the weblog of Alan Knox

Dropping the "H" Bomb

Posted by on Oct 4, 2007 in discipline, fellowship, unity | 23 comments

I recently read a story about one follower of Christ calling another follower of Christ a heretic because they disagreed over certain aspects of teaching. I’m sure that many of us have heard similar stories, and perhaps some of us have even been called “heretics”.

The “H” bomb is dropped to separate the speaker from the “heretic” or “heresy”. It is used as stronger language than “disagree” or “different”. It is used to question the person’s devotion to and possibly position with God. To the person dropping the “H” bomb, the “heretic” may be sincere, but certainly sincerely wrong when compared with the bombardier.

Looking through various definitions of the word “heretic”, you’ll find that a “heretic” (in English) is a person who holds a position that is different from standard or accepted church beliefs. Thus, in English, “heresy” can only be defined from the perspective of a certain set of beliefs. So, someone can be a “heretic” from the point of view of the Roman Catholic Church, but that same person may not be a “heretic” from the point of view of the Anglican Church.

Similarly, looking through various definitions of the word “heresy”, you’ll find that a “heresy” (again, in English) is any teaching, belief, or opinion that is different from standard or accepted church beliefs. Once again, “heresy” is a valid term on from the perspective of a certain set of beliefs.

From these modern definitions, every Baptist is a heretic to every Presbyterian. Every Anglican teaches heresy from the perspective of every Charismatic. From the point of view of Methodists, everyone in the Vineyard church is a heretic. These terms have lost any meaning, but they continue to be used with force and vehemence.

Perhaps, instead of looking at the modern definitions of “heresy” and “heretic” it would be helpful to consider the source of these words, and to consider how Scripture uses these words. Also, instead of comparing someone’s opinions and beliefs to the standard beliefs of a given church, perhaps it would be better to compare that person’s opinions and beliefs to Scripture.

Of course, even before we think about the source of the words “heresy” and “heretic”, we are immediately faced with the reality that different people interpret Scripture in different ways. Does this mean that our terms “heretic” and “heresy” are completely useless? No. It means that we must humbly admit that brothers and sisters in Christ disagree concerning the meaning of Scripture. We must also humbly admit that disagreement, in and of itself, does not constitute heresy. I may disagree with someone, and neither one of us may be heretics. However, according to the modern definitions of the words “heresy” and “heretic”, if two people disagree, one of them must be a heretic.

The terms “heresy” and “heretic” are scriptural words. The noun form αἵρεσις (hairesis) is used five times in the New Testament, and is usually translated “sect”, “division”, “opinion”, or “schism”. The Pharisees and Sadducees are called “sects” (“heresies”) of Judaism (Acts 5:17; 15:5; 26:5). Christians are called a “sect” (“heresy”) of Judaism (Acts 24:5; 24:14; 28:22). Finally, there are said to be “divisions” or “dissensions” (“heresies”) among groups of Christians (1 Cor 11:19; Gal 5:20; 2 Pet 2:1). It is this last category that should interest us.

Scripture warns us about “heresies” among believers. But, in context, what are these passages telling us? In 1 Corinthians 11:19, Paul mentions “factions”. These are probably similar to the divisions mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1-4. The danger is not found in disagreements between believers, but in separation. The groups were separating from one another and treating one another differently based on their affiliations.

In Galatians 5:20, “heresies” or “divisions” or “factions” are mentioned again along with “disputes”, “dissensions”, and “envy”. All of these are listed as “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19-21), practiced by those who “will not inherit the kingdom of God”. This is contrasted against the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22-23) which will be evident in the lives of God’s children. Since the fruit of the Spirit includes characteristics such as patience, gentleness, and self-control, we can assume that these are demonstrated in the context of disagreements, not in the absence of them. Again, this says nothing about disagreement being “heresy”.

In 2 Peter 2:1, Peter warns that false prophets and false teachers will bring “destructive heresies” with them. These false prophets and false teachers will not be known for disagreeing with other believers, but instead they will be known for “denying the Lord” (2 Pet 2:1), “sensuality” (2 Pet 2:2), “covetousness” (2 Pet 2:3). Thus, these false prophets and false teachers are not ones who simply disagree with other Christians, but those who deny that Christ is Lord, and live a life that demonstrates that they are not children of God.

