In many ways hairy tics and heretics are alike. Both suck the lifeblood out of healthy bodies while injecting infection into them. As a matter of fact if you give me the choice between a hairy tic and a heretic and I’ll take the tiny bug every time. Why? They’re easier to remove once you’ve spotted them. I’d rather endure a round of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (spread by tics of course) than deal with the mess that theological nut jobs make in the body of Christ.
I will never forget when my lifelong friend, Rick Long, and I started Grace Church in 1989. We were starry-eyed idealists, hungry to do good. But soon, what happened to the recipients of the book of Jude, happened to us: “…some ungodly people wormed their way into…” our church and although “the condemnation of such people was recorded long ago” they were still a present tense pain in the butt.
One of these hairy tics had somehow managed to worm his way into the role of a small group Bible leader at Grace (our screeening process was not very developed back then.) When we found out the heresy he was teaching, Rick and I set up a meeting with him. I’ll never forget this guy arrogantly pontificating to us that he “was on a different level than us spiritually” and didn’t expect us to grasp the depth of truth that he was teaching “his followers.” Suffice it to say that we picked that tic off of our congregation and within the week he was pedaling his “deep” doctrines somewhere else.
Scripture warns of heretics in 1 Timothy 1:3-7, “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.”
That’s the thing about heretics. They are confident and they often proclaim their view of truth in a bold, winsome and persuasive way. In the process many of God’s people can get caught up in their web of lies. Look at the prosperity preachers on television. How many genuine Christians are getting suckered in by these $3,000 suit wearin’, fast talkin’, Scripture shreddin’, used car salesmen?
And how many twenty and thirtysomethings, tired of the “boring” historic Christian faith, are turning to a hipper form of used car salesmen who sell books and blogs instead of prayer cloths and vials full of anointing oil?
But, with or without a goatee, a heretic is a heretic.
So how do you spot a heretic? I think Walter Martin, the founder of The Christian Research Institute, had the best suggestion. He used to tell his radio listeners that the way bank tellers would be trained to spot a counterfeit dollar bill was by handling real dollar bills hour after hour, day after day. In the same way, he went on to proclaim, we as Christians need to get so familiar with God’s Word and the truth in it, that we can easily spot a counterfeit (aka “heresy”) when we come across it.
This is probably a good time for a caveat. In the process of getting familiar with God’s Word and watching out for heretics we should be careful not to go on witch hunts. Almost as bad as heretics are the Christian haters who are looking for the next thing to rail against. They spend inordinate amounts of time looking for heresy so they can scream against it.
Here’s the problem, and our grandparents were right about this one, we don’t need to go looking for trouble. It will come looking for us. There’s too much kingdom work to do to devote all of our time to looking for heresy in all the wrong places.
Instead, let us invade the dark forest of the ultimate heretic, Satan himself. We can make our way through his dense forest of darkness and search for victims to rescue through the gospel of Christ. And every night, back at camp, we can stop and check for tics.
And let us not forget Paul’s reminder to the Corinthian believers to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” 2 Corinthians 13:5. We need to be on guard against heresy, not just in our churches, but in our own souls as well. It can happen to anyone. Even some of Paul’s co-workers slipped into heresy from time to time.
All of this talk of heretics may seem cruel and unusual and judgmental but remember Paul’s words to Timothy that “the goal of this command is love….” …love for the truth of God, the people of God and, yes, even the heretic. We want to see God’s Word honored, God’s people free from any spot or blemish (or spotted fever.) Ultimately we don’t desire to see heretics thrown out. We want to see them repent and restored to the faith.
Anyway, gotta go. Time to check for tics.