How does one determine if someone is a heretic? Is this a word that should be used today when Christianity seems to be so pluralistic with regards to levels of commitment, beliefs, and practices?

Today’s theological word of the day (which I write 🙂 ) says this about heresy:

“An opinion, belief, or doctrine that is in variance to an established belief of a particular tradition. In Christianity, a heresy can have a historic value (more serious) or traditional value. In other words, a belief can be considered heretical to Baptists (e.g. paedeobaptism), but is not heretical in the historic sense. To be a historic heresy, it would have to be in variance to that which has been believed by the majority of Christians of all time (e.g. the deity of Christ).”

Because many of us use the word heresy in such a cavalier or domineering way, it has begun to lose its value. At least once a day, it seems, I hear someone calling someone else a heretic for something that is not really deserving of the term. These will say someone is a heretic for being too strong of a Calvinist, for believing theistic evolution, for saying that drinking alcohol is not a sin, for denying inerrancy, or for denying their version of free will. Soon, I am sure I will hear that jumping too high on the trampoline will be considered heresy.

Calling a person the “h” word should be done with great fear, qualification, and thoughtfulness. I don’t think we should call a moratorium on the word since I think it can carry with it an important rebuke with the implications of grave consequences. Here are the qualifications that I suggest:

Traditional heretic: those who depart from the faith of a particular tradition (e.g. Catholic, Protestant, Reformed, Dispensationalist, etc.) or denomination (Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, etc.).

Historic heretic: Those who depart from the faith with regard to a belief that has been held by Christianity from the beginning. There can be two different types of historic heretics:
1) One who departs from an essential belief (which I believe should be limited to the person and work of Christ)
2) One who departs from a non-essential belief

Simply because one is a historic heretic who departs from a non-essential belief does not mean that it is not serious or that they don’t deserve the title. For example, I believe that Open Theists have departed from a historic Christian belief about the nature of God and I believe that it is a serious departure. Even if I don’t believe that their departure necessarily undermines the very essence of Christianity, I do believe that their departure deserves a strong rebuke.

Putting this into perspective, I think we should also understand how God uses heresy to advance his kingdom. This is not to say that heresy is good, but it may be a necessary evil on the path to truth and revival. When the church is immature, doctrinally lazy, or simply apathetic toward truth, often heresy serves to help people take up arms in defense of the beliefs that provide the foundation for our faith. In this, heresy is good.

Enough on this now, I have to go. Hope you enjoy and have some good thoughts.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    44 replies to "Calling someone a heretic—thoughtfully!"

    • David

      Very helpful post Michael.

      Guess I should stop calling my pastor a heretic for listening to Miles Davis on Sunday. 🙂

    • rick

      Looking at your historic heresy comments, how would you catagorize someone who denies the Trinity (or do you put that in the “person and work of Christ”?

    • C Michael Patton

      Rick, that is a great question. Certianly this would be a historic departure, but it depends on in what way they deny the Trinity. For example:

      1) Some may just deny some minor historic detail concerning the pericoresis or the eternal generation of the Son for reasons that are not connected to the essence of the doctrine.
      2) Others may, in ignorance, deny Christ an equal place in power with the Father while believing that Christ is God (a subordinationalist view)or hold to a modalist view of the Trinity (i.e. that there is one God who shows himself in three ways).
      3) Still others may willfully deny Christ is eternal or that the Holy Spirit is personal.

      I think that these are all different in view of their essentiality.

      Those in category one have to do with language and concepts that have defined orthodoxy by means of a particular articulation which is more negotiable, but, nevertheless, has been held by the historic faith. So, by definition, it is a heretical departure from the faith, but I would not call someone who denies the enternal generation of the Son as a formal heretic (since I would have to call myself one since I don’t agree with the articulations of the “eternal generation” language.

      In two, this is more serioius, but normally comes from ignorance. Those who are not discipled in the faith are often this type of heretic. It seriously need correction, but it is also somewhat innocent. In other words, it is not a sinful departure from the faith.

      Three is the most serious as it represents a willful and informed departure from that which provides the essence of an historic confession.

      Hope that makes sense.

