Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 28, 1971
NUMBER 36, PAGE 9-11a

Heresy And Heretics

Part III. - Concluding A Series

By Keith Sharp

Heresies are sects; factions, or parties that are formed when some of God's children pull away from the rest, drawing lines of fellowship over divisions which had not previously broken fellowship. These sects usually have a party tradition as the basis of their fellowship, a sectarian name as a rallying point, and factious jealousy toward those who refuse to join a heresy.

There are four major causes of these heresies: hatred and wrangling among brethren, human opinion, false doctrine, and unscriptural loyalty to men. All four of these causes continue to induce heresies to leave the fellowship of the faithful.

Since heresies and the heretics who cause them are still with us, it is imperative that we know how to deal with them. What attitude should we take toward heresies and heretics? In this, the final article in the series, I intend to pursue this question first from the standpoint of heretics.

What attitude should we have toward heresies? This question cannot be resolved by sentimental appeals to a misunderstood concept of love. It can only be resolved by a "thus saith the Lord."

Let us begin the study of this question with statements made directly by the Lord while on the earth. In Luke 11:14-17 the Jews had accused Jesus of casting out devils "through Beelzebub the chief of the devils." Jesus countered that "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth."

Although Jesus was referring specifically to Satan's kingdom, He nevertheless announced a general rule involving "Every kingdom" — the spiritual kingdom of God included. The truth is that no foe is powerful enough to withstand in spiritual combat the strength in truth of God's united people. But when God's church is broken up into warring factions it becomes the laughing-stock of the community.

In Rogers, Arkansas, where I live, there are five congregations, each calling itself a church of Christ. Not a single congregation recognizes any of the other four as being in fellowship with God and His saints. And don't think that the denominational preachers do not know it and capitalize on it. I have in my desk a publicly circulated letter by the American Orthodox Church Bishop (affiliated with the Greek Orthodox) which viciously and effectively founts the factionalism in the church of Christ. Parallel situations could probably be cited by almost every reader of this article. Indeed, heresies defeat the work of the church.

The Lord again spoke concerning this problem in His prayer of John chapter 17. He prayed the Father that all His disciples might "be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (v. 21). If unity of the Lord's chosen people will lead people to believe in Him, the converse is obviously true also. The splintering of the church into parties causes people to be infidels.

The truth of this observation is too apparent to need clarification. Has it not occurred to you that, along with rampant partyism in the church today, infidelity has progressed at a pretty fast gallop in the world? Do you not see a connection?

Paul had much to say about this matter. In I Corinthians 11:17-19 he argued that the existence of "divisions" in the church caused the Corinthians to "come together not for the better, but for the worse." Something which can destroy the good of the public worship assembly of God's people must be very seriously wrong. And divisions are merely a step toward factions!

However, Paul did recognize something useful about heresies. He stated in I Corinthians 11:19, "there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." The "approved" are the people who have been tried by the divisions and factionalism and found true and faithful; those who hold to truth when factions arise. The term "manifest" means "to become known, to be plainly recognized, thoroughly understood: who and what one is. . . what sort of person one is. . ." (Thayer, p. 648).

David Lipscomb comments on this verse thus:

So everyone who cannot stand fast for the truth despite the divisions and popular currents that sweep through the churches to carry them away from their steadfastness is unworthy of Christ. These are God's tests to purify the churches. He desires only true and tried and faithful subjects in his kingdom. Those who cannot stand the test must be purged out. So divisions come to every church to make manifest those who are approved. It is God bringing the churches to judgment in this world, that those who are approved may be made manifest All we have to do is to stand true and firm to God and his word, and leave the results with him." (A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, II, 171).

The apostle John adds inspired weight to old brother David's observations by declaring concerning those who were "antichrists" in I John 2:19:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Finally, concerning our attitude toward heresies, we notice James 3:13-18. Here the inspired writer contrasts earthly wisdom is evidenced by "bitter envying and strife," the natural characteristics of the party spirit. James declares, "This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish." This is a graphic depiction of the kind of thinking that leads to factionalism.

What then should our attitude be toward heresies? They defeat the work of the church, cause infidelity, destroy the good of worship, and are "earthly, sensual, devilish." We should avoid partyism and the party spirit as we would the plague. However, there is no reason to be shocked or dismayed when many brethren leave the fellowship of God's faithful people to form parties. Paul noted that such things "must be. . . that they which are approved may be made manifest among you."

