Tag Archives: heresy

Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up? Part II

I pointed out in the previous post that many in the church are caught up with the spirit of the heresy hunter.

This War on Theological Terrorism is nothing more than arrogance and intolerance being passed off as “truth telling” for the sake of Christian orthodoxy.

I gave a few examples of how the real source of division is not from those proposing that Love Wins or from anyone else questioning our traditional “safe for the whole family” interpretations of Scripture. Mostly what we are seeing are the gatekeepers of conservative Christianity behaving badly.

It’s really nauseating. There have been more outcries against Rob Bell’s ambiguity regarding hell than there has been toward American greed, idolatry, militarism, and intolerance. And all of that is in the church! Excuse me while I throw up in my trashcan.

Are there real doctrinal threats? Yes. Are heretics alive today? Yes.

But before we look at what the NT qualifies as heresy, and who are true heretical threats, let’s think about the seriousness of the error made by heresy hunters.

Forsaking Love For Heresy Hunting

Let’s consider the stern warning given to Ephesus by Jesus in John’s apocalypse. I think it speaks to a certain segment of evangelicalism today.

I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit. I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders. I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out. But you walked away from your first love—why? What’s going on with you, anyway? Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen? A Lucifer fall! Turn back! Recover your dear early love. No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle. You do have this to your credit: You hate the Nicolaitan business. I hate it, too. Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’m about to call each conqueror to dinner. I’m spreading a banquet of Tree-of-Life fruit, a supper plucked from God’s orchard.  Rev 2:2-7 (MSG)

Notice that the Ephesian church was commended for their love of the truth in the face of pretenders, but they were firmly warned that their very identity as lovers of Christ would soon be lost if they chose instead to be known as haters of heresy. They would lose any ability to influence the world for the good news of Jesus.

The Nicolaitans (false teachers) may be carrying on some nasty business, but the work of the church is to love Maker and neighbor.

As far as I can tell, I think the Christian fundamentalist movement of the early 20th century against extreme German (ir)rationalists and other European liberals (scholars denying the deity of Christ) has continued unabated into the 21st century against anyone challenging any conservative or reformed theological tradition deemed acceptable by the gatekeepers… no matter how peripheral the issue may be. If you oppose these men, they will write a book against you. You can count on it.

It’s time to stand up against this behavior by refusing to buy into the fear mongering, tattle telling, and name-calling that has many Christians forsaking their first love.

Who Are The Real Heretics?

I think the criteria by which we may discern false prophets and teachers from faithful followers of Christ should begin and end with the following:

1. Do they accept that Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God?

In Matthew 16:15, Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” This has to be the question of the ages. Believer or pretender? How a person answers this question determines how we regard them. Faithful teachers will avow the words of Peter, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Does the person in question answer in the affirmative?

And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist. Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.  1 John 2:22-23 (NLT)

Declaring “Christ is Lord” is saying something (Rom 10:9-10).  Don’t think for a second that this is not a meaningful confession. Now maybe it has in our day lost some of its original meaning, but it’s not something you should easily ignore because you don’t like the one confessing it. Get over yourself. Love demands that you take them seriously.

If they confess Christ, then consider their behavior.

2. Do they lead moral lives, and are they leading others to do the same?

The Old and New Testaments are clear that beliefs and behavior are signs of a person’s standing with the Lord. You can’t separate belief from behavior (Rom 6; Eph 2:1-9; Jam 1:19-27).

Regardless of whether not we think a person’s theology is bad, or that their prophecies are true, it’s how they live that reflects their heart in relation to the Lord. If they speak truth but live like the devil, they’re a false teacher.

If they confess Christ, does their life bear evidence of Christ at work within them (Jn 15)? Jesus said to examine the tree. Does their tree bear fruit of the gospel? Are others coming into the mystery of Christ and his eternal purpose through their ministry? Are folks being set free?

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Jesus, John 8:32 (NIV)

Paul spoke about what Christian evidence looks like in Galatians 5:22-23. He said it looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

If their conduct is worthy of the gospel of Jesus, then ask their community.

3. Are they supported by reputable members of the Christian church?

What are members in their local Christian community saying about them? And what are folks in your own community saying? What you hear matters to a certain extent (Eph 1:15-17).

You will want to check with those believers you respect who are outside of your own tradition. Let’s be honest, denominational thinking can cloud our judgment. Don’t just ask a Jew… ask a Gentile. Don’t just ask another Baptist… ask a Methodist, an Anabaptist, and a democrat.

