Heresy And Heretics: Identification And Response

Heresy and heretics have consistently afflicted the people of God since the time of Cain. They are present in the New Covenant Community (the Church). They are present in the Messianic Jewish Movement that is part of the New Covenant Community. It is crucial to recognize and deal appropriately with them, or those involved in the Messianic Jewish Community will suffer increasingly serious consequences.

The Definitions Of Heresy And Orthodoxy

Heresy is a very serious error about a fundamental truth or practice of the Faith. In 2 Peter 2:1, Simon Peter warns us that in times past, false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies … bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Heresy is contrasted to “orthodoxy” (from ortho, which means straight, and doxa which means notion, opinion or judgment). Orthodoxy means having the right beliefs.

Heresy And Orthodoxy

The Word of God has an authoritative system of right beliefs. It is a set of fundamental truths that already existed in the first century. It is the Faith (faith in this context means essential beliefs or teachings) once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). It is “sound teaching” that builds up and blesses (2 Timothy 4:3, Titus 2:1), as opposed to unhealthy teaching that tears down and destroys. We need to know the fundamental truths of the Faith and stay within those God-ordained boundaries. Rabbi Paul instructed Timothy to be constantly nourished on the words of the Faith and of sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).

Making A Distinction Between Heresy And Bad Teaching

Bad teaching is not the same as heresy. Here are some examples of bad teaching or bad practice that I would not classify as heresy:

* Infant baptism.

* Replacement Theology and Amillennialism.

* Women pastors who have authority over men.

* Mild charismatic excess (as opposed to extreme charismatic excess, which may be heresy).

I may be able to have varying degrees of fellowship and cooperative relationship with those who have bad teaching, depending on my degree of comfort and the kind of fellowship and cooperation involved.

A Short History Of Heresy

Heresy is not rare or unusual. It has always plagued the people of God. It has been with us since the beginning. It is to be expected, especially as we get closer to the Last Days.

Heresy In The Tenach

* Corruption of the Word of God is perhaps the supreme weapon of the Adversary. The first temptation was an attack on the Word of God (Indeed, has God said?). Twisting the Word of God is used from that point forward to destroy human beings.

* Cain’s false worship was the first of many heretical religious systems.

* False prophets were a continual problem for Israel throughout our history.

* Deuteronomy 13: Instruction about dealing forcefully with those who bring very serious false teaching (in this case, worshiping other gods). Those guilty of this heresy were to be identified and killed, with the first stone thrown by those closest to them. Zeal for God and truth comes before a person’s closest relationships – brother or sister, son or daughter, husband or wife or dearest friend.

* The example of Balaam, who gave advice to corrupt the faith and practice of the Jewish people (Numbers 31:16), and the commendation and reward of Pinchas the Priest who dealt decisively with that serious error in faith and practice.

* The Chosen People were taught not to mix truth with error. We had the principle of “aish zarah” – not offering “strange fire”; the principle about not wearing clothing made of mixed materials, and not planting a field with different kinds of seeds (Leviticus 19:19); the principle about not mixing what is holy and what is unholy, what is clean and what is unclean (see Haggai 2:10-13). If something holy touches something unholy, it does not become holy. But, if something unholy touches something holy, it becomes unclean. The general principle is that we must take decisive action to separate ourselves from false teaching and practice. We must not tolerate it.

* The false teachers/priests and prophets of the corrupt religious system of the Northern Kingdom ensured that the Kingdom of Israel was destroyed.

* Even though the Southern Kingdom was better than the Northern Kingdom, false prophets also plagued it. Jeremiah 23:9-40 is the most detailed description of the problem of the false prophets (see also Jeremiah 14:14 and Ezekiel 13:9).

Heresy In The New Testament Period

In many of Rabbi Paul’s letters, he warned Christians and Messianic Jews to beware of false teachers or from straying from the teaching that he gave them and which they “received” (see Acts 20:28-30, Galatians 1:6-9, 2 Corinthians 11:4, Philippians 4:9, 2 Thessalonians 3:6). In 1 Timothy 4:1, he warned about a great “falling away” from the Faith that will take place in the Last Days. Many will pay attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. Peter and Jude also warn about false teachers and prophets. John warns about false prophets in Revelation and in 1 John. 4:1. Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits (religious teachers) to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. Messiah warned against false prophets and false messiahs who would come and mislead many, especially as we get closer to the Last Days (Matthew 24).

