February 2013 Truth Matters Newsletter

19 02 2013

What is Heresy?

By Rev. Robert Liichow

               It was Paul Crouch senior who spoke the term “heresy-hunter” in a fit of anger regarding those of us who dared to challenge the doctrines of the Word of Faith (WOF) cultists.

There’s a spiritual application here. … I want to say to all you scribes, pharisees, heresy-hunters, all of you that are around pickin’ little bits of doctrinal error out of everybody’s eyes and dividin’ the Body of Christ … get out of God’s way, stop blockin’ God’s bridges, or God’s goin’ to shoot you if I don’t … let Him sort out all this doctrinal doodoo![1]

               Crouch was (still is) irate over people who are equally concerned for the truth of God’s Word both great and small points of doctrinal importance.  It seems that Crouch has forgotten what our Lord and the Apostle Paul said to the disciples by way of warning when they stated:

Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. Matt. 16:6 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Gal. 5:9

In vs. 12 of Matthew’s account Jesus goes on to explain that the ‘leaven” He was speaking of was the false doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Paul warns that such false doctrine(s) can spread like yeast and pollute the entire batch.

               What Crouch does not seem to understand is that there is no such thing as insignificant biblical error.  Admittedly, we all see through a mirror darkly (see 1 Cor. 13:12).  While no one individual or denomination has perfect understanding of all the truth about God and His Word we do have a body of truth handed down to us by God through the Apostles and Prophets that we are to guard and contend for (see Jude 3).

               Crouch was concerned over what people were saying about the teachings his megastars were spewing on his television network.  What he considers “little bits of doctrine” surrounded the teachings regarding the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross, hardly a minor point of doctrinal disagreement! His response indicates that he has no real grasp of who Jesus was, what He came to do and the true meaning of what occurred on the cross.  I have said it before and restate it now —- “it does not matter what you are right about, if you are wrong about Jesus.”

Heresy Is

For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. 1 Cor. 11:19
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 2 Peter 2:1
Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Gal. 5:20

               The word ‘heresy’ and its derivations are cited 4 times in the N.T. and in each example heresy is shown in a bad light, i.e. it is never treated as a minor issue, but as a real threat to the spiritual welfare of the saints.

63.27 αἵρεσιςc, εως: a division of people into different and opposing sets—‘division, separate group.’ δεῖ γὰρ καὶ αἱρέσεις ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι ‘for it is necessary that divisions exist among you’ or ‘the existence of divisions among you is inevitable’ 1 Cor. 11:19.[2]

Against this background, it is impossible to solve the problem of the derivation of the special Christian sense of heresy. For the development of the Christian concept is not wholly analogous to that of the Rabbinic מִין, as though, in the process of the separation of non-orthodox groups, the heterodox parties came to be designated heresy. On the contrary, the word seems to have been suspect in Christianity from the very first, and when it is used as a Christian technical term in conscious or unconscious connection either with the Greek philosophical schools or the Jewish sects it denotes at once societies outside Christianity and the Christian Church. Hence it does not owe its meaning to the development of an orthodoxy. The basis of the Christian concept of αἵρεσις is to be found in the new situation created by the introduction of the Christian ἐκκλησία. ἐκκλησία and αἵρεσις are material opposites. The latter cannot accept the former; the former excludes the latter. This may be clearly seen in Gl. 5:20, where αἵρεσις is reckoned among the ἔργα τῆς σαρκός along with ἔρις, ἔχθραι, ζῆλος, θυμοί, ἐριθεῖαι and διχοστασίαι. Yet neither here nor elsewhere in the NT does αἵρεσις have a technical sense. In 1 C. 11:18 f. we see even more clearly the impossibility of αἵρεσις within Christianity[3]

Initially when the leaders of the Church spoke of heresy they were speaking of anyone or any group of people who contradicted the teaching of the Apostles.  Heresy was any variant belief that denied who Jesus Christ was, what He taught, what He did before, during and after His crucifixion.

As the Church developed and the revelation of God was codified into what we call the “Bible” today the definition of heresy crystalized into meaning something more specific:

Material Heresy: Material heresy entails believing heretical doctrines through no fault of one’s own ‘in good faith.’ For example, if a Baptist grandmother in Arkansas denies infant baptism without having been a Catholic and without having investigated the doctrine, she subscribes to heresy materially and is without fault.[4]

Formal Heresy: Formal heresy is strictly defined as the obstinate denial or doubt, after Baptism, of a truth ‘which must be believed with divine and catholic faith.’ [5]

               Even though the above is the Roman Catholic definition, we as evangelical Catholics should not have too many problems with it.  Theologically heresy has been honed down to refer formally to any false teaching about the Person and/or work of Christ Jesus.  We might differ with Rome regarding the “without fault” clause in their definition of material heresy.  If one can (1) read his Bible and (2) inwardly digest what has been written then he bears some culpability for what is believed.  This is eminently proven in the following text:

 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,  And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:  That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2 Thess. 2:9

               These are people who are hearing a false message and believing what they have heard to be true, they reject God’s truth and perish.  It matters eternally what one believes about Jesus Christ.  Both the preacher and the hearer are responsible before the Lord.  The preacher is responsible for what he proclaims (see James 3:1) and the listener to how he hears (see Mark 4:24).

