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Why We Need Heresy Hunters

I am not a heresy hunter. In fact, I believe many heresy hunters are way off base. However, the Bible says there is a such a thing as heresy. If this is true, then we need heresy hunters. Even if they are off-base.

They’ve been called many things, like Discernment Bloggers or the Truth Police. They are reviled by some and hailed by others. My first encounter with heresy hunting took place in the early ’80’s. Dave Hunt’s controversial book The Seduction of Christianity was the catalyst. The church we were then attending removed numerous books from their library as a result of Hunt’s charges. All Catholic books were expunged as well as any author employing psycho-therapeutic techniques, which included the iconic James Dobson. Hunt took aim at faith healers, mystical prayer techniques, yoga, and self-help.

Despite the ensuing name-calling, character assassination, suspicion, pseudo-scholarship, and witch hunt, the subject was worthy of discussion.

Heresy hunters are still very much at work today, and their list of heretics is quite long. Recent notable figures / groups who have been found on that list include,  Brian McLaren, Benny Hinn, Rob Bell, Rick Warren, Harold Camping, John Piper (for believing in an Old Earth), Thomas Merton, Mother Theresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul Crouch, TBN, every pope, and all Catholics.

Oftentimes, their charges are nit-picky, Pharisaical, and wildly melodramatic. For instance, in an article entitled Seven Tactics of the Heresy Hunters, Troy J. Edwards writes

In the beginning of the Pentecostal movement at Azusa street in 1906, the leaders of this movement, William J. Seymour and Charles Parham were labeled “rulers of spiritual Sodom.” Another person labeled them, “Satan’s preachers, jugglers, necromancers, enchanters, magicians, and all sorts of mendicants.” This same person also labeled the Pentecostal movement as “spiritualism.” Another well known preacher of that time labeled it, “the last vomit of Satan”…

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Pentecostals were also falsely labeled as “hypnotists,” “mentally unstable” and attributed the miraculous manifestations in the churches as “demonic power.”

I have my own issues with Pentecostals. But I have never considered them “the last vomit of Satan.” Either way, after watching all the charges fly, it’s led me to ask whether heresy hunting can become a sort of heresy all to itself.

But this post is entitled Why We Need Heresy Hunters, so let me explain my simple rationale. It goes like this:

  1. The Bible explicitly says that the Church must be on guard against heresy, against false teachers and false doctrine (I Tim. 4:1), and those who “secretly introduce destructive heresies” (II Pet. 2:1). Christians are called to “not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” (Heb. 13:9) but to be vigilant and discerning. These biblical charges are very pointed and largely undeniable. There is such a thing as false doctrine and we must know where to draw the line.
  2. Those who vigorously oppose heresy hunting often have a hard time affirming and identifying what actually IS heresy. This is one of the most disturbing conclusions I’ve reached in the last couple of years. Those who are most adamant and resistant against the heresy hunters are often those with squishy theology. In fact, they usually spend a lot of time talking about love and unity. I dunno, but this makes me very suspicious.
  3. Thus, regarding possible heresy it’s better to err on the side of caution, than grace. Better to remove the entire leg than save the leg and risk letting the gangrene permeate the body. Better to have a theology that is too strict than too lax.

Which is why I believe it’s better to tolerate heresy hunters, even encourage their role, than to blow them off. Even though they may be fanatical, extreme, narrow-minded, and defamatory, they play an important role in the Church. Now, I just hope they don’t label me “the last vomit of Satan.”

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{ 41 comments… add one }
  • Johne Cook June 20, 2011, 12:33 PM

    I’d think it would be an honor to be labeled as a heretic by a heretic (but I always was suspect in math). 😉

  • Brandon Clements June 20, 2011, 1:30 PM

    I agree Mike. Some of them do come off wrong sometimes and could use a dose of humility, and some are just crazy, but in general I’m thankful that there are people watching out for wolves and destructive trajectories. Interesting subject…thanks for your thoughts!

