What Heresy Is, Who Gets To Say, And Why?

Part of the problem has been that in using the word ‘heresy’ (which I didn’t but do now) we have been talking past each other. Heresy is not a word to be used carelessly and hurled indiscriminately at anyone who dares to disagree with us. In confessional bodies, such as Episcopal, Reformed, Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist churches, heresy is a formal charge of preaching or teaching error. In such churches, confessional subscription carries more weight than in broadly evangelical churches or general Baptist churches. To teach something that strikes at the heart of the creeds and confessions of the church makes one, at least formally speaking, guilty of teaching heresy. It doesn’t declare one an unbeliever, nor does it immediately disqualify one from teaching. Church courts exist to adjudicate in such matters. Teachers in the church are justly held to a higher standard of orthodoxy (especially Trinitarian orthodoxy) because of the trust placed in them and their impact of the laypersons that read or hear their views expressed. While I cannot speak for whether or not Ware or Grudem’s views place them outside of the pale of their ecclesiastical confessions, I do believe their teaching contradicts the Nicene Creed as well as the major Reformed confessions. A couple of implications follow, given my role as a Presbyterian minister of the gospel. I have the responsibility to make sure that my parishioners are aware of the problematic nature of this teaching, since these views are widely published. I also have the responsibility to make sure that men who hold these views are not ordained within my denomination. Thus, to address the viability of this teaching over against the creeds and confessions of the Reformed churches is not to meddle in someone else’s business but to address issues of practical pastoral import.

Liam Golligher

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