As time goes by, unreliable theories are putting the world in chaos and more and more people are being deceived by them for they fail to discern between truth and falsehood. Also, some mistakenly judge or condemn others with speculation or knowledge that they have deemed correct. Even believers in the Lord made various errors. One such error is the perception of heresy. Many of them do not adopt the definition of heresy specified in the Bible but instead they criticize some churches or believers as heretics just because of discrepancy of trivial parts of religious dogma.
At this end time when many kinds of sects are rampant, we must gain a precise understanding on the concept of heresies grounded in the Bible. Only with a correct understanding of heresy is it possible to avoid being misled by the sects while not judging others though their thoughts do not agree with ours.
- Jews brought charges against Paul as a sect ringleader
It happened after Jesus Christ resurrected and ascended into Heaven. In the time of Early Church, there was a young man named Saul (later named Paul). He was a knowledgeable Jewish man. In those days, Judaists, practitioners of the monotheistic religion of Judaism, were still waiting earnestly for their Messiah who would liberate Israel from the oppression under Roman Empire.
At that time, the number of those who believed in Jesus as their Savior increased and the Jerusalem Church experienced its great revival. Observing this, Saul could not stand it because he thought that the proclamation about Jesus as the Son of God was blasphemy against the only one true God. When Deacon Stephen was martyred while he was preaching about the gospel of Jesus Christ, Saul supposed that Stephen deserved death and he arrested and imprisoned the disciples of the Lord Jesus.
At about that same time an incident brought significant change in his faith. He was on his way to Damascus with letters from the high priest to seize believers in the Lord Jesus. Then, he heard the voice of the Lord, as written in Acts 9:4-5, saying, “And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” After this incident, he repented and accepted the Lord.
From that point on Saul was totally changed and he laid down his life to preach the gospel to every known corner of the earth while manifesting great spiritual power. He was detained, beaten times without number, and had many near-death experiences, but he still rejoiced and gave thanks. He dedicated himself to leading many souls who were bought with the price of the Lord’s blood to the way of salvation.
In Acts chapter 24 it describes how he was accused of being a ringleader of a sect. The apostle Paul boldly spoke about his faith to the Roman governor, “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men” (Acts 24:14-16).
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online defines heresy as ‘dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice’ or ‘an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs or standards.’ In this sense, Jews condemned the apostle Paul as a ringleader of the sect of Jesus Christ.
- A Heretic, as ‘One Who Denies that Jesus Is the Christ’
Today, some people condemn other churches as ‘heretics’ just because they believe in a way that is different from theirs or because they insist on theories that are in opposition or contrary to orthodox tenets, tradition and authority. However, in order to determine whether one is a heretic or not, we must do it based on the Bible. In the New Testament, the word related to heresy or heresies appear five times; ‘sect’ twice, ‘faction’ twice, and ‘heretical’ once. One of them states the precise meaning of heresies.
2 Peter 2:1 reads, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” Here, the Master who bought them refers to Jesus Christ.
Men originally belonged to God and lived in the will of God, but after Adam’s disobedience they became sinners and came to belong to the enemy devil and Satan. The God of love had compassion on men who had been seized by death and sent His only begotten Son to the earth. By taking the cross on their behalf, Jesus opened the way to salvation and bought them with His blood as a price. It was God’s providence that human beings, who had belonged to the enemy devil and Satan due to sins, would be able to accept Jesus Christ, be forgiven of sins, gain eternal life, and belong to God again.
As explained above, Jesus Christ paid the price with His blood to buy us through the crucifixion. That is why it is written that Jesus Christ is ‘the Master who bought them’. So, denying Jesus Christ, who is the Master who bought them, is heresy. For this reason, before Jesus completed His duty on the earth through His crucifixion and resurrection, the word ‘heresies’ had not been used even once. This is because ‘the Master who bought them’ itself had not made any sense before Jesus concluded His duty as the Christ.
That is why the words ‘heresy’, ‘sect’, and ‘faction’ do not appear in the Old Testament of the Bible and the Four Gospels, either. No one among the scribes and Pharisees who persecuted Jesus called Jesus a heretic. Only after Jesus resurrected and fully accomplished His ministry did the sects appear who denied Jesus Christ, the Master who bought them.
Apostle Paul never denied his Master who had bought him from the time that he met Jesus Christ. Rather he gave thanks for the grace of the Lord, preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, and overcame every kind of severe suffering and harsh persecution with joy. Until his martyrdom, he glorified the living God by showing great power with which he healed numerous people and even revived the dead.
Therefore, if people believe Jesus Christ as the Master who bought them, they could never be heretics. By clearly understanding that heretics are those who deny and oppose the Christ and it is the antichrists who fall under the definition of heresy, we must not be deceived by others, and we must not recklessly condemn those who proclaim the gospel with the power of the Holy Spirit as being a sect.
- We must not condemn others as heretics without great care and through a proper understanding on the definition
1 John 2:22-23 reads, “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.” It means that the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the Father is a liar, an antichrist, and a heretic.
Some people express adverse judgment on a church full of the works of the Spirit as heretic or anti-Christ. It happens because of their spiritual ignorance causing them to stand against the will of God. For instance, some people say that people who cry out in prayer belong to a heretical sect. Others condemn a church as a faction because of the works of speaking in tongues, visions, and prophesy that occur in the church. Still others call a church a sect because they clap in praising or they dance giving praise in beautiful attire during the service.
Such things have nothing to do with characteristics of heresy according to the biblical definition of heresy. If you lack caution and call someone a heretic even though he confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh and believes the Bible as the Word from God, and professes God the Trinity, this is condemning the Spirit and is standing in opposition to Him. If you comprehend the definition of heresy, you cannot easily condemn or judge others as heretics.
In the Early Church time, many people came to believe in Jesus Christ when the apostles repeatedly manifested signs and wonders. The religious leaders of the Jews felt jealous of them, imprisoned them, and tried to kill them. Gamaliel was a teacher of Jewish law and he was a respectable Pharisee. He committed everything to God without pushing ahead with his own thoughts. He thought if something was not done in the work of God, it would fall upon itself soon enough even if people did not try to destroy it.
But if you oppose and interrupt the works of God with an evil heart, it means that you stand against God and it brings you into the judgment of God (Acts 5:38-39). It also means you cannot destroy them. Therefore, if you are a Christian who reveres God you have to distinguish between the Spirit of God and spirits of error, and understand what is heresy based on the Bible.