  • Carradee June 20, 2011, 1:40 PM

    Heresy does exist. I believe it does—and I even have friends who believe in things that I believe are heresy. We discuss those matters, sometimes.

    The heresy hunters are Pharisees, who promote their own heresies therein. (Grape juice with communion began as a heresy with the Prohibition movement—it wasn’t even possible to keep grape juice unfermented before the invention of pasteurization.)

    You can be concerned about heresy without tossing vitriol. I believe that the heresy hunters in their loudmouthed hate-filled form should not be encouraged. How do they help our witness?

    The exposure of heresy should be encouraged, yes. We are commanded to search the Scriptures, to verify that things be so. But we can do that without being hateful about it.

    My mother opposes yoga because the positions’ connections to sun worship. She will bring up her side to it if the issue comes up, but she doesn’t pitch a fit and question the salvation of those people we know who practice yoga. (Personally, I think it’s a “meat sacrificed to idols” issue.)

    So I disagree with you on this one, Mike. 🙂

    • Mike Duran June 21, 2011, 4:51 AM

      I’m not sure we do disagree, Carradee. Like you, I believe “The exposure of heresy should be encouraged.” Perhaps where we differ is in our tolerance for heresy hunters. While I don’t ascribe to their guilt by association tactics nor condone a Pharisaical nit-pickiness, I believe that it’s better to have those extremes and concede their “heresy hunting” than to pan their ministries and dismiss everything they have to say. And, to be honest, every Discernment Blogger is NOT shrill, judgmental, or self-righteous. Many of them have a reasonable tone and a balanced approach. Thanks for commenting!

      • xdpaul June 21, 2011, 10:16 AM

        Here’s a possible compromise: the Church should declare a “heresy season” where it is allowed to hunt heretics for a certain period of time during the year: say 4 months in the fall and 1 month in the spring.

        In return, the heresy hunters can actually kill and mount their targets as trophies.

        It would take out the guesswork, but also give us a break so we don’t have to worry about heresy all the time.

        I guess this could be misinterpreted as a heretical position on heresy. I’ll throw in a few Amish folks and submit it to the CBA: you know they’d never let any heresy through! 🙂

        All kidding aside, as a practical (and not necessarily biblical) matter, I think a good mark of a heresy hunter is one who suffers some real empathy for the heretic or beloved heresy that is being “cut off.”

        In other words, it is easy to identify heresy in Catholic teaching if you hate Catholics. But if, say, you have an interest, heart or temptation for a heresy, and are still able to reject it, it may be more convincing to others that you are expressing fidelity to the Lord, not faith in shunning.

        I’m more likely to believe a heretic hunter who follows, loves, and maybe even profits from, say (to name an easy one) Benny Hinn, than I am to believe someone with a vested interest in bringing him down.

        Having said that, the Wittenburg Door humor magazine absolutely torched (uh, bad choice of words) heretics in the past, had a vested interest in doing so, and were absolutely convincing (and hilarious) takedowns.

  • Joy @ Edgy Inspirational Romance June 20, 2011, 2:23 PM

    Maybe instead of encouraging others to be heresy hunters, the oneness should be on ourselves to be the heresy hunters. Seems like it’s a job everyone is responsible for in their own walk, ferreting out what the Bible says and comparing it to what man says.

    • Tony June 20, 2011, 3:16 PM

      Most, I believe, would rather stick their head in the sand and pretend everything is okay. I think “Heresy Hunters” tend to be extreme because the rest of the Christian community tends to be so apathetic. Heresy Hunters must speak more loudly, and make statements shocking enough to turn heads, to get attention, to make people listen.

      If they have to demonize themselves just to be heard, I wonder if the majority of Christians will ever actually start to listen on their own time for the right reasons. I doubt it. But then, I’m a bitter sorta guy, with little hope for the Christian community beyond the obvious, end-times victory.