    • rick

      CMP #3-
      That does help.
      My only question then in your response is in regards to your point 2- the modalist. If a modalist goes beyond ignorance to a willful denial of the Trinity, do you then put then in point 3 with the person of Christ & Holy Spirit issues (the most serious)?

    • C Michael Patton

      Rick, yes, I would then move them to #3.

    • Robert Booth

      Regadrless, of your writ, which is informative and somewhat clear:

      I believe that ‘anyone’ who calls ‘anyone’ a heretic, is way out of line. Just because someone may have a different take or understanding of the Scriptures does not make them a heretic. I have found that this to be true in respect that if “you do not believe the way ‘i will force you to belive’ than you are a heretic.” Theologica proves this point.

      Also, where do we get the ‘right’ to call or label anothers Belief, heresy? Many so-called ‘christians’ do not have an incling as to what they are doing and have not the slightest clue as to what the word truly implies. Yet they liberally use it.
      Thus, to me it demonstrates that they lack Scriptural Knowledge, and truly lack Spiritual knowledge.

      When we say one “has departed from the faith”, whose faith are they departing from? Our own, or what we think to be “”The Correct Faith?”” How do you ‘know’ yours is the correct Faith? Leading to the ‘essentials’ and who stated that these ‘essentials’ are the correct ones, Paul never stated that “you need to follow this way or you are cursed” but he did state “that should anyone preach any other Gospel..” Are not the ‘essentials’ a man-made concept of “you believe -or else”/?

      Just because ‘you believe’ that Open Theist are wrong, they can say the same about you as well….So, who “rebukes” who?

      Were not the First “Christians” called ‘heretics’?

    • C Michael Patton

      Robert, thanks for your thoughts.

      It is rather odd since most of your questions were directly addressed in the post. In fact, it was your concerns that gave rise to the posting on this subject.

      You said: “Also, where do we get the ‘right’ to call or label anothers Belief, heresy?” Heresy simply means a departure from the faith. It is not simply a right but an obligation to define and distinguish heresy. But we need to understand, as the post argues, there are different levels. If we don’t have heresy, then we have nothing that distinguishes our faith. But, as I said, I would be very careful with the designation and qualify it according to the distinctions above.

    • C Michael Patton

      BTW: I think that God has used Open Theism in a very positive way, even though I believe it is, by defintion, a heretical view of the nature of God.

    • rick

      CMP #5-
      This is a great post. We currently seem to have an abundance of the 2 extremes: those who are too hesitant to use the word (heretic), and those who are too quick to use the word.

      Your advice is wise, “Calling a person the “h” word should be done with great fear, qualification, and thoughtfulness.”

    • Jugulum


      Can I call it “heresy” if someone denies that Jesus Christ was resurrected? Or if they deny that there is any resurrection of the dead?

      I’m thinking of Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15:12-19.

      I understand–and agree with–the desire to be cautious and humble in how we rebuke. And I agree that the “heresy” label is abused.

      But you take things to such a radical extreme–“How do you ‘know’ yours is the correct Faith?”–that you will have a great deal of difficulty with passages that tell us how to interact with false teachers. I also wonder what place there is in your mindset for “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”. Do you not think we’re able to rebuke people in doctrine? If we are able to do so, what makes the word “heretic” out-of-bounds for rebuke?

    • Hi Michael,

      Another great post.

      A couple of thoughts.

      1. I wrote a similar post with similar conclusions entitled How does a Baptist define heresy. It largely argues that the early creeds should define for us what would be considered heretical.

      2. The eternal generation of the son is an interesting side question. If was first primarily put forward as a concept by Origen, but refuted by I believe Tertullian, who argued that the second person of the Trinity existed as “the word”, and only became Son when he came to earth. Origen seems to have one the argument as is evidenced by the Nicene creed. To a certain extent, I would chalk up the difference between the two as semantics.

    • Embarrassed by my typos.

      My above post should have read “IT was first primarily put forward…” and “Origen seems to have WON the argument”.

