Heresy Wins

May 6, 2011

As the “Rally to Restore Unity” wraps up, I have a few final thoughts on Christian unity.

First of all, the name “Restore” Unity is kind of a misnomer, since I can’t remember the last time we had unity to restore.  Kind of like having a “Revival.”  How about just a “Vival?”

My much more important thought for the day is this: we don’t trust God.

No matter how much we say we trust Him, or go to church, or pray, deep down, we have real trust issues with God.  We think He’s asleep at the wheel, or just doesn’t care.

If I had to pick one thing that causes more Christian disunity, that would be it.  Here’s why.


For thousands of years, humans created religions, and virtually every religion was a series of rituals and tasks that had to be done to appease the gods.  Then Jesus came along and said, “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Period.  No “grace…and.” It had never occurred to people that God’s grace would be enough to save humanity.

The funny thing is, Jesus has had no copycats.  No other faith has said God will do the saving since Jesus.  People continue to invent new ways to appease the gods.  And what did Christians do after Jesus left?  They didn’t trust him either.  You can’t even get out of the Bible without someone saying, “Grace…and something else” is the way to salvation.  And for two-thousand years, we’ve been arguing about what the “and” is that makes “real” Christians.

“Grace…and,” causes Christian disunity.


There are still dozens of bloggers picking apart Love Wins, making it their singular mission in life to prove that it’s all false, as if the fate of every person who ever lived rests on their shoulders alone.  The way some people talk about the book, you’d think it was the Necronomicon, straight from the bowels of hell itself (which would be humorously ironic.)

It’s great to discuss and debate things.  But the tone some of the debate has taken makes me wonder if we really trust God to do his job.  God says it’s his job to guard his flock.  It’s God’s job to convict human hearts.  It’s God’s job to illuminate the Bible when we read it.  Yet, church people have always made it their priority to play “whack-a-mole” with heretics for two-thousand years, without much success.

Heresy has always and will always exist.  It exists in your church right now.  Take ten people and ask them ten theological questions, and you’ll get a hundred answers.  Christian community isn’t formed when people all arrive at the same conclusions.  If that’s what it takes, Christian community has never existed.  Community happens as people come together to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.

Playing heretic “whack-a-mole” causes Christian dis-unity.

Is That a Threat?

What’s amazing to me is how threatened we are by unity.  We’re suspicious of it.  We question the motives of people who call for unity.  We think that we’re going to have to “give up” something or let truth be “silenced,” or let heresy “win” in order to be unified.  We’d rather hang out with prostitutes and tax collectors than heretics.

We say that Jesus is bigger than our differences.  But we’re not.

Let me ask you this: if you’re so wise, and you have the truth, why would you break unity with that heretic and keep your truth to yourself?  Shouldn’t you try to continue to build trust and unity with that person, so you can gently guide them to the truth?  Breaking unity with a heretic seems rather un-compassionate. If you want heresy to spread, kick the heretics out of your church.  Loving a heretic as a brother or sister in Christ doesn’t mean you have to hold hands with them and get their heretic cooties, so chill.

Being threatened by unity causes Christian dis-unity.

That wraps it up!  What do you think the biggest unity-killer is among Christians?  Is it “grace…and,” or trying to make sure everyone thinks the same way, or being threatened by unity?  Or is it something else?

30 responses to Heresy Wins

  1. i believe the greatest threat to unity is simply this: disobedience to the teachings of Jesus.

    unity is the Holy Spirit’s task. and all that is required of us in order to have unity is to allow the Spirit to work in us as we are obedient to Christ’s teachings.

    obtaining unity is not our responsibility. it is merely a byproduct. a symptom of a condition we have — that we are disciples of Christ.
    JamesBrett recently posted..5 reasons kjv readers aren’t celebrating

    • Good thoughts, Brett! To tie it into what I said – why do we disobey? I’d say people choose to disobey because they do not trust that God has their best interests at heart, or God’s principles no longer work. It was the reason for the original sin in the garden, as I see it. Adam and Eve didn’t trust God when they were decieved to believe that God was holding out on them something they should have.

  2. Morning, Matt,

    When folks talk about unity, in my experience that means they want me to conform to them.

    No thanks.

    I march to a different oboe player.


    • See? We’re threatened by thoughts of unity (sometimes from experience.) Are you against the people who abuse ideals of unity, or are you against unity altogether? My guess is the first. Oh, and the oboe is the most wonderful instrument ever invented.

      • Hi Matt,

        The only times I have ever seen Christian unity at work have been when Christians of varied backgrounds and denominations band together to accomplish some specific end.

        For instance, during the race riots in D.C. in the ’60s, Christians of every stripe worked together to rescue old folks from burning buildings, feed folks whose neighborhood grocery store had been destroyed, etc. At that time I worked with Presbyterians,Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, Plymouth Brethren, and folks of every stripe. We worked together as one as a team without regard to our brand of Christianity.