Also, what are outsiders saying about them (1 Tim 3:7)? You may have to talk to them to get the real story. If you go to the religious leaders, they may say, “he’s a drunkard and a fornicator” as they did our Lord. Instead, what does the unbelieving neighbor across the fence say about them?

We should all put down any gossip or misinformation we hear in this process (Prov 16:28). Don’t listen to hearsay. If you can, go to the person directly (Matt 18:15-19). If you can’t, speak with those who know them. If you can’t do that, then read their book(s) or blog for yourself. Pray and ask the Lord for discernment.

Remember that many distortions and lies were told about Jesus and the early church. Imagine hearing “eat my flesh and drink my blood” out of context. That can (and did) start some nasty rumors. It was troubling enough to Jesus’ original audience.

So, don’t just get ticked off and leave the scene. Ask questions. Seek understanding. Get clarity before jumping to conclusions about another brother and sister in Christ. Always think the best and believe the best about another person. That’s how love works.

Look at it this way… you may not simply be rejecting a troublemaker, you may actually be opposing the Lord himself. If they are a believer, you’re doing just that. And if they’re an unbeliever, you should be heaping hot coals and giving cold water in Jesus’ name, not being hateful and ugly to those you deem to be a theological threat.

Confession, behavior, and community. All of these must be considered together. None of these questions should be considered apart from the others. Do they all check out? If so, embrace them in the Lord.

So What Is Heresy?

What should be considered “heresy” in the church?

While there may be some unsettling notions that challenge some of our core theological ideas, I believe we can set up a clear boundary around what should be recognized as real heresy.

Heresies are those doctrines and teachings that undermine the person and work of Christ. Real heresies contradict the testimony about Jesus that has been handed down to us by the apostles. 

Real heresies strip the incarnate Christ of his elevated position of God’s highest honor (Phil 2:6-11). Christ is the exact representation of God’s being (Heb 1:3). He himself is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by him (Jn 14:6). He is the only mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). He is the divine Word made in human flesh (Jn 1:1-14).

Anyone who denies the earliest and most reliable testimony of the person and work of Jesus should be considered a false teacher propagating doctrines of demons. These teachings are meant to deceive and lead others astray. Both the NT and the early church testify to this.

No doubt, some have unknowingly been a conduit for this demonic activity. But unfortunately, many conservative evangelical Christians have broadened “heresy” and false teachers to include anyone that questions what they deem “historical” orthodox Christianity. I have found that it’s usually a critique of Western Christianity that gets you labeled a heretic these days.

But this isn’t heresy according to the NT.

For example, some believe that those claiming that Genesis 1-2 is an ancient pre-scientific cosmology (not to be read literally) are heretics. It wouldn’t be the first time. They did it to Copernicus and Galileo. Of course, now you will be considered an idiot if you don’t believe in heliocentrism. Think about it. Our history of over-reacting really needs to stop with this generation.

The gatekeepers may say it’s mere novelty that drives an emerging evangelicalism. But they need to humble themselves and remember that some things which appear new to them, others have found to be old forgotten teachings and traditions of the church. And then leave room for legitimate insights into faith, science, and biblical theology.

Remain Humble, Teachable, and Loving

Finally, let’s return to the verse we began with in the first installment.

The “teaching that you have learned” (Rom 16:17) could be used to mean what some people first learned in their 8th grade Sunday School class with Mrs. Jones. I’m sure old lady Jones may have been a godly woman who loved the Lord, but neither she nor your pastor is the final arbiter of truth.

Truth is discovered in communion with Christ and the church—even those members of the church that make us uncomfortable.

This often means that our knowledge of the truth will need to be revised and expanded after many seasons of Christian growth. The truth doesn’t change, but our perceptions of the truth will in due season.

The interpretation of Romans 16:17 that allows you to defend everything you’ve ever been taught by your mom, your denomination, your favorite pastor, and John Calvin… just isn’t what the apostles had in mind.

The apostles were referring to those things that have been clearly taught about the person and work of Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must remain humble. I surmise that there is much about my own theology that falls short of God’s glory. If I knew what needed to be corrected, I would (on most days) gladly do it.

Can you say the same?

Walk in the light you have. Remain humble, teachable, and loving.

Are you getting all of your life from the living Christ, or from all of your theological opinions? Do we share Christ together? If so, all that is left is love. Without it we’re just making noise. It doesn’t even matter who is right or wrong when love is lost (1 Cor 13).

