Rev. L. Althouse
February 12, 2006
Background Scripture: 2 Timothy 2. Devotional Reading: 1 Peter 2:1-10.
Are you a heretic?
Maybe your answer depends upon what you understand as heresy.
The term came from a Greek noun meaning any chosen course of activity or thought. Used as a verb, it meant “to capture” with the mind. In New Testament times heresy came to mean choosing Christian beliefs contrary to orthodox apostolic teaching. These teachings were eventually condemned and heretics were generally driven from the Christian fellowship.
1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are known as the Pastoral Epistles because, unlike most of Paul’s letters, with the exception of Philemon, they are addressed to individuals who were associates of Paul and presumably served as in some churchly roles, perhaps as pastors or bishops. A key to their prominence is found in that Timothy is mentioned 26 times and Titus half that many in Acts and various New Testament epistles.*
The Pastoral Epistles are letters of both advice and concern and one of the overriding concerns appears to be heresy, although the word does not appear in the Bible and “heresies” only once. (2 Peter 2:1)
The writer of the Pastorals uses similar terms throughout the Pastorals with the same concern: do not let heresies prevail in the church.
We might wish that the writer had listed some of these heresies, but he does not. Instead, perhaps assuming his readers know what heresies he means, he concentrates on the practical effect of these heresies: disputes over words (2:14), “godless chatter” and “ungodliness” (2:16), talk that leads to spiritual “gangrene” (2:17), “senseless controversies” and “quarrels” (2:23) and the “snare of the Devil” (2:26).
For much of the history of Christendom “heresy” has been used almost exclusively to condemn unorthodox teachings. The bloody Inquisition attempted to “purify” the Church of “wrong” beliefs. In the Middle Ages many thousands of professing Christians were tortured and/or burned at the stake because of their “heretical” beliefs.
Today, in parts of Islam, the faith that at one stage in history was once even more tolerant of other beliefs than Christianity was, is in the grips of its own inquisition.
Although the term “heresy” is seldom employed, the world witnesses Christians, especially in America, embroiled in disputes, condemnations, vicious name-calling and violent legal battles - all on the assumption that “We have the truth, but you do not” So, although outsiders hear our professions of love, unity and forgiveness, what they see are deeds that are hardly an invitation to join us in Christian discipleship.
Contrary to Christ
While I do not deny the danger of beliefs contrary to the teachings of Christianity, I am even more concerned about the heresy of deeds - the things we do and say that are so contrary to the teachings and example of Christ. In ancient times there was a saying, “See how the Christians love one another!” I don’t hear people saying that today.
In fact, I find that Methodists do not even appear to love other Methodists or hear of Lutherans loving other Lutherans, and so forth.
The problem is that most of us think that our doctrinal concerns are vital and not “disputing about words,” “godless chatter,” or “stupid, senseless controversies.” How can we tell the difference? I suggest that any attitude, any talk, any behavior that brings disdain on the Christ whom we serve - is a heresy of deeds and a betrayal of our Lord!
*References to Timothy & Titus: Acts 16,17,18,19,20; Romans 16:21; 1 Corinthians 4,16; 2 Corinthians 1,27,812; Philippians 1,2; Galatians 2; Colossians 1; 1 Thessalonians 1,6; 2 Thessalonians 1; 1 Timothy 1,6; 2 Timothy 1,4; Philemon 1:01; Titus 1:04; Hebrew 13:23.
This farm news was published in the February 8, 2006 issue of Farm World.