Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Protestant Ecclesiology and the Problem of Heresy

...Circling back to the charges of “heresy” or “heretical” teaching, then, I find it difficult to quantify what men like Mohler and Truett actually intend by such accusations—and whether they could really bear any impact on individuals or on the convention as a whole. If the only standard for Protestant (and Southern Baptist) dogma is an appeal to the scriptures (or even their “right understanding”), how can one ever convincingly argue that one doctrine or another is heresy? What Mohler and Truett are both appealing to is a certain understanding of Church history and tradition, and not scripture alone...

...At the end of the day, the word heresy—for those with an anti-ecclesiology (and for most Protestants, really)—is little more than an insult. It carries no weight and it has no ecclesiastical authority or demand to it. Indeed, I think this is why some are offended when they hear members of the Orthodox Church using terms like heterodox or heretic in theological discussions. They assume we mean what they mean by those words—insults. But we actually have specific, technical meanings attached to such terms, and the means by which to address them.
Read the rest here.


Anonymous said...


The terms "heretic" and "heteredox" are insults even if they have "technical" meanings.

After all, Orthodox hurl the terms at each other all the time as well as everyone else.

Using the term does very little good except make the hurler of such terms feel wonderfully righteous.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Your comment would carry great weight if you could convince me that there is no such thing as truth.

Anonymous said...

Truth doesn't need someone insulting someone else in order to be stated as truth.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Heresy endangers the salvation of souls. If stating that is cause for offense then it can't be helped. I for one am sick of people who think they have a right to not be offended.

Chris Jones said...


First of all, what John said.

The terms "heretic" and "heterodox" can be insults if that is how they are intended and if they are used without regard for their proper meaning. But the New Testament teaches us that false teaching is a serious problem, that we are to be on our guard against it, and that we are firmly to reject it. And that can (and often does) mean that we are to call a spade a spade, and identify false teaching as just that: false teaching.

The reason for that is that doctrine does not exist for its own sake, as some sort of intellectual curiosity; and God's requirement (expressed in the New Testament) that we reject false teaching is not arbitrary, something that we are to do "just because He says so." Christian doctrine exists for a purpose: to bring us to, and keep us in, a saving relationship of faith in Jesus Christ. When we are not faithful to orthodox doctrine, the Gospel is obscured, distorted, or outright lost. And then that saving relationship with Jesus Christ is put at risk, or (at worst) made impossible.

Do you really think that the false teachings of (for example) the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons are capable of uniting a person to Jesus Christ? And if not, how can those false teachings be anything but heretical?

Of course we should speak the truth in love, and not be needlessly offensive. In many situations it is better to say "I believe you may be mistaken about that" than to say "you're a heretic!". But while we should be gentle, we must be firm and we must be honest. And there can be no compromise in our confession of the fullness of the Christian faith.

Matushka Anna said...

Agree with Chris and John. ANYTHING can be used in an offensive way. I don't think anyone (well, almost anyone) would argue that piety is a bad thing, but how many times are the words, "You're just so pious," hurled at someone? "Heresy" is simply what it is. If someone is offended that their beliefs come under the heading of heresy, then that is their problem, not a reason to do away with the word heresy.

Fr. Benedict Crawford said...

To return to the "ecclesiology" aspect of the post, in order for there to be "heresy" there also must be dogma, and for there to be dogma there must be a Church to solemnly dogmatize. If the "sole" arbiter is Scripture and the "Church" is robbed of any authority, then there is no one to dogmatize (at least with an credibility), and therefore no possibility of heresy.

And I agree that even among Orthodox the term heresy can be used as abuse, but it is still an important (and Biblical) term. As someone said, the problem with heresy is that it doesn't work. Dogma brings us closer to our spiritual healing and the vision of God. Heresy poisons our souls with a lie and takes us away from Truth Himself.

Sophocles said...

"I for one am sick of people who think they have a right to not be offended."

I am struggling to find, but cannot, the "like" button with the "thumbs up" icon on here. :)

Anonymous said...

When one looks at the history of the Church, one finds that heresy was often the creation of the heresy-hunter, as it were., for the purpose of obtaining power and eliminating opponents.

Just look at Epiphanius whose book catalogued hundreds of heresies, most of them completely fictitious.
He was the McCarthy of his age.