Heretics & Their Heresies Past & Present

               Solomon informs us that there is “nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).  With this in mind it behooves us to consider some of the past enemies of the Church and see how they have morphed over the centuries in a demonic attempt to infiltrate the ranks of the pure wheat of God.

The Gnostics —-

The main differences with Christianity and gnostic belief were that god, who was purely good, could not have created the world, as the world contained evil. Hence Gnosticism created a mythology much like Greek mythology in which numerous other forces were the children of god. These children in turn created our world. One such child was Christ who descended to earth to share his knowledge, some secret knowledge of which the Gnostics claimed to be only part of their religion (the unwritten, verbal knowledge passed on by Christ). Also associated with Gnosticism are the beliefs that all matter was evil, including the human body and that Christ’s divine spirit only descended into the man Jesus with his baptism and left him before his crucifixion, leaving the man, not the Messiah to suffer on the cross.               [6]

               Gnostic schools were also called mystery schools in that what they taught was hidden from everyone accept those admitted into the cult.  As stated above, they denied the reality of the material world and saw it as evil.  Gnostic schools could go one of two directions, either they were licentious giving themselves over to the debauchery or they were extreme ascetics, denying their flesh as much as possible.  The Gnostics were the mystics of their day and as D.M.I. has covered over the years, these mystics are still with us today in the form of Crowder, Rick Joyner, Hinn, Arnott and others preaching mystical insights.

The Docetists —

               The Docetists were among some of the first heretics that the Church dealt with.  A good working definition of Docetism is:

Docetism was an error with several variations concerning the nature of Christ.  Generally, it taught that Jesus only appeared to have a body, that he was not really incarnate, (Greek, “dokeo” = “to seem”).  This error developed out of the dualistic philosophy which viewed matter as inherently evil,  that God could not be associated with matter, and that God, being perfect and infinite, could not suffer.  Therefore, God as the word, could not have become flesh per John 1:1,14, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.. ”  This denial of a true incarnation meant that Jesus did not truly suffer on the cross and that He did not rise from the dead.[7]

               The Holy Spirit through the Apostle John rebukes this error when he writes “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world” (see 1 John 4:2-3) and again in 2 John 7For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.”

Sabellianism —

Sabellius, a third-century theologian and priest, was a proponent of modalism. Modalism is a non-Trinitarian heresy claiming that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are simply different modes of God and not distinct persons within the Godhead. Little is known about Sabellius, who was excommunicated in 220 AD, but the teaching attached to his name became infamous and is still with us today.[8]

His error has been one of the more persistent heretical weeds attacking the garden of God.  The modalism of Sabbellius is with us today in various forms, probably the best known is that of the Oneness Pentecostals, the largest cult within the sect of Pentecostalism.[9]

As with all heresies, Sabbellius forced the Church to formally address an area of doctrine hitherto not yet solidly defined the doctrine of the trinity of the Godhead.  To answer Sabbellius our Lord brought forth a champion of Truth by the name of Tertullian:

In Against Praxeas, Tertullian argued that Scripture reveals that the Godhead is three who are at the same time one. He rightly considered this an essential doctrine of Christianity. In the Sabellian modalist view, the three are not anything real, but rather just different manifestations of the one. Therefore, Tertullian proposed that we speak of the Godhead as “one substance (substantia) consisting in three persons (persona).” This terminology would serve as the basis for future Latin theology, and it is from Tertullian’s pen that the important Christian word “Trinity” (trinitas) was first inked.[10]

The damnable nature of modalism is that it undermines the atonement of Christ.  If God is only One and He works in history by appearing in different modes than obviously it calls into question the reality of the humanity of Christ as Docetism would have us accept.  If Christ is not both fully God and fully man then he cannot be the one mediator between God and man.  This reason is more than enough to deny the heresy of Sabellian modalism, and affirm the biblical doctrine of the Trinity.