    • Charles

      This is a great interchange. It presents such a strikingly precise picture of what I think I understand about the postmodern response to the claims of absolute truth. As I understood Michael’s argument, orthodoxy is indefinable without a definable heresy. Postmodernism, as I understand it (and I might be wrong) denies the existence of ether truth or heresy, and therefore rejects the absolute necessity of the tension between them. Sorry for sounding like stream of consciousness but it’s Friday of the week from …well you know.
      What I’m getting at, is that Robert’s post sounds a bit like a postmodern argument that since we can’t be absolutely sure of the truth, no one should have the audacity to declaring something untrue, or heretical. This is the necessary conclusion if you accept the underlying assumption that truth is unobtainable. And that’s what I think is the departure point for the whole disagreement.
      Either we have a source of truth that is sufficiently precise for a common understanding that is sustainable across different cultures and across the centuries or we do not. If we do have the source, but the lack of common understanding remains, then either the source is faulty or we are too intellectually lazy or disagreeable to maintain the common understanding that is otherwise available to us. I take the second view.
      What this boils down to is that I believe we have a sufficiently unambiguous source of truth in the canon of scripture as interpreted with remarkable consistency across the centuries of church history. Those interpretations give us what Michael calls the “essentials” that stand in tension with those ideas that we have a responsibility to call heresy. Part of what we learn from scripture is that the declaration of heresy is not made by individuals, but rather by the community of the church, in a transparent, prayerful, and perhaps regretful way, always making sure to clarify the path of return from heresy.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Are egalitarians heretics of a historic nature or a traditional nature? Or not heretics at all?

    • Rick Shott


      So how do you define heterodoxy. As a Baptist, I am more then willing to define some other denominations as heretical, but most I would define as being heterodox. That is to say, I do not agree with there scriptural interpretation, but I am unwilling to pronounce them as leading people away from God’s grace.

      Take the paedeobaptism issue. A church which uses it to dedicate babies and put them into membership would be heterodox. A church which pronounces that the babies are saved by their baptism would be heretical. I know that both kinds of these churches exist. The former I would cooperate with and the latter would find me frustrating.

      When you lose this kind of distinction the word becomes meaningless as you then need to clarify what was meant in the first place.

    • Hi Truth Unites… and Divides

      I don’t recall the creeds saying anything about the role of women!!!

    • Jugulum

      Michael Bell,

      Hmm… That assumes what you argued in your own post–that only things contained in the creeds should spark the “heresy” label.

    • Jugulum,

      Very true. I wouldn’t use the word heretic on anyone but a historical heretic as C Michael Patton has defined it. Even then I would be very careful when I use the term.

      There are too many people who have been martyred for being a “heretic”, where what they believe was not contrary to the creeds and was a reasonable understanding of scripture.

      “Heretic” is one of those words like “cult” that is very very loaded with meaning and should be used very carefully.

    • Jugulum

      I agree with being careful about it, and I’m not particularly inclined to use it for egalitarianism vs. complementarianism. I also agree that too many people have been martyred for being a heretic–but that doesn’t mean the word “heretic” didn’t apply to them.

      But–“being in a creed” wasn’t part of CMP’s definition. And I’m not quite sure it should be. Something can have been held by Christianity from the beginning without it ever showing up in a creed.

    • Jugulum,

      Good points again. I guess I was equating historical christianity with the creeds. Are you able to think of things held historically that did not make the creeds?

    • Jugulum

      Well… I’m not sure, off-hand. But if the Nicene Creed is part of that which “has been held by Christianity from the beginning”, then it was so before the Nicene Creed was authored. The things that get into creeds are generally the things that are challenged.

      Complementarianism (in some form) might well be one of those things. My history isn’t strong enough.

    • […] in that discussion (and hopefully my last post in that discussion), C. Michael Patton wrote a small post on his blog discussing that exact issue. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a […]

    • Jugulum

      Michael Bell,

      I just found the following:
      “Most systematic theologies have not included a section on the question of whether women can be church officers, because it has been assumed through the history of the church, with very few exceptions, that only men could be pastors or function as elders within a church. [59] But in recent years a major controversy has arisen within the evangelical world: may women as well as men be pastors?

      [59] See Wiliam Weinrich, ‘Women in the History of the Church: Learned and Holy, But Not Pastors,’ in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1991), pp. 263-79. See also Ruth A. Tucker and Walter L. Liefeld, Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987).”
      That’s from page 937 of my copy of Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

      So, it looks like a roughly complementarian view of church leadership may well be something that has been held by Christianity from the beginning, without being in a creed.

