A conversation between 2 Christians. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)
Bill: Are the many recent hurricanes from God, the devil, or mother nature?
Ted: I think the answer is in Nature, being the nature of weather patterns. Could God stop a Hurricane? Yes, does He? No. Why doesn’t God stop a hurricane? Likely for the same reason that He does not stop people from sinning, He has given the world over to complete free will for a time, He will intervene though as described in Jude 14 when He returns. (http://www.baptistboard.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php/topic/3/2455.html)
I hope I am not beating a dead horse here, but I am going to take time today to talk about why it is important for the modern evangelical church to refute heresy. I am going to give some ways that can be employed to do the task. And then I am going to use the above dialogue to refute the heresy that is in it using the ways mentioned and then explain again why it is important that we deal with issues like that.
Defining the terms
Before we go any further and refute heresy, we need to be on the same page on what heresy is. A lot of people misunderstand the concept of heresy and throw the word around like candy. They use the word in reference to anything that doesn’t line up with their specific system of beliefs. Well, here is the truth of the matter: Just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t automatically make it heresy. All people, including those who hold strictly for life or death to the Westminster Confession of Faith are just as human as those who loosely read the Baptist Faith and Message and are prone to make mistakes. Even the writers of the WCF were human and fallible and there may even be error in that fine piece of work. So, we need a working definition of heresy. If not for the rest of our lives, than at least for the rest of this article.
I am borrowing this definition from the e-sword Bible program’s plug in of the “Webster’s 1828 Dictionary”. It states that a heresy is, “A fundamental error in religion, or an error of opinion respecting some fundamental doctrine of religion.”
That is simple enough. So we see that just because someone may disagree with us on something, that doesn’t automatically make it heresy because a heresy is in a fundamental doctrine of religion.
But what is a fundamental doctrine of religion? Well, what does one have to affirm to be a Christian? That is a fundamental doctrine. An example would be the deity of Jesus. If one doesn’t believe that Jesus is God in the flesh than they obviously can’t believe that the Jesus of the Bible can save them from their sins. And if they don’t believe that the Jesus of the Bible can save them, than they are believing in a different Jesus. A different Jesus would be a heresy.
So now that we know what the word heresy means, let’s look at why it is important to refute them.
Why the task of refuting heresy is important
The task of refuting heresy goes way back in church history. From the earliest accounts of the early church found in the Bible to the times of the early church fathers such as St. Augustine and on into more recent times with Martin Luther and John Calvin, and into modern days with men like John Piper and John MacArthur, all these men, and many more, have stood through time and refuted heresies that threatened to damage the Christian message. So the task of refuting heresy is firmly rooted in the history of the church.
Take all the early church councils for example. In each one of them, as far as my understanding from the studying I have done, one of the tasks that they undertook was to make sure that Biblical doctrine was upheld. There was a unified understanding in those days of what the Bible taught for the most part. The true church had a set standard of beliefs and if one deviated from those too seriously, the person was excommunicated from the church so that he could amend his ways and be restored.
Let’s look briefly at some writing from one of the earliest of the church councils. We will look at The Council of Orange because it is most relevant to our discussion later involving the question and response dialogue I quoted above. This Council was an “outgrowth of the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius” (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/orange.txt). Pelagius, and followers of him, taught that man was born inherently good, that he has no sinful nature, and that he can achieve a state of perfection here in this life, and could save himself by his own power. Augustine was on the other end of the spectrum. He taught that man was born inherently bad, that he has a sinful nature, and that he can not be saved apart from a work of God in his life. The council came to the conclusion that man cannot save himself by his free will choosing but must be moved by the Holy Spirit to make any decision for God and condemned Pelagius as a heretic.
Think about the ramifications of that for a moment. Think about the doctrines that are being promoted in many denominations in modern evangelicalism. We’ll use the Southern Baptists as an example.
The Southern Baptist’s Baptist Faith and Message: “In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.”
This is an affirmation that man is born not sinful. And Pelagius was condemned for a doctrine such as that. This implies that the doctrine being promoted in the Baptist Faith and Message is heretical. That is a scary thought and idea.
And this is why it is important that we as Christians stand against and refute heresy. Because in modern Christianity, a doctrine that was already refuted and condemned as heresy is being freshly promoted again as if it is orthodox teaching. And this is a serious problem.
Tools for the use of refuting heresy
One of the easiest, and hardest to deny, methods of refuting a heresy is by looking at history. Church history is full of writings from different church councils where heresy was refuted and biblical truth was firmly stood for.
We need to have a working knowledge of history, at least know where to find historical documents, when attempting to refute a heresy. We can talk for hours about “Well the church says…” or “I’ve always been taught…” but if it is not rooted in anything, if we don’t know where to find the why the church says what it says or why we’ve been taught something than we are just spouting an opinion that may or may not be rooted in any truth whatsoever.
