It is a remarkable fact that all the heresies which have arisen in the Christian Church have had a decided tendency to dishonor God and to flatter man. ~ Charles Spurgeon
A study released by LifeWay Research several years ago revealed that evangelicalism is rife with heresy. The study revealed that “Most American evangelicals hold views condemned as heretical by some of the most important councils of the early church.” What exactly do we mean by heresy? To put it simply, in the context of Christianity, heresy is the opposite of orthodoxy. The word is used to describe serious theological errors. Be forewarned: Unrepentant heretics will not enjoy salvation. In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 Paul called those who teach falsely deceivers and Satan’s servants: For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
As you can see, teaching falsely is that serious.
What unorthodox doctrine or practices should believers be on the lookout for? According to Theopedia:
Heresy is a teaching or practice which denies one or more essentials of the Christian faith, divides Christians, and deserves condemnation. The term is derived from the Greek word hairesis, literally meaning a choice, but referring more specifically to a sect, party or disunion. Luke uses the term in Acts to refer to the sects of the Sadducees (5:17), Pharisees (15:5; 26:5), and even the Christians – called Nazarenes and the Way (24:5,14; 28:22). When Paul uses the term in 1 Corinthians and Galatians, he refers to the divisions which cause strife in the church, while Peter links the term to false prophets and teachers.
The Spiritual Gift of Discernment
How are we to know if a person’s teaching is heretical? One way to know is to follow in the footsteps of the noble-minded Bereans in Acts 17:11 who exercised good judgment and spiritual discernment:
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
The word discernment means “to distinguish, to separate out by diligent search, to examine.” As we point out in our Research Paper on Discernment:
Christians who are spiritually discerning are able to properly distinguish between true and false teaching. Those with discernment have wisdom. Moreover, in the Bible we’re told that a true believer possesses the mind of Christ. “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:15-16)
According to Apologetics Index:
Discernment is to identify the true nature of a spirit, doctrine, practice, or group; to distinguish truth from error, extreme error from slight error, the divine from the human and the demonic.
“…a Greek word signifying (1) a choice, (2) the opinion chosen, and (3) the sect holding the opinion. In the Acts of the Apostles (5:17; 15:5; 24:5, 14 ; 26:5) it denotes a sect, without reference to its character.
Elsewhere, however, in the New Testament it has a different meaning attached to it. Paul ranks “heresies” with crimes and seditions (Gal. 5:20). This word also denotes divisions or schisms in the church (1 Cor. 11:19).
In Titus 3:10 a “heretical person” is one who follows his own self-willed “questions,” and who is to be avoided. Heresies thus came to signify self-chosen doctrines not emanating from God (2 Pet. 2:1). – Source: Heresy, Easton Bible Dictionary
A person who teaches heresy is called a heretic. A church, movement or organization that claims to be Christian, but which nevertheless teaches heresy, is a cult of Christianity. Christians who have not learned discernment easily fall prey to such groups. (Source)
“Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, but its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced…more true than the truth itself. — Irenaeus – Against Heresies, bk 1, vol 1)
In Heresy And Those Who Fought It, Frank Farrell invites us to look at some of the major heresies which have plagued the church in its long history. “We must be very selective,” urges Farrell, “for even by the fifth century Augustine could list 88 different heresies.”
The deity of Christ was at issue at the Council of Nicaea (325) which condemned Arianism. Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria, rose above the aforementioned heresies in maintaining the preexistence of the Son but fell far short of orthodoxy in teaching that the Son was the first creation of God. The young deacon Athanasius was the leader of the orthodox party, and he would later be exiled five times for his stand as the threat of Arianism waxed and waned with the succession of emperors.
Succeeding church councils would condemn other heresies regarding the person of Christ, including the Nestorians [link below] for dividing Christ into two persons (one divine and one human) and the opposing Monophysites [link below], or Eutychians, for mingling Christ’s two natures into one. The Council of Chalcedon (451) affirmed that Christ is one person with a fully divine nature and a fully human nature. This has remained the normative view of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant churches. The Coptic Church of Egypt, among others, remained Monophysite.
