Error or Heresy?

We love to criticize anyone who disagrees with our opinions and to call them “heretics” for their different view. For the sake of clarification and distinctions made in the NT, this blog will describe four categories of different viewpoints. These categories are (1) Unintended Error; (2) Wrong Teachings; (3) False Teachings; (4) Intentional Heresy.

First, an Unintentional Error in interpretation results from a misunderstanding in grammar, missing the observation in the language meaning or how the context impacts on word meanings. This could be due to depending on a single English translation (e.g., most miss the sense of the meaning of the adverb in the Lord’s Supper instructions in 1 Cor 11:27, 29 from the KJV) or not knowing the difference of a transliterated word from a translated word, like “baptism,” verses “dip into or immerse,” especially in 1 Cor 12:13.

An illustration of this could be an exaggerated application of Phil 4:13, ” I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13 NET) to mean anything beyond the normal (i.e., pole-vaulting 20 feet; or getting an “A” on every exam in school). When one claims such ideas not intended in the text, disillusionment is inevitable. The context refers to being able to internally handle with contentment any economic situation that the Lord permits in our lives.

An example of this error was seen when Apollos came through Corinth, though “an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John.” (Acts 18:24-25) Whatever he was teaching it contains some unintended errors, so ” when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately” (Acts 18:26 NET), which he quickly accepted from their wisdom.

One is reminded of the sign of a wise person, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.” (Prov. 9:9) A wise person will always listen to correction to stay true to the Word of God.

Second, Wrong Teachings can result from mixing cultural ideas with the Bible, spiritualizing principles to seem like “deeper” truths, or insisting on man’s legalistic teachings (i.e. requiring preachers to wear a suit and tie on Sunday to be spiritual, etc.). This concept can include teachings of losing your salvation, baby baptism or sprinkling as a means for becoming part of the covenant with God or multiple water baptisms to result in more filling of the Spirit, etc..

An illustration of this wrong teaching is the technique of seeking God’s will by asking God for “peace” when a certain decision is His will or, on the contrary, if the decision is not His will then a spirit of doubt is asked for to be felt in your spirit. This subjective teaching is derived from a misinterpretation of Col. 3:15, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” This common view was taught by a godly missionary for determining the future will of God; however, the context demands an entirely different meaning. The plural command signifies the peace among the assembly or church body [not an individual] must be the controlling rule and any deviation from peaceful relationships should be dealt with immediately. See the context for clarification (Col 3:12-14).

An example of this type of error in seen in Peter’s reaction to Judaizers who encountered him sitting among Gentiles with Paul in Antioch.  Peter quickly, and apparently offensively, abandoned the Gentiles to please the Jews (Gal 2:12).  Peter’s view of unclean Gentile converts still had not been corrected in his conscience, in spite of his lesson with Cornelius recorded in Acts 10. Paul “opposed him” [Peter] publically (Gal 2:11) due to his hypocrisy by “not behaving consistently with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14 NET).  He had accepted a Jewish cultural standard that denied the acceptance of Gentiles for the unity of all Christ’s followers. Peter was wrong.  This was a worse teaching error than an unintentional error, so it demanded a public rebuke.

Proverbs tells us “Rebuke is more effective for a wise man than a hundred blows on a fool.” (Prov. 17:10) This correction technique reveals the wise character of the teacher as he responds to and learns from the rebuke (Prov 9:8; 15:12).

Third, False Teaching is a mixing of psychological, pagan or “scientific” views with Christian views that can appear to be more spiritual (e.g., Gnostic dualistic concepts or asceticism). These teachings are not to be entertained but “avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge-” (1 Tim. 6:20) This may inject speculations, extra-biblical concepts from mythologies, or the elevation of logic or philosophical systems that contradict the clear teachings of Scripture.

Some illustrations of this would include the teaching that water baptism washes away one’s sins or unites a sinner to Christ. Likewise, animistic principles can be seen in some church teachings which might include: sprinkling holy salt around one’s home to prevent evil spirits from entering; spirituality is supposedly evident by entering into a trance, fainting or unconsciousness, transmigrating of one’s spirit, psychic reading of people’s minds, levitating, waving an imaginary sword “of Gideon” in the air to slay demon spirits or doing spiritual battle in the angelic world to rid the region of demons to facilitate evangelism.

The example of correcting False Teachings in the churches in Crete was the task of Titus in Tit. 1:13-14, “Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth.” Adding extra-biblical teachings in the church was to be dealt with firmly.

Proverbs warn about attempting to correct ideas from fools: “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words.” (Prov. 23:9) They are convinced their “spiritual” views are “deeper” or “more mystical” than the simple meaning of the text: “Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe.” (Prov. 28:26 NLT) Whatever occurs to their mind is taken as a special revelation from God: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in disclosing what is on his mind.” (Prov. 18:2 NET)

The fourth level of deviant concepts is Heretical Teachings, which deny the clear teachings of the Word of God and salvation by grace alone, such as creating a list of sacraments or rites that are necessary to secure God’s blessings or salvation. The denial of God’s abundant grace as all-sufficient for salvation or other Scripture-denying concepts today, such as universalism [everyone will be saved], denial of Christ’s humanity, incarnation or exclusivity (i.e., the only way to heaven). These concepts are more than differences of opinion, but overt denial of the clear gospel understanding thus creating a false “Christianity.”

An illustration of this was the issue in Galatia where Judaizers or false teachers denied the gospel of grace and led followers to strive for legalistic perfection to be saved. Paul wrote, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6). Such teachings will result in a false gospel void of salvation (See Matt 7:21-22).

An example of this type of teaching was the false teachers in Galatians who destroyed the foundation of grace, substituting a legalistic works-base means for attaining salvation, distorting the desperate sense of man’s sinfulness and taught that by submitting to certain rules a sinner could perfect his salvation.  “Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, to make us slaves. But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.” (Gal. 2:4-5 NET)

Nearly all the early churches faced various heresies and marked these ritualistic, sacramentalistic false teachers which were to be avoided. “But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves.” (2 Pet. 2:1 NLT) Paul gives us the only solution: “And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers, and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them.” (Rom. 16:17 NLT)

This last category appears as the proverbial “scoffer,” the arrogant, egotist, who derides anyone who disagrees with him as he refuses to be corrected. “Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you;” (Prov. 9:8) “But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” (Prov. 13:1) “A scoffer does not love one who corrects him” (Prov. 15:12). The only safe attitude with this false teacher and his teachings is to keep him away from the believers. The first three categories appear to be correctable, but the latter is only to be avoided.

The reason for this discernment and careful guidance of the church is described in Paul’s last words to the Ephesian elders: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28) Let’s protect all the people in His church from error to heresy, but call it as it is.

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