Dr Lee Gatiss has argued Christians must be bolder in confronting false teaching. Jonty Langley agrees, but believes Christians have had too narrow a view of what constitutes heresy
It’s easy to spot the heresy that we dislike. It’s harder to spot a heresy if it supports our own natural (or fleshly) bias. We are only in the process of being perfected by Christ, so there remains in us (and in the cultures we co-create) attitudes, beliefs and assumptions that have yet to be fully conformed to the heart of God.
Many modern heresies fall into the trap of assuming that we are fully mature, have marshalled all relevant facts and arrived at full and total truth. But, often, we are still on a journey. It is only a lack of humility (which the enemy encourages us to call ‘confidence’ or even ‘moral courage’) that allows us to presume to sift the weeds from the wheat and the wheat from the chaff.
Here are a few heretical teachings and tendencies we may have missed…
1. The Bible-diminishing tendency to elevate the writings of 16th-century theologians to the level of scripture. Heretics may not say in so many words that John Calvin is equal to Paul or that Martin Luther trumps James, but criticise their alternative apostles and see who starts shouting. Heresies are often, at their heart, idolatries, and idolatry is still sin, even if the idol is a man or woman of God, be they Calvin, Grudem, Rohr or McLaren.
2. The Jesus-contradicting definition of discipleship as a particular position on a hot-button issue. If Jesus says people will know us to be his disciples by our love for one another and by believing and confessing him (and/or the contents of Matthew 25:31-46), we should be careful of teachings that suggest competing things. Subtle (or not-so-subtle) suggestions that our position on abortion, LGBT rights or women in leadership is the true sign of discipleship? Could be heresy.
3. The Holy Spirit-denying certainty that God is not present and at work in churches whose worship style, production values, aesthetics, charismatic signs or politics we don’t like is, according to Mark 3:20-29, potentially quite a serious sin. If a teaching tries to build a community identity around this attitude of superiority, that may be a heresy.
4. The arbitrary arrogance of assuming God is on ‘our’ side is often a heresy, and one that can lead Christians to abandon their principles. Our/we/us could be a nation in a time of war. It could be a political party or government we favour. It could be our church. When a teaching asserts, with total confidence, that God is on the side of our nation or king, if we hear “God bless America/Britain/Russia” expressed as a fait accompli, rather than a prayer, we should remember Joshua 5:13-14 and beware of heresy.
5. The grace-opposing elevation of toughness over love. A fear of softness and ‘letting people get away with things’ motivates this heresy which ignores 1 Corinthians 13 and spawns ‘tough’ ministries of ‘discernment’ and ‘correction’. Often cynically called ‘love’, this heresy in action takes the side of the Accuser (Revelation 12:10), the prodigal’s brother (Luke 15:28-30) and the Pharisees (John 8:3-5).