2 Timothy 4:2-
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (NIV)
Does Your Group Have Resident Heretics?
When many people hear the word heretic, they think it means someone who believes something that is not approved by the leadership of their own religious group. And when they hear the word heresy, they think it means a belief that is contrary to one of the official doctrines of the group.
But that is not really an accurate perspective on the Greek words underlying these English terms, as they are used in the New Testament.
Just what is a heretic, and what is the heresy he may try to promote? Here's what the Strong's Concordance Greek Lexicon says:
G139 hairesis hah'ee-
From G138; properly a choice, that is, (specifically) a party or (abstractly) disunion.
(“heresy” is the Greek word itself.): -
The word "heretic" (spelled "heretick" in 1611 English) is actually only used once in the KJV Bible:
A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that
he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.
It may not be clear what is implied by this archaic English. See how the same passage is translated in the NIV:
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing
to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-
In other words … a person is not a heretic just because he believes something different. He is a heretic because he is using that belief to cause division among those with whom he is fellowshipping.
And heresy isn't just a belief different from those that show up in an official statement of beliefs of an organization. It is a belief that someone insists on using to stir up contention among those with whom he is fellowshipping.
16 There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and
I have many friends who believe things I may not agree are soundly proven by scripture. And there are certain things that I believe that I've not been able to persuade others to accept yet. But as long as neither of us feels a compulsion to shove our own convictions down each other's throats, we can get along just fine!
It is when people are not comfortable with just sharing what they understand, and then allowing others to come to their own conclusions, that trouble arises. It is when new people arrive at a local fellowship group with an agenda to push that they feel compelled to force down the throats of others at all cost that heresy enters the picture.
This webpage covers suggestions for dealing with some of the topic areas that have been the source of considerable upheaval and division and dissension among Christians for many years. There is, in general, nothing wrong with studying, discussing, and even debating many ideas. What becomes of concern is when they are used as a wedge to divide brethren who have been dwelling together in peace.
Differences in understanding do not have to become heresies.
It is how they are handled that is the deciding factor.
Wind and Waves
"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is
like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams
rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because
it had its foundation on the rock. (Matt.7:24-
What rock is Jesus is speaking about here? In one analogy it is Jesus Himself. But in this parable, He implies that building on the rock is building on what He has said. And what He has said in this context isn't unusual speculation about prophecy, complex reasoning about how to construct a Holy Calendar, or admonition on how to pronounce Hebrew words. It is the very simple, basic precepts of the Sermon on the Mount!
We each individually need to "build our house upon the Rock" of Jesus Christ and the things He has taught us through the Scriptures. But this concept also applies to the "household of faith," the local congregation. It needs to be built on the Rock too.
There is another Biblical analogy that describes what happens to us individually and to all of us in congregations when we are not grounded on solid rock.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown
here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men
in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all
things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body,
joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up
in love, as each part does its work. (Eph 4:14-
There have been winds and waves of doctrine blowing and tossing people around since the time of Christ. If this hasn’t happened yet in your own local congregation, get ready—it is very likely to in the coming months and years.
As mentioned above, just because an idea is unfamiliar to us doesn’t mean someone proposing it is a deceitful, scheming heretic. It is those ideas that divide loving brethren that are truly heresies. Some ideas we have not considered before may actually build even more strength into our foundation, by helping us to understand the teachings of Jesus more clearly. But others may be mere wind and waves that will attempt to tear down rather than build up.
There is a lot of enthusiasm for Local Evangelism in many church circles. If your congregation is not equipped to discern the difference between solid building materials and destructive wind and waves, it is not really ready to reach out and attempt to bring new people. The next section provides a checklist of things you can do to make sure you are on the solid Rock, ready for your congregation to grow.
A group that is being tossed to and fro on every wind of doctrine and battered by waves of new ideas is not ready to reach out with evangelism to bring more people into such an environment. What can you do to calm the storms and make sure your group is building on the solid Rock?
If you have had the assumption that everyone in your group thinks alike on all doctrinal matters, just because they have the same “church roots,” think again.
This material on Itching Ears is particularly aimed at individuals who are currently
part of a church group where many of the members have been, in the past, part of
an authoritarian church organization, and left to create an independent fellowship
group. Such authoritarian groups make their own definition of “doctrinal purity”
This is not necessarily bad, of course! Just because a perspective on a certain topic has been around for a long time in certain circles doesn’t mean it is the Gospel Truth. Then again, "fresh" doesn’t necessarily mean "better," either!