Monophysitism —

Monophysitism is an error concerning the nature of Christ that asserts Jesus had only one nature, not two as is taught in the correct doctrine of the hypostatic union:  Jesus  is both God and man in one person.  In monophysitism, the single nature was divine, not human. The denial of the human nature of Christ is a denial of the true incarnation of the Word as a manWithout a true incarnation there can be no atonement of sin for mankind since it was not then a true man who died for our sins.[11]

This is another subtle twist on the Person of Christ.  In this errant view people taught that Jesus had only one nature a divine one and not a human nature.  The physical body of Jesus was just a vehicle for the divine to inhabit.  Formally Monophycitism was condemned as a heresy by the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680-681.  This view was held by some in the East and in Egypt, but it is not as widely held today.


Adoptionism says that Jesus was a human being who was “adopted” by God at his conception, at which point he developed a divine nature.  Later versions sometimes suggest that he was adopted later, such as when he was baptized by John the Baptist.[12]

               This view holds that Jesus became the Christ when He was adopted by the heavenly Father. Prior to His adoption as Son, he was just a mere man such as us ourselves.  This view flew in the face of so many biblical problems that it did not last too long.

Adoptionism was declared heresy at the end of the 2nd century and was rejected by the First Council of Nicaea, which defined the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and identified the man Jesus with the eternally begotten Son or Word of God.[13]

Nestorianism —

               Some could not see Jesus as God, others could not see a God becoming truly man.  Nestorius tried to bridge this gap by proposing that Jesus was indeed both God and man, but not united as such:

 Nestorius (c. 381-451) was a monk from Antioch before he became the bishop of Constantinople in 428. He so emphasized the two natures that Nestorius basically turned Jesus Christ into two persons. Wanting to avoid any “mixing” of the divine and human natures of Christ (as Eutyches did), Nestorius over-emphasized their distinctness.[14]

Nestorius ended up with really two Christ’s one divine and one human.  This aberrant view was struck down as heretical and condemned by the councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon(451).  There are some today who still hold to this view, but they are largely confined to Iran.

Apollinarianism —

Apollinarius taught that Jesus Christ had a human body but a divine mind (soul).  He is remembered as a noted opponent of Arianism, Apollinarius eagerly emphasized the deity of Jesus and the unity of his person led him so far as to deny the existence of a rational human soul (νους, nous) in Christ’s human nature, this being replaced in him by the logos, so that his body was a glorified and spiritualized form of humanity.  In his defense of the deity of Christ Apollinarius lost His humanity which proved to be biblically indefensible. 

The teaching of Apollinarius was condemned at Antioch in 378 and 379 and by the Council of Constantinople in 381. The primary defender of theological orthodoxy was Gregory of Nazianzus, a 4th century Eastern theologian and the Archbishop of Constantinople.[15]

The Scriptures prove that Jesus was fully man as well as being fully God.  As a man we know He grew in statue and wisdom (see Luke 2:52), He grew hungry (see Luke 4:2), He was and is easily touched with the feelings of our infirmities (see Hebrews 4:15).  According to Church history Apollinarius did add one part to our confession today:

Apollinarius did make a lasting contribution to orthodox theology in declaring that Christ was consubstantial (of one substance) with the Father as regarding his divinity and consubstantial with us as regarding his humanity. This formula, which originated with Apollinarius, later became official orthodox doctrine. Apollinaris was also one of the first to claim that God suffered and died on the cross, a claim which received immediate condemnation but later became acceptable in orthodox theology.[16]

Arianism —

The danger with doctrinal error is that it can be very difficult to eradicate once it has taken root in people’s minds to any great degree.  Such is the sad fact regarding the heresy of Arius, an Alexandrian priest in Egypt (± 250-336 AD).  “Arius taught that it was impossible for God in any true sense could have a Son; as Mohammed tersely said afterwards, “God neither begets, nor is He begotten” (Koran, 112).[17] Today we call that denial Unitarianism. Arius denied that the Son is of one essence, nature, or substance with God; He is not consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father, and therefore not like Him, or equal in dignity, or co-eternal, or within the real sphere of Deity. Obviously such teachings about Jesus Christ caused confusion in the Church and the issue had to be settled at Nicaea.

On August 25, 312 A.D. Constantine convened a Church Council to hopefully settle some of the issues troubling the fledgling Church.  Arius was withstood by the Bishop Alexander of Alexandria and his deacon, Athanasius, who later went on the pen the “Athanasian Creed” and who wrote four works against Arius.  Long story short —- Arius and his followers were defeated and the doctrine of the Trinity was strengthened and has remained with us to this day.  Unfortunately, some devotees of Arius are still plaguing people today.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses fall under the Arian category, as do the Mormons, Moonies, Unitarians, Church of Christ Science and some lessor known cult groups.

