On Declaring Someone a Heretic

I received a phone call from my pastor last night and among the many things he said was something about our ongoing disagreement about Oneness Pentecostals. He said that he’s leery of judging them unsaved or calling them heretics because he doesn’t know their hearts and wants to be cautious about pronouncing judgment since he’ll be judged according to the same measure (cf. Matt. 7:2). He spoke about their love for God and their desire to be obedient to him. He also made a distinction between the hardliners who only preach “the oneness” from the pulpit and those who might believe it without knowing why they believe or where they went wrong.

I didn’t get to say much by way of response because I was watching a fight and I wasn’t in the mood to debate. The one question I asked was this: What heretic throughout any period of history do you think didn’t believe that they loved God and were doing him obedient service? He said he didn’t know but that he didn’t want to be quick to call someone a heretic simply for disagreeing with him. Okay, that’s good and well, and I’d agree to some extent. I don’t call people heretics simply because they disagree with me; I call them heretics because they embrace teaching that has already been declared heretical by the church.

And that’s an important point to make in this discussion. He mentioned John MacArthur and how he’s dead wrong about spiritual gifts, which, by the way, he is. But he said that I wouldn’t call MacArthur a heretic for being wrong about that, and he’s right, I wouldn’t. I’d simply say that there’s a chink in MacArthur’s expositional armor. Cessationism isn’t born through exegesis; it’s born through experience, or the lack thereof. But that’s not my point. My point is that at no time in church history that I’m aware of has the the lack of belief in spiritual gifts been declared a heresy. In fact, some might argue for the similarities between Montanism, which was declared heretical, and modern Charismatic beliefs and practices. I’d say they’re wrong, but they’d have more of a leg to stand on than those arguing the opposite.

For the record, I don’t slavishly adhere to conciliar definitions and creeds out of a sense of duty or tradition, but rather because I believe they are correct. I believe with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength that God guided his church to the correct understanding of his Scriptures when the early disputes arose over their meaning. I think that patristic exegesis is the outworking of apostolic exegesis and that any modern exegesis should align with both without necessarily having to repeat it verbatim. But what I don’t believe is that my personal convictions, in and of themselves, are any criteria by which to judge a person’s orthodoxy. What think is ultimately irrelevant in light of what has already been declared by the church.

So to repeat myself: I call certain people heretics because they embrace teaching that has already been declared heretical by the church. These issues have been settled. Either get on board with it or jump ship. But whatever you do, realize that heresy can’t be reformed or redeemed; it has to be repented of. Can heretics be saved? Of course. Just not as long as they actively embrace heresy.



12 thoughts on “On Declaring Someone a Heretic

  1. Good thoughts, Nick and very timely given current exposes. One sidebar quibble that I know is not the main point of the post. You said, Cessationism isn’t born through exegesis; it’s born through experience, or the lack thereof.” I think the same could be said of continuationists, no? On both sides, experience will drive some, exegesis will drive others. As for me, my move from full blown continuationism to soft-cessationism was born from the latter, despite much experience as a charismatic. I’m not saying this to debate but to portray what is fair on both sides.

  2. Great post! I agree with you about the definition of heresy and certainly would name Oneness folks heretics for denying the Trinity. However I wonder if part of what your pastor is saying is he doesn’t want to negate and dismiss anyone that God hasn’t dismissed. I know some Oneness folks with bad theology who I fully expect are ‘saved.’

    I think of an elder African American woman in Atlanta who was in a bible study I led at a senior living facility. When we talked about the Trinity, we argued constantly. But I could talk Jesus with her and I heard something authentic in her faith. Badly misguided, yes. But not just sincere. Real Christianity.

    I guess I just am saying call heresy, heresy but be hopeful enough that when you get to heaven you will see people whose theology doesn’t belong.

  3. I wonder if we can call Christian, someone who does not profess Christian teaching. Arius and Pelagius liked to talk about Jesus too in an authentic sounding way.

  4. More accurately, it is teaching that has already been declared heretical by the “some” in the church. To imply that these teachings have been declared heretical by the church, universally and unanimously, I think, would be inaccurate.

  5. Nick I would agree that anyone who denies the Trinity or the Ecumenical Councils a Heretic. he However, that excludes a lot of people who attempt to describe themselves as Christian. There is an unanimity between the World Council of Churches and the Latin Church which centers around Baptism and the Ecumenical Credal Statements. I wonder if you be better situated in examining the term `schismatic` rather than heretic as the understanding of one rending the one unity of Church rather than someone standing outside the Church. I once read somewhere related to Nicea that the Creeds are there to show where the Church is not rather than where it is. I`ve remembered I am paraphrasing Bishop Butler on Vatican II who before the Council stated we ne where the Church was and isn`t after the Council he said he knew neither where the Church is and is`nt. Best wishes Nick from over the pond

  6. Jim: Cool. I didn’t know anything about reblogging before today.

    Lisa: I’d be very interested to hear your exegetical reasons for coming to your current stance.

