Thursday, March 7, 2013

Notes on Heresy

        Notes on Heresy

The definitions of these two terms are often considered to be synonomous, but they are not. They are linked, but the truth is, as far back as the first century, heresies have subsisted amongst godly believers. Apostasy on the other hand, is more controversial as it pertains to eternal security and the possibility for a true believer to commit apostasy. These, and other issues will be taken up in this article and perhaps the next one as well.

Let us start by looking at heresy first. Heresy is a noun transliterated as "hairesis". It literally means "a choice, i.e., (specifically) a party [to associate oneself with], a sect. Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines heresy as: "a body of men following their own tenets, i.e. of the Sadducees, of the Pharisees, of the Christians etc., dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims." The term appears in 1 Corinthians 11:19 where Paul writes: "For there must also be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you."  According to the definitions listed, Paul was clearly alluding to what he had written earlier in the same epistle: "For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?" (1 Cor. 3:3-4) If heresies literally means "divisions and parties, then Paul must have been referring back to his statement in chapter three where speaks about divisions. However, the word for divisions in the third chapter is not the same as the word for heresies in the eleventh chapter. The word for divisions in the third chapter is "dichostasia", and it literally means "disunion". So although "heresies" and "divisions" are not exactly the same thing, they are closely related. They are both listed in Galatians 5:20 as works of the flesh: "Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions [divisions], heresies. Acts 24:5, 14, and 28:22 all make reference to Christianity as being a heresy or sect. It is used once in Acts 24:5 when the orator Tertullus accuses Paul of being a "mover of sedition among... the Jews... and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes:" In Acts 26:5 Paul uses the term sect in describing the Pharisees: "Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee." Notice that in all these verses "heresy" or "sect" is used in a negative context. Whether used by the Pharisees towards Christians, or by Paul towards the Pharisees, it was not a term of endearment to be called a heresy or sect.

What About Seditions?

Seditions is closely related to heresy as they both speak of divisions as pointed out in the last paragraph. The Greek word for seditions is found three times in the King James Version: Romans 16:17; 1 Cor. 3:3; and Galatians 5:20. Romans 16:17 contains one of the strongest and yet obscure warnings against those who are seditious in all of scripture. Here, Paul warns the Roman believers: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them." We are to call out those who do these two things: cause divisions and offences opposite to the doctrine we have learned of God, then we are to avoid them. Seditious behaviour itself while associated with heresy, is also associated with offences contrary to the doctrine of scripture, which is by definition, heresy. I do not think this is referring to all doctrine, but the doctrine we have learned of Christ that convinced us of our sin and need of a Saviour and of which we learned to trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It is this doctrine that we must guard by marking and avoiding those who cause offences contrary to these essential doctrines. The word for offences in the seventeenth verse of Romans 16 is "skandalon" and is where we get the english word "scandal". It is translated as "stumblingblock" in Rev. 2:14 and "occasion of stumbling" in 1 John 2:10 among other verses. Rev. 2:14 reads: "But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication." The stumblingblock then, was not only an offense to God, it was also scandalous behaviour that eventually brought a plague upon the congregation of Israel. (Num. 31:16)

Examples of heresy, seditions, or offenses contrary to sound doctrine which we have learned might be baptismal regeneration, or universal salvation of mankind because either of these false doctrines present a very real possibility of a person stumbling in their understanding of who Christ is, His work on the cross, and who they are as a sinner. The false doctrine of continuation of sign gifts in this generation should not be looked on as a heresy or sedition unless the person holding to it makes the doctrine a deciding factor in whether or not other believers are truly saved. Then, they would be guilty of causing division but the problem would not rest in their understanding of the use of tongues but in their understanding of salvation.