    • Robert Booth

      Michael #7,8, Jugulum #10,

      Rebuke, or ‘rebuking’ someone in the Lord, is no way near the same as calling one a ‘heretic’, Is it?

      Why one would consider them the same, or ‘categorize’ (good orthodox word for levels) them, is well beyond me, I would see that the two “terms” all very well different indeed.

      [should one deny the Resurrection, then how could they possibly be a professing christian, that sounds as ludicrous as “calling one a heretic – just for fun” – Theologica//should it be recommended that i post a comment in that thread, i would but then ‘tin head’ would send me an email that there are ‘christians’ (sic, gasp, choke) hideing behind it that are afraid to speak openly….you know what i mean]

    • Robert Booth

      More direct, I could say that some of the things you believe as outlined by the Scriptures are Heresy, but then is that my right isn’t it – No, it is not.

      But i can engage in respectful dialogue and discourse to see from where you take/make the conclusion for your belief. Should this produce enough clarity, would it not be wrong to ponder and meditate on the discourse? OH NO! we could never do that, why that would be like Paul on Mars Hill, and well, that was 1st century, we are 21st now things have changed………..i see this alot in our culture and society.

      As to the ‘dealing with false teachers’ by jugulum…we, in our times, have so misused this that its clarity has seemingly vanished.

      just my thoughts….Thanks for your time. r

    • C Michael Patton


      “More direct, I could say that some of the things you believe as outlined by the Scriptures are Heresy, but then is that my right isn’t it ”

      I would certianly expect to someone to bring this to light. “The wounds of a friend…” Do you think it is better, to stay silent? More godly?

      Now, if you were to directly call me a heretic, without a proven character that has gentleness and respect in most issues (in other words, if you call everyone a heretic), your rebuke would probably fall on deaf ears. I do have people call me a heretic or say a position I hold is heretical—often. The problem is that most of these people call EVERYONE heretical.

      But if you are a respected friend who has gained an audience through proven character, you have an obligation to say that I have departed from the faith in this area or that. If you didn’t, I would question your devotion both to me and to the faith.

      One can also use such correction in a general “prophetic” way. Like when one writes about a certian position as being heresy. Even if they don’t directly rebuke me (since they have no audience with me), their indirect rebuke is necessary, needed, and done in the best traditions of the Christian faith. We need such. The same still applies to these. If this is all they do, they lose their audience.

      Gaining the right to call someone a heretic is not easy. Most don’t bother.

      As I said in the original post, calling someone a heretic must be done with great fear, but it must be done. In order to defend the faith, there must be some definable faith to defend.

      Do we put our hand over our mouth simply because we are fallible or we could be wrong? No. We are careful, but we don’t stay silent. Otherwise, all people would never say anything.

      I get the feeling that you hold to Openness Theology. Because of this, it may be hard for you to define heresy in any way since your view would fail under every possible definition of heresy that I know of. If this is the case, then I understand where you are coming from and can empathize with you, but this ads no credence to your rebuke of my rebuke 🙂 Heresy is a serious departure from the faith. Historic heresy is even more serious. You have to act according to your conscious, but don’t let your conscious go on without fearing the proclaimations of the body of Christ that has gone before you.

    • Sid

      In today’s world, many people go to the text without the presence of the Holy Spirit. I love the complexity of the bible. I think we get too wrapped up in our arguments. The bride of Christ would not have enough time to to call anyone heretics if we were consuming our time with the poor, the week, the orphans, and the widows. If we were loving our neighbor as ourselves. I think in some aspects we(the church) have turned into the Sadducees and Pharisees of our time.

    • Robert Booth


      I agree with your recent reply, yet all too often this approach has not been taken and it has been evidenced that those engaged in any discourse have [to one side or the other] taken offense in what started as open discourse and discussion.

      Shamefull to say the least that it is usually the lesser of the knowledgable that lends to the accusation of or the name throwing, then all others seem to follow, just because the unlearned could not contend, contribute to, in the course of conversation.

      Truly, the learned and the acquired friendship, should be a consideration, but not always the case.

