By Elizabeth Prata
I’m often asked discernment questions, which pleases me because that means a woman is thinking about her faith, wants the truth of the Bible, and pursues holiness in her walk. I was recently asked ‘Are false teachers and heretics the same thing, and can they repent? Should we pray for them?’
In the first part, I looked at the question: What is the difference between a false teacher and a heretic? The 3rd part will look at the issue of repentance. CAN a false teacher repent? Can a heretic repent?
Now, in this part 2, let’s look at a definitions of heretic and heresy:
The Heretic is the most prominent and perhaps the most dangerous of the false teachers. … The Heretic is the person who teaches what blatantly contradicts an essential teaching of the Christian faith. ~Tim Challies
And so, heretic is worse than a false teacher: “I think we need to say that there are some absolutely non-negotiable truths that you are false to teach: if you deny the Trinity, if you deny the deity of Christ, if you deny His sinless life and substitutionary death, salvation by grace through faith, the gospel. That’s the drivetrain of truth, saving truth. Those are not negotiable.” ~John MacArthur
The main characteristic of a false teacher was their teaching springs of off the Bible but is twisted or wrong in some way. They might teach about baptism, but baptismal regeneration. They might teach about food, but introduce food laws. They might teach about fasting, but become legalistic in their teaching of this practice. They might teach about prayer, but slide in some Gnostic practices about prayer. And so on.
The main identification of a false teacher is that when their theological error is pointed out, they display an unwillingness to make a correction. Either when the Spirit points out in scripture, or when another person points it out, if the teacher refuses to listen and continues on teaching it, they are a false.
As for heretics, their teaching is not even IN the Bible, it is a doctrine of their own making, from their own mind, and is their choice to believe. They have shown they are divisive. (Titus 3:10) The word ‘division’ in the verse means heretical.
HERESY—from a Greek word signifying (1) a choice, (2) the opinion chosen, and (3) the sect holding the opinion. In the Acts of the Apostles (5:17; 15:5; 24:5, 14; 26:5) it denotes a sect, without reference to its character. Elsewhere, however, in the New Testament it has a different meaning attached to it. Paul ranks “heresies” with crimes and seditions (Gal. 5:20). This word also denotes divisions or schisms in the church (1 Cor. 11:19). In Titus 3:10 a “heretical person” is one who follows his own self-willed “questions,” and who is to be avoided. Heresies thus came to signify self-chosen doctrines not emanating from God (2 Pet. 2:1). Source for this definition of heresy- Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
In around 144 AD Marcion taught that the Old Testament should be rejected and that the God of the New Testament was the true God, the OT God being vengeful and false. This heresy is called Marcionism and it’s alive today. Kevin DeYoung wrote a great article about it and noted that some preachers today teach their followers to “unhitch” from the OT and reject it because Jesus is nicer… that old Marcionic heresy.
Sadly, thought is is 2023, many of the ancient heresies – which never disappeared – are making a comeback. Another one is Pelagianism, the heretical belief that denies original sin, and promotes that babies are born innocent. Lori Alexander “The Transformed Wife” believes and teaches this, for example. Lori’s mentor and idol, Michael Pearl, is also a Pelagian, teaching this heresy in these modern days.
Sadly, Alexander and Pearl are not the only heretics believing this, this heresy is more common than one may think. Pelagianism is believed by 71% of respondents according to results of the 2022 Ligonier State of Theology survey.
Another heresy that was surprisingly widely held according to the survey is Arianism. This heretical belief states that Jesus is not God. Whether someone says, “Jesus was a good teacher, but not God” or that “Jesus was a created being” (something the Mormons claim) or any statement that denies His divinity, it’s Arianism and a heresy.
In another modern example, TD Jakes is a heretic because he teaches and believes that God is One but is also ONE person, not three persons in one. Jakes says God manifests Himself in different modes. This heresy is called Modalism. This is a concept striking at the heart of the Trinity, and therefore is a heresy.
Challies: “Modalism has long been labeled as a heresy meaning that if you believe it in place of the biblical understanding of the Trinity, you are not and cannot be a true Christian.”
More here by Chris Rosebrough on the heresy of Modalism and modern people who teach it.
Phil Johnson has preached a 6-part series on old heresies that aren’t really old, they are alive and well today. Here is Phil Johnson’s introduction to his series A Survey of Heresies:
“It’s important for Christians to have a grasp of heresies that the church has battled over the centuries, because they often return with new clothing, and the unprepared Christian is likely to fall into these old pits. Phil does an excellent job of looking at some of the major heresies that are revisiting the church today: Socinianism, Arianism, Pelagianism, Gnosticism, and Judaizing. This is an excellent 6 part series that will shore up some weak points in the church today.”
Heresies are serious. Heresies are alive and well today. They are completely distinct from anything taught in the Bible and are dangerous because they draw the unwary into sinful teachings on the road to apostasy and/or condemnation.
False teachings turn to heresy when they lift off from the Bible and become a doctrine completely separate from anything that can be found in God’s word. You think it might not happen to you, but see how many millions of people believe today in Pelagianism, Modalism, Arianism, Marcionism, Modalism, and so on. There are many warnings in the Bible about not falling for myths.
People believe these dastardly things because there is some kind of sin in them that rears its desire (2 Timothy 4:3) and the sin attaches itself to the false doctrine with tentacles that can only be pried apart by repentance. Heretics would not have an audience unless their followers propped them up. Notice the phrasing in the 2 Tim verse, “accumulated for themselves” these heretics.
It’s one reason we need to stay ‘repented-up’ all the time. Sin desires to have us and it’s not only sinful actions but sinful minds that enjoy false doctrines and heresies.
In the next and final part, we will look at repentance. What it is, whether a false teacher can repent, and whether a heretic can repent.
Sources consulted in researching this essay:
John MacArthur Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:24-25
RC Sproul Critical Questions: What is Repentance?
Nathaniel Vincent: Puritan Treasures for Today: Turn and Live
Logos 9 resources such as The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Matthew Henry Full Commentary, etc.
Republished with permission from Blogs.crossmap.com, featuring inspiring Bible verses about Heresy vs false doctrine: What are they? Part 2.