March 9, 2014

Why I Hate The Word Heretic

There was a time when I rarely saw or heard the word. When it was used it usually accompanied the story of a person being imprisoned, burned at the stake, or otherwise punished.

Recently I've heard it with such increased frequency that I've come to hate it. What word am I speaking of, you might ask?

Heretic.

Webster defines a heretic as: a dissenter from established religious dogma. Related words include disbeliever, apostate, defector, and infidel.

Those who garnished such a label were guilty of leading a movement away from sound truths. Many times they were killed in an effort to snuff out their teachings or leadership lest others be equally affected and "go by the wayside" too.

To be called a heretic was in some ways to be accused of committing a crime. It was not a term thrown around loosely. People who made accusations were very serious about individuals being punished, at the very least, if not silenced.

Just ask Jesus.

The word heretic is found one time in the Bible. (see Titus 3:10 and the notes that accompany it) It wasn't used during Jesus' times but it isn't hard to see by the way that the Pharisees and scribes reacted to His teachings that they felt he was guilty of heresy.

As experts in the letter of the law they were the most learned people of their time. If anyone should know what God said and how it should be interpreted it was them.

Yet so enlightened where they that, aside from attempting to finding ways to trap him in His words, they paid no heed to His teaching.

And He was God.

In the end they didn't only deem Him to be a heretic. They claimed He was a blasphemer. This would be the thing that "sealed His fate." Or so they thought. His fate was determined before His feet every touched the earth.

Something they'd also read and studied.

Despite their expertise they failed to recognize that the very One who had been prophesied about in the book of Isaiah was standing in front of them.

Experts don't know everything.

I suppose it is hard to see when your ways of thinking and doing things is being refuted. The "cloak of religion" seems to bring with it an attitude of "I have all the answers."

Traditions and rules make good blinders for us all.

It frustrated me to discover the word heretic being thrown around so often in our society. Most often it is used to denote a person whose theology or thinking doesn't line up with someone else's.

Interestingly enough the early Christians didn't always see eye to eye. They didn't agree instantly on matters of doctrine. Sometimes they parted ways. I think of Paul sending Timothy away.

 Later he asked that he be sent back to him.

Yet, not once did they ever refer to another believer as a heretic. Why? Because it is not a word to be thrown around loosely. It is hurtful. Damaging. A serious offense.

The word heretic should be reserved for people who are diligently working to lead other folks astray from truth, in groves intentionally, because they don't believe themselves.

It is not a word to describe a Bible teacher who believes differently then you. Or someone who attends a church of a different denomination.

They believe that they can talk to God and hear back from Him. You believe that God stopped talking at the end of the apostolic age. What does that have to do with Jesus?

How does any of this bring people closer to truth.

I've been a believer for nearly three decades. Two of them have been spent teaching and leading others. Looking back on some of my earlier notes I'm surprised, maybe even shocked, by some of the things I taught.

But, I could only teach what I had an understanding of at the time. In later years my lessons evolved as I experienced growth. So the pattern goes on and on until this day.

I have not attained all knowledge.

Does that make me a heretic? No. Does it make the teacher/preacher of fifty years any less of a potential candidate for heresy? I don't think so.

I believe we need a better understanding of this word. We also need to refrain from slapping it on people like name badges at a convention.

Just because someone does not believe the same thing that you do does not constitute heresy. It could BUT most times it is merely a difference of beliefs. Perhaps a difference in levels of spiritual maturity.

Recently someone that I respect stated, on social media, that they could not recommend a certain teacher/speaker's books because that person's teachings were heretical. While I didn't challenge the statement, my heart was sad.

Grieved for the body of Christ.

I thought of the many women who had benefited from the dedication of this teacher. People who had given their lives to Christ, both men and women, because they'd sat in one of her studies or heard her speak live. I recalled the countless lives that had grown in the area of spiritual discipline as a result of this prominent author.

I was one of them.

I'm not saying that we can't get "off on tangents" or misinterpret the Word of God from time to time. I venture to say that this happens more often then not. When it is obvious it needs to be corrected in a biblical manner. Up close and personal.

In a spirit of love.

A rant on (insert social media outlet of your choice) does not bring God's truth to the body of Christ. It is divisive and brings strife. It is counter-productive spiritually.

Paul the Apostle explained that not everyone who preached the gospel did so with the same understanding or motives as he did. Some did it for what they could gain. Even then he did not call those people heretics.

He rejoiced even when the message wasn't preached with full knowledge or best intentions. Paul's heart so yearned for the gospel of Jesus Christ to reach all ears that he didn't want anything to stand in the way.

This should be our greatest concern as well.

No one made us "Bible cops." Don't get me wrong. We do need to investigate Scripture. Take it apart. Study it. Dissect passages. Rightly divide the word of truth.

I have a feeling if we spent more time doing this, with the help of the Holy Spirit, that we'd have far less time to label and call other brothers and sisters nasty names. Or pick apart their words like Inspector Gadget.

We'd be too busy getting the mote out of our eye. Cleansing our heart and hands. Washing our dirty laundry. Busy pondering the weight of our words.

There is a time for correction and a place for rebuking. But when doing so we must always remember this very important fact...

Words have a long shelf life which is why we must always be certain they are seasoned with truth and grace.

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