      As to the ‘Openness Theology’, i am not. I claim no creeds or deeds, other than what is spoken of through the Scriptures, but thanks for asking.

      As to me ‘ever’ calling one a heretic, never. I would not nor have i ever, and i am careful and knowledgable as to the implications it brings. Yet i am for active engagement in discourse and dialogue. But as soon as the other offers words of spite or speaks in contentions of the same, i choose to refrain for then its not a discussion but a yelling match.


    • […] 6.  You read enough theology blogs and you’ll see the word heretic throw around quite a bit (maybe even on this blog).  C. Michael Patton discusses how to thoughtfully call someone a heretic. […]

    • JohnT3

      Scriptures like 1 John give us the responsibility to know what is true and what is false. Paul states that if he teaches something that departs with the truth (which his readers were to know) then he is to be treated accordingly.

      Here in lies another subject matter which is a part of the reason. People do not study the word enough (I include myself in “people”). Treasury Agents study countless numbers of real currency bills. Then a counterfeit will be placed in their pile secretly and they can spot the fake because they know what a real bill looks like. We should be the same when it comes to the truth and the scriptures.

      Labeling someone a heretic or something a heresy is not wrong and never will be. What is wrong and always will be is if you do not have an attitude of humbleness and restoration in mind.

      While I have personally experienced what allowing a heresy to continue to grow and spread can do, I would suggest that a look be given to the Pharasees and Scribes. They were heretics and they started out with a good motive and intent. But that developed into a system that was so far from the truth and from God that they rejected Him when he was face to face with them.

    • Dale Mcalpine

      Great article …However it concerns me when Christians lump the Roman Catholic religion in with other Christian groups :

      ” Traditional heretic: those who depart from the faith of a particular tradition (e.g. Catholic, Protestant, Reformed, Dispensationalist, etc.) or denomination (Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, etc.). ”

      I’m sure i misunderstood your intentions here its been a long day …At least this will give you the opportunity to clarify what you meant.

      – dale

    • Dale

      It concerns me when Christians don’t want to lump the Roman Catholics in with other Christians. 🙂

      But seriously, I believe that all that CMP was saying here that from a Catholic perspective someone would be a heretic (in the traditional sense) if they did not hold to catholic dogma. In the same way that from a Baptist perspective someone would be a heretic (traditional) if they did not hold to Baptist dogma (like the necessity of having food at every meeting of the members. 🙂 )

    • Dale Mcalpine

      Thanks for your reply Michael

      Roman Catholics are not Christians …The RC religion is as false as the Mormon religion, although they may have more truth i.e. the trinity …A miss is as good as a mile as we say here in England.

      I recently posted an article on this subject on my blog titled “Is a Roman Catholic Christian an oxymoron?”
      Please check it out and let me know your thoughts
      – dale

    • Dale Mcalpine

      Michael please explain your comment that you are concerned when Christians dont lump RC’s in with other Christians

      Many thanks in anticipation of your response
      – dale

    • C Michael Patton


    • CMP,

      I believe Dale means me.

      Dale, I am preparing a response. It will probably be this weekend before I get it complete. It will be quite lengthy, so I will link to it from here.

      The Other Michael

    • Dale,

      Here is the first part of my response to “Are Roman Catholics Christian?”. I have chosen to look at the issue both statistically and anecdotally. As it is quite lengthy I have posted it on Eclectic Christian under the topic Counting Canada’s Christians. The second part of my response will happen later this weekend. (It is a long weekend here, so it may be late Monday night before you get it.)

    • Dale Mcalpine

      My response posted on Electric Christian blog :

      While i do not take issue with the set of questions that were asked to determine if someone was an evangelical Christian.I do think that although some Roman Catholics might agree with evangelicals on lots of issues, this does not mean that they have the Holy Spirit and guarantee that they will be saved.
      A more appropraite question that could be put before RC’s is this:
      Do you agree with Gods Word that praying to Mary and having statues of her and dead saints in your buildings is breaking the second commandment of idolatery ?