Hear the words of Jesus…

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.  Jesus, John 13:34-35 (MSG)

Love and teach the truth. And leave the heretics to Jesus.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up? Part I

Many evangelicals are drunk on the spirit of the political age. We are often guilty of joining with the crowd that is fear mongering, demonizing people that disagree with us, and misrepresenting the positions of others in the process. We jump to conclusions and often assume the very worst about people, even those in the church.

This is hardly reflective of the suffering servant from Nazareth.

Unfortunately, many evangelical pastors and teachers have become spiritual demagogues for their own ministries, denominations, and causes. Just how bad is it? Well, some believe that ecumenicism is the work of devil worshipping liberals, yet legalism and spiritual narcissism is accepted as the true work of God. I think it’s satanic at the core.

I don’t know how else to put it. It’s evil masked as piety. It’s Pharisaism posing as God’s righteousness.

Ironically, mis-information is rampant in this great age of mass-information. While we have more access to learning than ever before in the history of the world, we’re actually getting dumber it seems.

What is happening? I think it has something to do with our inability to think critically and discern truth from error in a flood of ideas that challenge us, even causing us to doubt our faith.

We feel the world is threatening us so we retreat into an anti-intellectual spirituality, dig our heels into what we believe to be true, and speak loudly to all those who challenge our worldview.

This prompts some folks to believe everything coming from sensationalist media, and from their leaders who they have allowed to think for them. Can we do anything to correct this problem?

I think so. But first we’re going to have to address this judgmental spirit at work among us.

You Godless Liberal!

Let’s start with a verse that’s often proof-texted as “biblical” support for furthering your own personal agenda and pet doctrines. There are many others, but I’ll just address this one.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.  Romans 16:17 (NIV)

I don’t agree with the way this verse and several others from Paul have been used by many evangelical pastors and teachers to condemn others in the Body of Christ as false teachers and heretics (e.g. 1 Tim 1:3; 2 Tim 2:14-16, 2 Pet 2:1-3, etc). Let me tell you why.

The fact of the matter is that Rom 16:17 can be used and has been used to oppose anyone who believes or teaches anything we’ve never heard of or don’t agree with—which is often called “liberal” by those who feel it threatens the foundations of their faith.

What I have found is that most of these folks simply haven’t been exposed to anything other than what their denomination or tradition has taught them to believe, or they have been taught to shun everything that the “gatekeepers” of orthodoxy have told them to shun.

Of course they may just haven’t learned to think for themselves. If that’s not it, they may have the spirit of the heresy hunter.

What kind of person qualifies as a heresy hunter?

If you have a heightened sensitivity to anything that makes you theologically uncomfortable and compels you to hunt down and destroy all who you perceive to be theological terrorists, then you might be a heresy hunter.

I have done it. And I’ve had it done to me. It’s no fun.

It’s this sort of reaction by fundamentalist thinkers who are perpetuating division and causing quarrels in the church today. It’s not people like Rob Bell, Peter Enns, or the “open” scary-theist Greg Boyd that are the real source of division. It’s those who have verbally lynched them.

And while I don’t always agree with the seemingly forever-emerging Brian McLaren, I don’t even see him as a “threat” to our faith. No matter how much your pulpit-pounding preacher says these things with conviction, as we say in Texas, they just ain’t so.

The Gallows of Social Networking

The time it once took for papal bulls, church edicts, and the Baptist Standard to be sent out and circulated, in order to condemn so-called heretics, has now been expedited to the speed of Twitter and Facebook.

Exhibit A: John Piper’s tweet “Farewell, Rob Bell” in response to Bell’s book Love Wins—which sparked debate and an outcry by many evangelicals against our brother, Rob.

In the end, Piper’s tweet only helped Rob publish more books. It was quite the marketing strategy. But it also proved just how unloving and reactionary some have become in the church.

I know something similar has happened to my good friend, Frank Viola. His book, Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices (co-authored with George Barna), was the most despised book never read.

And just recently we have seen a backlash against missional church leader Alan Hirsch because of his book, The Permanent Revolution.

We don’t need to burn folks at the stake anymore… we have social networking.

What in tarnation is going on? Is this the Body of Christ? It’s time we rethink our use of social networking, and think about the serious consequences of posting everything we think or feel before having time to process things and respond in a way that honors the Lord.