    James: I wish I could be so hopeful. As I’ve noted many times on the blog, I hold that salvation isn’t dependent upon scoring a 100% on some theology test, but there’s a difference between not knowing any better, and knowing and still rejecting orthodox doctrine. To put it plainly, I think that anyone who actively, willfully, and knowingly worships a God that is not the Trinity is an idolater, and no idolater will inherit the kingdom.

    Jeff: Well, all heretics start out in the church, otherwise they wouldn’t be heretics; they’d just be folks of a different religion. I don’t count their opinion as being of much value to be honest.

    Andrew: Schismatic is generally reserved for those who cause or embrace division. Heretic is more doctrinally oriented. Many heretics would love to hold their heresy and remain in the church.

  7. Dear Nick,

    Very good post. I do quibble over the issue of the cessation or not of the Charismatic gifts, but that is not germane to the issue at hand. BTW, the Greek term, XARISMATA, would better translated, “spirituality” NOT “spiritual gifts.” The word “gifts” is is in italics in I Corinthians 12:1 meaning it was not in the original.

    One of the best books over the whole issue of heresy would be Harold O. J. Brown, Heresies. It is an excellent book dealing with heresy from the perspective of the Creed of Chalcedon. This, in effect, cause a great many problems for the following groups:
    1) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ (Mormons both in Missouri and Utah).
    2) The Jehovah Witness, originally followers of Charles Taze Russell.
    3) The Seventh Day Adventists, descendants of the Millerites of the 1840’s.
    4) The Church of Christ Scientist (Christian Scientists and Mary Baker Eddy).

    The would be other groups, but the main thrust of the debate over “heresy” would be those who deny the central doctrines of the Bible an the Seven Ecumenical Creeds especially Nicaea and Chalcedon. The central thrust is the question dealing with the person and work of Jesus Christ. This would invariably involve Bibliology, Theology Proper, Christology, Pneumatology, etc.

  8. Rev. Bryant: I think you meant that πνευματικων, not χαρισματα, should be translated as “spirituality” in 1 Cor. 12:1. I see no real problem with supplying “gifts” as I think it’s implied by vs. 4 (cf. v. 31) as well as what follows, but I’d also be comfortable with something like “spiritual manifestations” (cf. η φανερωσις του πνευματος in 12:7).

    With that said, I do have Brown’s book and it is excellent.

  9. Dear Nick,

    I stand corrected. I was going by memory…What was I writing about? Oh, yes, I was going on memory on I Corinthians 12:1 since I did not have my Greek NT with me at the time. Oops.

  10. Nick, oh boy that is years worth of wrestling in a comment section. So I’ll give a brief sketch. Basically, my shift occurred through articulation of a doctrine of scripture. In doing so, it led me to the question of the purpose of gifts in relation to revelation. Since prophecy and tongues are usually the two that end up distinguishing between a continuationist vs cessationist position, I’ll focus on those.:

    Re prophecy: I don’t see any difference in the level of authority between OT and NT prophets. The purpose of prophecy was to affirm the apostles message as those commissioned by Christ to expand on previous prophecy and what that meant with the advent of Christ. So prophecy was more of a foretelling in the OT but a forth-telling in the NT.

    The one place where I honestly still wrestle is in 1 Corinthians 14. And I think depending on how one defines prophecy, will determine the expectation for on-going prophecy.

    Then there’s Agabus. Not sure what to do with him.

    Re tongues: I think Acts 2 sets the tone for the purpose of tongues and the fact that it is an understandable language even though unknown to the speaker. But it also is for the purpose or revelation related to the testimony of Christ. Again, it is affirmation of the apostles message. So in the context of the early church where you had OT scripture and the apostles message plus inclusion of Gentiles as equal recipients of the promise, tongues and prophecy were needed.

    But this goes back to the doctrine of Scripture and considering how tongues and prophecy related to that which was captured in the complete canon. Having been in numerous settings where tongues/interpretations and/or prophecies went forth, in retrospect it seemed like what was communicated could have been preached from the word (when it actually aligned with the word). But I do make room for areas without scripture and absent the gospel, to experience gifts (prophecy and tongues) in the same manner that the early church experienced for the purpose of the proclamation of Christ. In our context, why are they needed? Especially, if God has spoken sufficiently through scripture (kind of addressing that in my thesis).

    Anyways, I hammered this out quickly and not sure if I really did it justice. This is my last day at work and I still have some stuff to wrap up so I’ve been very brief. I’ve written some articles at P&P that explains further. Also, I just posted this today,- http://theothoughts.com/2013/04/29/short-sighted-prophecy/

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