How Did the Early Church Handle Heresy?

How Did the Early Church Handle Heresy?

  • Alister McGrath Head of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture at King’s College, London
  • 2017 21 Jun

The following is a transcribed Video Q&A, so the text may not read like an edited article would. Scroll to the bottom to view this video in its entirety. 

The true story is simply the early church was trying to work out the best way of summarizing what the Scripture said. And it trialed out a number of possibilities. And this period of trial took a number of generations, sometimes two generations. And sure, some ideas were trialed and they didn’t work, so they were discarded. That’s not about suppressing. That is just saying, “look this isn’t any good”. It is about discernment. And what the early church did was to say, “We are under obligation to give the best account of what we find in Scripture, it is very important we are going to do this properly.” And what they have handed down to us is not Scripture itself but a way of making sense of Scripture that can still be helpful for us today. We need to remember that we are not the first guys to read Scripture and we can be helped by those who have been there before who say, “we’ve found this helpful and maybe it will help you as well.”

Definition of Heresy

According to dictionary.com, the following is a breakdown of the common definition of "heresy":

  1. opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system.
  2. the maintaining of such an opinion or doctrine.
  3. the willful and persistent rejection of any article of faith by a baptized member of the church.
  4. any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.

Meaning of Heresy

  • Heresy is not the same as error.
  • Heresy is the choice to abandon the widely accepted teaching on an essential doctrine and embrace one’s own view.
  • Heresy is to “preach another gospel”, as Paul stated in Galatians 1:9: "As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."
  • Technically speaking something is not a heresy just because the church deemed it so. It is heretical because it is a teaching which has abandoned the “pattern of sound teaching”.

Excerpt from What Is Heresy? Bible Meaning and 4 Examples Alive Today

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