The liberal revolution has smashed tradition and authority. Throughout our nation the children are running amok. We need the fathers to step in and reestablish order.
The church is polluted by heresy like never before. Never before have heresies been so varied, so popular, and so powerful. These are not the “classical” heresies such as Arianism or Pelagianism, although these beliefs still have influence. Today’s popular heresies were created no more than a hundred years ago and they have no official heretical status. It’s time officially to stigmatize them as the dangerous heresies that they are.
We’ll define some of these heresies later but observe first that heretics such as Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland and Rob Bell are—from a worldly viewpoint—highly successful and influential. The smog they generate is polluting not only the church, but the cultures of entire nations. Although these heresies all originated in the United States, and within Protestantism, America’s powerful worldwide influence has spread them to all corners of the globe.
Therefore Catholics and the Orthodox should take note: the cultural smog emitted by the contemporary heretics affects you too. Heresy is an ecumenical menace.
And non-Christians should also take note. The contemporary heresies promise this-worldly peace and prosperity and Christians under their influence will not oppose the liberal jihad ravaging Western Civilization. They may even join it, seeking peace with the world so they can enjoy their lives. Heretical pseudo-Christianity is part of the problem, not the solution. By opposing these heresies we don’t just build up Christendom. We also oppose liberalism and help work toward a sane, traditionalist society.
These heresies originated within Protestantism and although it currently has no authorities that seem capable of enforcing a proper order (and this is apparently also true of Catholicism), Protestantism generally recognizes the authority of the Bible. There are pastors and teachers who would command widespread respect were they to issue an unambiguous statement, based on the authority of the Bible, opposing contemporary heresies.
We therefore put forward the idea of an ecumenical council of leaders of biblically-faithful Protestant congregations, denominations, and seminaries which would craft an official response to contemporary heresy. Such a council would have no power actually to defrock heretical pastors, but its unofficial influence could potentially be great. Heretics would be taken aback, and Bible-believing Christians would have an official response from the fathers of Protestantism giving them comfort and support in their battles with heresy.
We already hear the protestations of the skeptics saying that churches and denominations will never come to agreement. But while there is much disagreement among Bible-believing Protestants, theologically conservative Calvinists, Lutherans, Anglican / Episcopalians, Baptists, Methodists, and so on agree on the basic nature and importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And all of the heresies to which this essay refers threaten the gospel, not through philosophical or theological subtlety, but by redefining the faith. There is therefore a good chance that Bible-believing Protestantism can achieve unity about the threat of contemporary heresy.
The only intra-Protestant conflict that could possibly derail the council is the Calvinist-Arminian dispute. But this dispute does not actually pit Reformed and Presbyterian churches against everybody else. Indeed, the “Calvinism” that opposes Arminianism is also widespread within Lutheran, Anglican / Episcopal and Baptist churches, and even other, historically non-Calvinistic denominations such as Methodism and the Assemblies of God. The Calvinist-Arminian dispute has to do with the ultimate cause of an individual’s salvation but even Arminian Christians can agree with their Calvinist brothers that the heresies discussed here are a menace to the gospel. A council to oppose contemporary heresy has a good chance of success.
So what are the contemporary heresies to which we refer? Heresy hunters face a target-rich environment, but any list of important contemporary heresies must include the following. And observe that none of them have official designations, largely because the church has never drafted formal denunciation of them.
Warrenism. This is the “purpose-driven” or “seeker-sensitive” movement that was not invented by Rick Warren but was defined most clearly and given its greatest impetus by him. The basic error of the seeker-sensitive movement is to use business practices to sell a religious product that outwardly resembles Christianity but is not actually the faith delivered by Christ and the Apostles. The seeker-sensitive movement presents Christianity as a means of life enhancement rather than forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. Seeker-sensitive evangelical churches do not openly deny the basic teachings of Christ. But they fail to teach most of them, and they covertly deny the gospel by presenting Christianity as a religious product designed for maximum popular appeal.
The victim of seeker-sensitive preaching comes to believe that Christianity is about making his life better so he never hears the gospel and never comes to faith in Christ.
[Warrenism may be the only heresy originally aimed at clergy. It promised pastors larger congregations, and therefore more money and worldly glory, if they would adopt Warren’s methods of “doing church.” But the product sold to pastors necessarily involved a changed Christian message and new methods of living the Christian life. Warren became, in effect, a business coach, teaching pastors / entrepreneurs to create a new product to sell to religious consumers.]
