Be Careful Calling Others Heretics
The Bible repeatedly warns Christians to be aware of false teachers (Deut 18:20; Jer 23:16; Acts 20:29; 1 John 4:1). We are to be alert and on guard against teaching that undermines the gospel. However, we must also be careful with how we understand “false teaching,” for some people call anyone who they disagree with a “heretic.” This is not the way of Christ. Let me explain.
Read this sentence carefully: all Bible teachers at times will teach falsely, but not all teachers who teach falsely are false teachers. For instance, during second service last week, I stated from the pulpit that John Mark authored the Gospel of John. That’s wrong. John Mark authored the Gospel of Mark, not the Gospel of John. Woops! Does that mean I’m a false teacher? Of course not! I got caught up in the passion of preaching and misspoke. Pastors are people. We make mistakes. Now certainly heresy exists. So, how do we distinguish between teaching that is wrong but not heretical and teaching that is both wrong and heretical?
Heretical teaching concerns a denial of the fundamentals of our faith: the Trinity, the necessity of grace, the reality of sin, the incarnation, Jesus’ physical resurrection and return, heaven and hell. Heretical teaching does not concern secondary matters like the timing of the rapture, the relationship between Israel and the Church, predestination, the mode of baptism, and church polity. We should not call Presbyterians heretics because they hold different views of baptism and church governance. The terms “heretic” and “false teachers” are technical terms that refer to hell-bound teachers who knowingly and willingly lead people into doctrines that undermine the central tenets of Christianity.
This means that we must reserve our labeling of certain teaching or teachers as heretical only when they refute central tenets of Christianity. Never use those terms outside of that context. These are powerful, important, and useful words that we must use cautiously. In short, we need to heed this wise advice from one of the great professors at Dallas Seminary:
Accusing or condemning non-heretics of heresy is itself false teaching
and a dire failure to love the brethren. You will be judged for your words.