I know that my record is not flawless in this area, but I’m determined to be more responsible with how I challenge others to think and respond to our neighbors and our enemies. I believe in being intentionally provocative, but there’s no excuse for ugliness in Jesus’ name.

Misjudging People as Heretics

Before we look at what the NT actually says about how to spot false teachers and heretics, let’s first look at a few faulty assumptions made about them in the church today.

Assumption #1: Anyone causing division might be a heretic.

Many Christians think that anyone bringing a teaching that causes division in the church is a sign of heresy or a false teacher at work. That could be the case, but usually it isn’t. It’s important to remember that all of the prophets, including Jesus and the apostles, caused division with their teachings.

Jesus was almost thrown off a cliff in his hometown! Religious folks were always plotting to kill him. In fact, Jesus’ own family thought he had lost his mind and was only stirring up trouble (Mk 3:20-21).

Look at the apostle Paul. Paul brought division in the Jerusalem church over the requirements (or lack thereof) for Gentiles becoming Christians. And some Jewish “super apostles” never gave up trying to undermine his Gentile ministry while he was alive (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11).

It seems clear to me that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was the heresy hunters who opposed him at every turn (2 Cor 12:7). Notice that he mentions the thorn in the context of these zealous Judaizers. So, division isn’t always a sign of a false teacher. Take it from Jesus and Paul.

Instead, the problem of division that we have today is mainly caused by heresy hunters and those screaming “witch” or “liberal” at every book published that doesn’t line up with their own theological opinions.

Assumption #2: Anyone who doesn’t agree with my favorite Bible teacher is probably a heretic.

“Well, you can believe what you want, but John MacArthur thinks you’re a heretic.” While I haven’t actually had someone say these exact words to my face, it has been insinuated many times over.

Just plug in the name of your favorite teacher and you get the gist of what I’m saying. “John Piper says…” or “Matt Chandler says…” or “My mamma says…” We should never think that any pastor, teacher, or family member has the cutting edge on truth. Never ever.

Of course there is rarely any consistency with those who herald one man, or a group of like-minded men, as the dispenser(s) of truth—which creates an unhealthy commitment to them, and causes us to look suspiciously at others who don’t fit in our group.

I once reminded someone that John MacArthur, whom they believed was a defender of orthodoxy, didn’t believe in telling people to “tithe” the OT temple tax. Needless to say, they didn’t take that too well since they adamantly believed that God would not bless you unless you gave 10% to the church—a teaching not found anywhere in the NT or practiced in the early church. (See 2 Corinthians 9 for NT-styled giving.)

And I’ll never forget hearing Ravi Zacharias bash Brian McLaren’s book The Secret Message of Jesus on a panel of conservative preachers (including Al Mohler) expressing their disdain for the emerging/emergent church. Zacharias admitted that he had not read the book personally. He merely criticized the book because of its title.

John Piper has done this sort of thing too.

Since I had read the book, I knew that McLaren was referring to what is known as the “Messianic Secret” among scholars. I have heard the same message in McLaren’s book preached in pulpits everywhere.

Clearly we are guilty of throwing people under the bus before giving them a fair trial. Who does that sound like? Ever heard of the Sanhedrin?

So, just because your favorite Bible teacher or someone you greatly admire believes something doesn’t necessarily make it so. Go to the source, consider the word of other Christian leaders, and think for yourself. Nobody has all perfect wisdom and knowledge except for the Lord Jesus.

Assumption #3: Those who disagree with the majority of pastors, scholars, and teachers are heretics of the worst kind.

This last assumption I would like to address may be the most common. On the surface this charge appears reasonable. However, we need to seriously consider whether or not judging truth based on the “majority” is more American and democratic than it is biblical.

When I was in college I remember regularly listening to a Christian radio program on the way to school. One day I heard them say that Hank Hanegraaff would no longer be played on their radio station because he disagreed with pre-tribulation rapture theology. The host said, “We just refuse to believe that Hank is right and everyone else (conservative preachers) is wrong.”

You guessed it. I never listened to that radio station again.

That’s terrible reasoning. Mainstream biblical scholarship rejects Left Behind eschatology, but who really cares when the majority of our favorite teachers say something different. Seriously?

There are tons of biblical examples that overturn this sort of reasoning. In Noah’s day the majority would soon take their chances with sin and rebellion than listen to news of a great coming flood.