Perhaps, from this connection of “heresy” with false prophets and false teachers in 2 Peter 2:1, we should also recognize why these people are called “false prophets” and “false teachers”. Perhaps one of the most important passages to help us understand what it means to be a “false teacher” is 1 Timothy 1:3-11. Here, those who teach “other doctrines” are those who teach contrary to the gospel (1 Tim 1:11). In many other passages, the authors of Scripture encourage their readers to teach and live in accordance to the gospel of Jesus Christ – that is, the good news that God has provided a way for all people to accepted as his children.

So, according to Scripture, who are the true “heretics”? Heretics are those who deny the gospel of Jesus Christ. Heretics are also those who live in a manner contrary to the gospel – that is, according to the flesh, not according to the Spirit. Similarly, heretics are those who cause and encourage divisions and dissensions among the followers of Jesus Christ.

When Person A calls Person B a “heretic” for a teaching that Person A disagrees with, but which is not contrary to the gospel, and when Person A refuses to fellowship with Person B because of that teaching, then, according to Scripture, Person A is actually the “heretic”. Person A is the one causing division among the followers of Christ and is thus promoting true heresy.

So, let’s be careful, thoughtful, and prayerful before we drop the “H” Bomb. It could be that we are the true “heretics”, not necessarily because our opinion is “wrong”, but because our words and actions are divisive – and this is the type of heresy that Scripture warns us about.


23 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-4-2007

    Thanks for this excellent treatment of a tough topic, Alan. I was taught from an early age that a “heretic” was a person who denied the gospel of Jesus Christ–an unsaved person–or a person within the church who was teaching things that are blatantly false when compared to Scripture–which often engenders division in the body. Thank you for studying this issue and expanding it for us.

    p.s. I don’t think you’re a heretic…:)

  2. 10-4-2007

    Alan,

    The recent situation you are referring to in your introduction regarding one Christian recently calling another Christian a heretic is a truly sad case indeed.
    In that situation, I know for a fact that both of these people believe, adhere to, and have adamantly and passionately defended the gospel of Jesus Christ against false teachings.

    However, because one person strongly disagrees with the other person’s position on a non-gospel related subject, the first person called the second a heretic. In actuality, the first person is being a heretic per your insightful post.

    Frankly, I’m sick of this type of behavior amongst professing believers. After being involved with apologetics and ministry for several years, I have grown so terribly weary of all the “smacktalk” that has spoken by professing Christians against other professing believers. I, like most other professing Christians, have strong beliefs in several key areas. My strong beliefs show themselves in the areas of God’s sovereignty (I’m Calvinistic), apologetic methodology (I’m a modified Van Tilian), the relationship of God’s Covenants and the Law (I hold to NCT), and I prefer a non-hierarchical elder led, consensus-based decision-making model of ecclesiology. Now, all of that is usually enough to create a flame war big enough to cause the dropping of some H-bombs on my head. However, I would *never* separate from and deny Christian fellowship to another professing believer because they didn’t walk my walk nor talk my talk in the areas mentioned above. If they adhere to the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are brothers and sisters and I must seek to encourage them in the Lord as He provides the opportunity.

    However, those same people that I’m referring to usually have no problem dropping their “HERETIC!”-bombs from their Christianized B-52s. It is absolutely insane that folks holding to the exact same gospel that I do will often go out of their way to avoid fellowship with me as another brother in the Lord because of my views on secondary issues. As a result, they end up becoming the very thing that they labeled me.

    Truth is, I think most folks realize that it’s easier to call another professing believer a heretic, than it is to test all things in light of Scripture. It’s just way too hard and messy to rethink and test their presuppositions and also some of your own precious foundational presuppositions in light of God’s word. By nature, most of us don’t like to challenge or have successfully challenged what we’ve always believed, defended, and come to love. Most of us would rather unknowingly become heretics by a willful and sinful denying of fellowship to a fellow brother or sister for the sake of holding on to our pet doctrines and staying in our sin all for the blessed sake of “doctrinal purity.” This is actually a veiled attempt at saving face, which then translates to that nasty thing called pride. But you see, that’s much easier than testing all things in light of the word of God and holding fast what’s true now isn’t it? That just takes too much legwork, right? . . . and worse, there’s the internal struggle of “I’ve got a following as a pastor, bible teacher or scholar, so I can’t change my views or I’ll lose my constituency!” . . . right? (!) I say, damn all those worldly attitudes. If someone is wrong they are wrong, but that doesn’t give them or me the right to separate from another gospel believer because I personally don’t agree with doctrines like covenantal paedobaptism . . or any type of paedobaptism for that matter.

