The disciples, early Church Fathers, and even Jesus were really harsh on heresy. The tough language used to rebuke those who spread it have been perverted throughout the years to justify killing, torture, and various forms of social apartheid. We are told that “heresy” is referring to bad theology or inaccurate doctrine when, more accurately, heresy is ANY doctrine, theology, or requirement that make is hard for people to approach the Gospel of Christ.
The Gospel is Simple, Heresy is Complicated
The Gospel, as brought to the world through Jesus Christ and spread through his disciples was really simple. It had to be. They didn’t have the Gutenberg Press, the Internet, or any Xerox machines to hand out massive amounts of material. There was also *gasp* no Bible for them to all refer too. Early evangelists simply carried around little scraps of paper with sayings of Jesus.
It was enough to tell people, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22) The parables of Jesus, such as the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, and others stuck in the memory quite well. The Gospel isn’t so complicated, it is so very simple. Then heresy came along and tried to muck it all up....
Heretics Wannabe Gatekeepers to the Kingdom of God
Jesus spent a good volume of red letters condemning Pharisees in the four Gospels. He rebuked those who, “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders.” (Matthew 23:4) Specifically addressing the absurd rituals they had compounded around the Sabbath, he corrected them: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) Pointing out God gave us a day of rest for OUR sake, not as an additional burden.
The reason religious leaders hated the Gospel is it takes away their power over the minds of others. Therefore, as the Gospel spread, men popped up trying to say “Wait! There is more!” and add to the Gospel in order to make other people once again submit to them and lift them up between God and man.
“Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions,”
This sentence was part of the letter written as part of the Jerusalem Council. People were trying to say that if the gentiles didn’t accept circumcision, they would not actually be part of the Kingdom of God. To this Peter responded:
“Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?”
I recommend reading the whole chapter, as the discussion in all of Acts 15 is about not placing a burden on others that gets between them and the Gospel.
Heresy Always Comes From a Disdain for the Poor
“[Heretics are] those who have no care for love, none for the widow, none for the orphan, none for the afflicted, none for the prisoner, none for the hungry or thirsty.”
- St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans
Heresy has always been used as a way to separate the rich from the poor, even if the specific heresy may seem to have nothing to do with it directly. A lot of these examples can be found in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, as they continually used disputes to group themselves by “worth.” (Example: Corinthians 11:17-22)
“Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
- James 1:27
Let’s face it, those of us who “have” aren’t always comfortable thinking well of those who “have not” because then we might feel responsible for them. So much of what perverts the Gospel is an attempt to hide Jesus’s message about loving others and working on behalf of those less fortunate than ourselves.
Heresy is Theological “Fat”
Heresy isn’t about bad theology, it is about fat theology. Even if your doctrine is 100% perfect, it serves no purpose, and in fact becomes a source of evil, if you use it as a blockade to fellowship with others. The mysteries of God and heaven may be fun to discuss or ponder, but we have to guard ourselves from letting our theories form like cholesterol around the simple Gospel. We don’t have to agree with people to love them.
The Real Heretics
Most Gospel preaching, people-loving Christians have removed “heresy” from their vocabulary, mostly because of how the term has been used to persecute people. But I am wondering if we should take it back, to call out those who weigh down the Gospel with social and cultural obligations.
The Gospel is simple, and the same Gospel applies to a child which applies to an experienced scholar. The Gospel is about how we treat one others and how we treat ourselves. Those who use Scripture and religion to oppress, persecute, discriminate, or confuse the weak and marginalized of society are the real heretics.