The majority at Sodom and Gomorrah chose to ignore the outstretched arm of Yahweh to save them from their sins of greed, idolatry, and sexual immorality (Gen 19). Want to join the Sodom majority?

I’d say a lot of American Christians are committing the real sins of Sodom (see Ezek 16:47-49). So much for singling out homosexuality as the most detestable sin on the planet.

Jeremiah preached for 40 years without a single convert! All of the people believed the rest of the king’s prophets, not Jeremiah. They threw the lone voice in a dungeon, saying that he was a false prophet and a heretic.

In fact, most of the prophets were eccentric loners who were perceived as rabble-rousers and disturbers of the peace. They rattled the cages of the religious elite, and it ticked them off.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.  Jesus, Matt 23:37

Do you really want to believe the majority? The majority killed Christ. They distorted his message, they trapped him, and they brutally murdered him. Jesus challenged their safe, traditional interpretations of Scripture and their way of life, and they crucified him for it.

Follow the Lord, not the majority. The majority is not always right.

Who are the real heretics and who are true teachers of the Lord? In the next post (Part II) I will outline what I believe to be the criteria for discerning false teachers from faithful followers of Christ.

Can you think of other faulty assumptions people make when discerning truth from error? What do you make of the name-calling and finger pointing in the church today? What can we do to reverse this satanic practice of judging others in the Body of Christ?

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


Organic Church Life: Doctrinal Issues

How do you treat doctrinal concerns in an organic house church? The following was initially written in response to someone inquiring about the doctrine of the Trinity.

Q: A person in your group denies the Trinity. How do you respond?

That’s a great question and one to work through slowly in prayer.

There have been situations that we have known in experience and through the stories of others who are further along in the journey. It is so very important to wait upon the Lord and seek his patient heart.

Every situation is different and I don’t believe there are uniform answers for the problems that may arise in a local ekklesia.

First, let me give a preliminary note about dealing with doctrinal differences. This question about the Trinity really calls for a careful response over handling doctrine in general.

If any person comes into the fellowship and begins sharing or teaching something that the group feels is biblically unfounded or a bit speculative, everyone should feel free to express their concern to this person in an appropriate time and manner.

In a gentle and respectful way, with the Lord’s heart, there should be an open discussion in an atmosphere of freedom.

This might be something that the entire fellowship discusses together. Depending on the person and the situation it might be something best left in discussion with the brothers only, or even the eldest among you.

However the fellowship decides to handle their own unique situation, the church should always move forward in love toward one another.

I do want to be clear about this. Everyone in your group comes from a different place. There will be theological differences.

If the nature of your association is built upon every piece of doctrine you think is important, you will see these differences as a threat.

If you’re not getting all your life from Jesus, you can count on there being division among you because of these differences.

Differences in theological opinions and biblical interpretation can be a very healthy and edifying thing. I don’t think these differences are serious concerns, unless a person is doing any of the following:

  1. challenging the biblical presentation of the person and work of Christ;
  2. relentlessly pressing their doctrinal position on others; or
  3. purposely being divisive with their theological opinions.

If you are meeting in an organic church, which means your smaller meetings are probably open, you do not have to worry about someone pulpiteering and leading everyone to the gates of hell. Everyone is encouraged to think on his or her own and intentionally enter into discussion.

We must lose the attitude of fear and distrust—where we are always suspicious of one another.

There is an elder brother I know who told me of a situation in their fellowship a few years ago. Another brother came in with a doctrinal / missional agenda and he was very adamant about it.

Eventually the brothers agreed that they would set a time aside for him to share his views that he felt so passionate about. It would then be left to the whole church to decide if they agreed with him and wanted to move in the direction he was proposing.

No matter what their decision, they agreed to hear him out and drop it after he shared. So he shared and they listened. The church expressed that they did not desire to accept his views. They lovingly rejected his beliefs which they felt moved them away from Christ and the man never came back.

At no time was frustration or anger expressed to this person. They reached a consensus and agreed with one another in the Lord.

The Lord has his own way of pruning his church that doesn’t involve a trial or hearing.

It’s unfortunate that we often don’t trust the Lord to express himself in the Body this way. In organized Christianity it is usually left to a few men to guide and “protect” the flock by meeting in secret with those who are perceived to be a threat to the spiritual life of the church.

I certainly agree that there are shepherds/elders and teachers that need to pastor. The actions of these members will be a tremendous help to the Body during this time, but we must believe that the Lord’s people are able to discern the Lord’s heart in community with each other.