2) Plain Reason
A second way, and a bit more easy to use than history, is plain reason or logic. I don’t think I need to explain too much that we have been given brains for a reason; that reason being for us to use them. Let me illustrate the use of plain reason for those of you who may be slow.
Let’s say someone walks up to you on a perfectly clear day with no clouds in the sky and says, “Boy it’s cloudy!” Now, let’s think this through. The sky is perfectly clear. It is a deep blue. The sun is shining. Not a cloud is in the sky. And the guy who just walked up said that is was cloudy. Now, the sky is not going to be playing a joke on us and be pretending to be sunny when it is really cloudy. The guy is obviously wrong.
That is how we should use plain reason when it comes to doctrine. If something someone is teaching goes in blatant contradiction to what is accepted as orthodox teaching and goes against what the Bible clearly teaches, than it is obviously wrong. Plain reason will bring you to that conclusion pretty easily.
3) The Bible
The most important thing to use when refuting heresy is the Bible. If a doctrine is unbiblical, than it is wrong, of course. But much of the modern church would disagree. In fact, much of the time, churches will allow a teaching behind their pulpits that is in blatant contradiction to Scripture to go unchallenged in the name of tolerance.
Take, for example, the event in the Episcopal Church here in America with the appointing of the homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson. A female bishop in the church (we won’t even touch that one) made the comment that in the case of a heresy versus a schism, always choose heresy. Hmm…If you ask me, it doesn’t appear that the Bible is being held in very high esteem in this particular situation.
My point is, we have the complete revelation of God to man in the 66 books of the Bible. God doesn’t speak in a billion different ways anymore. Hebrews 1:1-2 states,
Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by [His] Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things and through whom He made the universe. (HCSB)
We don’t need an outside revelation anymore because that has all been fulfilled in the books of the Bible, and more specifically, in God incarnate, Jesus the Christ.
Applying these tools
Now let’s look at the quote above and figure out what to do with a statement such as the one made. We will look specifically at the statement that God has “given the world over to complete free will for a time”.
Let’s start with history. History proves that God has not fully left creation to its free will. Look at the war we are in today as an example. People all over the world are praying for God to keep them safe and for God to guide their leaders in the right way. If God was not intervening or answering prayers, things would be worse than they are.
Or let’s look further back in history. Let’s look at the Holocaust. If the planet was left to its free will, wouldn’t this event have been a lot worse than it was? The Jews are God’s chosen people after all. God obviously protected His people from being totally wiped off the face of the earth.
Now let’s look at it from a purely logical perspective. If creation was left to its own free will, think of how insane everything would be today. We would all be blowing each other up. Natural laws, such as gravity, could cease to exist because they just decided not to. The planet earth could decide to move closer or further from the sun, wiping life completely off the face of it. None of these things happen. Obviously there is something that is fixed and therefore there must be something that is keeping it that way. The natural laws are obviously not stopping and starting at whim. They are fixed and have been fixed for a really long time, and we can rest easy in that truth.
But let’s look Biblically. This is the most important part of refuting heresy. Let’s just proof text this first.
A king’s heart is a water channel in the Lord’s hand; He directs it wherever He chooses. Proverbs 21:1 (HCSB)
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. Proverbs 16:33 (HCSB)
The Lord threw Sisera, all his charioteers, and all his army into confusion with the sword before Barak. Sisera left his chariot and fled on foot. Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth of the Nations, and the whole army of Sisera fell by the sword; not a single man was left. Judges 4:15-16 (HCSB)
Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him. Acts 2:23 (HCSB)
For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place. Acts 4:27-28 (HCSB)
Now let’s apply these few texts. We’ll pick some of the more obvious ones. Let’s take the one about the king’s heart being like a channel of water. If God directs a kings heart “wherever He chooses”, then that obviously means that the king wasn’t left in the counsel of his free will. Granted, the king has the ability to make decisions, but, just as Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me at all…if it hadn’t been given to you from above” (John 19:11 HCSB).
Or let’s look at another passage. This will be the last passage that we will look at here simply because of time. The Acts 4:27-28 passage. The passage there clearly says that all the people assembled together to do what God’s hand and plan had “predestined to take place”. God was in full control of the events at the cross. It wasn’t some event that surprised Him and caught Him off guard. No. God knew what He was doing when He sent Jesus to the earth to die in the place of the many.
The refutation of heresy is a lost thing in the modern evangelical church. We have let too many bad teachings creep in without dealing with them at all. This is not a good thing at all. We are reflecting what the Bible says when it tells us that a time is coming when people, wishing to have their ears tickled, will gather for themselves teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. We live in that day. And it is our responsibility as pastors, youth minister, and lay people alike to stand up and refute the heresies that are in our churches. We need to stand against false teachings, and do so boldly. And we need to do so in love and as the Spirit gives us utterance. Amen.