Editor's Note: This is an edited version of the recorded Bible study under this title at Truthtellers.org.
It seems evident that most American church-goers do not attend to learn vital spiritual truth, but rather to enjoy Christian fellowship. In obtaining that fellowship, many believers and their families fail to realize that they are being taught heresy.
What is heresy? How is it different from spiritual error?
In Romans 14:1-7, the apostle Paul allows different opinions concerning issues such as eating meat and observing the Sabbath. But he also said the apostle Peter “stood condemned” for requiring observation of Jewish law within the church (Galatians 2).
Why are some differences in teaching permissible and others not? It has to do with how much an idea attacks the most important truth about God and fundamentals of salvation. If a Christian in faith believes he should observe a Sabbath day on Saturday, or the Lord’s Day on Sunday, or enjoy the true meaning of God’s Sabbath by trusting Jesus in glorious rest at all times, Paul says every man should be convinced in his own mind. But Peter’s complicity with the legalisms of the Mosaic Law attacked and would have destroyed justification by faith alone – the only way of pleasing God in the New Testament age of grace. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace toward God.” (Romans 5:1) This was an issue so huge and pivotal Paul had to call it what it was – heresy, capable of damning Peter’s soul.
Here are Christian denominations guilty of some form of heresy. All of these sects are “Christian” in the sense that they hold a preponderance of Christian truth necessary for salvation to the earnestly seeking and sincere soul. As such, many followers of each may be doing the best they know how and will go to heaven. But each sect contains at least one major flaw of such seriousness as to be labeled heresy. Such flaws turn away many from simple trust in Jesus and eternal life with Him. Thus, these denominations pervert the Gospel.
- Roman Catholicism -- The Book of Revelation ends with Christ’s terrible curse: “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life.”(Revelation 22:19) Christ intended that no one either add to or subtract from the entire book of Christ’s prophetic revelation to man, the Bible. Scripture says, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Rev. 19:10) All Scripture, not just Revelation, is prophetically inspired by the Spirit of Jesus and is not to be altered. Adding a vast canon of church precedent and authority, equal to or greater than what Jesus inspired, as the Catholic Church did, competes with Christ. It distracts from Him and ultimately “takes away” from the record of His teachings. Christ’s curse in Revelation sends a potent message throughout the church age: Jesus is not inspiring new Scripture and woe be to anyone who does!
I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit is still speaking today, leading His children, inspiring us, opening the Scriptures to us, and giving us unique guidance for our lives. But “we see through a glass darkly.” Our understanding is limited by our own minds. We can’t claim that any perception of Christ’s message in our lives is equal to Scripture in certainty and universality.
Unless the canon of Scripture is closed, there will be no end of religious authorities creating spiritual lawlessness and confusion by claiming equal authority and inspiration with Jesus Christ. This is exactly what prelates and popes of the Roman Catholic Church did. They heretically claimed that, as successors of St. Peter, they continued his authority to create their own edicts, with authority equal to Scripture and even greater than the testimony of Jesus through the Bible. This allowed Catholicism to fill Christianity with every manner of pagan practice and obligation. It is difficult to imagine a more heretical act. Boasting that it is Christ’s “true church,” Catholicism claims to maintain spiritual continuity and order through the church age. In reality, by violating Christ’s message in Revelation 22:19, above all denominations it has brought extra-Biblical pagan confusion to Christendom.
- Orthodox Christianity -- Eastern, or Orthodox, Christianity was a part of Roman Catholicism until its break with Rome in 1054 A.D. Its doctrines are quite similar to Catholicism. Like Catholicism, the many branches of Orthodoxy defy Revelation 22:19 by asserting that the canon of scriptural authority does not end with the Bible. Instead it continues in the teachings of the early church fathers and church councils. It believes the patristic “holy fathers,” heirs to a “holy tradition,” created a body of religious authority equal to what Jesus inspired in the Bible. An online Orthodox authority says: “Holy tradition is considered to be a source of Christian faith of the same authority as that of the Bible…. It is the church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with authority.”
The apostle Peter drifted so far from God’s will that he “stood condemned” in Galatians 2:11 (NASB). Similarly, within a few decades, most of the seven churches of Asia had to be very largely rebuked by Jesus for losing their “first love.” Yet Orthodoxy believes that many church fathers from the 1st to the 8th century A.D. contradicted this record of decline and were bequeathed with infallibility!
This claim is remarkably similar to development of the oral “tradition of the elders” among the Jews, leading to the Babylonian Talmud. Asserting that highly esteemed rabbis were privy to a “holy tradition” outside of canonical Scripture, the Pharisees “made the law of God of none effect,” allowing into Judaism a host of unbiblical doctrines.
As a result of giving the church authority equal to Scripture, unbiblical teachings flooded in. These included prayers to Mary and departed saints, for the dead, even for souls in hell! Priests expected to be called “Father” in defiance of Christ’s clear prohibition. (Matthew 23:8-9) They also required laity to confess their sins to them as mediators to God, again contradicting the Bible that “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.” (1 John 2:1)
Like Catholicism, they stressed that there is no such thing as “personal salvation”, only “collective salvation” within the “true church”. Jesus, however defined His church as where “two or three are gathered in my name” in His presence. (Matthew 18:20) In recommending spiritual rebirth Jesus portrayed conversion as a radical personal turn-around, a death to self, “born again” experience, made possible by the Holy Spirit. He required complete abandonment to self-will, like a seed of grain falling into the ground and dying, with trust and obedience in Christ until the end of our life. Yet Orthodoxy teaches that being “born again” is part of the profession of faith inherent in water baptism, initiating converts into a salvation made possible by Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but also His “true church”.
