Heresies Real and Imaginary -- By: P. Andrew Sandlin

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 12:1 (Winter 2003)
Article: Heresies Real and Imaginary
Author: P. Andrew Sandlin


Heresies Real and Imaginary

P. Andrew Sandlin

Recently received an e-mail message from a conservative Presbyterian pastor on the East Coast charging me with “rank heresy” because I had written an essay on Razormouth calling for greater celebration in the Lord’s Day meeting, arguing that God’s love and justice are equally ultimate in his Being, repudiating the idea of a “covenant of works,” and chiding certain Christians for not loving one another enough (My critic’s letter seemed to verify my last point!). I wasn’t sure whether my response should be amusement or annoyance (maybe both). I’ve given years of my life to defending the historic Christian Faith, and “heresy” is one charge of which I never thought I’d be the object.

The word translated “heresy” or “heresies” in the New Testament of the King James Version means a “private, unauthorized character of a [religious] school or party.” It is sometimes translated “sect.” It denotes a party spirit and implies schism within, or separation from, the larger legitimate body. The Bible predicts heresies within the church (1 Corinthians 11:19), but it boldly condemns them (Galatians 5:20; 2 Peter 2:1) .

In the patristic church, heresy came to mean the deviant teachings that contributed to this sinful schism. Gnosticism, Arianism and Monophysitism were all early heresies that the

ecumenical creeds (like the Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian, and Chalcedonian) were written partly to refute. Heresy had—and has—a rather precise historical meaning: any teaching contrary to the core received tradition of the Church, outlined in those early creeds. It also was thought to have a rather precise eternal consequence: hell (if you don’t believe this, read the Athanasian Creed!). Orthodoxy, or “right belief,” is heresy’s opposite. Christianity demands certain beliefs; it is not just a “lifestyle”; you can go to hell if you don’t believe certain things (or if you do believe certain false ones). This is why charges of heresy, and not only heresies themselves, are so serious.

Charges of Heresy

This spring an orthodox Presbyterian minister, a godly and faithful and knowledgeable man, mounted his pulpit to accuse with heresy Steve Schlissel, Steve Wilkins, Douglas Wilson, and other pastors who were publicly trying to arrive at a consistent understanding and practice of the biblical doctrine of the covenant. He specifically labeled them “heretics” and “betrayers of the Reformation.” Oddly, in his widely distri...

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