I’m not sure how many times I’ve been called a heretic directly or indirectly by people I would consider believers. I do however know that calling someone a heretic is a serious accusation. I’ve been deemed heretical because I didn’t hold to the same millennial position as another brother. I believe in the second bodily coming of Christ just not the same time scale as others. I could go on with many other examples and I’m sure you can too. I’ve not always taken the accusation of heresy so seriously. I’ve been prone to label folks heretics who most certainly don’t fit the bill. Why? Because they didn’t dot all their ‘i’s’ and cross all their ‘t’s’ as I did. As I read Thomas Manton’s commentary on James last week he had a word to say about quickly assigning the title of heretic without serious consideration.
It is not good to brand things with the name of error till we have proved them to be so. After he had disputed the matter with them, he saith, `Err not., (1.) Loose slings will do no good. To play about us with terms of heresy and error doth but prejudice men’s minds, and exulcerate them against our testimony. None but fools will be afraid of hot words. Discoveries do far better than invectives. Usually that is a peevish zeal that stayeth in generals. It is observable, Mat. xxiii., from ver. 13 to 33, our Saviour denounceth never a woe but he presently rendereth a reason for it. `Woe unto you, for ye shut the kingdom of heaven; and again, `Woe unto you, for ye devour widows, houses. You never knew a man gained by loose slings. The business is to make good the charge, to discover what is heresy and what is antichristianism, &c. (2.) This is an easy way to blemish the holy truths of God. How often do the Papists spread that livery upon us, heretics and schismatics. They `speak evil of things they do not know, Jude 10. When men are loath to descend to the trial of a way, they blemish it: Acts xxiv. 14, `After the way which they call heresy we worship the God of our fathers., Men condemn things suddenly and rashly, and so often truth is miscalled. If matters were dispatched by arguments rather than censures, we should have less differences. The most innocent truths may suffer under an odious imputation. The spouse had her veil taken from her, and represented to the world as a prostitute, Cant. iii. The Christians were called Genus hominum superstitionis malificae a wicked sort of men, and Christianity a witchery and superstition.
To call someone a heretic out of laziness is a horrible thing. Manton in his commentary admonishes his readers to take doctrine seriously that they won’t err in doctrine. Manton and myself would certainly want our readers to hold to good theology. But, if we are lazy we’ll be quick to dismiss good doctrine. I used to think that anyone who didn’t hold to dispensational theology was ravenously heretical. I’ve since moved away from dispensationalism, but find myself reading, sharing fellowship, and recommending many dispensational brothers. It was laziness and presumption that merited my accusation. As Manton said, “It is not good to brand things with the name of error till we have proved them to be so. After he had disputed the matter with them, he saith, `Err not., Loose slings will do no good.”
We would be wise and loving to seriously consider our brothers and sisters as brothers and sisters when we accuse them of heresy. If we truly find them in heresy we would be loving and wise to bring correction. Giving a brother a damnable title shouldn’t be unwarranted. Manton and myself do recognize however that there is a time for pointing out heresy. Doing so isn’t easy work for the lazy:
Oh! then, that in this age we would practise this: Be less in passion and more in argument. That we would condemn things by reasoning rather than miscalling. That we were less in generals, and would deal more particularly. This is the way to `stablish men in the present truth., In morals, the word seldom doth good but when it is brought home to the very case. Thunder at a distance doth not move us so much as a clap in our own zenith; that maketh us startle. General invectives make but superficial impressions; show what is an error, and then call it so. Truly that was the way in ancient times. At first, indeed, for peace, sake, some have observed that the fathers declaimed generally against errors about the power of nature, not meddling with the persons or particular tenets of Pelagius and his disciples; but afterward they saw cause for being more particular. Loose discourses lose their profit. Blunt iron, that toucheth many points at once, doth not enter, but make a bruise; but a needle, that toucheth but one point, entereth to the quick. When we come to deal particularly with every man’s work, then the fire trieth it, 1 Cor. iii. 13. I do the rather urge this because usually ungrounded zeal stayeth in generals, and those that know least are most loose and invective in their discourses.
As Manton argues, ” Be less in passion and more in argument,” we would be wise to take heed. How often to loose and malicious words come form our mouths and fingertips at the brother with whom we disagree. When we seek to correct and expose it should be done through the lenses of scripture and a loving heart. When we deal with heresy it should be done unwavering upon the testimony of Scripture. An impassioned scripture-less fit filled with malice is no good medicine for the brother in error, and it proves no avail for correcting genuine heresy.
I think we would be wise to remember the words of the Apostle Paul, “ And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.“ (2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV) Let us correct with gentleness. Let us not throw brothers under the bus. Let us contend for truth in the midst of heresy. Let us us reserve the “h” word for the heretics, and prayerfully contend with our brothers for the truth.