It is entirely possible, in fact, even likely, that those who are engaged in tasks which have negative components to them, will sometimes be a bit over-zealous in the way carry out those negative aspects. And whether this over-zealousness is, in fact, truly over-zealousness, is, for the most part, a subjective judgment. The execution of that negative component is not automatically an act of over-zealousness, just because someone says it is.
Pastors and theologians of the church have both positive and negative functions. Positively, they are “shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). They care for and feed the sheep. Negatively, they must be on the alert for those who “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matt 7:15). Being a responsible shepherd entails watching out for the “savage wolves” who “will come in among you and will not spare the flock” (Acts 20:29).
Therefore, frankly, it is not very helpful when people who engage in this negative function are pejoratively referred to as “heresy hunters.” Again, the very nature of the task entails the possibility of over-zealousness in the execution of the task. And when this happens, questions may appropriately be raised. However, I believe that there are really very few “heresy hunters” out there. For the most part, pastors and theologians who point out instances of heresy have not been hunting for it; rather, they have been guarding against it, for the sake of the church—the church which God purchased with his own blood.
There are very real heresies out there. Those who preach another gospel are not to be regarded as those who simply have “a different opinion.” They are not simply “starting a conversation we need to have,” or doing us a favor by “asking questions that ought to be asked.” Rather they are to be considered “accursed” (Gal 1:9). Those who want to call themselves Christians, but deny the resurrection; those who deny either Christ’s full deity or his full humanity—they do “not really belong to us” (1 John 2:19). Those who are unprepared to acknowledge that the God of the Old Testament prophets is the God of the New Testament apostles, and that he is, indeed, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6; 2 Cor 1:3; 11:31; Eph 1:3; Col 1:3; 1 Pet 1:3), should not be surprised if their orthodoxy is questioned. And those who seem quite prepared, in the area of ethics, to declare something to be right which Christ and his apostles have declared to be wrong, indeed something which disqualifies one for entrance into the kingdom of God (Rom 1:18-32; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21), should be made to recognize that there is such a thing as ethical heresy, in addition to doctrinal heresy. And they should realize that they are to be held to account for their departure from apostolic teaching. Additionally, it should also be said, heretics are no less harmful or savage, when they also happen to be “such nice” persons. “Being nice” is part of what is meant by the phrases, “sheep’s clothing” “angel of light,” and “masquerading as servants of righteousness” (Matt 7:15; 2 Cor 11:14-15).
For the most part, those who are all too ready, at the drop of a hat, to play the “heresy-hunter” card, should reconsider that practice. Pastors and theologians who attempt to safeguard the church against heresy, however imperfectly they may carry out the task, are, nevertheless, carrying out an assigned task. Being called names should not be added to the divinely-assigned burdens they already have to bear.
April 9, 2015