Posted on October 15, 2007. Filed under: Theological Crap |


Misconceptions abound when this word is thrown around.  Sometimes it’s used correctly, other times it’s used to mark “us” from “them”.  Some people even impose it on themselves as some sort of honorary title.  The air has been muddled with various misunderstandings of this term; so much so that people no longer know a heresy when they see one and also at times will call themselves or others heretics without properly grasping the concept.  Just like the Gnostic post, I will try to give a small primer on heresy.  It’s a subject I love to study and it can sometimes get confusing with all of the semantics involved but for someone who is going to deal in church history or in theology, it is more important beyond my means of explaining.

Someone who leaves the faith is by definition an apostate, not a heretic.  Someone who removes themselves from the unity of the church to do their own thing is a schismatic, not a heretic.  All heretics are schismatics but not all schismatics are heretics.  Apostates are not heretics because they have left the realm of Christendom and therefore, by nature, are not changing a Christian dogma.  When someone is obstinately opposed to a clearly defined article of faith and begins teaching something contradictory, then they are a heretic.  Please understand that I am saying that it is a CLEARLY defined article (i.e. I know what some people are going to say, “Well it’s a man made system that put those rules into effect.  It’s just the church trying to stifle free thought”; it’s not and they aren’t). 

Almost every heresy was started with the best of intentions (and by the way, no one sets out to start a heresy).  Pelagianism for example was a teaching that was began essentially to make people accountable for their actions as Christians.  Pelagius’ fault lay in that he denied the doctrine of Original Sin and also claimed that mankind was responsible for their own salvation thus removing the redemptive quality of Jesus’ death.  Arius was striving to maintain the unity of God but in so doing he denied the incarnation of God in the man Jesus (Arianism).  Apollinaris of Laodicea was trying to defend the divine nature of Jesus in saying that Jesus was a human with a soul but with a divine nature (Monopysitism) thus denying that Jesus was fully God and fully man.  Cyrus of Alexandria tried to find a common ground by saying that Jesus had two natures but only had one will which does away with the divine and human will of Jesus (Monothelitism, also denying that Jesus was fully God and fully man).  Sabellius (like Arius) wished to protect God’s wholeness and stated that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were simply three different modes of one God which goes against the Trinitarian Three Persons of the Godhead (Sabellianism/Modalism).

Every once in a while we see an ancient heresy rear its head and start prancing around.  Some actually take hold and become rather sizable communities (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Moonies, etc.)  The trick is learning to be able to tell if something that sounds right is right.  I read a magazine article one time where the person they were reporting on said, “He was the Father in creation, the Son in the Redemption and is the Holy Spirit in Sanctification.”  In a smaller book that he wrote, this same person stated that Jesus ascended into heaven so that he could become the Holy Spirit.  Both of those statements are absolutely 100% undeniably heretical.  The problem here is the same problem that Christian theologians have faced for over two thousand years.  Here we have a man who is highly esteemed by his community for how he speaks and how he motivates.  People like myself are called nit-pickers and hair-splitters for even looking at those few lines and breaking them down to their fundamental fragments.

Now what is so bad about having separate thoughts in one church?  St. Augustine said, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty and in all charity.”  To call yourself a Christian, which is a system of belief, you first of all have to believe something.  The Church for the first couple hundred years of its existence did everything it could to hammer out a belief system that was in the right way of thinking.  You don’t want to worship Jesus as God if he is only a human being and you don’t want to make the mistake of saying that Jesus is only a man if he is truly divine.  You may say that it is hair-splitting or just words but if you want to categorize yourself as something, you need to have a category to fall into.  If I make counterfeit money I can call myself the US Treasury all I want, it doesn’t change the fact that there is a US Treasury and I’m not it. 

To preserve the unity of the faithful there are certain belief structures we must have in common to remain unified (moral as well as theological, you can’t be a Christian who believes arson and battery are okay).  If that creepy uncle comes and tells the rest of the family that it’s alright for him to have sex with your children, no matter what other beliefs you may have in common with him that one idea is going to have horrific ramifications on the rest of the family if it’s allowed to be perpetrated or gains a following.  I know that these may seem like drastic examples but think about some beliefs that you hold that are absolutely central to who you are as a person and that is the equivalent of heresies and orthodoxies.  This is one of the main reasons behind the formation of the Creeds, so that all of the churches that called themselves “Christian” had a standard to go by.

Not all dissenting opinions are heretical.  A dissenting opinion on birth control (one way or the other, depending on what your church teaches) does not prove heretical.  Any thoughts on spiritual gifts (i.e. tongues and prophecy), no matter how much you may love or hate the subject, with a dissenting opinion on the matter is not a heresy.  I’ve always tried to tell people that there are a lot more non-essentials than there are essentials.  Sometimes we major in minors, it’s a human trait and we need to realize that not everybody majors in those same minors as we do.  This is why in all that we do and in all that we hold we need charity.