I believe it is the example of those shepherds that help the flock to discern the Lord’s heart if there be any confusion. You do this by meeting around Christ and the Scriptures together—prayerfully seeking the Lord’s heart on the matter and not being ruled by your emotions.

We should not be alarmed by theological differences.

Like the example I have shared above. I believe some of the members knew the Lord well enough to discern truth, and those who were unsure leaned upon the discernment of the elders who have proven themselves over time to be people of sound heart and mind.

I do think there are some beliefs that are clearly peripheral and the church should spend little to no time discussing them. However, I don’t think it’s all so cut and dry. There are plenty of spiritual and biblical insights that are truly edifying. It is not wrong to set aside time for Bible study.

The church should not run from theological inquiry and biblical discussions, but welcome them when the need arises.

The church should not mistakenly think that there is no room for deep biblical discussion. The Beareans understood the benefits of finding Christ in biblical exploration (Acts 17:11). This sort of thing can be a wonderful building project! It all depends on your center.

Jesus did not condemn the Scriptures, he rebuked those who abused it through careless interpretation and poor handling of the biblical text (John 5:39-40). Our biblical exploration should lead us to Christ. It ought to benefit us in our knowing of him and our learning to do his kingdom work.

It’s unfortunate that many folks who have received a fresh revelation of Jesus have concluded that we are no longer in need of discussions about the Scriptures. They have set Christ up against the biblical text. I’m sure that we have all seen both extremes.

We may make some mistakes in dealing with these issues, but I do believe that as long as you move forward in the love of Christ, the Lord will honor the efforts of the church.

Then there are other beliefs that we would consider essential to our faith in Christ. It is upon the essentials that we must all agree.

Q: Is the doctrine of the Trinity essential?

This may seem a bit fuzzy at times, but I do believe that there is a standard by which we judge what is essential. What we say about who Jesus is matters most. We can disagree about many things, but this one thing we must land firmly on both feet together as a church (1 John 2:22; 4:1-6).

It’s only matters of faith which are directly connected to the person and work of Christ that are essential.

Every confession in the New Testament and in the early church reflects a basic recognition of Jesus of Nazareth as the unique Son of God who was born of a virgin, crucified, buried, and raised (1 Cor. 15:3-5).

What is necessary for belief in Jesus (salvation)? I remember a professor asking this once. I remember him asking something like, “Is it necessary to believe in the virgin birth?” Likewise, we could ask if it is necessary to believe that God is Triune in nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

I understand that a person may genuinely come to Christ without a full theological and biblical knowledge of God in Christ. However, regardless of what they may or may not be aware of at their receiving of Jesus, they are indeed receiving the God that became a human being and was born of a virgin Mary. They are embracing Jesus (the Son) that is the second person in what was dubbed the “Trinity” by Tertullian in the third century.

What’s really crazy is the little knowledge we do have at our first confession, but the Lord saves us still. That’s the key: It’s the Lord that saves! He sees into a man’s heart. He sees what a man is truly doing with Jesus. We should not be quick to judge.

I don’t think a denial of the Trinity is necessarily a denial of Christ. It could be the case, but only the Lord knows the reasons.

I do agree that many things unravel at the decimation of the doctrine on the Trinity. It presents a lot of problems on many levels, but this still doesn’t require a frantic move to straighten that person out or form a lynch mob.

My inclination would be to go to the root and see if this person is confessing the same Spirit. What do they believe about Christ? It may just be that their ideas about the Triune God are only muddled in their understanding of the God who is three in one.

Remember, the doctrine of the Trinity may just be the most mysterious of all Christian doctrines. It’s not irrational, it’s just mysterious. It doesn’t go against reason, it simply goes beyond it. So, tread softly.

In closing, relax a little. Get to know the people in your church and learn to listen better—be teachable. Humble yourself as you recognize that nobody has arrived. Above all, love each other.

I’m willing to bet that through learning to accept one another you will discover that having theological differences will keep you on your toes. In this way you will be always growing in your faith, learning to love like Christ, and being enriched by the spiritual journey of others.

In the essentials let there be unity–in the peripherals let there be freedom–and in all things, love.

Revised and expanded from a facebook note dated April 2010.

You may also be interested in reading other posts in the Organic Church Life series: The Beginning; The Sunday Gathering; The Lord’s Supper; and Visiting an Organic Church.


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