        We slept on cement basement floors, faced shooting, knifing and attacks every day, endured scorn and other physical threats–all in a spirit of love, joy and peace. The most united batch of Christians ever to hit the pike.

        We were on a mission from God…

        Or maybe not.

        Now that I look back on it, I wonder if we were united by faith, by the general excitement, by job at hand, or just by the fact that we were young and relief work was a cool way to pick up girls. (Note: Ginny and I met in that environment and we’ve been married 43 years–talk about unity!)

        Since those days I’ve been to meetings on ecumenical affairs, Christian unity, and contract merger discussions about inclusiveness– Weary. Weary. Weary. No wonder Jesus went off into the wilderness for 40 days.
        And Moses stayed in the mountains. And Paul hid out in Arabia for three years…

        We have unity enough to sink the Titanic; what we need for revival is individuals who stand with Jesus no matter what anybody else is doing.

        No group dynamics or huggy fests, just one person who seriously follows Christ with one lone cross. Nails hold us to that cross–that’s unity.

        And thus endeth today’s rant… As my kids used to tease when I’d lecture, “For a tape of today’s message from Dad, sent a dollar, ninety-eight and a box top…” The six of them united against me at an early age!

  3. I am not sure that it is grace and… (geeze, I am not sure how to punctuate a ligature). What Jesus did on the cross is a pure grace, but what we receive from that grace is by pure faith. Therefore; faith is the supernatural recognition of grace. Faith is not belief; even the devils believe.

    Jesus said that the tares and the wheat are growing in the same field and don’t pull them up. (Matt 13) There are folks with wrong theology that will be saved, and others with terribly wrong theology that will not – and those with faith and no theology that will be saved. That means that Rob Bell can get to Heaven, and that in spite of a doctrine that many think is way off, others will too.

    This biggest unity killer is religion based on knowledge with the lack of relationship (like the Pharisees had). That is the real discussion at the well. She continues to pound Jesus with religious questions, and he confronts each one with life. No debate, no arguments, just pure truth backed up by supernatural power (knowledge of her 5 husbands etc.).

    Jesus said that Kingdom is one of power, not talk. The Bible says that the word was preached with signs and wonders following… what is it that we don’t get here? And finally the Bible says that the sheep know his voice, and yet most Christians who claim to have a relationship with Jesus rarely if ever hear from him – many more are not sure.

    Religion is a killer that is taught in churches which makes it even tougher to come to the Living God. Jesus told this to the Pharisees as he called them whitewashed tombs.

    The Gospel is about faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. It is demonstrated with power through healing, revelation and miracles. Religion is about numbers, buildings, conformity, rules, guilt regulation, misplaced authority, all of which leads to death.

    Great discussion, Matt.
    David recently posted..11 Crowns and One Broken Dream

  4. Whack-ah-heretic perhaps? Yeah I was taking a lot of flack on my FB about giving Love Wins a chance and not celebrating the death of Osama. I was even defriended by someone because my questions about Jesus and his grace were rubbing him the wrong way.

    //we don’t trust God.//

    I think that pretty much sums it up. And flowing from that we don’t trust each other in the family of God. We think everyone is out to get us. For example if someone told us they were a Christian but didn’t believe the exact doctrine as us, wouldn’t we normally question if they were a serious Christian? That’s happened to me multiple times and I know I’m guilty of that.

    Also, with the whole Rob Bell thing, people were saying things like, “He is a terrible writer.” So it goes to show me that we confuse talent with character. Talent does not equal character. So we just judge others purely based on the external.

    Don’t get me riled up on a nice Friday Matt! :)
    Charlie Chang recently posted..287 The 3 million dollar sin

  5. I really don’t think that there can be true unity in the sense that we are all going to hold hands and sing kumbaya together!…not untill we are all in heaven anyway….

    BUT…there can be unity in the Gospel…That Jesus the son of God came and Died for our sins and rose again on the 3rd day for our Justification…

    If we can get this right…then I think it’s as best as it is going to get as far as “Unity” is concered….
    Arny recently posted..Osama Bin Ladin is NOT dead

  6. Yes, yes, yes.

    What’s funny is that it’s our sin that keeps us from being unified, yet we mask it with the complete opposite. Like we are SO holy, being in relationship with “them” would cause us to fall into the depths of hell.

    Of course, I heard about this one book called Love Wins where this guy says there’s no Hell anyway, so who knows anymore…

    Tara recently posted..How to Grow a Kid Gods Way restoreunity

  7. Matt, What a great treatment of a great topic and the comments were pretty good,too. My first thought was that the “grace and …” is the biggest problem. It’s one I treat from time to time. But when James Brett added “not following the Holy Spirit” I realized that has been the focus of my ministry for over 40 years and its lack hits not only unity issues, but failure to transform, lack of holiness, perpetual babyhood and so much more. Still every point presented is valid, needs our prayerful thought and calls us to repentance. Thanks Matt.

