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13 Sep '14

Heresy hunters in the church

Posted by T.J. Addington in Heresy
The rise of the internet has flattened the information age and made access to opinions, facts and fallacies equally easy. This has been a bonus for professional heresy hunters who are quick to judge the theology of individuals, churches and movements through their particular lens and set of theological grids (often exceedingly narrow).

Now there are individuals and groups with bad theology out there, or let's say terrible theology. It is theology that seems to bear no resemblance to what one reads in the Scriptures. But there are many others who are attacked not because their theology falls outside the bounds of the broad tent of evangelicalism (defined by the Gospel or the historic creeds of the church) but because their theology does not meet the narrow definitions of some self appointed critic. 

Those critics are numerous and their definitions are often exceedingly narrow. They sweep up well known Christian leaders and movements in their heresy hunting vacuum. Not only that but those who read, listen to or affiliate with the accused are equally suspect for they too must be heretical by association. My own denomination, a solid evangelical movement has been the target of a number of these hunters over the years (EFCA). 

There are also those who get caught up in the charges of these heresy hunters and are self appointed hunters in their own congregations to keep the body pure and to root out heresy. What usually occurs is that they create unnecessary division and confusion instead.

When I meet those who accuse others of heresy based on what they have read or heard on the internet my first question is this: Have they listened to or read the individual being accused or have they simply relied on the analysis of a third party who accusing?

My second question is this: If I disagree with something this individual said, does that make it heresy or does it mean that my own theological grid is different. Armenians, Calvinists, cessationists, non-cessationists, complimentarians and egalitarians, to name just a few major differences among evangelicals are all orthodox, but they also disagree with one another's theology. So there are many things we can disagree on within the definition of orthodoxy.

There are things great theologians of our own day say or write that I don't agree with but it does not mean they are not orthodox. And I will defend their right to their position within the broad definition of orthodoxy. I am sure that after writing several thousand blogs there are things my readers might not agree with but would not charge me with heresy. (Perhaps I should brace myself).

My third question is: Do I really want to create division over differences in theological positions in the name of Jesus? All of us have our theological preferences. But theology within the broad creeds of the church was never meant to divide but to unite us under the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have a right to my preferences and others do to theirs but there are many admonitions in Scripture not to divide the flock (just read 1st and 2nd Timothy). 

When I label as wrong or heresy positions that simply don't agree with mine I am often a guilty party in creating unnecessary division within the church. Interestingly enough, obviously heretical theology, creating division and ongoing egregious sin are the three wolves that church leaders are tasked to guard the flock against. Sometimes the professional heresy hunters are the threat to the church rather than the supposed heresy they are hunting. 

In one final irony, much of the so called heresy hunters focus on the role that the Holy Spirit does or does not play in our lives and how He does or does not manifest Himself. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit and how He works is very much a matter of our theological grids and presuppositions. But, is it possible that we are actually setting ourselves up against God Himself if we are not careful on this one? It would be very sad to find out one day that we were guilty of quenching the Holy Spirit because we made assumptions that were not accurate - and called it heresy!


All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.