The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 9, Heresy

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[Editorial Note: This is the ninth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Article 9:

Heresy

WE AFFIRM that heresy is a denial of or departure from a doctrine that is essential to the Christian faith. We further affirm that heresy often involves the replacement of key, essential truths with variant concepts, or the elevation of non-essentials to the status of essentials. To embrace heresy is to depart from the faith once delivered to the saints and thus to be on a path toward spiritual destruction. We affirm that the accusation of heresy should be reserved for those departures from Christian truth that destroy the weight-bearing doctrines of the redemptive core of Scripture. We affirm that accusations of heresy should be accompanied with clear evidence of such destructive beliefs.

WE DENY that the charge of heresy can be legitimately brought against every failure to achieve perfect conformity to all that is implied in sincere faith in the gospel.

Heresy. The word itself likely conjures up images of the Inquisition, medieval torture devices and angry torch wielding mobs. Though such un-pleasantries are now in the past (hopefully), heresy remains a very serious theological reality and poses an eternal danger to countless souls.

The Greek word for heresy, hairesis (αἵρεσις), carries the basic meaning of division. Titus 3:10 which states, "Reject a factious (divisive) man after a first and second warning" employs this term. In fact, the King James version renders it quite literally, "A man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition reject."

Though division often carries a negative connotation, not all division is bad. Some division is absolutely necessary. As Christians we are to be wholly devoted to the authority of God's inerrant, infallible, all sufficient word. That devotion necessitates that we divide from those who are not so devoted. Jesus himself will one day separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32). Division can be a good thing.

There is nothing good, however, about heresy. Heresy constitutes a willful departure from Christian orthodoxy and has been a problem in the church practically since its inception. Jesus and the New Testament writers repeatedly warned about the rise of false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20; Acts 20:29-31; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). In fact, almost every book in the New Testament directly warns of false doctrine.

There are many different categories of heresy. There are heresies regarding the godhead such as Modalism[1] which denies the trinity and Open Theism which denies God's knowledge of the future. There are Christological heresies such as Arianism and Kenosis theology, both of which denigrate the deity of Christ.[2] There are soteriological heresies such as Universalism and the Roman Catholic doctrine of Infused Righteousness that deny salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. This brief list is barely the tip of the heretical theological iceberg. To imbibe one or more of these heresies is to depart from the "faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3) and to put one's soul in eternal peril.

It is important to understand that all heresy is error but not all theological error is heresy. There are a number of secondary or tertiary biblical and theological issues about which genuine Christians can disagree and still have fellowship in Christ. For example, who wrote the book of Hebrews? Some say Paul, others say Luke or Barnabas or someone else. The fact of the matter is that we do not know who wrote it; only that the author was inspired by the Holy Spirit. If one person believes Paul wrote Hebrews and another person believes Luke wrote it, at least one of them is wrong - and possibly both are - but neither is in heresy.

Drs. John MacArthur and the late R.C. Sproul differed on at least two theological issues: eschatology and the ordinance of baptism. MacArthur is a "leaky dispensationalist" in his eschatology and holds to believer's baptism whereas Sproul was amillennial and affirmed paedobaptism. It is not that eschatology and baptism are unimportant issues. They are both quite important - but they are not essential components in and of themselves to the gospel. They differed with one another on these issues and yet they respected each other greatly. They spoke at each other's conferences. They spoke highly of one another. MacArthur preached at Sproul's funeral. They loved one another. They were friends. Despite differences on these non-essential issues, these two men were absolutely united in the gospel. How MacArthur and Sproul interacted with one another serves as an inspiring model for me and many, many other believers around the world.

This having been said, some points of error even though they may not be intrinsically heretical may, and often do, lead to heresy. The Apostle Paul warned that false teaching "spreads like gangrene" (2 Timothy 2:16-17). Error almost always begets more error.

Methodism, founded upon the teachings of John and Charles Wesley in the 18th century, was once committed to the authority of scripture and the preaching of the gospel. Then, in the early 1920s, the denomination began to ordain women as "local preachers" and later granted women "full clergy rights" in 1956.[3] Today the Methodist denomination is hopelessly liberal. It holds that practicing homosexuals can be Christians and even permits their ordination to ministry provided that they take vows of celibacy. The other mainline denominations (Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ) have already embraced homosexual marriage and homosexual ordination. The United Methodist Church, and all the mainline protestant denominations, are far more concerned with social and environmental issues than they are the gospel. Their dwindling numbers reflect this sad truth. John and Charles Wesley would not recognize Methodism today. The doctrinal slide into heresy began with allowing women to preach.

