I think Christians need a “come to Jesus” moment over their flippant use of the “H-word.” No, I’m not referring to using the biblical term Hell as a cuss word (which is an issue). I’m talking about our casual use of the term heresy.
Heresy, classically defined, is “used to describe those theological errors so serious that it would deprive one of salvation” (Ask Ligonier, Bob Godfrey).
It is when we stray away from that definition that we meander into all sorts of mischief. Godfrey went on:
Error is error. Error can be serious. Error can be small. Error is always bad, and to be avoided. But there are some errors that are so huge that they really are cutting us off from God, because we have so misunderstood Him and His truth. And that’s what heresy classically was used for in the church.Ask Ligonier
Yes, there are theological errors that must be avoided. If not, they are biblically deemed damnable heresy. For example, if you do not believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, you will be dammed. Those aren’t my words, but the Bible’s (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; Galatians 1:6-10). There are many more examples of theological errors that are big enough to damn you because, like Dr. Godfrey stated, “[you] have so misunderstood Him and His truth.”
However, the point here is not to talk about the doctrines that should be labeled heresy. The point is to address Christians’ usage of the word for so many other, non-essential things.
We desire unity, as we should. We are commanded many times in Scripture to vigorously pursue unity. Of course, unity must not be pursued at the cost of truth. I would hope that is a given. But I fear we have it reversed. In our pursuit of truth at all costs, one of those costs was unity. And we damage that precious, biblically-commanded unity when we label everything heresy.
I don’t believe the post-millennial approach to the end times has any biblical support. However, that doesn’t mean I write somebody off as a heretic for believing it. Further, I don’t agree that Presbyterians have biblical support to baptize infants. But it’s not an essential issue. We can disagree and still be brothers and sisters in the Lord. Infant baptism may be wrong, but it’s not heresy as defined above.
Friends, it is possible—even more, biblically commanded—to strive for truth and unity while sacrificing neither. When we have the truth, we must foster and cultivate unity in our local churches and with others around the world via social media.
Use the word heresy when appropriate. Save it for times you know the theological line has been crossed. But don’t use it when the other person merely has a different opinion on something that may matter, but doesn’t matter enough to damn them over.
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