How to Protect Yourself (And Your Church) From Heresy
It’s the great fear of churches of all sizes and stripes. It’s particularly feared whenever you talk much about releasing the church to be the church in small, relationally focused groups (house churches).
Who will protect the people from heresy? What if someone believes something that isn’t in the Bible and starts teaching it to others? To those who have grown up under a strong biblical teacher or someone who has watched someone go into error, this is enough to scare people away.
Our house church network has had to deal with this issue over and over again. Small groups of Christians meeting together where anyone can share are prime places for people with weird views to show up. Heretics, both of the doctrinal and lifestyle varieties1 have tried to insert themselves into what we’re doing. But in the nine years that we’ve been doing this one thing has consistently guarded us against heresy: relationships.
That may sound weird if you’ve never been part of a relationship-centric church. But over and over again I’ve watched as deep, abiding relationships around the word of God have rescued others from biblical error. Whenever a heresy has sprung up, it was dealt with not through authority and bible-beating, but friendships where one person has lovingly challenged another about a particular belief not being in the word of God.
We’ve also noticed that the number one indicator of someone who comes into our fellowship having the potential to be a problem has been whether or not they are in relationship with others. Those who come as believers in Jesus but have terrible relationships with other parts of the body of Christ (by their own admission) have over time shown that they are after their own interests, not Christ’s. Again it comes back to relationship. Having a healthy relationship with Christ necessitates having a healthy relationship to his body.
The crazy thing is Jesus and the apostles believed in this relational element to the truth. Jesus says, “Anyone who receives you receives me…” (Matthew 10:40). John, the Apostle, says, “These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us,” (1 John 2:18-19). I could go on.
The point is real, biblical truth is designed to flourish in community, not in isolation. And more importantly, real, biblical community is designed to protect the truth of Christ in the hearts and lives of His followers. Do you want to protect yourself or your church from heresy? Enter in to true relationships around God’s word.
1 I’m indebted to Neil Cole for pointing out that there are two types of heresy which the New Testament speaks of. When we speak of heresy, we usually refer to heresy of doctrine, which is obviously important to avoid. But the New Testament speaks equally about heresy of the life, where we live a life of error that doesn’t point to Jesus. While both doctrinal and lifestyle heresy are common, our discussion of heresy tends to focus on doctrinal heresy (i.e. believing Jesus is the Son of God, understanding how a man can be saved, what is the role of the Holy Spirit) while ignoring lifestyle heresy’s such as greed, legalism, or adultery. I believe Jesus is concerned with both doctrine and practice and to a certain extent, our practice is our doctrine (see Titus 2:1-13).