One of the things that most alarms us as the initial signatories of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel (and the nearly 10,000 others who have signed as of this writing) is that within the evangelical social justice movement (heretofore ESJ) we are seeing and hearing some of the same arguments that swayed once theologically conservative denominations that are now in spiritual ruin. For many years Beth Moore has publicly preached to men[4] but now within the Southern Baptist Convention there exists serious talk of her actually becoming its president. There can be no credible doubt that the ESJ movement is promoting egalitarianism.

Even more ominously, within the ESJ movement we are seeing a push for the acceptance of celibate "gay Christians." The stated purpose of the Revoice Conference held in July of 2018 is:

Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other gender and sexual minority Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.[5]

That purpose statement alone should have brought swift, decisive and universal condemnation of Revoice for it flies in the face of clear biblical teaching that God saves people out of homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), not that it permits them to hold onto a "LGBTQ-lite" identity.

Notice the pernicious nature of false teaching as described by the Apostle Peter:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. - 2 Peter 2:1

Heresy is never advertised as such to God's people. It is not introduced to the church with fanfare and clearly marked labels. It is introduced secretly and in camouflage. It is always intermingled with the truth. To adapt a phrase from Mary Poppins, 'Just a spoonful of theological sugar helps the heresy go down.'

The charge of heresy is a serious one to levy and the label of heretic is not one to be carelessly applied. Sadly, such aspersions are coming from some in the ESJ camp. Dr. Eric Mason, Pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA, and author of the newly released book entitled Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice[6] tweeted the following:

We need a modern day ecumenical council on race and justice! We need canons and synods and creeds on this! Come to Philly and we can call it the Council of Philadelphia! Limit it to 300 key men and women pastors and scholarly secretaries. Rebuke the heretics and affirm the sound.[7]

Thabiti Anyabwile immediately responded to Dr. Mason's tweet with an enthusiastic, "I'm in!"[8]

The charges of heresy and racism are not coming from those of us who signed the SJ&G, they are coming from those who oppose it. This is wrong and it is sinful. And, ironically, by levying false accusations it foments the very ethnic division that those in the ESJ movement claim to oppose.

In conclusion, we are not seeking to divide from anyone unnecessarily. We see this as a fraternal debate but one with extremely serious consequences. As the introduction to the SJ&G statement says, "we grieve that...we are taking a stand against the positions of some teachers whom we have long regarded as faithful and trustworthy spiritual guides. It is our earnest prayer that our brothers and sisters will stand firm on the gospel and avoid being blown to and fro by every cultural trend that seeks to move the Church of Christ off course."

It is not that those in the ESJ movement are denying the exclusivity or deity of Christ. It is not that they are denying salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is not that they are denying the authority of scripture - at least not directly. In other words, they (at least most of them) are not necessarily heretical in what they teach, but we do believe them to be in serious theological error; error which, left unchecked, will inexorably lead to heresy. The error we are seeing today in the ESJ movement is the error that seemed benign to Methodists a century ago. Out of love for God and concern for His sheep we are trying to sound the alarm.

We have seen this movie before.


[1] Modalism is a heresy that denies that there is one God who eternally exists in three Persons, as the Bible teaches. Rather it holds that there is one God in three manifestations. One notable adherent is T.D. Jakes, pastor of The Potter's House in Dallas, TX. See https://thepottershouse.org/explore/belief-statement/

[2] Both Arianism and Kenosis theology are alive and well in the Word-Faith/New Apostolic Reformation movements.

[3] Source: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/commentary-why-do-united-methodists-ordain-women

[4] Beth Moore has preached to men in numerous venues including but certainly not limited to a Sunday morning sermon July 1, 2012 at Passion City Church pastored by Louis Giglio and has preached to thousands of men at multiple Passion Conferences, just one example of which can be seen here. Josh Buice, one of the initial signatories of the SJ&G statement has written about the many concerns regarding Beth Moore as has Elizabeth Prata and Michelle Lesley.

[5] Source: https://revoice.us

[6]  Woke Church was released October 2, 2018.

[7] Tweet dated May 13, 2018. Source: https://twitter.com/pastoremase/status/995744250603212803?lang=en

[8] Ibid.

Posted October 29, 2018 @ 6:48 AM by Justin Peters

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