      . . .but I agree. We should all be watching out for heresy, and attacking it whenever we see it.

      • Jessica Thomas June 20, 2011, 7:23 PM

        I think we may be too hard on Christians here, sometimes. Or maybe I just go to a good church. But I see evidence of authentic Christianity all around. And when a particular missionary working over in China comes to our church…talk about authentic. Anywhere there is true religious persecution of any kind, the Christian faith seems to shine in people.

        I don’t think we need to bludgeon people over the head. The people that really don’t get it are die hard post moderns. Sure some of that has leaked into the church here in the US, but try to talk to a post modern unbeliever, it’s like trying to untangle a ball of yarn.

        Anyway, so I certainly don’t think we need folks like Camping. The guy’s off his rocker. Come on, I’ll just say it. He’s gone mad. Sorry, but people like him harm the cause of Christ more than help it. Especially in the eyes of post moderns.

        • Tony June 21, 2011, 3:20 AM

          Again, I think some of the blame lies on the apathy among Christians today. I live in the bible belt, and many of the Christians I know can be pretty apathetic about heresy — even when the negative effects are obvious. It can be pretty frustrating to try correcting them — I’ve tried, and yes, for the most part, I’ve given up at this point. I’m not at all surprised that in their frustration, some among us have started shouting at the deaf.

          Anyway, I think what Mike is getting at, is that the positives of these guys (Heresy Hunters) outweighs the negatives. I agree. I acknowledge that there are strong Christians out there. . .but I can’t ignore all the bad ones, and all the good ones being led astray bit by bit, day by day, tiny heresy by tiny heresy. I don’t want to think about the monster-sized fallacies that would creep in without our paranoid watchmen.

          Until things improve, I think they’re a necessary evil. (there’s some irony for ya)

          • Gina Burgess June 21, 2011, 5:59 AM

            Excellent point, Tony.

            There are so many discussions about “your view” and “my interpretation” without anyone putting forth concerted effort to reconcile the two. There are no discrepancies or contradictions in the Bible so why mankind wants to dither and make some without trying to reconcile is beyond me. Heresy Hunters seem to be the only ones that put their foot down saying the Bible is the final word.

  • Jill June 20, 2011, 5:09 PM

    Are you taking applications/resumes? Because when I consider the Inquisition, I have to say I’d rather be a torturer than the one tortured. Torture is a family value, or it could be if the government allowed us Christians to take part in their game.

    Heresy hunting is almost always misapplied and/or misguided. I can’t subscribe to this line of thinking. Paul corrected wrong doctrine, not because he was a heresy hunter, but because he was an overseer of the church.

    • Mike Duran June 21, 2011, 5:26 AM

      Jill, in your mind what is the difference between correcting false doctrine and being a heresy hunter? Because some whom we would consider heresy hunters see themselves as just correcting false doctrine. And if “Heresy hunting is almost always misapplied and/or misguided,” does this mean it could be “properly applied” and “rightly guided”?

      • Jill June 21, 2011, 11:31 AM

        The difference is inherent in the terms. A heresy hunter goes about looking for ways to criticize others. They seek out the wrong among the population and drag them before a tribunal, just as in the Inquisition. This is not the same as someone who feels the need to correct false doctrine as the need arises. Unfortunately, what constitutes as false doctrine changes w/ every denomination, which makes the whole heresy-hunting folks even more unpalatable to me. If a teaching can’t be proven through scripture, then holding a believer to that teaching is a heresy in itself. Thank God there’s little wiggle room for Christ as the only means to salvation. Even Catholics have that doctrine as their starting point, even if they believe that salvation is a process that must be continuously worked at. Those who don’t agree w/ Christ as the only way aren’t generally considered Christian denominations, but cults (the Shakers, for example, believed in a false messiah).

