February 8, 2011

Heretics and Heresies

The bulk of the book of Jude is a warning concerning heresies and heretics. But what do those words mean? Well, a heresy is a false theological belief that, if held, damns a person. And a heretic is the person who believes such a thing. For instance, if a person claims that there is more than one God; or that Jesus was only a mere man; or that we may be saved by our good works … that person is a heretic. Because what he or she believe means that he cannot possibly saved. That is a heresy. It’s not simply a matter of a person being wrong, say, on the mode of baptism, or on the unfolding of the end times, or even regarding spiritual gifts. A heresy is not just an incorrect belief. It’s an incorrect belief that damns a person; a belief that is in no way compatible with biblical Christianity. So Jehovah’s Witnesses are heretics, but some of the most wild-eyes charismatics (even with all their sad mistakes) are not. And we must be careful to make a distinction.

It’s a distinction that is important in the book of Jude. The men Jude has in mind, as he levels condemnations in the middle portion of the book, are not just men who have a few things out of place in their theology. They are men who, because of what they believe (or fail to believe) are going to hell. And they are men who are intent on dragging others there with them!

So what does Jude say about such heresies and heretics? Four things in Jude 4:

First, Jude says heretics and heresies often creep into the church “unnoticed”. In other words, it’s not simply that we have Mormons or Unitarians out there, but that often times heresies creep up inside the church, and rear their ugly heads before anyone realizes what is happening. Now, of course, that fact speaks to the cunning of the devil. But it also speaks to each local church’s need to be careful about who becomes a member, and who does the teaching. It’s why we have a process that all new members must go through. We want to have as few unnoticed heresies and heretics creep in as possible.

Second Jude says that heretics and heresies should be no surprise. God knew about them “long beforehand”. And Jude himself tells us that they will creep in. So we shouldn’t be na├»ve. Heretics and heresies will try and nestle into the membership of our church, and bring as many people to hell with them as they can. So we must be vigilant. And we must not think, ‘O, this could never happen in our church’ and thus turn a blind eye to what we know is false, because ‘it just can’t be. He surely doesn’t mean what it sounds like he means.’

Third, Jude informs us that heretics and heresies are licentious. Specifically, they “turn the grace of our God into licentiousness.” They say, in other words: ‘We’re saved by grace, not works. And so it doesn’t matter so much how we live. In fact, all this talk about living a holy life is just legalism!’ Heretics love that argument. And we must beware of it!

Finally, Jude tells us that heretics and heresies “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” That is to say that most heresies (but not all!) stem from false beliefs about Jesus Himself. Some believe that He was just a mere man (as in the JW’s, and the liberal Protestants). Others, particularly in the ancient world, have argued that the Messiah was no man at all. Perhaps Jesus was a man, they say; but the Christ was someone different; a separate spirit that simply came upon the man Jesus, but was not a man itself. Still others, like the Mormons, call Jesus God … but believe that He is no more god than you and I may someday be; and certainly not one and equal with the Father.

There are many heresies in the world today. But so many begin with a failure to believe in the biblical Jesus. And so we must be all the more careful to know our theology; to understand the Trinity; to be students of the scriptures … lest we be carried away by a doctrine that we don’t even realize is damnable; lest we (perhaps even with good intentions) end up denying “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ”!

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