Finally, what should our attitude be towards an heretic? Herein is the crucial question of fellowship. Can we fellowship an heretic?

To answer this question we need to know what we are talking about when we speak of an "heretic." What is an "heretic"? The term under consideration is found only one time in the Bible — Titus 3:10. Paul commands, "A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject." The word "heretic" is an anglicized form of the Greek term "hairetikos." This is also the only time the Greek term is used in the New Testament. Thayer says the actual meaning of the term is "schismatic, factious" (p. 16). The American Standard Version, Revised Standard Version, and New American Standard Bible all translate the term as "factious." The context (Titus 3:9-11) is of one who pushes his own speculations and opinions as though they were matters of faith. I believe one can safely conclude that an "heretic" is a person who causes parties, or sects to go forth from the fellowship of the Lord's faithful ones. Heretics are not the honest but misguided multitudes of blind followers (although these followers constitute an heresy). Heretics are the leaders who cause people to form heresies.

Our attitude toward such heretics, as our attitude toward heresies cannot be determined by emotionalism. Our attitude must be that which is required by the New Testament. What then does the New Testament say our attitude towards an heretic should be?

To answer this question, let us first examine the New Testament description of an heretic. Titus 3: I I says he is "subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself." DeWelt comments:

Such a one is 'perverted' or 'turned out from' the true doctrine of Christ. . . Even while loudly and energetically promoting his own opinion, he is yet aware that he is wrong. . . But because of the popularity, the money or the prestige, he will not change — it costs him too much by human values. No one need condemn him; he is self-condemned." (Paul's Letters to Timothy and Titus, p. 181).

Paul further describes those who "cause divisions" in Romans 16:18 by declaring:

For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

Further, in II Peter 2:1-3, Peter says the ways of false teachers who cause heresies are "pernicious," and their words are "feigned" (fabricated — Marshall). They cause "the way of truth" to be "evil spoken of and "make merchandise" of their followers.

Next, look at God's attitude toward heretics. In Galatians 5:19-21 Paul states that such a person "shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Peter says they "bring upon themselves swift destruction" (II Peter 2:1-3). Yea, God's pronouncement upon these destroyers of His people is simple and severe: their "judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not" (ibid).

If God's attitude toward heretics is so stern, how should I view them? In the first place, do we not recognize that an abundance of New Testament verses forbids us to fellowship sin and those who practice sin? But no appeal to such general verses is necessary (although they are certainly applicable). Titus 3:10 tells us how to treat such a person — "after the first and second admonition reject." I am not inclined to try to explain away this emphatic command any more than I am inclined to explain away the command to be baptized. If this verse is not plain enough (and it should be perfectly clear to the unprejudiced), then notice Paul's words in Romans 16:17:

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

It is my contention that these verses are plain and simple. They need no comment. We simply need to obey them.

Brethren, I believe the application of these two passages to present conditions is too plain to be escaped. Those who have pushed their human organizations, unauthorized arrangements, and unscriptural works to the severance of fellowship are heretics. All the modernistic gibberish about "lines of communication," "moderate liberals," "limited fellowship," "joint-battles against common enemies," etc. cannot change one obvious truth — these people constitute a heresy and their leaders are heretics.

These brethren "went out from us, but they were not of us." They should be repeatedly admonished and then marked, rejected, and avoided. No amount of human reasoning or emotional appeal can change these divinely given guide-lines for fellowship. As brother David Lipscomb truthfully observed:

It is a sin to follow ordinances, or services, based on the precepts and doctrines, opinions and teachings of men. It is not only wrong to bring them into the church, it is wrong to tolerate them. It is wrong to affiliate with them or to countenance those who bring them in. This is matter of faith. (Christian Unity, How Promoted, How Destroyed. Faith and Opinion, pp. 41-42).

Amen and Amen!

As for me, brethren, I shall continue to refuse to recognize as existent what has never existed — fellowship between those who walk in the light and those who walk in darkness. I am not good enough an actor to pretend such communion exists. I shall continue to urgently, prayerfully, lovingly plead to those in error to turn back to truth. This I shall do not according to any human guide-lines. This I shall do because God so decreed it. I dare not do otherwise.

— P. O. Box 447, Rogers, Arkansas 72756