Heresy can be a matter of life or death. In years gone by people were tied to a stake and burned to death because of it. Roman Catholics burned Protestants, Protestants burned Roman Catholics and both of them burned the Anabaptists. It seems that one man’s doctrine is another man’s heresy.
However, as committed Christians seeking to live the authentic Christian life we need to look to the Bible for our definition of what heresy is, and what it is not. That ruling definition is what it meant in the 1st century, as it was being understood and applied, during the formation of the early church.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians was the earliest of his letters to the newly forming ecclesia of Christ. In it he lays down some basic guidelines to follow as it begins to develop. In Galatians 5:17 -21 we read:.
“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary to one another: so that you cannot do the things that you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these...(a list)…heresies ( verse 20)….(the list continues)”.
So we can see that heresy is opposed to God’s will, that it is a work of the flesh and it opposes and hinders the Holy Spirit.
Now consider the correct meaning of the word heresy. Heresy is a transliteration of the Greek word hairesis, A good example of a transliteration as opposed to a translation is the English word ‘deacon’.
Deacon is a transliteration of the Greek word diakonos, which properly translated means ‘servant’. Regardless of what the word deacon means today, for the early church and for us as we read the Bible, the meaning of the word deacon is ‘one who serves’ or ‘a servant’.
In the same way heresy is a transliteration of hairesis (Strongs 139) which properly translated is ‘a choosing’, a ‘choice, ‘a division and the formation of a party or a sect in contrast to the uniting power of ‘the truth’. (Vines)
Hairesis is used eight times in the New Testament. Three times it is translated as heresy or heresies and five times it is translated as sect.
It follows then that anything within the body of Christ that chooses one group, or elects to belong to one group, at the exclusion of another is by definition a work of the flesh and in opposition to the Holy Spirit and the express will of God. Here is a repeat of the same message about heresy:
“Now this I say, that every one of you says, I am of Paul, and I am of Apollos, and I am of Cephas, and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
(1 Cor. 1:12 -)
Heresy is endemic in the contemporary church. From the large denominations – Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, etc. to the larger independent churches of the church growth movement, down to the church formed by a pastor in a hotel meeting room or rented shop front.
A decision to form and belong to a separate group has been made. Loyalty to the group is expected as against to a loyalty to Christ that encompasses all the other groups. To declare yourself not to be ‘a member’ and to be free to associate with any and all the other groups as the Spirit leads, is declared to be ‘of the flesh’, ‘ungodly’, rebellious’ and ‘opposed to the Spirit’.
The contemporary church is founded on, thrives on and encourages heresy. That is, heresy as Biblically defined, which is the forming of factions, sects and the choosing of one group to the exclusion of another.
So how should a committed Christian seeking to live the authentic Christian life respond to this widespread heresy? Heresy is so deeply entrenched, so ingrained and not to be questioned in the contemporary church, that it leaves only one option open to the committed Christian, and that is to walk away from it.
Walk away? Easier said than done and where can one walk to? A good starting point is one where the unifying factor is the centrality of Jesus and the Bible. Where Jesus rather than a ‘leader’ leads by the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Where fellowship is through mutual accountability to and for each other. Where there is no hierarchical structure.
Can’t find one? Then start one in your own home.
But be warned. Once you start down that road, the road away from the endemic heresy that is opposed to the Spirit (biblical definition, not mine) then the contemporary church today will want to treat you in the same way that the Protestants and Roman Catholics of Reformation times treated the Anabaptists.
You, rather than they, will be seen as heretical.
The big question is - Who does God see as being heretical?