it was unavoidable.

Paul does use heresy in a negative way.  In Gal 5.20, in the list of works of the flesh, he says "...hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy...."  The word "factions" is the word heresy here.  It is a sin that can keep us from inheriting the kingdom of God.  Paul again wrote about it in Titus 3.9-11 "But avoid foolish controversies...warn a divisive person once...You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned."  "Divisive person" is the word heretic. Peter used the word once in 2 Pet. 2.1 "They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them...."

We can see that when heresy is used in a negative fashion it is talking about groups forming within the Church that divide it.  This should not surprise us since Paul wrote about one Lord, and one faith (Eph 4.3-6) and 1Cor.1.10 "I appeal to you, brother, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought."  Creating groups within the Church is destructive to the unity of the Church. It divides the body of Christ.  Think about how many different congregations there are in your area and ask yourself how many of them were formed because someone got angry and divided the Church?  Where I live at least half of the congregations are here because of a split over personal disagreements, not because of any doctrinal matters.  This is to our shame, and we should be making an effort to unite some of these congregations.

There is a great need in the Chruch for Peacemakers.  We have new divisions cropping up all the time, and congregations are continuing to divide.  We don't think of this as heresy, it has become a normal occurance, this shows our lack of maturaty.  We need to mature as Christians and keep the body of Christ whole.


Brown HOJ (1988).  Heresies, Hendrickson.

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