This has been difficult to compose and write, partly because there are those I know and love as fellow laborers for the Gospel seem to fall into the category of heresy ‘hunters’, but also because I’ve been one and that makes me a recipient of my own ‘letter’.
On an earlier post, I asked the question: “Is heresy ‘hunting’ a proper use of the gift of discernment?” I defined discernment simply as ‘assessing and judging truth from error’. I defined heresy ‘hunting’ as heading into the fields of Christianity with the specific intent of finding all the heresy that might be out there and maybe even ‘bagging’ a few heretics. You are of course welcome to read the entire post.
This post is meant to provide some personal observations concerning the behavior of some (but not all) heresy hunters and to provide a bit of general guidance for dealing with perceived error, false teaching, and those who we feel might be leading us astray. It’s not intended to be taken as especially authoritative, but it does express the heart of an old soldier who has more than a few battle scars.
First, since I didn’t provide an answer to the question posed in the earlier post (“Is heresy ‘hunting’ a proper use of the gift of discernment?”), let me state that I don’t believe that it is. I find no mandate or example of it in scripture. While genuine error and false teaching needs to be discerned, and occasionally names named, I have yet to find a single instance of intentionally hunting down and bagging ‘heretics’.
That being said, here are some observations I’ve made over the last few years while visiting various venues that focus on discernment and/or finding and shooting heretics. I might be wrong, but there seems to be a ‘modus operandi’ at work that pits ‘brother against brother’, undoubtedly to the pleasure of the enemy of our souls. This is how it seems to play out.
Step 1. There is a ‘perception’ of possible error being taught by a current pastor/teacher/minister. . .whomever. While the perception of doctrinal error could lead to diligently searching the Scriptures and applying the ‘Berean’ principle, for the dedicated heresy hunter, often that investigation is merely cursory because after all, there is a possible/probable heretic right between the front ‘sight posts’!
Step 2. Confirmation of the ‘target heretic’ is sought by seeking out anyone, anywhere, who will share the same ‘misgivings’ concerning the prey. After all, wherever two or three heresy hunters (HHs) agree, the ‘target’ is soon to be ‘dead meat’.
Step 3. Other potential targets are identified by good ‘intelligence’ in finding other pastors/teachers/ministers. . .whomevers who associate with the initial confirmed ‘kill’, and who seem to agree with the heretical doctrine under scrutiny, or have not themselves spotted and condemned Pastor Dead Meat. When two or three HHs agree (and they will), these potential targets are also confirmed, shot, killed, and maybe even stuffed and hung in the den.
Step 4. Since there is undoubtedly a ‘heretical movement’ spreading across the land, and possibly a vast conspiracy afoot, further intelligence is gathered to identify and name the movement, find it’s ‘roots’, and activate the HHN (Heresy Hunting Network) to broadcast these additional ‘findings’ far and wide, by whatever means available, thereby driving up the heretic ‘body count’.
I’ll be the first to admit that there are elements of truth in the above ‘steps to bagging heretics’. Heresy is alive and well in the church, and within certain movements that have replaced the gospel that Christ died for our sins to one of ‘Christ died for our best lives now’. What concerns me is that there is a small group of HH’s out there, and their followers, who seem focused on the hunting down, shooting, and mounting of ‘heretics’, and not at all focused on trying to find out what all these ‘heretics’ are really saying.
In a way, they remind me of the little old ladies who love to gossip over the backyard fence and find fault with everyone else on the ‘block’.
Where there has been conversation between the ‘hunters’ and the ‘hunted’, I’ve found that the ‘heretics’ have engaged in thoughtful gracious dialogue, while the HH’s for the most part have been accusatory, very ungracious, have even engaged in name calling, and otherwise embarrassed themselves.
Having gotten all that off my chest, I am reminded from scripture of a couple of relevant bits of counsel. The first concerns our ‘mindset’ as Christians – what it ought to be:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8 ESV)
Not that we aren’t supposed to expose error, but we’re also to focus on that which is ‘all of the above’. I think Paul is an excellent example of that principle in his manner of bringing correction to some of the early churches. It might also be appropriate to remember that Paul’s curriculum vitae as a ‘called’ Apostle. Just because he ‘named names’ doesn’t necessarily translate to some sort of carte blanche for us to behave similarly, as some have claimed.
The second bit of counsel comes from something Paul had to say to believers in the Galatian church:
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” (Galatians 6:1-5 ESV)
Paul might not have had HH’s in mind when he penned that advice, but the principles therein certainly apply to the topic at hand. Enough said.
Lastly, remember the Great Commission:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
I leave the reader with one question:
Where exactly in the command to ‘make disciples’ do we find heresy ‘hunting’?