Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 14, 1971
NUMBER 35, PAGE 5b-7

Heresy And Heretics

By Keith Sharp

No. 2 IN A SERIES The word "heresy" is used in the New Testament to denote a sect, fraction, or party. The Jewish sects (Sadducees, Pharisees, etc.) are examples of heresies. A spiritual heresy is formed when a party pulls away from the church, drawing lines of fellowship over some divisions (schisms) which had hitherto not broken the fellowship of God's people. These heresies are usually characterized by three peculiarities: a party tradition as the basis of fellowship, a sectarian name as a rallying point, and factious jealousy toward other parties and toward other parties and toward those who refuse to join a heresy.

What causes these heresies? Perhaps we can help avert heresies developing in the future if we can find the answer to this question. Therefore, this article will be devoted to finding a scriptural answer to this important question.

Perhaps brethren generally assume that heresy and false doctrine just naturally go hand-in-hand, but the New Testament does not so teach. Rather, the inspired writers identify at least four causes of parties leaving the fellowship of God's people.

First, in Galatians 5:20, while enumerating the "works of the flesh" which will bar one from inheriting "the kingdom of God," Paul lists "heresies" at the climax of a list of "hatred" sins which include "hatred, variance (strife — NASB), emulations (jealousy — ibid), wrath (outbursts of anger — ibid), strife (rivalries — Marshall), seditions (divisions — Marshall), heresies." If any would doubt that simple hatred between brethren manifest by strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, rivalries, and divisions is one major cause of heresy, then he should read James 4:1-3 from the New American Standard Bible.

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?

You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.

You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

This passage even identifies the source of the hatred — lust. Now is it not obvious why heresy is listed in Galatians 5:19-21 as a lust of the flesh?

I am reminded of a town in Arkansas in which two farmers were members of the same congregation of God's people. (This is a true story, unless some of the facts have escaped my memory.) One farmer borrowed some implements from the other and failed to return them. When the rightful owner went to get his machinery back, the borrower claimed they were his, and a bitter quarrel resulted. Eventually all the members of the congregation were drawn to one side or the other, and two congregations, each with bitter enmity toward the other, were formed. Now re-read Galatians 5:20 and James 4:1-3 and see if you do not agree that simple, old-fashioned hatred, quarreling, fussing, and fighting among brethren is one major cause of heresy. What a way to glorify God in the church!

A second major cause of heresy is revealed in Titus 3:9-11. In the context of condemning those who push "foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law," Paul admonishes, "A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject." Here the apostle denounces the man who would dare push his own opinion as a test of fellowship.

David Lipscomb, in his booklet Christianity, How Promoted How Destroyed. Faith And Opinion (1916), correctly defined "faith" as "a conviction based upon a clear revelation of the Divine will" (p. 9). Conversely, he saw "opinion" as "an impression resting on human judgment, without clear and satisfactory testimony" (ibid). He distinguished between the two by saying, "Whatever is clearly revealed in the word of God, is a matter of faith. What is not clearly revealed therein is a matter of opinion" (ibid). Thus, one who walks by faith walks by divine authority revealed in God's word. Whoever walks by opinion walks by his own human judgment independent of New Testament authority.

Of these two classes of people Lipscomb correctly observed, "These two paths rapidly diverge. And those walking in these diverging paths cannot walk together. They cannot live in unity and harmony" (ibid, p. 7).

In the conclusion to his treatise this great soldier of Christ struck a fierce blow at those who would seek to push their own opinions as tests of fellowship among God's people.

The children of God can never be one by introducing human opinions, practices based on human judgment, institutions, organizations, and ways and works based on the commandments of men. They all bring division and gender strife. There is but one pathway to unity among God's people, but one rule that can make us one in Christ Jesus, that can bring salvation to the world. That is, let each one lay aside all opinions, ways, inventions, devices, practices, organizations and creeds, confessions and formularies of faith, names and manner of work, save that plainly presented and clearly required in the New Testament Let all determine to do nothing In religion, save that plainly taught in the Scriptures of truth, let no one ask his brother to accept anything that God has not required, but to faithfully do just what he has required, and let all do this in the way approved by God. . . Faith unites men to God and one another. Opinion severs them from God and one another, and is the occasion of endless strife and bitterness" (ibid, pp. 63-64).

I believe I Corinthians 1:10 plainly sets forth one major prerequisite for the fellowship of God's children with one another and with Him. We must "all speak the same thing, and. . . be perfectly joined together in the same judgment." We can never speak and think alike as long as each of us is following our own opinions. This is the basic reason Protestantism is divided into denominations. They refuse to accept a common authority — standard of right and wrong — by which all may walk.

We could have unity in opinion (human judgment) by all accepting one human standard (as the Roman Catholics did until their present divisions surfaced). But the only way to fellowship both one another and God is to walk in the light of divine revelation (I John 1:1-7).

I believe the brethren who have brought unauthorized organizations, arrangements, and works into the church and set support of these up as a standard of fellowship have thereby set up their own opinions as standards of fellowship. All who will not go along with their innovations are branded as "antis." The watchword among the more "progressive" of these brethren has become "We do not need Bible authority for all that we do." By thus setting up their own opinions as standards of fellowship, they show themselves to constitute a heresy.

A third major cause of heresy is revealed in II Peter 2:1-3:

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily (secretly — NASB) shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.

And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

Surely we can discern false teaching as one major cause of heresy. False teaching itself was not the heresy; it was that which caused the heresy.

Those who denied the Lord were not the only false teachers herein described who caused heresies. They were merely the ones who followed their denial of authority to its ultimate end — the denial of the Lord Himself as the authority they refused to submit to. All who set up factions based on teaching contradictory to the word of God are guilty of bringing in "damnable heresies." They are the ones who cause the "way of truth" to "be evil spoken of."

I believe the modern premillennial, no Bible class, and one container sects are notable examples of this kind of heresy. They have made false teaching (generally wrested scriptures) the basis of parties which will not fellowship those who do not go along with their perverted doctrine.

The fourth cause of factionalism is shown by Paul in I Corinthians 1:11-13. He had heard of "contentions" (erides — strifes) among the Corinthian brethren. These strifes were caused by groups of brethren calling themselves after different persons — Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ. Even to wear the name of Christ as a party designation is wrong. These brethren were guilty of harboring an unscriptural loyalty to men. But, because all could not agree who was the best preacher, they were divided. Paul showed the cure for the problem in I Corinthians 4:6, where he commanded them "not to think of men above that which is written."

Many people are led into heresy today by a renowned preacher or elder, who they think can do no harm. How many brethren accepted the Missionary Society because of the influential support of Alexander Campbell? How many brethren have accepted present innovations into the organization and work of the church because of the influence of famous preachers? These brethren need to learn that no man, regardless of how good he may seem to be, can be listened to unless he speaks "as the oracles of God."

I believe it is apparent that most professed members of the church of Christ today have failed to heed clearly revealed warnings concerning the formation of heresies from among God's people. All four causes of heresy — hatred and wrangling among brethren, human opinion, false doctrine, and unscriptural loyalty to men — continue to plague the church today. When shall we learn?

— P. O. Box 447, Rogers, Arkansas