Monday, November 30, 2009

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Heretics: 2. They use the right words but give them a new sense


An old series from the Against Heresies archives:

The strange thing about heresy is that it attempts to pass itself off as orthodoxy, even as good news. And often as thoroughly biblical good news. The key text here is 2 Corinthians 11:3-4:
But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
Or in other words, he who has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Serpent is saying to the churches, and that with great discernment.

The language is right (Jesus, Spirit and Gospel) but each term is qualified by Paul. This is "another" Jesus, and a "different" gospel. If you put your trust in this "Jesus" it will do you no good. He is not the authentic Son of God but a fake. Notice that the goal of the false teachers is to break the relationship that the Corinthian believers have with Christ (they are "betrothed to him" according to verse 1). Instead they will be brought into a new relationship with another "Jesus."

Would this be obvious to them? Of course not. It is achieved through deceit and cunning. This is the Garden of Eden all over again. The goal of the heretic is a broken engagement to Christ. It is that vital, loving relationship that they seek to end. Never think that switching from one doctrine to another is a purely intellectual matter.


The preservation of orthodox words with substitute meanings has been a constant feature of heresy throughout church history. In Against Heresies Irenaeus wrote that “their language resembles ours while their sentiments are very different.”

Augustine made the same observation in his work A Treatise on Faith and the Creed:
It is underneath these few words, therefore, which are thus set in order in the Creed, that most heretics have endeavored to conceal their poisons. (Chapter 1)
Vincent of Lerins also noted this behaviour:
But that they may with more successful guile steal upon the unsuspecting sheep, retaining the ferocity of the wolf, they put off his appearance, and wrap themselves, so to say, in the language of the Divine Law, as in a fleece, so that one, having felt the softness of wool, may have no dread of the wolf's fangs. (Commonitorium chapter XXV)
More recently Francis Schaeffer wrote that "liberal theology is only humanism in theological terms." And again, that:
The new theology is simply modern thought using religious words...Historic Christianity and either the old or the new liberal theology are two separate religions with nothing in common except certain terms which they use with totally different meanings.
Rather than going quietly and opposing the truth clearl,y heretics have gone about their work with different interpretations of biblical words and confessional terms. By doing so they loudly proclaim that they are the orthodox ones, they have the right interpretations, and it is their opponents who are the heretics.

Alister McGrath has made this point in his recent book on heresy:
Every major heresy within the Christian faith has presented itself as offering a legitimate interpretation of the Bible and has criticized its orthodox opponents as deficient in the art of biblical hermeneutics.
I have previously compared this to the movie The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The host humans appear to be the same friends and neighbours that we have always known, but in reality they have been taken over. In large measure this explains why it is difficult to detect and expose heretics. Their camoflage is authentic Christian vocabulary.

4 comments:

Bill Hornbeck said...

Dear Rev. Downes:

It seems as if the heretics that are being described in your post are the fierce wolves. I wonder if there may be another type of heretic. I am not sure about this comment, so please do not hesitate to correct me if my practical observations conflict with Scripture or your own practical observations.

As a practical matter in my movement between a wide variety of Protestant denominations and churches, I have observed that maybe more have been deceived by those "negligent" heretics than "intentional" heretics.

Let me explain the difference. There are those "intentional heretics" who truly are aptly described as the wolves. They know the truth but deliberately reject it and who deliberately try to deceive and mislead others. However, there are also those "negligent" heretics who are more aptly described as "the blind trying to lead the blind" or as "the deceived who go on deceiving others".

As described in the following Scriptures, these "negligent" heretics are very dangerous, because they do hold to a form of godliness. They love to attend church and Bible studies. They are always learning but never able to come to the truth. They can act very sincere, because they are deceived.

"But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, ... holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; ... Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who ... always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith." 2 Timothy 3:1-8.

2 Timothy 3:13
"But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."

As a final note, I do not infer that these "negligent" heretics will be less responsible on judgment day for their actions than the "intentional" heretics. But, I do think that this distinction may be helpful, because we may lower our guard when we perceive that they are apparently without malice or without intention to hurt us.

What do you think?

doulos said...

Is prosperity Gospel also a heresey ?
Does it not also give new sense to the right words?

Anonymous said...

And where do these "negligent" heretics practice, the blind that lead the blind? This is what Jesus says about them and where they are. "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies" for God promised him that his enemies are a footstool for his feet. This table sits right down front center of every "Christian" church house in existence as the proof that the negligent heretic has built on a foundation that was not laid by Jesus Christ.
Theodore A. Jones

Martin Downes said...

Hi Bill,

I think the question to ask is, what are these false teachers rejecting? Is it the authentic gospel?

Every heretic thinks that his gospel is the true one, but how do they react to the authentic gospel?

Such people are deceived if they think they are holding to the true gospel, and they are deceiving others. I would want to know if their rejection of the true gospel is just that, or whether it is obscured by distortion.

Are you supposing that negligent heretics think that they know the truth but actually have never been confronted with it?

Doulos,

Yes, and yes. I was watching a bit of Joel Osteen on Youtube this week and he certainly was preaching a different gospel all decked out in biblical language and texts taken out of context.

Theodore,

Welcome back.