        Could heresy-hunting be properly applied? Well, I suppose it could be, if the hunters were to err on the side of grace–grace enough to be cautious at lynching fellow Christians for doctrines that may not even be biblical.

        • erom February 16, 2013, 6:48 AM

          Jill,

          Please find one example from their letters where Paul or Peter “erred on the side of grace” when God or His Christ were mischaracterized, where the Gospel of the grace of God was being perverted or denied, or where doctrines of demons was being subtly smuggled into the Body of Christ by false teachers. Just one will do.

  • Ken Silva June 20, 2011, 5:25 PM

    Hello Mike,

    I think you did a good job with a difficult subject. As one who is put in this category, thought I don’t view myself as such, I will say there are too many self-appointed HH’s that are harmful.

    And just to make sure it’s clear, my John Piper Old Earth piece you link to is to be considered as simply letting people know that’s his view.

    I definitely would not label John Piper a heretic, though I find this more cause for concern: http://tiny.cc/6fk5s

    • Mike Duran June 21, 2011, 5:32 AM

      Ken, w/out naming names, I’m wondering what you think separates a healthy “discernment ministry” from an unhealthy, unbiblical one?

      Second, I don’t consider Piper a heretic either. In fact, after he Tweeted about Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, many were placing Piper in the category of “heretic hunter.” But I’m wondering, in your view, is anyone who ascribes to an Old Earth view potentially heretical? What about Old Earth cosmology makes it unbiblical?

      Thanks for commenting, Ken!

      • Jenni N June 21, 2011, 5:38 AM

        Can I step in here and add my two cents?

        Some people I know have recently been discussing this. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Biblical evidence leans towards a literal six day creation BUT it’s not going to hurt me if I was incorrect.

        For the average person who doesn’t know Hebrew and all the nuances that go into studying whether or not the text is literal, I don’t think it matters – the Bible says “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”, not “believe in Jesus and a literal six day creation and [fill in the blank with your favorite conservative theology] and thou shalt be saved”.

        It’s not a life or death issue.

      • Jessica Thomas June 21, 2011, 6:38 AM

        “But I’m wondering, in your view, is anyone who ascribes to an Old Earth view potentially heretical?”

        If it does, then I’m a heretic. Uh oh.

        • Gina Burgess June 21, 2011, 8:09 AM

          LOL and I’m wondering if God created everything from nothing, then why couldn’t He have created the earth old to begin with?

          • Jessica Thomas June 21, 2011, 8:22 AM

            Why couldn’t he have created a world that evolved and changed over billions of years? Fact is he can do what he wants, and while we’re here on earth we can merely speculate. I think he’ll give us the play by play when we get there. Why let such “heretical” issues and disagreements cause divisions in Christ’s church?

            • Mike Duran June 21, 2011, 10:35 AM

              Jessica, I think the Church SHOULD divide over genuine heresy. Unity at all expense is a heresy unto itself. However, I personally don’t think Old / Young Earth falls into that category. The “essentials” is that the Universe did not randomly, spontaneously generate and that Man is much more than an advanced animal. How old the earth is and what exact processes God orchestrated to accomplish this is, to me, a “non-essential.”

              • Jessica Thomas June 21, 2011, 11:21 AM

                I agree. If it’s a “heaven and hell” issue, then a strong stand should be taken and if that leads to division than so be it.

                old earth / new earth…not heaven and hell
                universalism…okay, now we’re in more dangerous territory

          • Jenni N June 21, 2011, 9:03 AM

            Okay, young earth/old earth aside, that is a brilliant concept.

            New and old at the same time. That sounds like a book idea waiting to happen. (I’ve seen old and young at the same time as in old characters who look young or old characters who act young…. but not an object being new and old at the same time. That is brilliant.)

            Can I steal the idea? XD

            • Sally Apokedak June 21, 2011, 10:24 AM

              Adam was created old–not a baby who had to grow up. So it’s quite possible that the universe was created this way, also.