Pelagianism —

The error given voice to by an Irish monk named Pelagius has proven to be among the more long-lived errors to plague the people of God for centuries.  Pelagius taught that the original sin of Adam and Eve was not passed down to and through their offspring.  After the Fall of Adam mankind was left with a “spark” of the divine within them and if so disposed they could seek after God in and of themselves.  Since lost mankind could make a “decision” to either receive or reject God and His Word the emphasis was placed on human effort and not the grace of God.  In fact, for Pelagius and his followers taught that baptism was not considered necessary, in that people could be “saved” by their own efforts, that is, they did not necessarily require the grace of God.  Among other cardinal doctrines of the Church Pelagius rejected the need for the substitutionary atonement and justification by faith through grace.  He believed that mankind could reform itself spiritually apart from the grace of God.

Such a stance brought him into direct conflict with many other theologians of the Church and the man who went toe-to-toe with Pelagius was Augustine of Hippo. 

Pelagius’ error was deemed heretical in 416 by the Council of Carthage. Originally Adam, Augustine said, possessed freedom—the ability not to sin. After the Fall, all human beings participate in Adam’s sin, which renders them not able not to sin. After the mediation of divine grace in Jesus Christ humans are once again given the ability not to sin. Augustine replied to Pelagius’ views in two treatises: On the Grace of Christ and On Original Sin. Augustine writes: “We must realize that Pelagius believes that neither our will nor our action is helped by divine aid…he believes that God does not help us to will, that he does not help us to act, that he helps us only to be able to will and to act.”[18]

The errors of Pelagius remain with the Church today and are most often expressed in today’s revivalism and the ‘decision’ theology of Billy Graham.  Some within the eastern branches of the Church still cling to some of his errors regarding the fall of Adam.  Any system that promotes works and self-effort alone as a means of spiritual advancement fall into the same pit as this Irish monk.

The battle for the truth of God’s Word has been waged since the beginning.  The Bible warns from the old covenant to the new of the danger of being led astray from a pure faith in God through the deceptions of false prophets, false teachers and false apostles.  Eternal destinies hinge upon having faith in the Biblical Jesus and thus Satan and his minions work tirelessly to lead people astray by presenting a false Christ who is in reality no ‘Christ’ at all.

Historically people have erred regarding the Person of Jesus.  Some have wanted to make Him pure deity at the expense of His humanity; some teach of Him as only a man ‘anointed’ by the Spirit at His baptism thus denying His eternality as God.  Satan well knows that —-

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12

If Satan can get people to follow any of the ψευδόχριστος (pseudochristos) false Christ’s he presents then he has achieved his goal, the damnation of the lost.

Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret  chambers; believe it not.  For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. [19] Matthew  24:23-27

We are living in the last days, Jesus has warned His flock that people will be declaring that “Christ is here” (say, at our revival) believe it not.  No “ifs ands or buts” about it, for two thousand years men (and some women) have stood up and declared themselves to be the Christ of God.  Church history is filled with wonder-workers and those who seek signs and today’s Church is rife with such deceived deceivers (see 2 Timothy 2:25; 3:13) who oppose themselves, the Church and ultimately the Lord of glory Himself.

REJOICE my brothers and sisters because like Peter we have been granted revelation of who Jesus is, truly God and truly man, the Savior of the world as proved by His sinless life, His substitutionary death on the cross for the sins of the world and His glorious physical resurrection from the grave three days later!  Flesh and blood did not and cannot reveal Christ Jesus; this is the work of the Spirit of Grace whom the Father (see John 6: 37) uses to bring us to faith through the preached Word of God.  Our Lord has claimed us for His own, what a humbling and glorious truth!                          

[1] Obtained from http://www.iamforsure.com/False%20Teachers/Crouch/CrouchMain.html

[2] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 615.

[3] Vol. 1, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-), 182-83.

[6] Obtained from http://www.roman-empire.net/religion/heresy.html

[7] Obtained from http://carm.org/docetism bold type added for emphasis.

[9] Please understand that not all Pentecostal believers are cultists.  Many Pentecostal’s are indeed Christians yet within their ranks are various sub-groups that are distinctly NOT Christian including The Way International, the Moonies, the Shakers, The United Pentecostal Church, The Pentecostal World Assemblies {PAW}, etc.

[10]http://theresurgence.com/2010/06/22/sabellius-know-your-heretics underlining added for emphasis.

[11] Obtained from http://carm.org/monophysitism bold type and underlining added for emphasis.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[18] Obtained from http://theresurgence.com/2010/03/15/pelagius-know-your-heretics

 [19] The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Mt 24:23–27.