  8. Jesus didn’t send us out into the world to win arguments – he sent us to win PEOPLE.

    Now if we really DID spend time hanging out with prostitutes and tax-collectors (like the One we’re supposed to be following) instead of getting on a holy high-horse, we might have less time and energy to devote to whacking “heretics”.
    Revsimmy recently posted..AV – why I shall be voting Yes

  9. Grace and . . . seems like the reason a lot of people hated love wins. I think Rob was out-gracing a lot of people and they didn’t like it. Honestly, it made me a little uncomfortable.

    Maybe that is why God has to remind people over and over again in Scripture that he is way more merciful than we are able to comprehend.

  10. I think what causes disunity is lack of love for one another. There are things you and I don’t agree on, and we won’t until we are both in heaven and God Himself straightens us out. But you are still my brother in Christ, and I love you, bro!
    Helen recently posted..My Strength is My Weakness

  11. I think you kind of got to it at the end there:
    “We’d rather hang out with prostitutes and tax collectors than heretics.”

    Perhaps part of the problem is that we are so focused on avoiding the “heretics” and finding good theology (orthodoxy) that we forget we are supposed to be hanging out with the prostitutes and tax collectors to bring them the gospel and help them relieve their burdens (orthopraxy)?

    I read a great term a couple months ago: heresy of orthopraxy. Perhaps by denying the Great Commission, by not properly interacting with the world, we begin over-thinking our beliefs and therefore demanding that everyone else follow our beliefs.
    Daniel M. Klem recently posted..One in Heart and Mind

  12. Well, Matt, as always I appreciate your views and the intelligent way you present them.

    I have issue with this:

    “What’s amazing to me is how threatened we are by unity. We’re suspicious of it. We question the motives of people who call for unity. We think that we’re going to have to “give up” something or let truth be “silenced,” or let heresy “win” in order to be unified. We’d rather hang out with prostitutes and tax collectors than heretics.”

    I don’t think your conclusion there is really supported by what you said prior to it. I have no problem hanging out and talking with people who have positions I believe are heretical in nature but I won’t give in to their positions just to make them happy. When I voice disagreement, then I’m accused of trying to cause divisions, or yelled at that I’m not Jesus so I don’t have all truth, etc.

    Matt, a lot of the people pushing positions that get called heretical are trying to silence their opposition. It’s simply the truth. And that is not bringing unity on any level. Your statement that I quoted seems to put the burden of dealing with others on the people who (for example) feel Bell is a heretic. The division is caused just as much by the people on the other side who trumpet Bell as bringing the truth.
    Jason recently posted..Day 125- Do you know what day it is

    • Good point Jason, and I’m glad you brought that up. Silencing your opposition (whether you are right or wrong in your opinions) doesn’t produce unity. That’s our idea of unity based on politics. Things get done in government when the minority party gives in and compromises. I’m well aware of this phenomenon, and find myself on the political side that I feel has a lot of efforts directed at it to be silenced.

      Because of this, perhaps, many of us are suspicious of any call for unity. You’re obviously not opposed to unity. You’re opposed to how humans so often create unity – by enforcing it. Unity doesn’t mean giving in or being silenced.

  13. Kicking people out of church doesn’t really help anyone at all. I saw this happen to someone I know. He really made a mess of some things. He admitted. He told everyone that he did not feel that he should be part of the church anymore. He asked to resign his membership. Then the church said, no. We won’t let you just resign. We will excommunicate you. We will declare you bound for hell. We will put a scarlet letter on your forehead. It did him no good.
    Jeremy’s Confessions recently posted..The incremental life

    • What? I have never heard of such a thing. First, I’ve never heard of anyone honorably resigning from a church like that. And I’ve never heard of a church reacting like that. Now, honestly, a church has the right to kick someone out who is unrepentant in some destructive behavior (which Paul describes the right way to do so.) Our church had to do it once. We paid the price. A lot of people sided with the unrepentent victimizer. So much for unity!

  14. Questions like this I just don’t know what to think. Like, it’s all “what if”? Sure, it’s obvious to me the only way to get to heaven is to repent and believe but Rob Bell has some good scripture to back up what he believes.

    In my community of less than 2500 people, there are churches everywhere. And yes, the majority of our community does not go to church. I mean, so much money is spent keeping those churches –as beautiful as they are– up and running; paying electricity, heat, etc. What if all those churches morphed into one church? More money could be spent spreading The Word instead of all of it going towards individualism. Does it really matter where we go? If the church is the people and not the building, it shouldn’t. The Bible (I think Paul or John?) says that if the Bible doesn’t specify, than it’s a matter of opinion. Why do we fight what kind of music is played or whether when baptized should be backwards or forwards? The Bible doesn’t specify either and I believe it doesn’t because God isn’t about religion; he’s about relationship. The God of the Old Testament may seem religion, but I think he was misunderstood. As a guy I think of it this way, I pay for dinner when I eat out with my girlfriend. It’s not “religion” or the law, but it’s just something that comes with the relationship. God wanted animal sacrifice and while it may seem religious, I think it had very much to do with relationship.