              • Gina Burgess June 21, 2011, 11:38 AM

                Thank you, Sally! I knew there was a reason I believed it was created old… after all, we do take the Bible literally in believing Adam was created a man, it says it is so. And a yom is a yom, morning and evening.

                Jenny! Take the idea and RUN! I want to read your story for I believe it has great potential 🙂 In the words of Stephen King — “What if…”

                • Jenni N June 21, 2011, 5:21 PM

                  Whee! Thank you!

                  I try to post occasional updates on my stories on my tumblr (link under my name) — once it gets somewhere I’ll post updates. 🙂

                  Right now I’m trying to come up with a way to integrate it into another story idea I’ve been working on that also involves turning the way one thinks about the world upsidedown… paradoxes and impossibilities are fun!

  • Jenni N June 20, 2011, 6:06 PM

    The problem I have with heretic hunters is that the ones I know (online) aren’t really heretic hunters but more like jobless ones… they pick on people about non-essentials — not serious stuff at all. It feels to me like that they want to be unique and new and different… and pick on the people that they feel are succeeding so well that they can’t possibly be Christian (because if you’re Christian you ‘won’t be liked by the world’) or else are a little different theology-wise in a non-essential fashion.

    It’s definitely not very Christ-like to pick on people, particularly to the extreme I see happening. (questioning salvation, making accusations, generally being poor debaters and ignoring most defenses of the accused…)

    • Jenni N June 21, 2011, 5:30 AM

      (realised I wasn’t very clear last night)

      I don’t want to say that we don’t need heresy hunters because occasionally we do – I just don’t want to overly encourage them to keep at it because when they’ve exposed all the heresy within reach, they usually start at those of us who have slightly different beliefs.

      (This most often happens on subjects like modesty – should girls wear skirts, dresses, or gunny sacks? – and other minor touchy subjects nobody’s ever agreed on like Christian rock music and headcoverings.)

      • Katherine Coble June 21, 2011, 8:00 AM

        Jenni,

        I think the folks you’re talking about are the folks that I would consider Elder Brothers. (I wrote more on it below).

        These folks are the main reason I have stayed away from “Christian” blogging for so many years.

  • MGalloway June 20, 2011, 7:47 PM

    Mike wrote: “There is such a thing as false doctrine and we must know where to draw the line. ”

    Unfortunately, a lot of Christians don’t know where to start drawing any lines anymore because many of them never even open their Bibles. They may read a book that contains some Bible verses or listen to a sermon, but if they’ve never made any attempt to read the Bible on their own, how do they know if the author is misapplying a verse or not?

    • Tony June 21, 2011, 3:21 AM

      Sad. But true.

      Well said.

    • Gina Burgess June 21, 2011, 8:11 AM

      Mike would you put some sort of Like buttons here so we can just LIKE what someone has said?

      MGalloway, consider your post Liked 🙂

  • kenneth hopkins June 20, 2011, 9:04 PM

    Tough subject indeed. Kinda like politics.. people get all wrapped up on their side without considering the balance.

    I like the perspective of being on guard against heresy. We also have to be brave enough to speak up when it is warranted. Personally I draw the line with those who consider it their mission to find a demon under every Christian tree, but that’s me. Anyway, thanks again for going there and inviting us to do the same

  • John Robinson June 21, 2011, 7:51 AM

    HH’ers a neccessary evil ? I suppose. But being one of those dreaded charismatics, I’ve been on the receiving end of a few of their broadsides (especially since my latest novel features a couple of physical healings … gasp). Some of the emails I’ve gotten, I swear. Anyway.

    So I’ll grudgingly concede their usefulness, but I can’t say I’d enjoy spending too much time with them at a party.

  • Katherine Coble June 21, 2011, 7:57 AM

    Everybody has to have a hobby, I guess.

    If folks want to make it their hobby to point out where others are wrong then I suppose they are no different from, say, me. Or anybody else really.

