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 I 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.