Feedback: Can Christians Promote Heresy?

by Troy Lacey on August 16, 2013
Featured in Feedback

Troy Lacey shows that Christians can and do speak error, and that we must be willing to receive correction from Scripture.

Dear Ken Ham,

I got confused reading your latest blog post on Peter Enns (4/20/13). You claim that he promotes heresy, yet in your last paragraph you claim that you're not calling him a heretic. How do you promote heresy without being a heretic?

–T. K., Connecticut

Hello, T. K., and thank you for writing to Answers in Genesis. You raise an interesting question: Can a Christian sin and even sometimes spout heresy without being a heretic? It appears that Scripture answers this query in the affirmative.

Did not Paul condemn Peter (and Barnabas) of hypocrisy and teaching by example a works-based salvation, which was a form of heresy? Yet they obviously were not heretics but Christians—and Peter was appointed as an apostle.

Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.” (Galatians 2:11–18)

And what about Apollos? Doesn’t Scripture also exhibit him as an example of incomplete teaching through ignorance? Although he knew Scripture and taught it, he did not have a full knowledge of Christ. Paul taught in Galatians 1:7–9 that any other gospel except the one true gospel was false and not to be received. In effect, due to ignorance, Apollos was not teaching the whole truth and counsel of God, which again could be viewed as heresy.

Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue; whom when Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (Acts 18:24–26)

So, it is possible to speak heresy yet be a Christian? The answer is yes. Eventually, God may send someone to correct this type of person and the specific heresy, or perhaps they will eventually prove themselves to be a heretic and not a Christian. Jesus warned about false prophets and stated that we would know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:15–20). Scripture also exhorts us to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) to see if someone is proclaiming biblical truth. However, we are not to jump to conclusions either. Elijah did this by claiming that everyone except himself was a heretic, but God corrected Elijah and told him that there were still many loyal believers to Him (1 Kings 19:13–19).

Is it possible to speak heresy yet be a Christian? The answer is yes.

Regarding Peter Enns, God alone knows his heart; we can only condemn his teachings as false like Paul did with Peter. We hope the Lord will correct his errors and lead him to repentance, and then that Dr. Enns will hold fast to God’s Word and teach it accurately. We rebuke his teachings out of love and hope for those rebukes to be instructive. As Solomon stated, “He who regards a rebuke will be honored” (Proverbs 13:18) and “he who heeds rebuke gets understanding” (Proverbs 15:32). We would rather be a friend who calls out and corrects than an enemy of the gospel who deceives by remaining silent. As Proverbs 27:6 states, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

As Paul’s rebuke corrected Peter and made him aware of his heretical actions and teaching (by example), we would praise the Lord if our rebuke caused the same introspection and Spirit-led result. The psalmist acknowledged he was prone to secret errors and that he wanted to be cleansed. We obviously want that same heart for ourselves and for Peter Enns.

Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:12–14)

Troy Lacey


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