    Pretty much everyone likes to have an opinion.

    Here’s my issue, and it extends PAST Heresy Hunters and into pretty much all the current Evangelical Culture.

    There are a mad lot of us who are The Older Brother Of The Prodigal Son.

    There are a mad lot of us who are entranced by the sin of thinking ourselves above those who do the “really bad sins”. It’s prideful and mean-spirited. And wrong.

    Salvation and Grace are remarkable, world-altering, eternal amazements. There is not one of us living who deserves these gifts, yet God has given them to us.

    But so many people, be they “heresy hunters” or maiden aunts or Bible teachers at Christian Schools like to use the Bible and Jesus to bully other people. Grace stops being about Grace and starts being about that person having a sort of power over another fellow, able to beat him down with the full weight of God’s authority supposedly on the bully’s side.

    Jesus addressed this very behaviour in talking about the parable of the two debtors. So many folks forget the large debt they were forgiven by the King and run off to beat down other folks.

    To me this is the difference between a person talking about making discerning evaluations of ministries and an Elder Brother sewing discord.

  • Sally Apokedak June 21, 2011, 10:44 AM

    I am a heretic hunter sometimes. I mean, I write posts arguing against error. I do this because I believe that a person who publishes a book, is entering into public debate.

    But I think preaching truth is usually better than attacking error.

  • Neil Larkins June 21, 2011, 10:50 AM

    I seem to recall that Paul had a doctrinal problem with Peter and rebuked him to his face. Some might think that was harsh, others that it wasn’t harsh enough since Jesus had done it too…and in front of his peers. What was it about Peter that everyone was always piling-on the poor guy? Just thought I’d add a little heretical levity. 😉

  • Luther June 21, 2011, 11:54 AM

    I would define heresy as a teaching that upon belief would exclude one from saving faith. It is not about the non-essentials so to call out heresy is not to nit-pick denominational differences.

    It is to call out those who have knowingly and repeatedly separated themselves from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul was not merely correcting false doctrine when writing Galatians; he was calling a curse upon everyone who taught that doctrine.

    John says everyone who denies that Christ has come in the flesh is anti-christ. That is heresy.

    Some of the heretic hunters are over-zealous and may be heretics themselves, but I thank God that there are some who are willing to call out heresy when it is seen.

  • Tim George June 21, 2011, 1:40 PM

    Excellent words Mike and I agree the best thing we can do is leave the heresy hunters along and let God sort out who is legit and who is not. Time has a way of doing that.

    The difference in a heresy hunter and someone who points out false doctrine can best be seen the following comparison and contrast. There is a man in Pensacola by the name of Peter Ruckman. He is, among others things, a King James only advocate. On one occasion he flew from Florida to Los Angeles so he could denounce John MacArthur during a worship service at Grace Community Church. Hie beef with MacArthur? He used the New King James in one of his commentaries. Conversely, MacArthur appeared on Larry King alongside Joel Osteen. He never once called Osteen names or labeled him anything. When Osteen skated around the Gospel and refused to say Jesus is the only way to salvation, MacArthur simply stated the simple truth of John 14:6 and allowed it to stand on its own.

  • angela lambert December 16, 2012, 3:32 PM

    Many people have the wrong Jesus and although they may have initially accepted and believed a simple Gospel message, they can be led astray with many false teachings/damnable doctrines and there are very many in these last days as it says in God’s word that there would be. 2 of the most appalling damnable ones are: Jesus died Spiritually and was Abandoned (J.D.S. & Abandonment). Thus denying He is God come in the Flesh and promoting disunity in the Godhead etc. Psalm 22 v 24 – ‘For He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath He hid His face from Him; but when He cried unto Him he heard.’ Therefore if people have another Jesus, believe another gospel, they receive another spirit don’t they? The Lord Jesus warned there would be many false teachers who would lead many astray

  • RoderickE December 27, 2013, 12:03 AM

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