papercutpress 2004-02-03 - Sometimes Heresy is a Good Thing

Encore 1998-10-12

Acts 17:10,11 And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea...Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica. For they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, (to see) whether these things were so.

Now, before you all e-mail me and jump down my throat, let me qualify that topic title. Those who teach heresy and those who follow it are, in Scripture, (2 Timothy 4:1-4), viewed as subverters of the Church of Christ. Heresy is a plague on the church. I’m not suggesting that we need more false teaching in the church (we have plenty of that already). But rather, I am suggesting that God has, throughout history, used heresy to strengthen the church and to cause it to search the Scriptures. Two examples (From an endless supply):

  1. Patripassianism: This teaching existed between 200-250AD. It denied the teaching of the Trinity. Christ was really the Father appearing in human nature. It was God the Father who appeared and died on the cross. This led Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Origen to search the Scriptures and see if this teaching was true. They refuted this teaching and condemned it, but the key: It drove them to the Word of God.
  2. Docetism: This teaching has its origin in the Greek verb, Dokeo, “to seem”. It teaches the Christ never really became flesh, He just seemed to be flesh. This was first advocated by Cerinthus (85AD) and was one of the first heresies in the history of the Christian church. In fact it is possible that this teaching was the target of the warning in 1 John 4:2,3. Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Tertullian (who wrote five books on it) all attacked this teaching as un-Biblical. Forms of this heresy actually live on in the teachings of Islam. But the key is that the result of this false teaching is that, in those that rose up to defend truth: It drove them to the Word of God.

So it should be with us. We all hear things advocated or explicitly taught that cause us to wonder, "Is that true?" We ought to take these things to Scripture and see if these things are really true. It is our duty as followers of truth both to speak truth and to avoid falling for error. The only way to do this is to study God’s Word and pray for wisdom.

I admit I never listen to a sermon without pen and paper. However, I don’t take notes. I listen for two things:

  1. profound statements I want to remember and think about later,
  2. statements that, initially, I do not think I agree with. In the case of the second form of statements, I write these down, go home and study. I refuse to let someone, who has not studied sufficiently, dupe me into believing something that in my best judgment (which makes mistakes), is not true.

Preaching, conversations with others, and a host of other things should raise questions in our lives and regarding our faith. These questions should do what historically they have always done in the church and in the people of the church: They should drive us to the Word of God.

Soli Deo Gloria,