Heresies In The Early Church

The issues of the deity of the Messiah and the Trinity were prominent in the early Church. Since heresies tend to be repeated, we should learn from history and the decisions of the early councils and creeds what Messiah’s Holy Community considered to be heresy – especially regarding the truths about the deity of the Messiah and the Trinity.

Roman Catholicism’s View Of The “Protestant Heresy”

Well into the 20th century, Catholics defined Protestants as heretics. After Vatican II the Catholic Church tends not to refer to Protestantism as a heresy, even if the teachings of Protestantism are heretical from a Catholic perspective. Instead, the Catholic Church refers to Protestants as “separated brothers”. Some of the doctrines of Protestantism that the Catholic Church considers heretical are the very teachings that Protestants believe are of vital importance: that the Bible is the only source and rule of faith; that faith alone and not works can lead to salvation; and that there is not a special priesthood attained by human ordination, but rather a universal priesthood of all believers that has been ordained by God.

Protestantism And The Catholic Heresy

Many prominent earlier Protestants referred to Catholicism as heresy, and as part of the Great Apostasy, and to the Pope as the anti-Christ. I stand with the early Protestants in declaring Catholicism as heresy for the following reasons: Catholic teaching does not preach the pure Gospel – the simple Message that placing our trust in Yeshua the Messiah will save us. It contradicts the plain teaching of Scripture, that we are saved by God’s grace, not through any of our own human efforts, when we put our faith in Messiah Yeshua alone (see Ephesians 2:8-9). Instead, it has substituted an adulterated system of sacraments, man-made traditions and human efforts through which salvation is allegedly dispensed.

In addition, the Roman Catholic Church has arrogantly declared the bishop of Rome to be the infallible leader of the entirety of Messiah’s Holy Community of Jews and Gentiles. For centuries the Roman Catholic Church persecuted the true Christians; engaged in systematic and deliberate torture, murder, and even genocide. For centuries it was the most anti-Semitic institution on Earth. It has added to the Word of God by acknowledging the Apocrypha as part of the Holy Scriptures. It has added to the Word of God by elevating Catholic tradition, laws and decrees to the same status as the Word of God! There is no Scriptural support for traditions and practices such as the sacrifice of the Mass, purgatory, transubstantiation, prayers and masses and other rituals for the dead, indulgences, the worship of Mary, prayers to the saints, the use of images in worship, holy water, rosary beads and scapulars, a Roman Catholic priesthood, the demand of celibacy from these priests and nuns, and confession to priests to obtain absolution. All this adds up to “Another Gospel” – a Gospel that is foreign, even hostile to the simple Good News Message about having saving faith in the Messiah.

I do not believe that the Protestant Reformation was a mistake. Roman Catholicism is a heretical religious system. The Catholic Church has not reformed any of the false teachings since the beginning of the Reformation. I recommend that Protestants who refuse to acknowledge the ongoing validity of the Protestant Reformation, and the crucial issues involved that separate Roman Catholicism from Evangelicals, should be avoided.

Other Groups That Protestants Should Consider Heretical:

* Jehovah’s Witnesses.

* Mormons.

* Seventh Day Adventists.

* Theological Liberalism, because it denies the inerrancy of the Scriptures, which destroys the Faith – as the last 80 years have amply proved.

* Those who embrace the acceptability of homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, especially those approving of active homosexuals in “Christian ministry”.

* Political/Moral Heresies: Those who are pro-abortion or who vote for pro-abortion candidates. I would withhold communion from pro-abortion politicians who claim to be Christians. If pushed, I would do the same for those who vote for pro-abortion politicians, since they are “anti-Hurs” and “anti-Aarons” who hold up the killers-of-humans-in-the-womb’s bloody hands.

