Heresy 101

sound doctrineI am a big fan of Dr. A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) and I have included some of his writings in several of my previous blog posts. He pulls no punches and tells it just like it really is, without all the flowery language or the “tickling of ears” so common in our churches today (and in his day, too) as stated in 2 Timothy 4:3:

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

And there is no shortage of teachers like that especially if they can make a lot of money off of it, too. That was happening in Tozer’s day and it is happening with ever increasing frequency in our day, too. And Tozer was not afraid to call it what it is–heresy. Tozer’s words are as fresh and piercing today as when he wrote and spoke them even though the language is often reminiscent of his era–the early and mid-20th Century including the exclusive use of the KJV Bible. He had a true heart and unbridled passion for God that was not often seen in or heard from others in his day. With the many Christian celebrities across our landscape today touting a plethora of Christian books and materials to go along with their celebrity status, Tozer’s writings still pierce through the glut. And while he could have lived a “celebrity” lifestyle, he chose not to do so.

During Tozer’s 44 years of ministry, he authored “more than 40 books, and two are regarded as Christian classics: ‘The Pursuit of God’ and ‘The Knowledge of the Holy(the latter is also available online at this link). His books impress on the reader the possibility and necessity for a deeper relationship with God. Living a simple and non-materialistic lifestyle, he and his wife never owned a car, preferring bus and train travel. Even after becoming a well-known Christian author, Tozer signed away much of his royalties to those who were in need. Prayer was of vital personal importance for Tozer. ‘His preaching as well as his writings were but extensions of his prayer life,’ comments his biographer, James L. Snyder, in the book, ‘In Pursuit of God: The Life of A.W. Tozer.’ ‘He had the ability to make his listeners face themselves in the light of what God was saying to them,’ writes Snyder” (quote source here).

There is so much out there in our society today that goes by the title, Christianity,” and much of it is just as Tozer described in his day–heresy.” GotQuestions?org defines heresy as following:

A basic definition of heresy, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is “adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma.” A second definition is “dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice.” That’s a good starting point for us. These definitions identify two key elements: a dominant position and a contrary position. With regards to religion, any belief or practice that goes against the official position of the church is considered heretical. . . .

Regarding biblical Christianity, what is heresy? Second Peter 2:1 says, “There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” From this verse, we see that heresy is anything that denies the teaching of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 11:19, Paul takes the church to task for having heresies among them—heresies that led to schisms in the body. These verses touch on both aspects of what constitutes heresy in the church: denying the doctrines God has given, and dividing the body He has created. Both of these are dangerous, destructive actions that are soundly rebuked by Scripture. See also 1 John 4:1-61 Timothy 1:3-62 Timothy 1:13-14; and Jude 1 (quote source and full definition here).

In My Daily Pursuit: Devotions for Every Day (2013), by A.W. Tozer; compiled and edited by James L. Snyder, Tozer states:

Heresy abounds today, with people believing only what they want to believe. Heretics emphasize certain words or phrases so they can follow along and accept one while rejecting another; doing one thing but refusing another. Heretics are pickers and choosers among the Word of God.

The most dangerous aspect about heresy is that in many regards what they believe is right. It is not what one believes, but rather, it is what one refuses to believe that makes heretics very dangerous. If they were all bad, they would not have much influence in the evangelical church today.

What makes it worse is what they say you can accept and believe, and by doing that they suck you down a certain pathway and eventually lead you away from all the truth. It takes all the truth to make it God’s Word. You cannot take only one slice of truth and disassociate it from the rest of the Bible.

Evangelicals need to be careful not to ride their favorite hobbyhorse while ignoring other things and compromising the power of God’s Word (quote from p. 44 for February 1).

One of the biggest reasons this happens is because sin is not taken seriously by many of those calling themselves Christian today. Tozer states (from the same book mentioned above):

An idea that seem to be gaining strength these days is that sin is not quite as serious as some of us have imagined it to be. There are all kinds of ways to excuse sin. Perhaps the best way is to call it by some other name.

For some, sin is just a mistake. After all, nobody is perfect. The problem is that being perfect has nothing at all to do with not sinning.

When we lessen the seriousness of sin, we are in dispute with the entire Bible. No matter if you go to the Old Testament or the New Testament, sin is always presented as a terrible thing. The Old Testament sacrifices emphasize God’s thoughts about sin. To read through the sacrifices laid out in the Old Testament is to become very weary. God takes a very dim view about sin.

I must look at sin and think about sin as God does. As I pursue the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will impress upon me how terrible sin is in God’s mind.

