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The heresy of damnable heresies

August 31, 2011

The topic of heresy is a natural one to come up when we start thinking in terms the human soul as national. If the saving or damning parts of a person are their heart-felt, deeply ingrained beliefs, and specifically the saving part being beliefs in Christ, then does that leave room for the concept of heresy? I think the answer is no (edit: or a qualified “yes”, depending on your definition of heresy – read on…). Before we go any further, let’s first define the concept…

Well, I just looked it up (wikipedia and google dictionary) and it appears I may have a different definition of heresy than the orthodox definition. That makes me a heretic on the definition of heresy ;-). It seems the wikipedia article focuses mainly on the political ramifications,from http://www.theology21.com/2011/03/24/what-makes-a-heretic-and-how-should-they-be-treated/ I.e. Around the 300s when the distinction between church and state became blurred, heresy was a reason to put someone to death if the church didn’t like what a competitor was claiming about Christianity. The dictionary definition was mainly focusing on a certain belief being “not orthodox” or “not the mainstream view” and emphasizing the change of ones viewpoint away from the former orthodox view.

Somehow, perhaps with my Christian experience being in the Evangelical realm, I’ve come to define heresy as “having a belief that destines one to hell”. Perhaps it is a slightly different thing I’ve had in mind all this time – the “damnable heresy”. The view that I will eventually explain should not be very controversial, at least among Calvinists, as the Calvinist view is that we’re all heretics (so to speak) unless we have been elected by God the Father to be saved by Christ, and there really is no such thing as a damnable heresy because we believe that nothing (not even a false belief) can take the elect out of the hands of Christ. I’d imagine (correct me if I’m wrong) Arminians would believe in a damnable heresy that causes one to lose one’s salvation as it (losing one’s salvation) is a possibility in their eyes.

Let’s look at the scripture that seems to talk about this:

2 Peter 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgement from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

When I was googling this topic, all the scripture references were to this passage. Some used the phrase “destructive heresies” and some used “damnable heresies”. I have 4 bibles on my phone and all of them use the phrase “destructive heresies”. As I write this the thought crosses my mind that perhaps I’m making a straw-man argument that I can then knock down. Maybe I’ve misread people all this time… Is it only the cultists that talk of damnable heresies? I’ll have to look into it.

Anyway, what is 2Peter talking about here? Well, the first chapter seems to say something along the lines of “even though you know you’re saved because you’re a Christian, you really ought to keep making sure by adding to your faith the right way, all the time”. It talks about constantly building oneself up with the things Christ has taught the apostles, then switches gear to talk about how that building up can be reversed, ie damaged or destroyed by these false teachers and their “destructive heresies”.

A little later on right at the end Peter writes this:

2 Peter 3:17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Now, even though the unprincipled men teaching these heresies don’t appear to be saved (although you might argue its possible they are “as a man escaping alive from his burning house” as some of them at least once did believe, but now their situation is worse than before they first believed), the one being duped by them is certainly saved, but they’re just not having grace and peace being multiplied to them as much as they would if they were following chapter 1 correctly. In other words, their belief in the heresy has not damned them to hell.

So now that we’ve sort of already “established” that there’s no such thing as a “damnable heresy”, it shouldn’t be so hard to see how that fits in with the national soul idea. Let’s say that the heresy in mind is Arianism. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to [Arius] ( [ca.] AD 250–336), a Christian [presbyter] from [Alexandria] , Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the [Trinity] (‘God the Father’, ‘God the Son’ and ‘God the Holy Spirit’) and the precise nature of the [Son of God] as being a subordinate entity to God the Father. Deemed a [heretic] by the [First Council of Nicaea] of 325, Arius was later exonerated in 335 at the [First Synod of Tyre] , and then, after his death, pronounced a heretic again at the [First Council of Constantinople] of 381.

So let’s say you believe that Christ did not always exist in “eternity past” as us good trinitarians believe, but that he was created when he was born. Let’s say that you also believe that he was crucified and thereby paid for our sins and rose again on the third day. Just for good measure, let’s say that you also help the poor, not because you feel guilted into it or because you think it will get you ahead in the eyes of your peers, but because Christ said you should and besides, deep in your heart you know (and this belief may have been planted by Christ himself) that its just the right thing to do. Are you a Christian? Yes, although some Christians would deny that, and you wouldn’t be accepted as a member in the church I attend. Are you saved? Yes, because you have faith in Christ. Is your Arian view of Christ a heresy? Yes, and I believe that when you are resurrected for eternal life in the new heavens and new earth that that false belief will no longer be a part of you. Will the heresy be a “destructive heresy” in this present life? Yes, because any anti-Christian beliefs, whether its Arianism, or garden variety greed or lust, will have its consequences due either to the direct consequences of sinful behavior / beliefs, or perhaps the absence of other supportive Christian beliefs and attitudes that the heretical belief undermines. It will also adversely affect to varying degrees the lives, both now and in eternity, of others inside your circle of influence.

Okay, reality check: why am I writing this? Well besides the fact that I’ve just been thinking about this lately, I have come across in various places, but specifically at one blog that is associated with a podcast I value (I don’t feel the need to say the name) this attitude of “so-in-so (let’s call him Chuck) is failing to delineate “belief A”, a correct belief, from “belief B”, a clearly heretical (read incorrect) belief and we have to call him out on that”. Now I’m not saying that these people are saying that Chuck is going to Hell, but I’m pretty sure they’re saying anyone who is a “belief B” person is probably headed there unless they repent of it. So what’s’ the difference between my view and this podcaster’s view? We both believe that “B-ism” is wrong, heretical and damaging to the church. Well, first, I’m less likely to use inflammatory language in dealing with them, thereby undermining my own correct beliefs (ie the ones that are actually objectively true). Second, I’m not going to differentiate between this “hyper-bad” view over here and that “just plain bad” view over there. If something is anti-christian, its not any more wrong than another anti-christian belief. We should stop bashing people and instead bash bad ideas. ( End of rant)

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