The words heretic and apostate get tossed around a bit. Since we discuss various heresies it’s important to know what the words mean, as well as what they don’t. Christians tend to use them as an insult — when someone gets mad and they want to say something nasty, they throw out the h-word.
What is heresy, and its similar cousin, apostasy?
Heresy involves what a person believes (knowledge), and how or what they promote.
Opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system.
A fundamental error in religion, or an error of opinion respecting some fundamental doctrine of religion.
Heresy simply means ideas conflicting with accepted foundational doctrine. In the case of Christianity, that means the Bible. It says nothing about the character or morality of a person. They could be Sister Teresa or Satan himself.
Let’s consider an example. Perhaps you’ve heard about “social justice,” and some say it’s the essence of the Gospel. Is that true? In this case, it’s not a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of fact, because Paul defined the Gospel for us.
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you … For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15)
That’s the Gospel, according to the Bible. If someone claims social justice or other idea is the essence of the Gospel, they’ve made a fundamental error, an error of opinion regarding foundational doctrine, and promoted a doctrine at variance with accepted ideas.
A heresy — those supporting such ideas are heretics.
The heretic, therefore, is nothing more than someone who accepts or promotes heresy. It’s not an insult or derogatory, it describes their beliefs as at odds with orthodox doctrine (i.e. the Bible).
It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, it doesn’t mean they’re evil. They may be the nicest people who you’d want to live next door. They’re simply wildly wrong, and in the case of social justice, as a matter of fact, not opinion.
Similar to heretic, many sling this around as an insult. While the heretic could be corrected by instruction and education, the apostate generally involves more of a willful abandonment.
A total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party, cause, etc.
An abandonment of what one has professed; a total desertion, or departure from one’s faith or religion.
That desertion could be willful, or due to the improper teaching. An apostate, therefore, is one who forsakes his religion. For example, someone who now claims to be an atheist.
Heretics proclaim their religion, while promoting factually false doctrine; the apostate usually walks completely away from it.
Again, it doesn’t mean they’re bad people, only they’ve decided to abandon their religion for some reason. Freedom and liberty (which God gave) means you’re free to believe or not believe anything you want.
That doesn’t make it true, of course, as John Loeffler says “your failure to be informed does not make me a wacko.”
Words Are Important
Communication can only be possible if everyone uses words the same. If I say put the book on the table, you understand what I mean because we all use book and table to mean the same thing.
Problems arise when people fail to use words correctly. The church has this problem as liberal theology proponents redefine words.
How does this happen? Something called post-modern philosophy, sometimes referred to as value relativism, or you have your truth and I have mine.
When we use terms like Gospel, Jesus, salvation, judgment, and so on, those words have specific meanings, but if someone twists those meanings from what everyone else uses, they can sound thoroughly orthodox while speaking from the pit of hell.
When someone calls a person reading from the NIV a heretic, that’s simply not possible, as the Bible says nothing about it. The NIV certainly isn’t the best translation, but using it doesn’t make you a heretic.
If you really want to insult someone (not a good idea, civil discourse is always the goal), these words won’t get the job done; they say little about a person’s character, only their beliefs.
Calling someone a heretic isn’t an insult, used properly, it describes their beliefs as contradictory with traditional doctrine.
Whether you choose to believe heresy, is of course, up to you.