By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
Heresy is a word that is too often thrown around in the church today, and it most definitely has pejorative connotation. The negative thing is that views that are typically categorized as “non-essentials” are raised up to the category of being essential, and hence, when folks deviate from these non-essentials that have been erringly deemed essential doctrine, the term heresy is thrown about. This of course is a misuse and abuse of the term as it does not properly delineate the important difference between “essential” doctrine and “non-essential” doctrine.
When we speak of “essential” doctrine, we are talking about beliefs that are definitional to the Christian faith, such that to deny them would define one out of the Christian faith. Non-essentials are beliefs that are well within orthodoxy, but it is permissible for believing Christians to disagree over them. An example of an “essential” doctrine would be something like the deity of Christ. If a person denies the deity of Christ, then the person cannot be considered a Christian in any meaningful sense of the term. An example of a non-essential doctrine would be something like “speaking in tongues.” While there are Christians who disagree over this issue; namely, whether the gift of tongues is something that the church is to function with today, it is not something that defines a person out of the Christian faith by affirming or denying.
The term heresy refers to a belief that strays from orthodoxy. To put it in simpler terms, heresy refers to false teaching. Heresies contradict biblical truth and thus must be avoided by the bible believing Christian at all cost. Unfortunately, heretical teachings creep into the church and can wreak havoc upon the body of Christ. We are warned in scripture of the threat of heretical teachings within the household of the faith: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4).
How is the Christian to avoid heresy? The answer comes in knowing the truth, as Jesus said, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). Avoiding heretical teaching is found in knowing the Word of God; becoming so familiar with the actual truth about what God has said, that when false teachings rear its ugly head, the equipped believer is ready to respond with the truth of God.
The more ignorant we are of God’s Word, the more susceptible we are to accepting error. Let us be grounded in the truth of God’s Word as we hide it in our hearts and equip ourselves to combat error wherever it is found. However, if we fail to take seriously the importance of knowing the truth, we will not be prepared to take on falsehood as it is often presented in very plausible garb.