    In light of this, would to God that we’d learn to listen carefully to each other, sharpen each other, and still love one another after we’ve either come to agreement from the Scripture through mutual sharpening, or we learn to love one another in spite of our differences on secondary doctrinal issues. We’d all do well to stay intent on following James’ advice,

    James 1:19-20 “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”

    O.k., off my soapbox for now. :-)

  3. 10-4-2007

    Alan,

    Outstanding post. I wish this understanding was so much more widespread.

    I’ve had the “H bomb” dropped on me a number of times. What’s interesting is that when we say that it should only relate to the gospel of Christ, some people have a funny of relating anything to the gospel.

    Don’t accept the Calvinistic definition of sovereignty? That dilutes the gospel. Believe that the Holy Spirit speaks today? That denies the sufficiency of scripture which dilutes the gospel. Don’t believe the church will be raptured out from the world seven years before Jesus actually comes for real? That affects the gospel.

    Baloney. The gospel is much smaller set of “facts” than any of those things. Death, burial, resurrection of Jesus, according to Paul.

    And don’t even get me started on the whole “oh, that’s a different Jesus” tactic.

  4. 10-4-2007

    HOLY COW BATMAN I THINK YOU GOT IT.

    Can you go link this at Wade’s site. Many there need to read it (as though they will). :)

  5. 10-4-2007

    Alice,

    I don’t think I’ve every been called “heretic” to my face. I’m sure some people think it. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

    Dustin,

    Climb on your soapbox anytime. I hope many people read what you say and think seriously about it before they call a brother or sister in Christ a heretic.

    Steve,

    You? You’ve been called a heretic? I don’t believe it! :)

    Bryan,

    I don’t think I’m going to do that. But, thanks for the encouragement.

    -Alan

  6. 10-4-2007

    Once or twice ;)

  7. 10-5-2007

    Alan,

    You mean I’m not the ONLY one? There really are brethren who can agree to disagree?

  8. 10-5-2007

    hey awesome post…. i think the H bomb is droped way to much…

    would you say though there is cause for its use when somebody diverges from a commonly accepted creed like the nicene creed? most of our protestent and calotlic bros and sis will agree with it….

    just a thought

  9. 10-5-2007

    Too bad we don’t put as much energy into unifying as we do in dividing. Great post!
    Kat

  10. 10-5-2007

    Too bad we don’t put as much energy into unifying as we do in dividing. Great post!
    Kat

  11. 10-5-2007

    Too bad we don’t put as much energy into unifying as we do in dividing. Great post!
    Kat

  12. 10-5-2007

    Too bad we don’t put as much energy into unifying as we do in dividing. Great post!
    Kat

  13. 10-5-2007

    Too bad we don’t put as much energy into unifying as we do in dividing. Great post!
    Kat

  14. 10-5-2007

    Too bad we don’t put as much energy into unifying as we do in dividing. Great post!
    Kat

  15. 10-5-2007

    Too bad we don’t put as much energy into unifying as we do in dividing. Great post!
    Kat

  16. 10-5-2007

    Steve,

    I’m glad that I know you as my brother. Your life (at least as far as I’ve seen it) demonstrates the opposite of heresy.

    Aussie John,

    I think there are one or two of us. Everyone else is wrong… :)

    Andy,

    Welcome to my blog! I think the Nicene Creed is a good creed. I would not base my fellowship with someone based on their agreement with the words in a certain creed, though. I learned recently that there were “Orthodox” Christians in 325 AD who disagreed with Athanasius over the wording in the Nicene Creed (I’m not talking about Arius and his followers). I don’t think it would be right for us to call them heretics because they disagreed over the use of certain words within the creed.

    Actually, every creed and confession was created in response to something. Thus, every creed must be understood within a certain context. Since contexts change, creeds need to change as well. I think it is good that some are questioning the way certain of the historical creeds and confessions explain the faith.

    Kat,

    Good observation! I have to admit that (apart from writing and a few friends) I’m not expending as much energy as I could in maintaining unity.

    -Alan

  17. 10-5-2007

    You have no idea how much that blesses me, Alan. Thank you!!

  18. 10-6-2007

    better late than never…

  19. 12-27-2011

    Alan,

    Thanks for clearing up this common misconception. I know I’ve been called a “heretic” recently by a person who I was acually trying to understand and have relationship with. But that person refused to fellowship with me until he cleared some things up…meaning, until I submitted to his opinion on a certain matter of doctrine.

    So, as I tried explaining to this particular brother, he was the one (by definition) being the “heretic”. Now, I didn’t say, “You’re a heretic!” I simply told this person what a heretic actually was and what they do…trying to imply. But he didn’t get it.

