Very few people set out to intentionally become heretics. In fact, many heretics not only of today but also of the past started with the best of intentions but slid into heretical doctrines. Some heresy is blatant, bold and unmistakable for its error, but most of the time is it far more subtle than that. It can be surprisingly easy to become a heretic. Heresy often takes good concepts, good terms, or good ideas and changes them ever so slightly. This makes them hard to detect, and it also makes them incredibly dangerous. So while most of you don’t want to slip into heresy, listed below are 8 sure fire ways to become a heretic for those who do:
1. Let unclear passages override the clear passages – Not all of the scriptures are as clear as other portions of the scriptures. For instance, clear doctrinal portions such as the epistles often are more direct in their message than some of the Old Testament historical passages are. Even in the epistles however, there are times where little information is given such as baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29. So if you want to be a heretic, make sure that you read into the unclear passages and then superimpose them upon all of the clearer passages that directly speak to the topic. Even though the clear passages may directly contradict your view, dismiss them by claiming proof texting or as being out of context and appeal to your own unclear passage.
2. Ignore the history of the church – We know that history is full of dead people, in fact almost all of it is dead people. Considering that we are alive and thus must be the pinnacle of history, there is no sense in wasting your time learning from the history of Christianity. Sure there were much smarter Christians than you in the past, and yes they proved their own walk and godliness by their lives, many of them even becoming martyrs. But they were all just hampered by tradition, and they all have at least one thing that we disagree with so they can all be safely discarded if you want to be a heretic. Or better yet, if you want to be more advanced, just pick and choose segments of their writings to make it seem like you are being historical.
3. Refuse to fellowship with those who don’t agree with you 100% – Be sure to isolate yourself from anyone that can meaningfully critique or challenge you. Under the guise of just wanting to fellowship with “like minded believers” be sure to exclude everyone else so that their views don’t endanger your own. Yes they may be in agreement with you on the important things, maybe even on 95% of things, but if you really want to be a heretic you better ostracize those people. Surely don’t learn from those with other viewpoints. In fact, whenever they try to criticize you just throw it back in their face because they do (or don’t) baptize babies or something and then ignore everything they have to say. If they don’t already agree with you 100% on everything, then their opinion is obviously worthless anyway.
4. Say, “I don’t have traditions, I just follow the Bible” – Yes you were surrounded by traditions ever since your birth, and yes everyone was taught by someone who was taught by someone and so forth. But look, even though everyone has traditions, you don’t have to admit that you do. Rather, just naively assume that your traditions are just what biblical Christianity is. And if someone says something different or has a different tradition, they are probably not even saved. Refuse to question or even acknowledge your own assumptions if you want to be a heretic. It is true that the people who coined the phrase “Sola Scriptura” understood the importance of examining theological traditions and confessions. Nevertheless if someone comes to you with a confessional statement, just claim “Sola Scriptura” anyway and discount them as being like the Catholics or something.
5. Trust your feelings for what doctrines are true – Rather than confronting ourselves, our expectations and our traditions (remember you need to deny you have those anyway), you need to just trust how you feel about things to determine what is doctrinally true. It doesn’t matter if the Bible says that God is sovereign that sounds like it makes you a robot so discard it. Yeah the Bible says God is holy and just, but that makes you feel weird about people in hell so ignore it. The clear statements of the Bible are subservient to your feelings and emotions. I mean what you feel is obviously more important than the objective word of God, and if you are going to be a heretic you’ll need to create your own idols anyway so may as well start with your feelings. In fact, you can even just claim the “Spirit” told you, even though it contradicts what the Holy Spirit actually said when he inspired the Bible. There is nothing like blaming your faulty emotions and erroneous beliefs on God the Holy Spirit to have a fast track to heresy.
6. Ignore the hard work of exegesis – Now I know you think you, “Just believe the Bible.” But come on now, if you really want to be a heretic, deep down we know that’s not true. Sure you may tell yourself it is, but what you read the Bible for isn’t to see what it says. Rather, it’s to find ways that you can make things twist to your own view so that you can prove your own point. Exegesis means digging into the text, questioning yourself, what it is saying, examining it in light of other scriptures and laboring over its words and message. Instead of all that work, just do a Bible search until you find some verses that fit what you already think, who care about context. You can also take out a concordance or Bible dictionary and choose the definition that you like best to fit your view. You can fake exegesis as well by using commentaries; just ignore all of the ones that disagree with you until you find someone who at least appears to prove your point.
7. Refuse correction; say, “That’s just your interpretation” – When those orthodox people come, and they will come Christians with sound doctrine have a pesky way of pointing out false doctrine, be sure to dismissively wave off their statements no matter how right they are. Even if they prove their point from the scriptures with exacting clarity so that there is no refutation possible, just say “that’s your interpretation” and no further work of your part needs to be done. Because heresy is a moral problem and not just a theological one, you really need to learn to ignore correction no matter how loving or for your own good it is. Yes, that Christian may have put tons of work and effort in proper exegesis, but you can avoid all of that by placing it in the subjective realm of being just their interpretation. Oh, and you don’t have to worry about actually providing your own interpretation, just dismiss theirs as a tradition or something and move along.
8. Ignore sanctification and godliness – Finally, if you want to be a heretic, be sure to ignore sanctification in your life. Godliness requires growth into the image of Jesus Christ, and that can be uncomfortable and challenging to the very core of our being. As a heretic you are attempting to grow others into the image of yourself while you claim it’s the image of God, so you don’t have time to actually practice true godliness. Now don’t be confused here, you can practice a fake godliness; by all means do so and then you can claim to have “good fruit” when those pesky sound Christians come along. But the things of true godliness that true sound theology point to, those aspects of the Christian life that are empowered by the Spirit and our submission to him; ignore those. Heresy always replaces true godliness and sanctification for its own skewed view, so just start forming your own.
So there you have it, eight ways to become a heretic. For the rest of us who don’t want to be heretics, I suggest doing the opposite. This means we have to examine ourselves with regularity for it is easy for all of us to slip into these modes if we are not careful. We need to let the clear passages inform the unclear ones. We need to learn from church history. We need to be able to fellowship with differing believers. We need to recognize our traditions and submit them to the Bible. We need to let the Scriptures override our feelings. We need to do the hard work of exegesis. We need to learn to receive correction. We need to pursue true sanctification and godliness. Lastly, if you do not want to be a heretic do not forsake the church of God as that is the means that God keeps his people from error and in growing in him:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:11-16