“Reject a factious man after a first and second warning,knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” Titus 3:10
Millard Erickson’s Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology defines “heresy” as
“a belief or teaching that contradicts Scripture and Christian theology.” The English term “heresy” is derived from the Greek term “αἵρεσις” which Strong’s Concordance defines as “a self-chosen opinion, a religious or philosophical sect, discord or contention.” Thus, if a man believes or teaches something that contradicts biblical doctrine, he is a heretic. Despite the simple definition of heresy, Christians may struggle with classifying or judging heresy.
For example, someone might ask “Is modalism damnable heresy?”
Such a question presupposes that there are heresies which aren’t damnable. Surely, if an idea contradicts what is revealed God’s word it is damnable. All heresy is damnable and should be corrected. Yet, not all heresy is eternally damnable in that believing or teaching the particular heresy will result in the heretic spending an eternity in Hell. For example, the Presbyterian practice of paedobaptism is heretical. Presbyterians (even such respected theologians as RC Sproul and Matt Slick) are heretics. However, they do not believe a different gospel than the one contained in the New Testament. Presbyterians, like all true Christians, believe that God’s people are saved by grace through faith and not by works. Presbyterians will not be consigned to eternal Hell for their heretical view of baptism. By contrast the Roman Catholic practice of paedobaptism is an eternally damnable heresy. This is so because the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the act of paedobaptism is salvific. In other words, the Roman Catholic teaching posits a different gospel. Perseverance in this belief will lead to eternal damnation.
All heresy is damnable but not all heresy is eternally damnable.
Some Christians may view heresy in terms of “primary” and “secondary” doctrines, where “primary” doctrines are those doctrines which people must believe in order to go to Heaven (and eventually dwell in the New Jerusalem). Under such a view, a “heretic” is one who denies a primary doctrine. Such delineation is completely arbitrary and has no basis in biblical theology. It assumes that purpose of the Christian life is to “get to heaven” rather than live out a biblical faith on Earth. All biblical doctrine is inherently important and authoritative. Denominational splits are evidence of this. Baptists don’t sprinkle babies; Presbyterians don’t immerse adults in water. Neither sect believes members of the other are Hell bound and, in practice, both would be loathe to refer to one another as “heretics”. Yet, that is exactly the implication of their membership in different churches which are part of different denominations.
Heresy is that which separates Christians (and sometimes false brethren) into different factions. For the sake of the health of the local church, heresy cannot be tolerated within its ranks. Members of the same local church should be of one accord when it comes to both “primary” and “secondary” doctrines (which are essentially false categories). Christians should not let heresy become a term loaded with any meaning other than what is included in Millard Erickson’s simple definition. All heretics aren’t going to Hell. However each occurrence of heresy should be recognized for what it is and corrected in Christian love.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.