God rejects worship not founded on the redeeming blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (quote from p. 42 for January 30).

No crossMost of us certainly don’t think of sin in those terms today, and much of that comes from the religious professionals (as in pastors and teachers) preaching to us in the pulpits across America who don’t emphasis or treat lightly the subject of sin combined with a low view of God (a subject about which Tozer also has much to say–see devotional titled, A Right Belief about God at this link and quoted below). In fact, beyond the point of saying a little “Jesus” prayer to accept Jesus into our hearts and lives, sin is treated almost as if it is irrelevant beyond that point. In fact, often they make it sound like we can still keep on sinning and doing anything we want and treating others any way we like just like we were doing before we “accepted” Jesus. And whoopee, we get a free pass to heaven, too.

And that’s heresy at the base of its very rotten core . . . .

Another book titled, I Call It Heresy (1991), by Tozer, compiled and edited by Gerald B. Smith, contains a series of essays written on the topic of heresy and other timely topics from the book of First Peter (the book is available online in PDF format at this link). In a chapter titled, “Holiness Is Not an Option!”, Tozer states:

There is something basically wrong with our Christianity and our spirituality if we can carelessly presume that if we do not like a Biblical doctrine and choose not to “buy” it, there is no harm done.

Commandments which we have received from our Lord or from the apostles cannot be overlooked or ignored by earnest and committed Christians. God has never instructed us that we should weigh His desires for us and His commandments to us in the balances of our own judgment and then decide what we want to do about them.

A professing Christian may say, “I have found a place of real Christian freedom; these things just don’t apply to me.”

Of course you can walk out on it! God has given every one of us the power to make our own choices. I am not saying that we are forced to bow our necks to this yoke and we do not have to apply it to ourselves. It is true that if we do not like it, we can turn our backs on it.

The record in the New Testament is plain on this point – many people followed Jesus for a while and then walked away from Him. Once Jesus said to His disciples: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). Many looked at one another and then walked away from Him.

Jesus turned to those remaining and said, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67). Peter gave the answer which is still my answer today: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Those were wise words, indeed, words born of love and devotion.

So, we are not forced to obey in the Christian life, but we are forced to make a choice at many points in our spiritual maturity.

We have that power within us to reject God’s instruction – but where else shall we go? If we refuse His words, which way will we turn? If we turn away from the authority of God’s Word, to whose authority do we yield? Our mistake is that we generally turn to some other human – a man with breath in his nostrils.

I am old-fashioned about the Word of God and its authority. I am committed to believe that if we ignore it or consider this commandment optional, we jeopardize our souls and earn for ourselves severe judgment to come (pp. 62-64).

As I mentioned above, our capacity to wink at and/or justify our own sins is bottomless, and it is often combined with our low opinion of God. God is not a “Christian” version of Santa Claus, as we often make him out to be in America today. Tozer would have none of it back then, and we should have none of it now. In the devotion by Tozer that I mentioned above titled, A Right Belief about God,” he states:

It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the 20th century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.

All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him.

The man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of 10,000 temporal problems, for he sees at once that these have to do with matters that at the most cannot concern him for very long; but even if the multiple burdens of time may be lifted from him, the one mighty single burden of eternity begins to press down upon him with a weight more crushing than all the woes of the world piled one upon another. That mighty burden is his obligation to God. It includes an instant and lifelong duty to love God with every power of mind and soul, to obey Him perfectly, and to worship Him acceptably. And when the man’s laboring conscience tells him that he has done none of these things, but has from childhood been guilty of foul revolts against the Majesty in the heavens, the inner pressure of self-accusation may become too heavy to bear.

The gospel can lift this destroying burden from the mind, give beauty for ashes, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. But unless the weight of the burden is felt, the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden. Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them (quote source here).

Read the last two sentenced again. “But unless the weight of the burden is felt, the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden. Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.”

We need to ask where the “woe” is in the easy-believism of today’s modern church. (See discussion on What is easy believism? at this link at GotQuestions?org.) Asking people to repeat a little Jesus prayer without any context as to what, how, and why it is actually taking place (often given at the end of a sermon that rarely had anything to do with Jesus) doesn’t change anyone. And churches today are full of folks who don’t really understand at even a basic level what “following Jesus” means. And, an ever growing number of pastors and/or teachers emphasize all the benefits without counting any of the costs involved (and 2 Peter 2 and Jude has a lot to say about them, too).

Unless the weight of the burden is felt, the gospel can mean nothing to the man . . . 

Until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden . . .

And no gospel, either . . . .

YouTube Video: “High and Lifted Up” sung by Hillsong:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here