Orthodox Judaism And Heresy

Just as Roman Catholicism has seriously deviated from many fundamental truths of the Faith, and should be considered to be heretical, so has “Orthodox” Judaism. Ironically, many of the teachings that Orthodox Judaism views as heresy are essential teaching of the true Faith! Moses Maimonides’ “13 Principles of Faith” (listed below) are generally considered to be a good summary of Orthodox Jewish belief.

  1. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is the Creator and Guide of everything that has been created; He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.
  2. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is One, and that there is no unity in any manner like His, and that He alone is our God, who was, and is, and will be.
  3. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, has no body, and that He is free from all the properties of matter, and that there can be no (physical) comparison to Him whatsoever.
  4. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is the first and the last.
  5. I believe with perfect faith that to the Creator, blessed be His Name, and to Him alone, it is right to pray, and that it is not right to pray to any being besides Him.
  6. I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.
  7. I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, was true, and that he was the chief of the prophets, both those who preceded him and those who followed him.
  8. I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that is now in our possession is the same that was given to Moses our teacher, peace be upon him.
  9. I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be exchanged, and that there will never be any other Torah from the Creator, blessed be His Name.
  10. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, knows all the deeds of human beings and all their thoughts, as it is written, “who fashioned the hearts of them all, who comprehends all their actions” (Psalm 33:15).
  11. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, rewards those who keep His commandments and punishes those that transgress them.
  12. I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry, nonetheless, I wait every day for his coming.
  13. I believe with perfect faith that there will be a revival of the dead at the time when it shall please the Creator, blessed be His name, and His mention shall be exalted for ever and ever.

Orthodox Judaism considers those who deny these principles of faith and rabbinic teaching authority to be heretics. Orthodox Judaism considers Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative Judaisms to be heretical and not true Judaism. Therefore the belief or hope that Messianic Jews will ever be religiously acceptable to Orthodox Jews who are serious about their anti-Messiah, anti-Trinitarian, anti-New Covenant Faith is extremely naive.

Who Gets To Decide What Is Heresy?

The Lord has given the God-ordained leaders of the Messianic Community who are holding to sound doctrine the authority (“binding and loosing”) to make these determinations. A church or denomination that has right doctrine can declare a teaching or an individual or movement to be heretical. In my opinion, the God-appointed leaders of an individual community can also declare something to be heretical.

Common Excuses To Avoid Dealing With Heresy

Excuse: Most modern theologians don’t like to use the term heresy. Those accused of heresy have been dealt with too harshly in the past. Those accused of heresy have not always been heretics. In this age of tolerance, the term should be used sparingly. Heresy is a rare and unusual occurrence.

Response: It is not rare or unusual. In an overly tolerant society, the natural tendency is to minimize the seriousness of doctrinal deviation and not confront heresy. On the surface, it may appear more spiritual to be non-confrontational, but there is nothing spiritual about avoiding correcting serious error in faith and practice. Since there is a core set of sound doctrines, when someone is doing or believing something that is seriously in error, the right and loving thing to do is admonish, rebuke and correct him. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6). The excesses and errors of the past should not deter us from dealing with heresy now.

Excuse: The leaders of a large organization haven’t made an official decision that something is heresy, therefore it can’t be heresy.

Response: Of course it can be heresy! Orthodoxy is orthodoxy and heresy is heresy – independent of what men may think. Leaders can be cowardly, lethargic, themselves compromised or in error. Due to ignorance, ambition, politics, misplaced loyalties, friendships, shared grievances, financial considerations, blackmail, or other reasons, leaders might remain silent when they should speak out about heresy. If the gatekeepers, the religious leaders in positions of authority, are unwilling to take decisive action and confront heresy, God may raise up an individual, like a Luther, to do so.

How To Deal With Heresy

* Have the right attitude toward heresy. Be willing to deal with it. I am a contrarian. My orientation is that the majority is frequently wrong. The spirit of the post-modern age is a rejection of absolutes, a twisted kind of tolerance. This is infecting the Church. The Church is not of this world. In certain ways it should be counter-cultural. If the culture stresses a perverted kind of tolerance, we should emphasize standards, absolutes, sound doctrine, heresy.

