Heresy and Apostasy

by Mike Ratliff

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11 ESV)

True Biblical discernment is crucial for the spiritual health of the Body of Christ because there has and always will be a plague of false teaching and teachers upon it until our Lord’s return. I am sure most of you have noticed the recent outrage over the increased security measures by the TSA in the USA that involve full body scans and “pat down” searches at our airports. One of the articles I read today compared what the TSA does with what is done is Israel at their airports, which is, instead of relying on “technology” based systems, passengers are interviewed by experts trained in what specifically to look for. They know their enemy and they know how to flush him or her out via their own interview process. Notice that since they have gone to this system that they have had no breakdown in their security. My point is that they know their enemy. They know their enemy’s tactics. They know this enemy’s goal. They do not waste time and resources with those who are no threat. In the Truth War that is upon us in the Church, we have many enemies trying to come in “unawares.” They try to infiltrate, appearing as “Orthodox” but their teaching is deceitful, degrading, and damnable (2 Peter 2:1). Those of us who have been gifted by God with spiritual discernment are, therefore, also given the job of flushing these people out. Part of this job is  knowing who our enemies really are. Are they apostates or are they simply holding to some heresy that doesn’t fall into the range of “deceitful, degrading, or damnable?” 

Before we go any further let’s make one thing perfectly clear. There is a difference between apostasy and heresy. Apostasy is seen most clearly in “cults.” It is a departure from Christian truth in general. Those in these cults profess to be Christian, but they are actually in denial of true Orthodox Christianity. This denial of Biblical truth might consist of all Christian truth or just a single truth such as the deity of Christ or justification by faith. These denials of truth results in the destruction of all biblical truth. Therefore, an apostate is not a Christian. Arius was an apostate. He was a 4th Century parish priest in Alexandria who taught that Jesus was a created being, and, therefore, was not coequal with God. The “cult” that came from his teach was called Arianism and has existed in various forms ever since.

The English word “heresy” is a transliterated word from the Greek word αἵρεσις or hairesis. In Classical Greek, it means, “seizure, taking, acquisition, choice, desire for something, and purposeful decision.” Later it came to denote “the teaching or the school of a particular philosopher with which a person identifies himself by his choice.” The Septuagint in Leviticus 22:18, 21 translates the Hebrew נְדָבָה nedâbâh (“freewill offering”). So what does this tell us? This is our context and if we look at the New Testament usage of αἵρεσις we see that it follows this very same meaning. Heresy is a choice, a deliberate decision to “seize” upon a paricular teaching that is not orthodox. Two New Testament examples are below.

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy (Acts 5:17 ESV)

Αναστὰς δὲ ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς καὶ πάντες οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ, ἡ οὖσα αἵρεσις τῶν Σαδδουκαίων, ἐπλήσθησαν ζήλου

But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5 ESV)

ἐξανέστησαν δέ τινες τῶν ἀπὸ τῆς αἱρέσεως τῶν Φαρισαίων πεπιστευκότες, λέγοντες ὅτι δεῖ περιτέμνειν αὐτοὺς παραγγέλλειν τε τηρεῖν τὸν νόμον Μωϋσέως.

In Acts 15:5 we have αἱρέσεως, which is the Genitive, singular form of αἵρεσις. All that means is that it is modifying the head noun which is Φαρισαίων making sure that we understand that the “sect” is indeed that “of the Pharisees.” In the first example the Sadducees were a Jewish faction that denied the doctrine of the resurrection. What about the Pharisees? Paul’s example was referring to the Judaizers, who taught salvation by works, such as adding circumcision as a requirement.

As I stated above, we must know our enemies. We must not waste time on apostates outside of the Church when we are focusing on those who are infiltrating the Church with false teaching hoping to ensnare people into heresies. Here is 2 Peter 2:1.

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

Notice that these false teachers are deceitful. They secretly bring in their teachings by smuggling them in. These teachings are degrading in that they they deny the Lord and His Work in one way or another and so doing degrade and blaspheme Him. This could also take the form of an attack on the veracity of God’s Word. Lastly, false teaching is destructive or damnable.. It not only destroys right doctrine and the lives of its victims, but it also destroys the propagators themselves.

On the other hand, heresy as it is used today is somewhat broader and can be committed by a true Christian without him or her becoming an apostate. This occurs when, while holding to the foundational doctrines of Scripture, one deviates on a particular doctrine. One example of this would the use of images. The early church did not use them whatsoever because God forbid it. However, they slowly came into use through emblems such as the dove, fish, anchor, vine, and lamb. Gradually this increased through paintings, sculptures, and jewelry that depicted biblical events, items, saints, martyrs, and even Christ Himself.

This next statement may get me some hate mail, but such practices are actually heresy. They violate a very specific command of God to make no images (Exodus 20:3-5; cf Matthew 22:36-38).

Here are a few more. There is the heretical teaching that God demands poverty from Christians, as well as the other extreme, “prosperity teaching,” that God returns our “investment” and makes us rich. The “seeker-sensitive” movement that appeals to people’s “felt needs” to lure them into the church is heresy; the NT nowhere teaches that approach. The spirit of “tolerance” in the church today is heretical, because God commands that we discern truth from error and strongly condemn false teaching in no uncertain terms.

Soli Deo Gloria!

19 thoughts on “Heresy and Apostasy

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  2. I believe that the emblem of the cross was also an image that was borrowed from paganism. Tammuz, the “T”. It was adopted by Constantine in an effort to persuade others that he was “Christian”.


  3. We have been taught over and over to ‘look to the cross for salvation’. We have been taught over and over to sing songs about the ‘cross’. I think it has taken the place of Jesus and His resurrection for a long time.
    I remember people being offended when someone suggested temporarily moving a ‘polished’ wood cross from behind the ‘stage’ in a ‘church’ building I used to attend…. like the ‘carved object’ was holy in of itself.
    Anything or Anyone that directs praise and worship to itself or anything other than God alone is an idol.


