Four Types of Heresy – Introduction

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For those who have kept up with my writings, it should be easy to tell that I’ve been working my way through St. John of Damascus’ trilogy. I finished The Fountain of Knowledge (his writing on philosophy and logic) and I’m currently working on his book Heresies. In his book on heresies, he records each heresy up to that point in history (mid-8th century) and gives a brief synopsis of those heresies. There are four common trends that continue to show up among all the heresies, they are (1) a rejection of some doctrine of God (most often in creation), (2) a rejection of some doctrine of Christ, (3) a rejection of the Law, and (4) a rejection of Christian ethics.

Not all heresies contain all four, in fact, few of them do. What is interesting is that the vast majority have one of those four elements within their teachings. There are some heresies that have none of the above four (for instance, the Nazarenes still practiced the Law), but most of them have one of the four trends.

For whatever reason, teaching on heresy has become passe in modern culture. For some it is because we have “heretic hunters” who turn every false doctrine or questionable theological statement into a dire heresy. Thus, listening to rock music, befriending a Roman Catholic, or baptizing an infant becomes “heretical.” The term gets overused and therefore we become weary of such a term.

For others, heresy is ignored because to teach that something is heretical simply isn’t politically correct. To call something a heresy makes two assumptions:

1) I know the truth

2) You do not

These two assumptions are quite arrogant in a postmodern world that is skeptical of truth. To say, “I have the truth” is considered brash and arrogant and therefore not worth listening to. The irony, of course, is that such a reaction to the claim of heresy assumes two things:

1) I know the truth

2) You do not

In this case, the person who is postmodern states that it’s wrong to call anything a heresy. Those who call something a heresy are therefore wrong. Thus, the irony is that they do the very thing they hate.

Regardless, heresy is real and does exist. There are a few reasons why knowing what is heretical should matter to us:

1) Christianity is about a real entity – God is a real entity, compose of there persons. When we become a Christian, we are entering into a relationship with three co-eternal, equal in nature, persons. God has certain requirements we must follow in order to enter into a relationship with Him. This is common in all relationships; we each enter into a relationship expecting the person to act a certain way. God is no different than us. Thus, it is vitally important to know what God wants us to do in a relationship and what He doesn’t want us to do in a relationship.

2) Christianity is about relationships – In Christianity, relationships are founded upon the community. The purpose of the community is to help individual believers work towards discovering who God is so they might have a better relationship with Him. When heresy creeps in then it can (and does) cause a division within the community, creating schisms and dividing the body of Christ. We need to know what is and is not heretical so we can combat division.

3) Beliefs lead to actions – What we think will inevitably shape how we act. What we believe about God will invariably shape how we live. If we think improperly about God then we will live improperly. If we think properly about God then we will live properly (if such beliefs are serious to us). Thus, what we believe matters.

For these reasons, I will take the next few days to explain the four types of heresy, or the four root causes of most heresies. Generally, if we know a heresy falls into one of these categories (or more), it is easier to deal with that heresy and show why it’s wrong. We simply shine the light of truth onto the darkness of heresy and the heresy will disappear.

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