* We need to realize the seriousness of heresy. Truth and salvation go together, just as serious error and damnation go together. If the truth sets you free and saves you, then serious error keeps you enslaved and helps damn you. In 2 Peter 2:1, Peter warned that just as false prophets arose among the Jewish people, there would also be false teachers who would arise among the New Covenant Community, who would secretly introduce destructive heresies, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. John declared that anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Messiah, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son (2 John 1:9).

* Heresy needs to be actively confronted. It is the responsibility of the gatekeepers of the Faith to be involved in holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9). We don’t ignore heresy. We don’t keep silent about it. Erroneous teaching and practice, if not directly confronted, spreads. A little leaven eventually leavens the whole batch. In a fallen world corrupted by evil, organized systems need to protect themselves or they will sicken and die. The financial system needs a Security and Exchange Commission. Those involved in the production and delivery of food and drugs need an FDA. The human body needs to protect itself from attack (immune system, white blood cells), the political body needs to protect itself from attack (laws and the criminal justice system), and the Body of Messiah needs to protect itself from the attack of heretics (religious laws and religious courts).

The apostles and the inspired writers of the New Testament boldly spoke out against false teachers and teachings, and so should we. “Teachers of false doctrine are referred to in the New Testament as heretics, false prophets, ravening and grievous wolfs, vain talkers and deceivers, false apostles, deceitful workers, ministers of Satan following his example in fashioning themselves as ministers of righteousness, vessels for dishonor, men who by their smooth and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. Believers are instructed to beware of them, avoid them, purge their assemblies of them, refuse them, stop their mouths, rebuke them sharply, separate themselves from them, count them as accursed, not receiving them into their houses and giving them no greeting” (based on The Duty Of Intolerance and taken from The Eastern Methodist, an early 20th century publication for sound teaching in the Methodist denomination).

* We need to identify those who are corrupting the truth and avoid them. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds (2 John 1:10-11). Those who are advocating heresy should be marginalized, not promoted. We should not publish their articles or books or have them speak at our conferences or symposiums or yeshivahs or seminaries.

* Heretical leaders are not only to be avoided, but also to be publically exposed. The nature of their sin is public, and therefore it must be publically exposed. Hymenaeus and Philetus were named as men who went astray from the truth (2 Timothy 2:18). Demas is named as someone who loved this present world and deserted Paul (2 Timothy 4:10). Alexander the coppersmith harmed Paul, and Timothy was told to be on guard against him (2 Timothy 4:14-15). Dealing with the doctrinal sins of heretics is not the same as dealing with those who sin against us individually. It is not always possible to go directly to them first and have a meeting with them, explaining their errors. That does not mean that we are obligated to remain silent until we have personally gone to them to confront them. If their false teaching is in the public domain, then it is fair to deal with their false teachings in public.

Is A Heretic Headed To Hell?

Will someone who is involved in heresy miss out on salvation? He may or may not. I don’t know. I do know that our responsibility is to relate to them by identifying them, exposing them and avoiding them.

Dealing With The Next Degree

If we identify someone or some teaching as being heretical, and we avoid and expose them, what do we do if other congregations or organizations or friends won’t do the same? Do we extend the ban to them? There are no easy answers, so each one needs to make their own determination.

Current Heresies Affecting The Messianic Jewish Movement

* Those who deny the Trinity or deny the deity of the Messiah. One way of denying the Trinity is by accepting Modalism, also known as the “Oneness” doctrine, an ancient heresy that denies that the One God has always existed as Three Persons. Modalism teaches that the Son and the Spirit are mere emanations or modes or expressions of God, but not persons. But the Son of God is a person. The Spirit does not have a body, but He does have all the essential elements of a person – mind, emotion and will. Only a few who have some connection to the Messianic Jewish movement deny the Trinity.

* Those who acknowledge the legitimacy of Roman Catholicism, even though it is a heretical religious system. Mark Kinzer is guilty of this serious error (along with other errors). For this reason alone, Kinzer should be avoided, along with the organizations in which he is acknowledged as a leader, including the Hashivenu organization, the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute – and while it grieves me to include it – the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations.

* Those who are guilty of extreme Prosperity Teaching. Several years ago, the MJAA had T.D. Jakes as the keynote speaker at a conference. Allowing Jakes to speak was a mistake since, besides being a corrupt prosperity teacher, Jakes embraces the “Oneness” doctrine (which denies the Trinity).

