Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Heresy Hunting and Other Sports

What should we think of heresy and heresy hunting? It is a question that leads to extremes. There are those so consumed with finding heresy that they make points of minor issues or even see issues where none exist. But there are people who cry "heresy hunter" if anyone disagrees with their opinions. The word "heresy" originally referred to a school, sect, or opinion. It was used of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Acts 5:17; 15:5; 26:5). It was also used by outsiders to describe Christianity (Acts 24:5,14; 28:22). But it was used in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:1; Titus 3:10; 1 Corinthians 11:19; Galatians 5:20), and much more after the New Testament, to refer to those who substantially differed from accepted Christian teaching. (Needless to say, there has been disagreement on what has been accepted Christian teaching.) But over time the word has acquired an enormous amount of baggage. There are those who oppose its use and feel anyone who uses it must be a narrow-minded, suspicious nitpicker. There are others who feel that if you refuse to use the word, you are a person who refuses to stand up for any Christian principles. It does not help that there are real people who seem to fit these stereotypes.

Sometimes, in dealing with highly freighted words, it is best to start with the thing itself. The Bible states that there is a definite Christian truth that is to be proclaimed (John 14:6; 8:32; Galatians 3:1). If this is not so, if we have no message, then we should stay home on Sunday and sleep in. But the Bible also says that those who correct people should do so with love and gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24-26; Ephesians 4:15; Jude 22,23). We should also look for those teachings the Scripture emphasizes as crucial (Galatians 1:8,9; Acts 4:12; Isaiah 43:10-13). Now it does not help here that there is commonly confusion over the meanings of words, so people misunderstand each other. Also, it would be naive to conclude there are not those who deliberately tell people what they think they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3,4; Romans 16:18; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15). But charity requires us to not jump to conclusions about people and their motives too quickly (Exodus 20:16; Proverbs 18:19; Deuteronomy 25:1).

Now I do not oppose the use of the word "heresy," but suggest it be used advisedly. It is often better to calmly discuss the issues involved, whether small or large. If you want to impress on someone the seriousness of the issue involved, it is often better to paraphrase. If it is used, it should be reserved for major differences, not incidental matters. Perhaps the same degree of discretion should be used in calling someone a "heresy hunter". It is better to discuss matters of substance than fight over names.


  1. My thinking is that it is probably good for someone to examine whether a doctrine is heretical if they are actually trying to protect the flock that they lead. Not so sure about the others.

  2. I agree that motivation is important here. Are you genuinely trying to help and protect people or are you out to put opponents down. But I do think the best way to protect the flock is to help them understand the issues for themselves so they can deal with them even when you are not there.