      Then this verse could be highlighted to them :

      1Co 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate,
      nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

      The true test would be when shown Gods Word and His standard the Holy Spirit (If they have Him) would then convict them of this truth and they would leave as fast as their legs would take them ….as i did

      – dale

    • Dale,

      As to your question “Do you agree with Gods Word that praying to Mary and having statues of her and dead saints in your buildings is breaking the second commandment of idolatery ?”

      My answer is “No’, because from my understanding of Vatican II, Mary is to be venerated, but not worshipped. I have pictures of my wife and children at home, living saints all of them, because of their faith in Jesus Christ. I value all of them very highly, but do not worship them. I would say that the same would be true of dead saints.

      Keep in mind, that I am not a Roman Catholic, so perhaps some could answer this question better than me.

      As to your final point, I will answer that in Part II. I will say for now that it has been my experience that those who leave a particular tradition are most critical of it because of the negatives that they have experienced within that tradition. (By the way I have some in my small group who believe very similarly to you because the local Catholic community that they were part of did not teach the gospel. They, like you, decided to leave when they became true followers of Christ.) I have known of several others who have had quite different experiences and this I will address in part two.

    • Dale Mcalpine

      QUOTE from Vatican II :
      1964-NOV-21: The Chapter 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, passed by the Vatican Council II, and “Solemnly promulgated by Holiness Pope Paul VI” states, in part: “Rightly, therefore, the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of man’s salvation through faith and obedience. For as St. Irenaeus says, she being obedient, became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert with him in their preaching …’death through Eve, life through Mary.’ This union of the mother with the son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death”

      1Ti 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; …Not Mary!!

      Sorry Michael but if you cannot agree that having statues of Mary and dead saints in your buildings is not idolatery then you are wrong biblically.Here is the 2nd commandment :

      Exo 20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
      Exo 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

      The RC churches preach a very different gospel than the one Paul preached,sadly.

      – dale

    • C Michael Patton

      This is quite off topic my friends. Please keep things going in the direction of the post.

    • chris

      excellent discussion!

      first i would like to note that the above definition is good. i would note though that it only can be used if the readers all understand and agree on the definition. but by using the above definition the word “heresy” will be used even more than it has already been thrown around. from the above definition anything not according to one’s particular tradition will be classified as one type of “heresy”. i am confident people would love to be able to use it in that way!!! 🙂

      for example: i have read amillenialists, premillenialists and postmillenialists say that their doctrine was the historic position of the church, and that the other two were divergence from the orthodox position. the point is that the history of doctrine is always up to manipulation.

      as for the term “essential”, this is also subjective if one does not make definite rules for how to define what is “essential” and why. it will only be a useful definition if agreed upon by all in any given discussion. words only have the meanings we give to them, and with so many minds out there it is hard to nail down a definition. one suggestion is , anything considered essential “should be limited to the person and work of Christ”. this is great but will need to be expanded. which parts of christ person and work? why is this the litmus test?

      do we need the word at all? i think we do but we need to be careful how we use it and we need to use it to protect people from danger, not attack others. i think we also need to define it when we use it (since it is defined differently by so many people). for example when i use the word i use it about something that would necessarily (at least in my logic) lead to the denial of what i consider (there is that darned subjectivity again) the basic christian beliefs (one god and jesus is savior) or even more foundational, the basic practices (placing faith in christ and repenting of our sins by submitting to Christ)

      from my experience, i have seen that this word is usually thrown out to prove ones point in polemic theological discussions. it is often uttered with a great amount of emotion and meant to be an unarguable argument against which no one can argue (i know that was a redundant statment! hehe!!) this i believe ruins the purpose of the word. it seems to me that “truth should be spoken in love”. so if the word “heresy” is used at all, it seems it should be used to benefit and protect people, not to prove a point or argument. it should be applied to a doctrine that is shown to be dangerous to the lord’s sheep. it shouldnt be uttered as an emotional attack, but as a compassionate attempt to protect the flock from a doctrine that is shown with simple logic and scripture (as opposed to appealing to tradition) to harm the faith or well being of god’s people.

      the other option is that we chuck a word so riddled with various interpretation, most of which are emotionally charged, and then we would just say things like ” that is not according to our particular groups tradition and heritage” instead of saying it is “heresy”. or we might say that “not believing in the trinity (just an example) will cause someone to eventually deny the deity of christ and his ability to be our savior, and thus shipwreck a persons faith” instead of saying “anyone who doesnt believe in the trinity is a “heretic””. in other words we would say what we mean instead of trying to use an abiguous term to describe our meaning!

      hope that makes some sense?!?! let me know what you think. thanks for letting me thow in my 2 cents!