* The Wider Hope and its variations: The false teaching that Jewish people don’t need to personally believe in Yeshua in order to be saved; the Two-Covenant theological error (God has an older covenant with the Jewish people that will save us, and He has the New Covenant with the Church that will save the Church); the “Unconscious Christian” teaching (the false teaching that people might not believe in the Messiah, or might deny Him, and yet be saved. They are allegedly Christians, but just don’t know it!); the Unrecognized Mediation of Messiah (the bizarre idea that Messiah is functioning within the house of Israel as our unrecognized High Priest, drawing non-Messianic Jews closer to God, and God closer to non-Messianic Jews. The reality is that Messiah taught that the majority’s rejection of Him caused Him to be outside the camp, and our house would remain desolate until the nation turns to Him with repentance and personal faith.); Universalism (the obviously false teaching that everyone will be saved).

These heretical teachings ignore the Biblical doctrine of total depravity – the teaching that because of the Fall, sin has thoroughly impacted every area of who we are. The rebellion of Adam and Eve corrupted them and all of their descendants – Gentiles and Jews. Sin and disobedience and rebellion have affected every aspect of who we are – body, soul and spirit; mind, emotion and will. We have been corrupted morally, spiritually, mentally and sexually (see Romans 3:9-20). Sin has damaged our relationships with nature and with one another. Humanity’s most important relationship – with our Creator – has been ruined. Jews and Gentiles are alienated from the One who is the Source of life and goodness. It is only through the proclamation of the Good News about the Messiah and a personal faith response that Jews and Gentiles are born-again, given new life, receive the Holy Spirit and enter the Kingdom of God. Again, Mark Kinzer has been the theological thought-leader in advocating variations of the Wider Hope. Therefore he should be avoided – along with individuals and organizations that support him.

* Galatians Revisited, Legalism, Judaizing, Converting Gentiles into Messianic Jews (demanding that Gentiles live like Torah-observant Jews under the Sinai Covenant); the bizarre Two-House error (teaching non-Jews that they are part of the alleged Ten Lost Tribes and therefore need to live like Torah-observant Jews under the Sinai Covenant. This is one of the more widespread and growing errors in the Messianic Jewish movement today. For more information, see the article called Dispensationalism. Sadly, the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations at first came out against conversion of Gentiles into Messianic Jews, but more recently have allowed their members to teach and practice this serious and destructive error. Therefore the Union of Messianic Congregations should be avoided.

* Undermining the Scriptures by denying the doctrine of Inerrancy (the teaching that the original manuscripts of the Bible are divinely inspired and accurate). This has destroyed the mainstream Protestant churches. Again, Mark Kinzer is guilty of this serious error, and for this reason, Kinzer should be avoided – along with his previously mentioned supporters.

* Serious Error With Ecclesiology (Ecclesiology is the teaching about Messiah’s Holy Community): They are in serious error who – refuse to identify with the Evangelical Church, and who by faith, practice and attitude want to be segregated from the Evangelical Church; who advocate that Messianic Jews find their truest identity in the non-Messianic Jewish Community rather than the New Covenant Community (we are part of both, and should want to be part of both, but the reality is that if we are bold and faithful, we will be excluded from the majority of the non-Messianic Jewish community. That is a price that we must be willing to pay. We must have a “go outside the camp bearing His reproach” attitude); who acknowledge non-Messianic Jewish rabbinic authority as authoritative, even though the Supreme Authority, Rabbi Yeshua, the King of Israel and the Lord of the Messianic Community, explicitly transferred spiritual authority to the leaders of the New Covenant Community (see Luke 20:9-18, and the authority to “bind and loose”); who are telling Messianic Jews to leave Messianic Jewish congregations and go to non-Messianic synagogues! Sadly, it seems that in Israel, Zvi Sadan is moving in this destabilizing and destructive direction.

For More Information

For more information see Very Serious Problems with the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregation; see also As Sure As Hell.

For a devastating critique of some of these false teachings, see Dr. Michael Brown’s paper, Is A Postmissionary, Truly Messianic Judaism Possible? (