One of the things that most alarms us as the initial signatories of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel (and the nearly 10,000 others who have signed as of this writing) is that within the evangelical social justice movement (heretofore ESJ) we are seeing and hearing some of the same arguments that swayed once theologically conservative denominations that are now in spiritual ruin.
[Editorial Note: This is the ninth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” to expound upon the statement’s affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]
WE AFFIRM that heresy is a denial of or departure from a doctrine that is essential to the Christian faith. We further affirm that heresy often involves the replacement of key, essential truths with variant concepts, or the elevation of non-essentials to the status of essentials. To embrace heresy is to depart from the faith once delivered to the saints and thus to be on a path toward spiritual destruction. We affirm that the accusation of heresy should be reserved for those departures from Christian truth that destroy the weight-bearing doctrines of the redemptive core of Scripture. We affirm that accusations of heresy should be accompanied with clear evidence of such destructive beliefs.
WE DENY that the charge of heresy can be legitimately brought against every failure to achieve perfect conformity to all that is implied in sincere faith in the gospel.
Heresy. The word itself likely conjures up images of the Inquisition, medieval torture devices and angry torch wielding mobs. Though such un-pleasantries are now in the past (hopefully), heresy remains a very serious theological reality and poses an eternal danger to countless souls.
The Greek word for heresy, hairesis (αἵρεσις), carries the basic meaning of division. Titus 3:10 which states, “Reject a factious (divisive) man after a first and second warning” employs this term. In fact, the King James version renders it quite literally, “A man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition reject.”
Though division often carries a negative connotation, not all division is bad. Some division is absolutely necessary. As Christians we are to be wholly devoted to the authority of God’s inerrant, infallible, all sufficient word. That devotion necessitates that we divide from those who are not so devoted. Jesus himself will one day separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32). Division can be a good thing.
There is nothing good, however, about heresy. Heresy constitutes a willful departure from Christian orthodoxy and has been a problem in the church practically since its inception. Jesus and the New Testament writers repeatedly warned about the rise of false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20; Acts 20:29-31; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). In fact, almost every book in the New Testament directly warns of false doctrine.
There are many different categories of heresy. There are heresies regarding the godhead such as Modalism which denies the trinity and Open Theism which denies God’s knowledge of the future. There are Christological heresies such as Arianism and Kenosis theology, both of which denigrate the deity of Christ.