    On the other hand there is the huge fear of the church being separate from the world. (In the world, not of the world). Where does one draw the line? Do you let gays, drug-dealers, and hookers in? I think yes, we’re all sinners. But if you put a bad apple in a basket with a good one, the bad one doesn’t turn good but the good one turns bad. To many, merging and unity means becoming part of the world because they are accepting sinful things. Becoming “of the world.” On the other hand, if God loves the sinner and hates the sin what’s the big deal? And once again, that is nowhere in the Bible. If Rob Bell is right, why should we worry about merging?

    I haven’t read Bell’s book, but I think it’s more of a “Prove to me you know where they’re going because Opinion A, the more accepted opinion, could be just as right as Opinion B” instead of a “I found some new revelation and we’re all going to heaven.” Does Rob’s book means that even the devil is redeemed? As the Bible says, if the Bible don’t say than it don’t matter. We get so caught in “this is my church” (which insinuates the church is the building), and rules, and “this is how we do things” and rock -n- roll will send you to hell or classical music will send you to hell. I believe the devil can work through music but I think he works best through bickering about opinions that have nothing to do with what the Bible says. The devil doesn’t have to make us sinful, just get out eyes off God.

    This was more of a rant than anything but maybe you have some sort of insight.

  15. Unity is awesome, as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of the Gospel. How I would love for all Christians to truly see each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord, instead of by their specific denominations (or non-denominations). We embrace what we know, and it’s hard to accept others’ differences, I think. If we all examined and knew the word of God and our own hearts, unity would be a little easier to achieve.

    And about Rob Bell…He is giving false hope to people. I cannot think of a worse crime than to tell someone a) there is no hell and b) everyone goes to heaven. We know this is not biblical truth. In fact, this is one area that the VAST majority of Christians find unity: There is a heaven and there is a hell. Rob Bell doesn’t simply believe a doctrine that is a little off. He is teaching thousands (or more) of people that they’re not going to hell, when they very well could be!

    “If sinners be damned at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. Let them go with our arms around their knees. Let no one go there unwarned or unprayed for.” – Charles Spurgeon
    Sarahbeth recently posted..Not Ashamed of the Gospel Part 2

  16. when we accept the gift that we have been given, which is communication with the Holy Sprit of God with our spirit, that is unity.

    when we put “i” and “we” first we turn it into a man made religion, and there is no unity unless it is through Him.
    nance recently posted..mere christianity by csLewis

  17. I’ve been watching The Wire and The Sopranos (yes, I’m a VERY spiritual person!) A common denominator in each is that both the Cosa Nostra and street gangs are bound together by the idea of family. If you are part of the ‘family’ then no matter what they will defend you, protect you, help you succeed, whatever you need. Sometimes, they can’t stand the guy personally, but if you say a bad word against them they’ll come at you like a rabid dog. They certainly don’t agree on everything, they don’t always like each other, but inside the concept of family they have a remarkably strong unity that creates a near unstoppable organization.
    In both cases, the only that breaks that unity is persecution; when the feds throw you in jail and you’re facing 30 to life unless you turn on your family a few, and I mean a VERY few, will turn. If Christians felt the same sort of Unity with our brothers and sisters, we could become as strong a force for good as the gangs are a force for evil.

  18. I like your point about people not trusting God. I would take it a little further and say that many people don’t like the deal that God is giving. EVERYONE has the opportunity to receive grace and deliverance from their sin. That’s the “little” sins and the “big” sins. Liars, cheaters, killers, rapists, homosexuals, adulterers, people who take office supplies from work, people who fudge the numbers on their taxes, gossipers, people who lust, and so on and so on. EVERYONE gets in on the deal.

    It is like the parable of the two debtors that Jesus shared when the “sinful” woman came to wash his feet (Luke 7: 36 – 44). We “good” people get offended that “bad” people get the same offer of grace from God that we get.
    M. Smith recently posted..On a Mission- Rachel in Haiti

  19. Perhaps one of the reasons there is such a vehement attack on Love Wins is because it suggests the pathway to accepting Grace is not necessarily that found in the pat formulas of organised Christianity. This sets up a troubling challenge to the institutional status quo. It’s going to be interesting to see if the last installment of the Narnia chronicles ever gets made, and if it does whether it will include the dialogue between Aslan and Emeth the Calormene.
    Andrew recently posted..Gaga’s Like a Prayer moment

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