The word “heretic” can be flippantly thrown around in Christian circles. Its definition is often reduced to “someone who believes differently than we do”. In its true sense, a heretic is someone who teaches outside of Christian orthodoxy. Which, the umbrella of orthodoxy is rather large. But, as Jesus most often did, let us look at the heart.

Paul & Heretics

Paul references heretics, false doctrines, and evil teachers in his letters. What can we learn about this group of people? Are we like them in any way?

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

1 Timothy 1:3–7, NIV

Perhaps a certain trendy teaching or aspect of our current culture comes to your mind when you read “false doctrines,” “myths,” and “endless genealogies”. However, Paul also paints these things as contrary to our primary goal of love. It seems there is much more to be uncovered here than heretics being simply bad or trendy teachers.

William Barclay’s Teaching on the Minds of Heretics & Christians

To learn more about this, we’ve relied William Barclay’s teaching from the New Daily Study Bible commentaries. Below you’ll find two excerpts: The Mind of Heretics and The Mind of Christians. We hope these will be helpful teachings as you seek to understand what it means to be heretical.

Fun Fact: William Barclay (1907-1978) is known and loved by millions worldwide as one of the greatest Christian teachers of modern times. His insights into the New Testament, combined with his vibrant writing style, have delighted and enlightened readers of all ages for over half a century. He served for most of his life as Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow, and wrote more than fifty books-most of which are still in print today.

The Mind of Heretics

The Mind of Heretics

In this passage, there is a clear picture of the mind of the dangerous heretic. There is a kind of heresy in which people differ from orthodox belief because they have honestly thought things out and cannot agree with it. They do not take any pride in being different; they are different simply because they have to be. Such a heresy does not spoil a person’s character but rather enhances it, because the individual has really thought out a personal faith and is not living on a second-hand orthodoxy. But that is not the kind of heretic whose picture is drawn here. Here, five characteristics of dangerous heretics are distinguished.

(1) They are driven by the desire for novelty.

They are like people who must be part of the latest fashion and the latest craze. Also, they despise old things for no better reason than that they are old, and desire new things for no better reason than that they are new. Christianity always has the problem of presenting old truth in a new way. The truth does not change, but every age must find its own way of presenting it. Every teacher and preacher must speak in language which is easily understood. The old truth and the new presentation must always go hand in hand.

(2) They praise the intellect at the expense of the heart.

Their conception of religion is speculation and not experience. Christianity has never demanded that people should stop thinking for themselves, but it does demand that their thinking should be dominated by a personal experience of Jesus Christ.

(3) They deal in argument instead of action.

They are more interested in obscure discussion than in the effective administration of the household of the faith. And they forget that the truth is not only something to be accepted with the mind but is also something which must be translated into action. Long ago, the distinction between Greeks and Jews was drawn.

The Greeks loved argument for the sake of argument; there was nothing that they liked better than to sit with a group of friends, indulge in a series of mental acrobatics and enjoy ‘the stimulus of a mental hike’. But they were not particularly interested in reaching conclusions or in evolving a principle of action.

The Jews, too, liked argument; but they wanted every argument to end in a decision which demanded action. There is always a danger of heresy when we fall in love with words and forget deeds, for deeds are the acid test by which every argument must be tested.

(4) They are moved by arrogance rather than by humility.

They look down with a certain contempt on people who cannot follow their flights of intellectual speculation. And they regard those who do not share their conclusions as ignorant fools. Christians somehow have to combine an immovable certainty with a gentle humility.

(5) They are guilty of dogmatism without knowledge.

They do not really know what they are talking about nor really understand the significance of the things about which they are so dogmatic. The strange thing about religious argument is that we all think that we have a right to express a dogmatic opinion. In all other fields, we demand that people should have a certain level of knowledge before they lay down the law. But there are those who dogmatize about the Bible and its teaching although they have never even tried to find out what the experts in language and history have said. It may well be that the Christian cause has suffered more from ignorant dogmatism than from anything else.

When we think of the characteristics of those who were troubling the church at Ephesus, we can see that their descendants are still with us.

The Mind of Christian Thinkers

The Mind of Christian Thinkers

AS this passage draws the picture of the thinker who disturbs the Church, it also draws the picture of those who are true Christian thinkers. Again, there are five characteristics.

(1) Their thinking is based on faith.

Faith means taking God at his word; it means believing that he is as Jesus proclaimed him to be. That is to say, Christian thinkers begin from the principle that Jesus Christ has given the full revelation of God.

(2) Their thinking is motivated by love.

Paul’s whole purpose is to produce love. To think in love will always save us from certain things. It will save us from arrogant thinking. And it will save us from contemptuous thinking. It will save us from condemning either that with which we do not agree or that which we do not understand. And it will save us from expressing our views in such a way that we hurt other people. Love saves us from destructive thinking and destructive speaking. To think in love is always to think in sympathy. Those who argue in love argue not to defeat an opponent but to win that opponent over.

(3) Their thinking comes from a pure heart.

Here, the word used is very significant. It is katharos, which originally simply meant clean as opposed to soiled or dirty. Later, it came to have certain more specific uses. It was used of corn that had been winnowed and cleansed of all chaff. It was used of an army which had been purified of all cowardly and undisciplined soldiers until there was nothing left but first-class fighting men. Lastly, it was used of something which was without any contaminating impurity.

So, a pure heart is a heart whose motives are absolutely pure and absolutely unmixed. In the hearts of Christian thinkers, there is no desire to show how clever they are, no desire to win a purely debating victory, no desire to show up the ignorance of opponents. Their only desire is to help and to shed light and to lead others nearer to God. Christian thinkers are moved only by love of truth and love for others.

(4) Their thinking comes from a good conscience.

The Greek word for conscience is suneidēsis. It literally means a knowing with. The real meaning of conscience is a knowing with oneself. To have a good conscience is to be able to look in the face the knowledge which one shares with no one but oneself and not to be ashamed. The American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked of Seneca that he said the loveliest things, if only he had had the right to say them. Christian thinkers are men and women whose thoughts and whose actions give them the right to say what they do – and that is the most acid test of all.

(5) Christian thinkers are men and women of undissembling faith.

The phrase literally means the faith in which there is no hypocrisy. That simply means that the great characteristic of Christian thinkers is sincerity. They are sincere both in their desire to find the truth and in their desire to communicate it.

New Daily Study Bible Commentaries by William Barclay

We hope these excerpts have served you well in your understanding of the heretical mind. William Barclay was a gifted writer and encourager of Christians of all ages.

For almost fifty years and for millions of readers, the Daily Study Bible Commentaries have been the ideal help for both devotional and serious Bible study. Now, with the release of the New Daily Study Bible commentaries, a new generation will appreciate the wisdom of William Barclay. With clarification of less familiar illustrations and inclusion of more contemporary language, the New Daily Study Bible will continue to help individuals and groups discover what the message of the New Testament really means for their lives.

These commentaries go verse-by-verse through the New Testament, but rather than being technical and overwhelming, they are written with Barclay’s accessible style, examining many possible interpretations.

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