    So we don’t have fellowship now. Even though we both believe that Christ is Lord, God, Savior, Redeemer, and Friend, that He now dwells inside of us by the Holy Spirit, we don’t have fellowship. Which, according to the NT, anyone who calls on the name of Jesus Christ is instantly granted access to the fellowship of the brethren. Not, “he who calls on the name of this doctrine or teaching”. How I wish we could all see this more clearly. Even in the Organic/House Church movements. We all need to see that regardless of doctrine or church practice, if we are washed in the Blood of Jesus, then we are all loved by God. And if He loves someone, then why are we not to love them? Doesn’t add up.

    Thanks, Alan!

    -Michael

  20. 12-27-2011

    I have been unaware of people frivolously calling one another heretics-
    I would laugh were it not so injurious to the whole body of Christ.

    Mostly, a “norm” is so- “subjective”, and my PERSONAL thoughts are- as long as it isn’t contrary to the GOSPEL itself, there can be no heresy.
    I think they confuse Heresy with Heathens…

    I digress.

    I do believe that we stand in judgment for our own judgments. To label each other as- heretics, heathens, etc. puts a load on our own souls, whether or not it stands to the scrutiny of the Word of God…. God may always remain the same, but He holds a different meaning to each individual, some misguided, some right on point, some “fanatical” or some more “laid back”, who, then are we to judge? The words as labels, a heretic, heresy, is a judgment from the “norm” whatever that may be at the time to whomever is calling it. I myself would be afraid to label like that, for yet I may be labelled, or in my doing so, injure the babies in the body of Christ, ones not so educated, that are seeking and see strife not the love that initially brought them into the fold.

    Again, I digress. Judge not lest we be judged. I think that says it all even in this context.

  21. 12-27-2011

    So do we have heresies today or just some disagreements?

  22. 3-29-2013

    Jesus was a heretic of the Jewish Church. I am a follower of a heretic. It really doesn’t matter if someone drop the “H” bomb on me. I know who I am and am follower of whom. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, but I may be a heretic of my church leaders/pastors/priest/elders who are proclaiming themselves the guardian of the gate of heaven. Yet the word “heaven” has different meanings to everyone on earth, so I can always expect other people disagree with me in this life. How many followers have left Jesus once he declares to them: “I am the bread of life” (Joh 6:48)?

    Life and God

    On the path of my life,
    I always think how does God look like?
    Sometimes I also wonder
    Whether I am pleasing God, ever?
    And then I ask myself some other times,
    Being and acting differently to others in this lifetime.

    Is it God’s intention or am I erring from His will?
    The questions always circle within me like a windmill
    Until one day, in deep silence God enlightens my mind.
    I was assured that I am always living in God’s presence.
    God has purposely established my existence.
    My existence is for fulfilling his plan.

    I now know that I am playing my part in God’s plan
    And His creation of the world is for man.
    God’s plan is for LOVE and man is the subject of His Love.
    The simple compass for my life is LOVE.
    My life should be infused with love,
    So God can guide me and help me to grow.

    I shouldn’t wonder about tomorrow.
    I shouldn’t be worried about my sinful days of old,
    Or finding out whether my coming days can be foretold.
    God wants me to walk happily through my living path
    And accept all good or bad stones on my footpath.
    God doesn’t expect me to be perfect or always correct.

    He placed me in this world so I can take part in His project.
    God’s project is His Kingdom, the Kingdom of Love.
    The creation of the universe is also serving His Love.
    God is developing the world of Love
    Where God and man are united in perfect communion and pure Love.
    The wonder of God’s Love is a mystery to mankind, still.

    Humanity is actively and objectively fulfilling God’s will;
    Good and bad men have their roles to be performed and fulfilled.
    Happy are those who submit their lives to God’s will
    And entrust their lives into God’s hands.
    The Kingdom of Love is in God’s plan
    That nothing of this world can ever hinder the reign of the Son of Man.

    Duc Minh Bui

  23. 4-2-2013

    Duc,

    You said, “I can always expect other people disagree with me in this life.” That’s true. And, I think, the power of the gospel and the new life and unity we have in Jesus Christ is greatly demonstrated when we continue to treat one another as brothers and sisters in spite of our disagreements.

    -Alan

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Greetings!!! New Here, so just saying Hello... - Christian Forums - [...] like your link to the "droping the H-Bomb", from carm. The Assembling of the Church | Dropping the "H" …