It is a fact that heresies will arise from time to time to the disturbance of the Lord's body.
"For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." (1 Corinthians 11:19)
It is also true that faithful children of God are given an imperative to resist heresies and reject heretics.
"A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself." (Titus 3:10-11 )
Heresy, obviously, is not to be treated lightly. Responses are not optional; rather the rejection of a heresy must be clear in its presentation and forthright in its resolve. The seriousness of the Lord's charge to us makes it necessary that we clearly understand what constitutes heresy and that we faithfully meet its challenge.
What Is "Heresy"?
The word "heresy" (hairesis) is derived from haireo, which means "to choose." In its classical usage, heresy was used (1) to refer to "choice," and then (2) to the opinion, tenet, or course chosen, and finally (3) to the schools and tendencies identified with the adopted choice. Whether the chosen opinion or tenet was good or bad was not inherent in the term itself. Moral evaluation of a choice (heresy) was conveyed by other terms modifying it.
In its single use in the Septuagint (LXX), heresy has the meaning of choice, in Lev. 22:18 (21), where "freewill offerings" is literally "gifts ... according to all their choice." By the time of the New Testament, the word had come to signify the chosen tenets and those who formed a party (or "sect," hairesis) around them. The word itself still conveyed no moral approval or disapproval. Thus it is used of the "sect" of the Sadducees (Acts 5:17), the "sect" of the Pharisees (Acts 15:5, 26:5), and of Christians, of whom it was said that they belonged to the "sect" of the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5), the "sect" everywhere spoken against (Acts 24:14, 28:22).
When heresy is used of parties or sects that arise within the body of Christ, where human opinions are substituted for the truth of God, it is always evil. Sometimes heresy is stated to be evil or destructive; in other references there is the tacit understanding. Peter warns of "damnable heresies," i.e. self-willed-opinions which are substituted for the truth, to which many are attracted and with which they are identified. (2 Peter 2:1) These heresies are described as being destructive, opinions and parties that will bring one to eternal perdition.
In 1 Corinthians 11:19, heresies are identified as being within the body of Christ ("among you"). They are further identified as being evil, i.e. those enlisted in such parties are disapproved by God, whereas those who do not join their ranks are approved of God. Those who respect God's word will not follow after self-willed opinions. They will discern truth from the error. They have the right attitude toward God, His authority, and the unity of the body of Christ. Those who join themselves to parties to promote the speculations and opinions of men above revelation are not approved in God's sight. Thus, those approved of God are clearly distinguished from those whom He will reject.
In discussing works of the flesh, in Gal. 5:19-21, Paul lists hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, sedition, and heresies. The last three of these terms, it seems to me, are progressive. Where there are the attitudes described, in part or in whole and in varying degrees, there is created an environment conducive to the formation of heresies. Where there are hostilities or feelings of enmity; contentious spirits or quarrelsome dispositions; a spirit of rivalry or jealousy; and anger that is uncontrolled and flares in displays of temper; then you have an environment that may be exploited for personal ambitions (strife) which may be advanced through divisions (seditions) and the creation of a party (heresy). At least, the "standing apart" (seditions, dichostasia) is a prelude to the forming of a party. Ellicott here
"correctly defines heresies (AV, ERV) as a more aggravated form of dichostasia' (ARV 'parties') 'when the divisions have developed into distinct and organized parties'..."1
Augustine before had expressed it:
"schism is some new dissension of the congregation, springing from a diversity of opinions; while heresy is schism prolonged and inveterate."2
The Spirit of Heresy
In the early days of the restoration effort on this continent, a particular heresy arose which W.K. Pendleton addressed, calling for rejection of the impenitent. He comments on the spirit of heresy.
"A schismatical spirit, persisted in, leads, necessarily, to practical evil. It may, at first, only provoke the contention of words and arguments, which degenerate into disputes; - but these lead to alienation of feeling, and this again, to practical results which ripen into heresy, - for heresy, in the language of the Scriptures, is schism working from an evil heart, the practical ruin of even the outward union and fellowship of the body of Christ.
"Great tolerance was extended towards the schismatic, because the opinion might have power only over the head, and be subordinate to the spirit of love in the heart. In this case, it would be abandoned or withdrawn, when its advocate perceived that its tendency was to evil. Time and experience might be necessary to demonstrate this. Therefore, the schismatic must be borne with; - he must have time to discover the practical injury that his opinion will inflict upon the peace and brotherly love of the church. But suppose all this has been allowed him, - that with a wilfulness, which disregards consequences, and tramples upon the peace of the Lord's people, he persists in agitating his speculative conceit, till Christ, the head, is forgotten, in zeal for a doctrine, and the spirit of love, supplanted by the pride and arrogance of a polemic temper, - then schism passes over into the degree of heresy; differences in opinion rankles into hatred; - passionless speculation burns up into rageful wrangling; and the spirit of Christ having departed, the offender can no longer be regarded as one of his. This case now comes under the rule proscribed by the apostle Paul, in his letter to Titus, 'A heretic, after two admonitions, reject, - knowing that such a man is perverted, and, by his sin, self-condemned.'
"The essence of heresy is, therefore, the willfulness and insubordinate temper manifested in the persistent and mischievous course of the heretic."3
A Present-Day Heresy
An issue has been raised in our midst concerning the deity of Christ upon this earth because of the speculation of some in trying to figure out how Jesus could be a man and at the same time retain all of His powers, privileges, and prerogatives as God. This speculation has been prompted by a desire to find in Jesus the perfect man, yet a man no whit different from any other man ... just a plain, ordinary man like you and me, with a human body like ours and the spirit within it nothing above a human spirit like ours. This blasphemous, speculative doctrine has been sufficiently refuted for well over a year now. The Scriptures have been appealed to, in showing the fallacy of reasoning behind the conclusions they have drawn. Yet the argumentation presented has been ignored. Practically, the only defense has been an exercise of carnal tactics. Those who embrace the speculation clearly stand apart from us in a manifestation of a party spirit.
We have on numerous occasions pleaded with these brethren to give up their unBiblical and absurd speculation. In response, they posture. They boast a defiance. Never before have I dealt with men in error of the spirit of these speculators. I have debated sectarians and apostate brethren. We have recognized the issue, and forthrightly addressed the same. Not so with the present-day speculators. They shift the issue, raise false premises, issue absurd propositions (which they must know no one believes nor will affirm), and ignore all efforts to bring about a fair and honorable discussion of issues that separate us. At this point, I know of nothing further that we can offer. They have rejected admonition after admonition. All of the elements of a heresy are with them. Why should they not be rejected?
1- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. III, p. 1377.
2- Quoted by W.K. Pendleton, Millennial Harbinger, vol. III, no. 1, p. 10.
3- W.K. Pendleton, Millennial Harbinger, vol. III, no. 1, p. 9-10.