Most Christians associate heresy with false teaching. Most heresies arise out of rejecting the affirmations found in the major creeds of Christendom being the Nicene and the Apostles Creed which were affirmed by the Ecumenical Councils in 327 AD at the Council of Nicea overseen by Emperor Constantine. Most of the divisions and heretical teaching pertained mainly to the nature of Christ. The main question that the church councils addressed is Jesus fully divine and fully human, or neither? According to the Council of Nicea, Jesus was both fully God and fully man (homeostasis), neither fully divine or fully human. Those that believed Jesus was not human, fell into the false teaching of Docetism. Those that believed that Jesus was not fully divine fell into the heresy of Arianism. The other false teaching that divided the church was Marcion. Marcionism denied the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament that portrayed God as a ruthless violent tyrant.
Heresy used by Paul in Titus 3:9-11 quoted below deals with people who were divisive and were causing splits in the church. Many Christians from Jerusalem would follow Paul on his missionary journeys and try to correct those Gentiles (non-Jews) who were coming to faith in Jesus as their Messiah. They tried to re-convert these new Jesus followers to Judaism to be saved. According to Paul, this had nothing to do with the gospel.
9 But avoid foolish debates, genealogies, quarrels, and disputes about the law, because they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning. 11 For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:9-11)
Yet, the word heretic used in the New Testament really means a divisive person. According to Benjamin L. Corey, Youe word heresy actually refers to a strongly held belief that divides or separates. The true heretics are the ones who hold such rigid beliefs that they divide, separate and exclude– because that’s what the word *actually* means. To me this sounds more like Conservative Evangelicals than most Christians. This is also affirmed by Chuck McKnight, “biblically speaking, the word heretic comes from the Greek hairetikon, meaning “divisive” (Titus 3:10). A heretic is one who purposes to create disunity, fragmenting the church.” According to Chuck, most Protestants would be heretics since there are about 30,000 different sects to Christianity.
You might be a heretic if:
- You believe that you have to be baptized to be saved (Churches of Christ);
- You believe in the 5 points of Calvinism and believe in the doctrine of predestination as part of the gospel (Presbyterian Churches and Neo-Calvinist Churches)
- You believe that women cannot be pastors (Roman Catholic Churches, Complimentarian Churches)
- You believe that speaking in tongues is evidenced that you are filled with the Holy Spirit (Cleveland Tennessee -Assemblies of God Churches)
- You don’t believe in hell;
- You can’t drink or gamble to be in leadership at a given church (Nazarene Churches)
- You believe that women should only wear skirts and dresses (Fundamentalist Churches)
The above are a list of a lot of stereotypes some true, some maybe exaggerated that are distinctives of certain denominations. It doesn’t mean that someone is not a Christian if they believe in free will, nor if they believe a woman can be a minister, and do not speak in tongues. The above distinctives are what makes one denomination different than others.
Matthew Distefano is one of the hosts of the podcast entitled Heretic Happy Hour that I listen to on a regular basis and is a blogger on Patheos.com with a blog called All Set Free. Reading his blog and listening to the Heretic Happy Hour with himself, Jamal Jivanjee (a fellow Buckeye) and Keith Giles wrestle with deep theological issues has helped me with my deconstruction away from Evangelical Christianity. Their discussions help me wrestle with tough questions such as is the Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory I grew up with valid? Is there a hell? How does God view the LGBQT+ Community, and are they included in his church? Who is considered a follower of Jesus and who isn’t? Matthew Distefano has a new book coming out on April 1, 2018 (Easter Sunday) called Heretic! that answers most of the questions I listed above.
Matthew Distefano is not a false teacher and not a heretic since he holds true the affirmations in the Nicene and Apostles Creed. However, he is labeled a heretic in many in Conservative Evangelical circles because his doctrines do not line up with theirs, and would not be able to teach in many Evangelical churches such as churches that belong to the Southern Baptist Convention, etc. He is being divisive because he rejects doctrines that they hold to be true such as penal substitutionary theory of the atonement, holds to an inclusive view of the gospel that affirms all humans regardless of their sexual preferences, rejects the doctrine of hell, rejects biblical inerrancy, the rapture, divine violence. Now some of us, this is a breath of fresh air from the exclusive, in and out members only club of many Evangelical, Fundamentalist Churches. It is a more inclusive biblical worldview that accepts all humans as being made in the image of God.
He writes about the purpose of this project:
In spite of these rough edges (referring to his colorful use of language), however, the heart of this project is love. Love is the reason I do what I do and, in fact, is the reason why any of us exist in the first place. So, my goal is to spread love and to proclaim, in the words of my wife’s favorite author, Rob Bell, that love wins! All else is just particulars, which this book attempts to decipher. Perhaps I am off a bit, but aren’t we all? Yet, in spite of such error, as Bernard Ramm teaches: “God forgives our theology… just like he forgives our sin!” (Distefano, page 18).
I agree with the above. Love must overcome fear (1 John 4:18). So much of evangelical Christianity is about fear and spreading fear instead of God’s love. Scaring someone into making a decision for Christ is not love, it is manipulation. Using the doctrine of hell (Eternal Conscious Torment) to win souls is not loving and is also manipulative. Also the basis for Christ’s atonement redeeming us from God’s wrath is not the reason why Christ came. Again it perpetuates fear.
I look forward to reading Matthew’s book Heretic! And reviewing each chapter weekly starting in April. I hope that his book confirms where God is taking me in my deconstruction and shows me a more genuine Jesus from which I learned about when I was growing up in the Lutheran Church. I hope that God makes me more loving and accepting of other people who believe differently than I do about God whether they are theist or atheist as I process and proclaim what Matt has written in his book Heretic!