On heretics and core doctrine

A little announcement of intent: my current plan is to work my way through a statement of faith, fleshing out various doctrinal positions so that I have a written and accessible record of my beliefs on both core and secondary doctrines. This post is intended as a sort of preface to that series.

Going through 2 Peter right now in the Trial series means that there is lots of talk about false teachers and other heretics. It’s one of those big, scary issues that a lot of people like to ignore or gloss over because it’s so uncomfortable a topic. Almost nobody likes using the word “heretic,” and the ones that do generally like using it a bit too much. It’s a very harsh, very specific term, however – which means it is easy to define. A heretic needs to meet two criteria, and it’s really quite common to see the term used incorrectly when one does not apply. So before I begin to address the ideas of core beliefs or start work on a statement of belief, I’d like to define some terms.

1) A heretic must claim to be a Christian. An atheist is not a heretic. He is an atheist. If you don’t claim to be a musician, I can scarcely hold it against you when you can’t play “Mary Had a Little
Lamb” on the piano.

2) A heretic must reject a core Christian doctrine. Driscoll calls these “primary doctrines,” defined as doctrines that are critical to the Christian faith. If someone denies any of these doctrines, they would be by definition not a Christian. This is in contrast to secondary doctrines, which would be those doctrines on which Christians can disagree while still being united in Christ.

So, what are the core doctrines?

I mentioned in an earlier post that the Nicene Creed was a good way to summarize the core beliefs of Christianity, but sometimes the language of the Creed is a little unclear and disputed. So, let me clearly restate here what I believe to be the core, fundamental doctrines of Christianity:

  1. The Bible is, in its entirety, the verbally inspired and totally infallible Word of God.
  2. Man was created in the image of God, but because of Adam’s original sin is fallen, inherently sinful and rebellious against God, and is unable to remedy this condition.
  3. God is eternal and triune; one God in three persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  4. Jesus, who is fully God, became also fully man (without ceasing to be God), was born of the virgin Mary, led a sinless life, died a substitutionary death for mankind, physically rising from the dead three days later, and then ascending into heaven, where he still is, and he will return again one day to judge the living and the dead alike.
  5. Salvation is obtained only by grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and is not effected by nor enhanced by any works which we do.

I believe these are a good summary of the essential doctrines of Christian faith; I will expand more on them later, but know that in future post, when I refer to “core doctrines,” these are the doctrines I speak of.


So I’ve been listening to Mark Driscoll’s Trial series and we’re in 2 Peter now. I was really struck by the message today. Peter opens his letter with a simple statement, but one that is really quite profound:

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ…

The key phrase here that I love is “obtained a faith of equal standing as ours.”  It’s so obvious, but so awesome – we have, purely by grace, obtained a faith as excellent and powerful as that of the apostles and Peter himself. Equal standing! These are the men handpicked by Jesus to follow him around for years, learning at his feet. Peter, in particular, is one of the three closest to Jesus, and ultimately the leader – he got to meet Moses and Elijah at the Mount of Transfiguration, to preach the gospel at Pentacost, and write books of the Bible before ultimately giving  his life for Christ – and he says we have a faith of equal standing to his own.

Your first reaction should be, “How?”

We obviously haven’t had the opportunities he had. We haven’t made the sacrifices he did. We, on good days, read the Bible – he wrote some of it. So how is our faith even in the same ballpark as his, much less completely equal?

Because it isn’t our own faith.

Let me repeat that, because it’s a big one:

It isn’t our own faith. It’s Jesus’ faith.

There’s an astonishing doctrine called “justification” that a lot of people kind of gloss over as they’re studying the Bible. Justification is the act of making the unjust into that which is just. This is something that sounds simple, but think about how this would look in a day-to-day example: imagine a judge trying a man for murder, and the jury finding him guilty after monumental evidence is brought against him. The judge hears the guilty verdict, then turns to the man and says “you are innocent, and free to go.” If a judge were to do such a thing, he would lose his seat! But that is exactly what God has done for us.

But how can a just God allow that which is unholy, which is sinful and abhorrent into his presence? If heaven is perfect, then how can we imperfect people get there, regardless of how good or faithful we are? The obvious answer is that we can’t, not on our own. This is where the sacrifice of Jesus comes into play.

The faith we are judged upon is that faith which was given us by Jesus, not our own. His is the only one that is perfect and pure and complete, and not even the apostles could add one iota of worth to that gift. So – do you see now? Regardless of what we do, regardless of who we are or how good or moral we are, we are unable to earn our way even into God’s consideration. It is only by accepting that perfect gift of Christ’s, that which is so far beyond anything we are remotely capable of, that we can stand boldly before the throne of grace and expect anything but eternal damnation.

It’s not you. To think you can add anything to his work is blasphemy. While dying on the cross Jesus cried out that his redemptive work was finished, and who are you to dare say you can add anything more to what God himself said was complete?

That’s justification. We’re all in the same ballpark because that’s where Jesus put us all there. Peter didn’t deserve it any more than you do. Knowing that, how can you not be overcome with hope? With joy? With a complete and total sense of unworthiness and thankfulness?

This is the God we serve, people. How awesome he is!

The most terrifying verses in the Bible

Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

This passage has caused me more fear and self doubt than any other in Scripture, because it tells the story of people who have heard the word and done the deeds and seem genuinely shocked when Jesus rejects them at the seat of judgment. These people sure sound sure of their salvation when they are begging Jesus to reconsider, and the possibility that you could be so sure and have borne what seems to be such good fruit and still not make it is a very scary thought.

I have yet to find an interpretation of the passage that I am confident in and can endorse, so I will instead list my questions and thoughts and see if any of my readers have any ideas. Growing up, I was taught that this passage referred to people who simply claimed to be Christians but never repented and never showed any fruit, being unregenerate because they have never actually been saved. My teachers said that these were the hearers of the Word, but not the doers – those who came to church as kids or who had learned all about the Bible but never believed, never let it change them because they never turned over control of their lives to God. It kind of felt like being told there was a monster in your closet ready to eat you if you disobeyed your parents.

I don’t think that it’s a correct interpretation. Here’s why. Continue reading The most terrifying verses in the Bible