The reality is that there are going to be differences of opinion on many matters even in the smallest of independent fellowship groups. Complete, permanent doctrinal unity in independent church settings, where there is no external, central denominational force to impose conformity, is an unattainable goal. This should not be surprising—even Paul didn’t attempt to enforce conformity in the congregations in the first century.
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One
man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats
only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not,
and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God
has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master
he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans
The issue isn’t that everyone must “all speak the same thing” on every topic. What is important is that there is some minimum doctrinal agreement on some very basic foundational principles, or the group has no reason to exist.
What if some person comes to your group and attempts to persuade everyone that the
New Testament is a fraud, and that Jesus never existed? This “wind of doctrine” has
been blowing around the fringes of Christian churches for years, and for some reason
has gained momentum in recent times, likely because of the ease of spreading such
ideas widely on the Internet. Any group which has not decided as a group that the
inspiration of the New Testament, and the reality of Jesus, are non-
What can you do to avoid such an impasse?
Don’t wait for a crisis. Stop everything, sit down together, and discuss what doctrinal
areas are non-
If you have been meeting with the same small group of people for years, you may have settled into a certain level of tolerance for doctrinal confusion and bickering. But you need to realize that the stakes get higher when you bring in new babes in Christ … you do not want to cause little ones to stumble!
You need to admit that without a central denominational headquarters, there is no
longer any real doctrinal authority that can impose doctrinal uniformity on the conscience
of individuals. It is thus possible that some or all of those in your group consider
themselves to now be their own doctrinal authority. And don’t be surprised if you
find that some of those self-
Thus, even if you have settled upon some minimal points of doctrinal agreement under Step One, you may find that there are people who are going to want to introduce “doctrinal novelties” at every turn that aren’t covered under that agreement. If allowed free rein, this sort of situation can turn into almost a circus, and leave the heads of new spiritual babes in Christ spinning. What they need most is a solid foundation in the very basics of the Faith. If they are introduced week after week to the contortions of some doctrinal (or prophetic theory) twig, they are going to grow up very stunted indeed.
How do you address this problem? If you have the sort of local organizational setup that allows just about anybody (or at least any male) to get up and give a talk, preach a sermon, or lead a Bible study, you need the next step:
Step # 2:
Seriously consider setting up some sort of "screening committee" of people you really
believe are "full of the Holy Spirit" and have "gifts of discernment." Untried speakers
would need to present a general overview of what they plan to speak about to such
a committee. Then if a proposed speaker indicates he plans to present material ranting
on and on regarding some wild-
If you aren’t sure you have any individuals spiritually and emotionally mature enough to handle such potentially contentious situations, it would be good to start praying that God send some to you, or reveal to you who among you may really have these abilities.
But don’t make the mistake of giving responsibility to people without also granting them authority to actually act upon their discernment. If you agree among yourselves to develop such a committee, and agree on who should bear the responsibility, then agree to empower them to DO something about random doctrinal snipers.
Once you have a committee in place, you are ready for the final step.
The number of widely-
Nor is your group under any biblical obligation to sort through the reasoning offered for every doctrinal novelty that comes along. You will need to pray and ask for guidance, both individually and as a group, for just what topics you should investigate and which ones are a distraction rather than a necessity.
If you do so, you may find that some time, perhaps even in the near future, you will be subjected to what may be referred to as “spiritual blackmail” by someone wanting to push their own “idea baby” within your fellowship setting. They may try to tell your group, or the committee with the responsibility for making decisions on topics open for promotion, that any attempt at all to restrict anyone from pushing a doctrinal agenda (or prophetic theory or the like) makes you all evil “hierarchialists.” The history of Christianity has,indeed, been dominated at times by dictatorial leaders who imposed their own idiosyncratic doctrinal system on all those under their influence. Some have ruled with an iron fist, and squelched all attempts to even calmly discuss possible honest differences of opinion over debatable biblical topics. Some of the people in your group may actually have been involved with groups that had this sort of environment. Therefore they may be particularly emotionally sensitive to accusations that they are becoming “just like” those whose dictatorship they have rejected.
If you know for a fact that all those who are active, committed members in your group
have carefully and cooperatively worked through setting the standards by which you
have agreed to gather, don’t give in to this type of spiritual blackmail! Just because
you don't provide a platform for every would-
No one is obligated to submit his own conscience to your group’s standards. If he can fellowship peacefully within the parameters your group has agreed upon, even if he disagrees with some of your doctrines or customs, then he will no doubt be welcome at your gatherings. If he cannot, and insists on aggressively pushing his own agenda, you are perfectly within your rights according to the guidance of scripture to suggest that he find somewhere else to fellowship.