    • britphil

      Excellent post Michael.

      I too get pretty fed up with people lazily branding someone a heretic on an almost daily basis without much of an understanding of what heresy truly is .

      Of course the term needs to be retained and used within the Christian lexicon but at it’s worst (and sadly I have seen it more than a few times from some of our less ireinic posters on this and other sites) it borders on a fairly brutal and unwarranted form of character defamation/assasination. A small, mischievous part of me is looking forward to the day when a blogger is threatened with legal action following some particularly outrageous accusation that has been made.

      “Traditional heretic: those who depart from the faith of a particular tradition (e.g. Catholic, Protestant, Reformed, Dispensationalist, etc.) or denomination (Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, etc.)

      Historic heretic: Those who depart from the faith with regard to a belief that has been held by Christianity from the beginning. There can be two different types of historic heretics:
      1) One who departs from an essential belief (which I believe should be limited to the person and work of Christ)
      2) One who departs from a non-essential belief”

      With regard to “traditional heresy” I find myself feeling really uneasy about the implications and outworking of this term. Traditions and denominations are man-made structures and hence, by nature, fallible constructs. I personally would be extremely wary of labelling anyone a heretic because they do not share the same tradition or belong to the same denomination as me. This can be where we see denominationalism at its very worst.

      A Baptist/Anglican/Methodist/Roman Catholic who genuinely believes that anyone who does not subscribe to their tradition/denomination is a heretic is in my view in a very sad place. A heaven that is solely comprised of just Anglicans or Baptists or Reformed or Roman Catholics would be a very sad place in which to reside forever….Can you imagine ….spending the whole of eternity with someone who largely thinks exactly the same as you or me…..I am almost tempted to say “give me hell….it would be the more preferable option”! So I have to say, if pushed I am tempted to reject the notion of ‘traditional heresy’ owing to its foundations being extremely shaky.

      I am much more comfortable with Historic heresy, especially one who departs from an essential, core, fundamental belief. Hoewever, once again I struggle with branding someone who departs from a non-essential belief as a heretic, and this is what I feel happens all too often. A non-essential belief is blown out of all proportion, is hyped up and begins to be presented as if it were an essential belief.

      “Even if I don’t believe that their departure necessarily undermines the very essence of Christianity, I do believe that their departure deserves a strong rebuke.”

      I would be interested in what you feel constitutes a “strong rebuke”. It would appear to me that the Open Theist argument (not that I am one, I am merely pondering) is similar to the type of treatment that was meted out to Arminius when he had the temerity and audacity to challenge and question Calvin. In Arminius’ case strike out “strong rebuke” and replace it with “death for perpetrating heresy”. I know you would not advocate such treatment nowadays, but I do feel that sometimes personal/denominational/structural/traditional prejudices can all too easily hold sway, and the heresy label is sanctioned and then deemed inviolable.

    • angel

      I don’t know…last I checked scripture…did he not say, “Judge not, lest ye be judged?”

      Can we really take that and split it and say, that part was never said, because this part exists?

      Personally, I believe that Christ came to not only Christians, but he may have also come to other religions. And, my belief in that tells me that I certainly should not judge ‘any’ other party or religion, regardless of whether they thought the same as I, or not. After all, Christ taught me ‘not to attempt to take the splinter out of my brother’s eye, when I have a log in my own.’

      Hmm! Interesting how some humans listen, and maybe even abide by ‘some’ of the bible, but don’t listen to other parts of it. Isn’t that what Satan attempted to do when he wanted to fool Christ? Didn’t he tempt him to go against what scripture said, to make his point? Christ was smarter than Satan, though. He didn’t fall for the games. Christ said, ‘let all who have not sinned, cast the first stone.’ Yet, it appears that many are casting stones at any who do not agree with them.

      When one makes themselves bigger than God, who controls their life? God? I think not!

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