- Calvinism -- In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam and Eve that if they ate the forbidden fruit they would die. Satan said they would not. Similarly, Calvinism says if one has become soundly born again and sins as blatantly as Adam and Eve they also will not surely die, losing their place in heaven. The Calvinist doctrine of eternal security of “once saved, always saved” is thus heresy, as old and audacious as Satan’s in the garden. The Bible says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” and, “The wages of sin is death.” Yet Calvinism for the past of 500 years, like Satan, has counseled its followers, “You won’t die.” In fact, “If you’ve really been born again, you can commit the very sins non-Christians are damned for – and go to heaven!" I once heard Calvinist radio Bible teacher, Dr. J. Vernon McGee say if a homosexual had once been born again and yet died of a heart attack in the very act of having sex with another man he would go straight to heaven! Tragically, the once saved, always saved heresy seems to be gaining in popularity, especially among Calvinist youth. They are increasingly having premarital sex, living together, getting drunk, and imbibing Internet porn yet strongly believe that since they were once born again, they are Christians destined for heaven.
- Seventh Day Adventism -- In His account of the beggar Lazarus and the heartless rich man, Jesus vividly and specifically describes the fiery torment of the rich man in hell (Luke 16). Jesus' account has no features of a parable but every indication that it was a literal description of what He, as God, had witnessed. Jesus had seen the comfort of Lazarus in the arms of Abraham as well as the eternal fiery torment of the rich man begging in vain for a cup of cold water. Yet Adventism, on the authority of its founder Ellen White (who also claimed to have gone to heaven and received transcendent insights), flatly denies Jesus’ testimony. They contend there is no hell, only soul sleep. Such disbelief mocks Christ’s best efforts to warn us of a “lake of fire,” (Revelation 20:14) with “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:42) Denial of such clear testimony by the One who made hell makes His words fall to the ground, of no effect to Adventists. Such unbelief is heresy.
- Pentecostalism -- Pentecostalism emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, largely within "holiness" Wesleyans, survivors of the 19th century collapse of Methodism to liberalism. Pentecostals prioritized speaking in tongues as the definitive proof of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. (In previous Bible studies, I explain the true role of tongues in the New Testament church, primarily as a sign to unbelieving Jews. Listen to The Delusions of Pentecostalism Part 1 and 2) By emphasizing tongues as proof of divine approval rather than death to self, as Jesus commanded, Pentecostalism opened a floodgate of fleshliness. Prioritizing signs and wonders, healing, and material prosperity, Pentecostalism became a heretical cult of Christianity.
In my previous article and Bible study entitled "Pentecostalism’s Word of Faith Heresy" I detail the paganism that underlies the belief that Spirit-filled believers have advocacy with God to verbally declare what they want Him to give them and receive it without fail. Pentecostalism contains a cluster of heresies that have emerged out of its abandonment of authentic holiness. These include blatant disobedience of St. Paul’s "rules of order" regarding proper use of tongues in the New Testament church. (1 Corinthians 14) Trinity Broadcasting Network and a host of charismatic faith healers and prosperity preachers commit the heresy of simony, promising wealth from God in exchange for financial gifts to their ministries. It is also heretical to cause great shame on countless “have not” Pentecostals who cannot muster the ability to speak in tongues, become wealthy or be healed.
While there are a few dissident critics of Pentecostalism in the ranks of this cult, the generalization can be made that the whole system, like the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, is so encrusted with bad doctrine as to justify the term “heretical.” Martin Luther, visiting Rome, said, “Surely if there is a hell, Rome is built upon it.” The same can be said of TBN’s “Praise-A-Thons,” raising $50 million three or four times a year by promising financially struggling TBN supporters that God will give them a 100 times increase in their donation if they sacrificially give just one more time to TBN.
What should you do? Theologians in the center of corrupt religious systems argue that the fact that good is still being done in their ranks is proof that God has not abandoned them; would-be reformers should stay in such denominations, redeeming them from within. Is this true? We must remember God is holy and does not long tolerate churches such as the church of Laodicea, who had lost their first love. Instead, He first threatens to take away their candlestick of spiritual light and then may abandon them altogether. Heresy in the church is like cyanide in an appealing dish of food. What harm can a little heresy do? The same as a little cyanide. Cyanide kills the body; heresy kills and damns the soul. Perhaps until now you have not realized that your church indulged heresy.
Should you leave it?
Every warning of Scripture is that actual heresy is deceptive and dangerous to your soul as well as the souls of your family. Your entire attention should be directed to the Holy Spirit concerning His guidance about getting as far from heresy as possible. I am not judging you if you feel the Holy Spirit is leading you to stay in a heretical church denomination, just as Abraham did not judge Lot for staying in Sodom.
Yet, Lot barely escaped with his life.
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