I’ve always loved the dictionary. Words comprise our language, our communication with those around us and they have meaning. It is important to understand the meaning behind words, especially in Christendom. Instead of assuming a definition, instead of taking other’s thoughts only it is vital to our growth to look them up, to study them and to come to a deeper understanding of their meaning and use. I’ve been amazed over and over at how I have had misconceptions about the meaning and use of words. So I’m going to add a dictionary to my blog and occasionally look at some words.
I’m going to start with 2 actually because they are related in a way but need very definitely to be separated; Heresy & Error! I actually choose these two words because they have been used against me and so I thought I’d better have an understanding as to their meaning.
Heresy is defined in several ways:
The word "heresy" comes from the Greek αἵρεσις, hairesis (from αἱρέομαι, haireomai, "choose"), which means either a choice of beliefs or a faction of believers, or a school of thought.
Heresy is the rejection of established beliefs of a religious body, or adherence to "other beliefs." The word "heresy" comes from the Greek word hairesis or choice. The Greek word is a neutral term.
An opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, esp. of a church or religious system and the maintaining of such an opinion.
Error (doctrinal) is defined this way:
The misinterpretation or application of any biblical teaching.
The first wrinkle that we run into is defining what is orthodox isn’t it? Generally speaking, most simply call the teachings of the ‘church fathers’ and the creeds that have been established through the many and various councils orthodox. The great doctrines of the faith have been ironed out over the centuries in different councils and God has blessed his people in those truths. The truth of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the incarnation, the vicarious atonement, the resurrection and the virgin birth and it was against these creeds that teachings/beliefs were judged in order to determine orthodoxy and to establish teachings/beliefs as heretical. These teachings are foundational to our faith and we are united and embrace them together with joy and thankfulness in the truth.
Orthodox: from ortho- "straight" + doxa "belief"). The reason we have different Christian denominations today, different individual beliefs is because we each believe we have the right belief or opinion at any given time and that is of necessity. If/when we need to change that belief or opinion the Lord will show us even that as He is our teacher. He may do it through the Word or through other believers but He will teach us truth. The word heresy is used liberally (actually misused) in Christendom today I believe, for a variety of reasons and has lost much of its original sense. It’s almost like a sentiment of……’if you don’t believe the same as I do you believe heresy.’ Sometimes it is used to cause fear and I’ve had to learn to not be afraid of the word itself but to investigate, to search and to realize that just because I might believe something different than another doesn’t necessarily make me a heretic, in the truest sense of the word. For a heresy to exist there must be an authoritative system of dogma designated as orthodox and if you don’t conform to that particular system most likely you will be labeled with heresy. Each system thinks it is the one that is orthodox and following is a prime example.
The Roman Catholic Church convened in their Council at Trent to answer the heresies of the Protestants (the reformers) and declared all Protestantism as heretical. They called them to return to the obedience of the Roman Catholic Church. In their orthodoxy they have determined that Protestants are heretical basically because of the following beliefs:
1. The Supremacy of the Bible
2. Justification by Faith Alone
3. The Universal Priesthood of Believers
So you can see by that example alone that the use of the word itself doesn’t prove heresy. As Protestants we don’t believe that the heresies that we are accused of within the RCC are heresies at all, instead we believe we hold the truth. We are warned in Scripture that there are true damning heresies and we should be very careful to acknowledge that and to search them out, but every difference among us is not a heresy. A nonconformist view within an established system may be perceived as heretical but that may simply be the expression of the established belief system and not heretical at all. We should be careful when we label other believers as holding to heresy when in fact truth can be labeled heresy and heresy can be labeled truth.
We all hold to error and if you think that you don’t then that is your first error. No one today has the complete truth that the Lord Jesus taught to His apostles, especially His teaching to the Apostle Paul. Heresy and error began then and continues today and will be with us until the Lord returns, of that we can be sure.
Grace and Peace!