Someone who belligerently insists you must listen to his continued badgering on some topic, even after you have explained why his personal agenda is not welcome, is not being just a "brother in Christ" but is setting himself up as a teacher. Without direct, divine validation from God that He has, indeed, sent this person to “set you straight,” you are under no obligation to give in to such spiritual bullies. And thus:
“Just say no” to spiritual blackmail!
Astounding New Truth?
One of the steps to a healthy, stable fellowship environment for new babes in Christ
discussed above is to establish a committee of spiritually mature people to deal
with doctrinal novelties. The purpose of this is not to squelch anyone from sharing
a “new perspective” on some matter. It is, rather, to avoid giving a platform to
a heretic—someone who has no qualms about dividing a family of believers over non-
But what if you are the one with a “new idea” that you have discovered, and which you believe it is vital for you to share with others? You may have previously thought that a conservative approach within your group to the introduction of doctrinal novelties was wise—but now that you are the one with what you may even believe is “astounding new truth,” you may be tempted to insist all caution be tossed to the winds. You may feel that you have come to understand this new information through the direct leading of the Holy Spirit—and isn’t the New Testament very clear that we shouldn’t “quench the Holy Spirit”?!
Well, yes it is. But that doesn’t mean that being cautious about jumping on the bandwagon of some idea that is new to you, and being circumspect about how urgently you press the information upon others, is the equivalent of the idea of quenching the Spirit.
If you have a new “idea baby” that you feel just bursting to push on others, you may find it prudent to consider the following checklist first.
1. Don’t assume that just because some concept is new to you that it is new to everyone
else. Many in your church group may have been studying for decades the topic that
you may have just come upon for the first time on some website or in some book or
booklet a few weeks ago. For instance, I was first exposed to the “Sacred Name” doctrine
… the insistence that Christians must use the Hebrew names Yahweh and Yashua instead
of God and Jesus … clear back in the late 1960s. I’ve read widely on this and many
other “fringe doctrinal topics” ever since. It is thus almost humorous to me to read
the breathless hype shared by someone who has just recently heard one tiny bit of
the reasoning on one of these topics for the first time. They are just so sure that
they have stumbled on a truth hidden from almost everyone else for 2,000 years, and
that they are obligated to shout it from the rooftops. I may admire their zeal and
respect their sincerity—but I still do not believe that they need a platform in a
local congregation to push their agenda.
2. Don't try to use exaggerated hype to make your new point … it doesn't work with
those who were exposed to the topic long before you.
3. Don't talk down to people with whom you've never discussed the topic. You may
find that they know a lot more than you about this “new” idea, and you'll only be
4. If you are really a newbie to the whole topic, consider not trying to set yourself up as a "teacher" about it.
5. A plausible explanation is not the same thing as "truth." Just because you have
bought into the arguments of a particular article or website doesn't make it so.
Consider perhaps studying more about the qualities of effective reasoning before
you try to persuade others about the logic underlying your new-
6. If the topic is new to you, you may make the mistake of thinking that it is the
"most important" topic one could possibly care about. But if you read through the
New Testament, you may find your topic isn't even addressed, let alone put in a position
of importance of any kind. Get a clue from this!
7. Get your priorities straight. If you study the whole New Testament, you may conclude
that "doctrine" is the most important reality of all. I haven't found that to be
true, but if you have, you may have to "stand your ground" and be willing to be rejected
and have to "stand alone" for that tiny tidbit of doctrine that has caught your attention.
But maybe, just maybe, God's priorities are different from that. Try lining up the
passages in the New Testament about your new-
There is a right division coming in the world and the Church some day. But the divider/separator will be Jesus Himself! And what is His criteria for such division/separation? It is found Matthew 25:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Humans who choose to divide the flock
over some debatable doctrine
may find themselves some day
on the wrong side
when Jesus gets around
to the really important division!
Unless otherwise noted, all original material on this Field Guide website
is © 2001-
Careful effort has been made to give credit as clearly as possible to any specific material quoted or ideas extensively adapted from any one resource. Corrections and clarifications regarding citations for any source material are welcome, and will be promptly added to any sections which are found to be inadequately documented as to source.
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