Narcissistic eisegesis. Exegesis is correctly explaining the meaning and implications of a text. It is reading the meaning out of a text. (“Ex” means “from” or “out of.”) Eisegesis is to read a foreign meaning into a text. (“Eis” means “into.”) And narcissistic eisegesis, nicknamed “narcigesis” by Christian internet radio host and Lutheran pastor Chris Rosebrough, is to read yourself into a biblical text, in effect making the Bible about you instead of Christ. The classic example of “narcigesis,” one repeated constantly in evangelical churches, has the pastor read the biblical account of David defeating Goliath. The pastor then explains to his congregation that this text shows us how to defeat the Goliaths in our lives.
In truth, as Christ himself taught on two occasions mentioned in the New Testament, all Scripture is about him. As the fathers taught from the beginning of the church, the primary purpose of the account of David and Goliath is to show us how God acted to preserve his people. It also shows us a “type and shadow” of Christ. David defeating Goliath is a type and a shadow of his more illustrious descendant, Jesus Christ, defeating sin, death and the Devil.
A diet of preaching rich in narcigesis conditions the Christian to take his eyes of his Savior. He therefore does not have faith in Christ.
The Word-of-Faith movement, also called the Prosperity Gospel. This movement, which started among Pentecostals but has come to infect much of evangelicalism, holds (without saying it openly) that man can be a kind of god and that the real God is limited in his power. Its most infamous doctrine teaches that words are containers of a spiritual force called “faith,” that God achieves his works of power by successfully using words, and that man can achieve similar results. Instead trusting in Christ for salvation, the victim of word-of-faith teaching comes to trust in himself. And when the WOF movement’s grandiose claims that you can have spiritual power don’t pan out, the parishioner often becomes disillusioned with Christianity and gives up whatever faith in Christ he once had.
The Emergent Church. This is postmodernism applied to Christianity. Since postmodernism’s essence is radical doubt, the opposite of faith, a postmodernist church is a church of pseudo-Christian doubters. And yet the spirit of the age is radical doubt so the emergent church movement is very popular. Instead of proclaiming the gospel, the emergent church teaches the latest leftist fads, just as the classical theological liberalism began doing a hundred years ago. Emergent Christians have no faith in Christ.
Spiritual laissez faire. This heresy, not to my knowledge previously named, is the common attitude that “doctrine divides; we just want to love Jesus.” This heresy often raises its head when an orthodox Christian points out the errors of a false teacher. Although the Bible teaches that forgiveness of sins comes through faith in Christ, and that faith is trust based on accurate knowledge of Christ’s teachings, and that false teachings and false teachers are to be opposed because they can drag people down to Hell, the doctrine of spiritual laissez faire leads its victims to reject the correction of false teaching. It teaches that Christians only have to “love Jesus,” with “love” not defined except by the implication that it does not mean believing all that Christ and the Apostles taught. The victim of spiritual laissez faire comes to feel secure in only having a vague emotional attachment to Jesus without having the actual faith that alone can lead to forgiveness of his sins.
The common thread uniting all these heresies is the false teacher’s desire to give people what they want rather than Christian truth. These teachings rob people of faith by distracting them from the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Opposing these heresies will not be a matter of supporting Lutheranism against Methodism, or Calvinism against Arminianism, or paedobaptism against credobaptism. Or even Protestantism against Catholicism. Instead, it will be a matter of Christianity against paganism or, more fundamentally, order against disorder.
Catholics and the Orthodox are not the only groups who might regard such a council as an irrelevancy. But insular Protestant denominations should take note: These heresies are poisoning the religious and cultural atmosphere for everyone. Even if your church has no tradition of ecumenical cooperation you should look on this council as an opportunity to dispel some of the religious smog that is poisoning our entire culture, you included.
And conservative Catholics and Orthodox can agree with much of what has been said here. These heresies are damaging all of Christendom. The heretics and their constituents would reject out of hand any rebuke coming from Catholic or Orthodox bodies, so the council would have to be Protestant. But perhaps these bodies can send observers to the council.
In one sense, this council will be different from the previous councils of church history. These heresies do not have to be examined and voted on; they are already known to be heresy. Proving them to be such from Scripture will be easy. The Council’s job will be to define these heresies in clear and memorable ways, give clear Scriptural refutations, and issue a call to action. Its purpose will be to make a formal, official, and widely-heralded statement that will give aid and comfort to Bible-believing Christians as they battle heresy.
There is precedent for a Protestant ecumenical council. The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, active from approximately 1977 to 1989, held three “summit conferences” which attracted participants from a wide range of theologically conservative Protestant denominations and organizations. The first of these summits is the most well-known, producing the widely-cited Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Protestant cooperation against threats to the gospel can happen again.
[Note: Hostile comments attempting to propagate the meme that “Protestantism itself is heresy!” will be deleted.]