  4. I agree Brent, people look at the emblem and worship it more than the ONE who was crucified upon it.
    This same emblem of the “T” is VERY ecumenical as well, as it is recognized as a “Christian” sign. Catholic, Lutheran, and many, many other apostate denominations!


  5. What about treating the poor as a special class, giving food and aid without giving in the name of Christ. We feel good about ourselves, but no glory to God unless the recipient knows that we are giving in the the name of Jesus. Most food banks are secular in nature. We are to do good to all men, but for God’s glory , not ours. Jesus did not set up food banks. He preached for three days before He fed the five thousand. The collections in the churches were for the poor brothers in Christ. How many are supplemented who would not pass the standards in 1 Ti 5:3-16 or 2Th 3:10. I am not a scrooge, but , think about it.


  6. HHMMM, this is very good, I need to chew on this awhile I guess I had never processed the differences between the two. I totally agree with everything that has been said on images. It also generates a lot of questions for me. If heresies in the church are defined by images, paganism and how the early “church” conducted itself, then we have a WHOLE LOT OF HERESY in the church; various ministries, childrens, teens, art related ministries, drama, visual arts, ect, even music as a ministry. Building programs, money-making activities, titles, postions. Then administrative structure, social gospel issues, even the “holidays” , “christmas and easter. What about accepted “christian” movies, these are images?…… I AM NOT trying to deveope a list of do’s and don’ts here, just thinking about all the things which apply to heresy…..
    And what about Arminianism?…… it a heresy? because it elevates man’s responsibility in the work of salvation rather than God’s sovereignty, while maintaining that Jesus is the only saviour? or is a cult because it has redefined salvation to be something other than biblical salvation????? (God is at man’s beck and call anytime, anyplace, ect.) ?????? QUESTIONS QUESTIONS QUESTIONS???? : }
    These were not even my first thoughts, my first thought was……. the thing which has made my own personal confrontation with apostasy or heresy so confusing is a group of people which speak orthodox doctrine, but which do not live it……. A sort of mental ascent, if you will, to the fruit of salvation. They will tell you they believe in Total Depravity, but they are totally unapproachable about any sin in their own lives……….You can see and feel the sin in theri lives, but they act as if they somehow missed being depraved, all the depravity was given to everyone else. Their words when it comes to Salvation, man, sin, Jesus, God, Holy Spirit, ect. seem to be lined up with scripture but when it comes to personal conduct, they do whatever they think or feel…… They talk like a Calvinist, but live like, a, well…….. a sinner. In spite of what they say, you cannot see God the Father conforming them to the “image” of his son. AND YOU ARE LOOKING FOR CONFIRMATION NOT SIN!!!

    One last question, was the paragraph which ended with this quote, “Lastly, false teaching is destructive or damnable.. It not only destroys right doctrine and the lives of its victims, but it also destroys the propagators themselves.” pertaining to apostasy, heresy or both?


  7. I do not take away the integral part of the life and death and ressurection of Jesus by which the death of Jesus took place on the cross… but the focus on it ( cross ) has been placed wrongly.
    Read this and see what is done to the cross, teachings and life of Jesus without the ressurection…it is made insignificant by logical default.

    1 Corinthians 15:13-15 (English Standard Version)
    13But if there is no resurrection of the dead,(A) then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that(B) he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

    Men are focusing on Jesus’ teachings ( good deeds etc. )and not on the ressurection which gives us (through Him) the power or life in the Spirit.
    I hear friends in the Lord talk more about ‘going to church’, their ‘church name’, the new program, the capital “P”astor, the ‘bible college’ etc than the Gospel or Jesus all the time.
    I went to a ‘church’ that couldn’t have communion without showing some stupid man made scene from the ‘Passion of the Christ’ movie ( which was made by a heresy believing man)… talk about bringing in an image to replace what we should reflect in our hearts… it is sad and still goes on to this hour I’m sure.
    Most ‘Christians’ have been taught we need to help the ‘story’ out and ‘help’ man get saved by meeting his needs and ideas of God with things he can understand and make a ‘decision’ about Him with.
    Talk about ‘destructive heresies’ of the 2 Peter2:1 type Mike gave us above.


  8. Stella Marie, good thoughts. To answer your closing question, this was referring to heresy and the teachers of it. It would include those things that are destructive, damnable, et cetera, heresies, not the denial if essential truths. However, even those, like the compromises with the world, end up watering down the truth because they detract attention away from Christ.


  9. Regarding the cross as a possible “violation”, so to speak. It appears to, on first glance be a violation, but then as our kind friend points out, we are often directed to the cross. Knowing scripture does not contradict itself, there must be something I am missing in trying to “solve” this seeming problem.

    While mulling it over, I thought of simply removing symbols of the cross in churches, as one person suggested had indeed happened. But then it occurred to me that in this day and age when this is actually done in the sense of trying to be seeker sensitive, would our act be an appearance of evil since we seemed to be kowtowing to the culture while in fact trying to be be true to our Lord?
    Again, another seeming circular problem.

    One could go down the road of this or that being a “violation”, but I am a bit perplexed regarding this seemingly simple issues. Any thoughts?


  10. When I “look to the cross”, I am not looking at an emblem, the “T”. I am thinking about the actual crucifixion, the sacrifice of my Lord Jesus Christ. His suffering, death and resurrection, not the object on which he died.
    BTW, I believe he was crucified on a structure that looked more like a post.


  11. This is a great post Mike. Gives us all something to think about. When is enough enough. Thank you so much for writing about this.


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