There are two words that I think are most filled with dynamite in church circiles. One is hypocrite and the other is heretic (And the two are not the same). It is possible that everyone reading this is a heretic… on some level… to someone else. I found a definition of the word heretic and present it here for your consideration.
The word “heretic” comes from the Greek hairetikos. It speaks of causing divisions. It is used in Titus 3:10 for those who divisively fracture the church. Throughout church history, it became a word used to describe those who divided the church due to doctrinal departures.
After reading that definition, I wondered if it would be proper to call people heretics who where involved in church splits… both those who “stay” and those who “leave to begin a new congregation?” However, I think today the term heretic is used more loosely… even though the actual word is not used often. I write that as one who has observed Christians villify, attack, and denegrate other Christians who disagree with certain doctrinal beliefs. Instead of them calling a person a heretic, it would be better to idenitify the other party as in disagreement or possibly… and more seriously… holding a belief that is in error rather than calling them a heretic.
IF being a heretic meant holding a belief different from others, then we all ARE heretics to someone else! That means that those on BOTH sides of eternal security are heretics to each other. Those on BOTH sides of baptism by immersion and sprinkling are heretics to each other. Those on BOTH sides of infant baptism and believers baptism are heretics to each other. Those who believe and don’t believe in God’s absolute sovereignty are heretics to each other. And go on down the list regarding the meaning of The Lord’s Supper, Church Government, Speaking in tongues, Church Discipline, Eschatology, and on and on and on. But I don’t think that those matters rise to the level of what real heresy is.
Heresy is not just an error in doctrinal belief. It is more serious than that. Thomas Adams distinguishes between error, schism, and heresy:
There is difference between error, schism, and heresy. Error is when one holds a strong opinion alone; schism, when many consent in their opinion; heresy runs further, and contends to root out the truth. Error offends, but separates not; schism offends and separates; heresy offends, separates, and rageth… Error is weak, schism strong, heresy obstinate. Error goes out, and often comes in again; schism comes not in, but makes a new church; heresy makes not a new church, but no church… Error is reproved and pitied, schism is reproved and punished, heresy is reproved and excommunicated. Schism is in the same faith, heresy makes another faith. Though they be thus distinguished, yet without God’s preventing grace, one will run into another.
For me… a heretic is a person or people who cause division within the Church (See definition at beginning). Heresy is a belief that does not conform to historic orthodox Christianity (And that its self is not always easy to define!). Heretic can also apply to a person who holds to a belief that falls within the definition of the preceding sentence.
To some people I’m sure something of what I believe is heretical. If that’s the case, it would be good to define what is and isn’t heresy. It is much more likely that we’re in doctrinal disagreement… and that does not make EITHER of us a heretic or believing heresy. Paul addressed these kind of disagreements in Romans 14:1-5…
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.