On Heresy Hunters

Barb Wire

On so many fronts, getting the Biblical balance right is always crucial. It is always so easy to go off on unBiblical extremes. When it comes to the issue of heresy, there are two extremes to avoid. One is to pretend nothing is heretical, and never speak out about aberrational or heterodox teaching.

The other is to see a heretic under every bed, and to label anything and everything we happen to disagree with as heretical. Both of these extremes must be resisted like the plague. Doctrinal purity is very important, but so too is Christian unity.

Truth and unity both matter, and we must work to preserve both, as I write here:

On Truth and Unity, Part One

On Truth and Unity, Part Two

Anyone who knows me or has read my material knows that I am certainly a stickler for good theology and sound doctrine. But I am also concerned when this becomes an extreme, unBiblical and un-Christian endeavor. That is, it is too easy to degenerate into a rabid and unhelpful heresy hunter.

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While we all must insist upon due doctrinal diligence, the sad truth is, there are just far too many uninformed heresy hunters out there. Way too many believers are accusing one another of heresy and apostasy, and are pronouncing anathemas on those suspected of holding to any slight deviation from their pet theological stance.

Now there most certainly is such a thing as heresy, and apostasy. When someone denies the key tenets of the Christian faith, such as the deity of Christ, the Trinity, or salvation by Christ alone, then orthodoxy quickly gives way to heterodoxy.

But there are plenty of secondary doctrines which we have room to move on, and to hold to a differing view from your brother does not automatically turn you into a heretic who must be burned at the stake. One’s view on eschatology or church government or worship styles are not matter to go to the wall over.

Yet far too many believers will elevate their particular pet peeve when it comes to doctrine and practice and elevate it to the heights, and anyone who dares to disagree with it is immediately labelled as a back-slider or apostate or worse. Such unnecessary theological intolerance helps no one, but harms many.

Examples of this are far too easy to come by. I actually had a guy recently send in this comment: “God cannot be ‘forced’ to do anything, you reprobate heretic.” Suffice it to say I did not bother to print this guy’s comment. So what was he on about here? Earlier I had written an article about God’s rejection of Saul: Difficult Bible Passages: 1 Samuel 16:14.

In it I said, “Overall, the Biblical message is that God is indeed sovereign, but he is not directly the author of evil. This passage is one of many texts that must be examined in this light. And it serves as a strong warning to us all as well. God may well use a person for his purposes, but it is also possible for that person to reject God, forcing God to reject him.”

And for daring to say that, I am now a “reprobate heretic!” Do I laugh or cry at this? Obviously my point was that God felt compelled to act, in light of Saul’s bad choices and rebellion. Of course God is not forced to do anything in one sense. But this person leapt to an unwarranted conclusion about what I had said, and was ready to at least tar and feather me.

But this is going on all the time, and it certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many believers — and rightly so. And sadly because of this, these same Christians will often then go to the other extreme. So anxious are they to avoid this hyper-critical spirit, that they will refuse to criticize, assess or judge anything.

They want to be seen as tolerant and loving and gracious — all very good traits indeed, rightly understood — so they will abstain altogether from making theological and doctrinal critiques and judgments. That is equally damaging and harmful.

Such people then do indeed often end up tolerating grievous theological error, and can end up embracing real heresy, all in the name of being non-judgmental and Christlike. So both extremes have to be resisted, and we have to keep working on the Biblical balance.

The truth is, in a fallen world, we will never have all the truth, and we will never fully agree with everyone else. And a bit of humility here can go a long way. Lots of lesser doctrines we can and should hold on to more lightly. Yes, defend to the death the utterly key and vital fundamentals of the faith, but cut a bit of slack on the less important theological issues.

I like and quote from many other believers who I greatly respect, yet I may well disagree with various positions they hold to. And many would feel the same about me. On the basics we get along, but on many more minor issues we may well have plenty of disagreements.

Christian fellowship and unity must be promoted where possible, and learning to get along with those who do not fully see eye to eye with you is a mark of Christian maturity and wisdom. Wanting to pick a fight with anyone over anything and everything is not.

And as is often the case, there is a fine line running between arrogant, proud pugilists who seek out enemies everywhere, and those who will staunchly stand for Biblical truth, but will do so in love, recognizing that secondary issues can be treated much more lightly.

So I plea to all the heresy hunters out there — and undoubtedly some folks will think that I am one — to be prayerful, careful and humble as you stand for truth. Staying on your knees is the very best place to be fighting for Biblical and theological orthodoxy.

If the church has been greatly harmed by heresy over the centuries, it has also been greatly damaged by overzealous, unwise, uncaring, and unloving heresy hunters. A pox on both their houses.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Bill Muehlenberg
Bill Muehlenberg, who was born in America, lives in Melbourne, Australia. He runs a web-based ministry of pro-faith, pro-family activism called CultureWatch: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com. Bill is widely sought out by the media for comments on social issues, faith issues, and family issues, and has appeared on all the major television and radio news shows, current affairs shows, and debate programs. He is the author of In Defence of the Family; Strained Relations: The Challenge of Homosexuality, and several other books.

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