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7 Responses to “Heresies”

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Oo fun! I actually found this one pretty interesting. 😉 Honorary title huh? Hmmm… that’s a little silly. Why care so much? Y’know? Folks could just call themselves Satanists and be done with it. 😉 I’ve joked about being a heretic, but that’s mostly because I’ve been called one before. I don’t *THINK* I am… I’m not sure. The only thing that I think would come close to classifying me as a heretic is the fact that I believe, and have taught, that the Bible has no clear teaching against premarital sex. Do you think that’s a heresy? I can’t think of an official church doctrine that it goes against, but then, I’m not sure what classifies as official church doctrine. I know that it goes against a lot of people’s beliefs about the definition of “sexual purity”, but I don’t know if those beliefs are founded on any doctrine, and, contrary to popular belief, I don’t see anywhere they would actually be founded on the Bible itself. It depends on how you look at a variety of verses, etc., so I suppose it depends on who you ask. Any thought, oh wise (assed) one? 😉 (I had to do that.)

Question… Do you think that “open-theism” is heresy? My old roommate does. I just think it seems a little lukewarm… a twist of logic come up with by folks who want to believe that God is Good, that they know what Good is as well as God does, and so thusly God would never let bad things happen if he knew that they were going to, but he CAN control things, and that he’s not omniscient so people aren’t puppets and they have free will. Dunno if the Bible actually clearly supports or clearly denies that idea… never really thought much about it. It’s just always struck me as something someone pulled out of their ass. But that’s just me. 😉

‘Course I DO think that people can understand Good, but my ideas of God and what he does about it and free will are all over the map. 😉 I just have this problem with oversimplification. I think complicated is better if it gets the WHOLE idea across, instead of the half-assed thought. JMHO.

You actually bring up two absolutely great questions Crystal! Hot Damn!

No, thoughts pro or con on premarital sex (either way) are not heretical. They do not mess with a fundemental teaching of the church and you are not removing yourself from the unity of the church (or destroying that unity). You CAN debate the morality of it. Most people I would think would stay on the safe side and just say reserve yourself but it is not heretical either way.

The question about open theism on the other hand is actually still being played out. So far it is not officially a heresy. Neither is it officially orthodox or even officially acceptable. I know that may seem like a little mindbender but believe me it works, I’ll explain it in detail if you want me to later. Regardless, this is one that’s going to take some time to figure out. I know that it seems to wants to step over that line at times but there hasn’t been any official (almost across the board) condemnation of it.

No, actually that makes sense. Be interesting to see what comes of it.

So what does it mean to “remove yourself from the unity of the church”, and does THAT make you a heretic?

(trying to determine if there are any flaming stakes in my future. teehee. 😉 )

No, removing yourself from the unity of the church does not MAKE you a heretic, it makes you a schismatic. Like I said in the blog, all heretics ARE schismatics but not all schismatics are heretics. Now you are a schismatic (removed yourself from the unity of the church) if you (and this is the way I learned it) rupture the bond of subordination without an accompanying persistent error, directly opposed to a definite dogma.

LOL, don’t know if I’ve confused you now.

Hmmm… when you say “rupture the bond of subordination without an accompanying persistent error”, what I *think* that means is that you defy, or simply remove yourself from underneath, a spiritual authority without that authority having been engaged in any unrepentant wrong. With the added stipulation of “directly opposed to a definite dogma”, though, it looks like it’s not as easy to remove yourself from the unity of the church as it may seem. Am I understanding that correctly?

Okay, supposing that I have (or at least that I’m close), let’s go back to the sex example. Let’s say that Rich or Shane are considered “authorities”… and since Shane’s the pastor of the church that I’m a part of and Rich is an adjunct, slightly absentee pastor there, I suppose you could consider them “authorities”, although I’m not certain that I would, simply because I’m rather sparing with the term. Now, THEY say “premarital sex is wrong, you shouldn’t have premarital sex”, but I, in direct disagreement with them (and, if they’re authorities, then I’m in defiance of them too) and their point of view on that (is it a doctrine?), have moved in with my boyfriend.

Have I “ruptured the bond of subordination without an accompanying persistent error, directly opposed to a definite dogma”?

I suppose the question here would be whether the issue at hand is considered “definite dogma”, or whether Rich and Shane’s POV on sex could be in “error”.

I think that ultimately what’s at issue here, at least for me, is whether or not there IS an answer to that question which is NOT subjective. Or, does the answer simply depend upon your point of view? And that’s not a rhetorical question at all, I’m really trying to pinpoint the answer. What are your thoughts?

Okily dokily neighbor, no, you have not ruptured the bonds of authority. If you disagreed with it to the point that you finally said, screw it I’m going to go start my own group who believes in every defined dogma but I’m going to teach that premarital sex is okay, then you are a schismatic.

If part of that was you saying, “And the Trinity doesn’t exist either.” then you’d be a heretic. In the case of the premarital sex thing there is such a thing as licit dissent. We all know what the Catholic Church officially teaches on birth control, but licit dissent is saying that you have done some soul searching but are still going to do it. You are not a schismatic and you are definitely not a heretic.

Does that do anything for you?

It’s not subjective, that’s what I was trying to clear up with the whole heresies blog in the first place. There are defined terms and dogmas out there that are used before the determination of a heresy is made.

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