Yesterday I listened to an older podcast of a pastor who, not long ago, was highly influential in my life. As a result of a major change in his ministry, my pastor friend is no longer at his church or currently involved in public preaching. To be clear, there was no moral failure associated with his leaving. Nor were there any financial indiscretions or broken relationships mentioned. The change involved an apparent shift in belief on a very core issue, for which my pastor friend expected to receive some sharp criticism. The backlash that ensued, however, came with ferocity in ways that surprised even him. Lots of name-calling was included; the most common of which was “heretic”.
While listening, I found myself grieving just a bit as I contemplated the reality that his influence has been altogether absent from my life for over a year now. Whereas I do not agree with his new philosophical bent or completely understand the motivations behind it, I still find myself questioning whether or not he has departed from “orthodoxy” and should be considered disqualified from his role of influence among Evangelicals.
Which got me thinking about this question: What are the grounds for calling someone a heretic or a false teacher?
I have chosen four passages among more than a dozen in the New Testament which talk about heresy, false teaching, or false prophecy. Read these passages carefully and respond below with your answer to my question above. It might be helpful to include in your answers some of the other Scriptures which I did not include. I would REALLY like to hear some good responses to this question…
JESUS: Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV)
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
PAUL: 1 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
PETER: 2 Peter 2:1-3 (ESV)
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
JOHN: 1 John 4:1-3 (ESV)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.