The fifth century also saw the conflict between Augustine of Hippo and the British monk Pelagius [Pelagianism link below] in the anthropological and soteriological areas of sin and grace. This was mainly a Latin, not a Greek, controversy. Pelagius denied original sin and man’s need of redemption. The heresy was condemned at two North African synods in 416 and at the Council of Ephesus in 431. (Source)
What were the early penalties for heresy? Farrell reveals that those accused of heresy had their property confiscated, people were banished, even killed. With the rapidly growing power of the apostate Roman Catholic [link below] papacy during the Middle Ages, “heresy became defined as disobedience to the pope in the area of doctrine.”
Defining Essentials Verses Nonessentials
CARM (Christian Apologetics Research Ministry) defines doctrines which separate Christian from non-Christian. In CARM’s view:
It would make no sense to persecute anyone over a doctrine that is not essential to the faith. Such nonessentials, in my opinion, would include the baptism of infants, pre-trib or post-trib rapture, worship on Saturday or Sunday, musical instruments in the church, the charismatic gifts, worship styles, dress codes, etc. These kinds of subjects do not affect one’s salvation. Unfortunately, the disagreements that arise around these subjects result in denominational fragmentation.
Essentials of the faith would include who God is, who Jesus is, salvation by grace, and Jesus’ resurrection. From these subjects, we have derived doctrines known as the Trinity and the hypostatic union (Jesus’ two natures: God and man). The Bible tells us that these doctrines concerning God, Christ, salvation, and resurrection are essential to the faith. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that Christians know their faith and know how to defend it against the doctrines that compromise the essentials.
CARM lists the following Heresies:
- Adoptionism – God granted Jesus powers and then adopted him as a Son.
- Albigenses – Reincarnation and two gods: one good and other evil.
- Apollinarianism – Jesus’ divine will overshadowed and replaced the human.
- Arianism – Jesus was a lesser, created being.
- Docetism – Jesus was divine but only seemed to be human.
- Donatism – Validity of sacraments depends on character of the minister.
- Eutychianism – Jesus finite human nature is swallowed up in His infinite divine nature.
- Gnosticism – Dualism of good and bad and special knowledge for salvation.
- Kenosis – Jesus gave up some divine attributes while on earth.
- Marcionism – An evil God of the O.T., good God of the N.T. 11, books in the Canon
- Modalism – God is one person in three modes.
- Monarchianism – God is one person.
- Monophysitism – Jesus had only one nature: divine.
- Nestorianism – Jesus was two persons.
- Patripassionism – The Father suffered on the cross.
- Pelagianism – Man is unaffected by the fall and can keep all of God’s laws.
- Semi-Pelagianism – Man and God cooperate to achieve man’s salvation.
- Socinianism – Denial of the Trinity. Jesus is a deified man.
- Subordinationism – The Son is lesser than the Father in essence and or attributes.
- Tritheism – The Trinity is really three separate gods.
Modern Day Heresies/False Teaching
- Contemplative Prayer
- Emergent/Emerging Church
- Free Masonry
- Hebrew Roots
- Holy Laughter and the Toronto Movement
- International Church of Christ
- International House of Prayer
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Liberal Agenda – Christianity and liberalism
- New Age Spirituality
- New Apostolic Reformation
- Progressive Christianity
- Purpose Driven/Seeker
- Roman Catholicism
- Seventh Day Adventists
- Social Justice
- Spiritual Formation
- Ultra Dispensationalism – Hyper Dispensationalism
- Unification Church – Moonies
- Word of Faith
Christian clergy who inflicts any sort of false teaching on Christ’s sheep should not be thought of as shepherds. These men should be called what they actually are: Apostates, false teachers, “frauds, phonies, and money grubbing religious quacks.” Mark and avoid (Rom 16:17-18).
Naming Names here
New Apostolic Reformation false teachers here
Emergent/Emergence/Emerging Church false teachers here
Whenever a man takes it upon him to make additions to the scriptures, he is likely to end valuing his own additions above Scripture itself. ~ J.C. Ryle
What Does the Bible Say?
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 1 Tim 6:3-5
Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thes 5:19-22
As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him. Titus 3:10
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food. Heb 5:12-14
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 Peter 2:1
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1
Paul’s Warnings to the Galatians Still Speak to Us By Kim Riddlebarger
Heresy and Those Who Fought It By Frank Farrell
What is the ‘gateway drug’ to heresy? By Elizabeth Prata
How do you define heresy? By Robert Godfrey
A Survey of Heresies By Phil Johnson
Copyright June 29, 2022 by Marsha West for Christian Research Network. No one may use any part of this Research Paper without Marsha West’s express permission.