Help! My Neighbor’s a Heretic
by Mike Malone
My middle daughter had a great concern for a boy in our neighborhood and his family. They did not attend church, and they “never read the Bible.” She suggested that we buy her friend a copy of the Scriptures, which she would deliver to him. What were we to do? The potential for alienation from our neighborhood was written all over our daughter’s naive request. The mother came by one afternoon and engaged me in conversation. “You know, we don’t go to church, but we believe in God. We just don’t believe it’s right to shove our beliefs off on other people. After all, we’re all free to believe what we want.”
There I was, the narrow bigot, trapped by a compassionate, free-thinking modern American. The temptation to slip quietly away, tail between my legs, was strong; but the desire to respond was stronger. “It’s true that we are free to believe whatever we want,” I said. “But you can’t mean that it doesn’t matter. It really does matter. While we are free to believe whatever we want, not all beliefs are true. Right?” My neighbor was somewhat puzzled by the response. “For example, Adolf Hitler believed certain things, but you would say he was wrong about them wouldn’t you? You would agree that what he believed had horrible consequences for tens of millions of others, right” “Well, yes, of course … well, you know what I mean.” The conversation ended there and we never had another.
That’s how it is and that’s some of the price you pay for being a Christian in a self-conscious way in 1994. Fortunately, not all encounters end in this way. When a Christian takes the time to listen carefully and respond intelligently, many may come to Christ or have their understanding clarified.
“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine,” Paul admonishes Timothy. “Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16). Paying attention to and continuing in what is sound, true, Scriptural, or doctrinally correct has implications for you and for your hearers.
How do you respond to the subtle and pervasive pluralism of the day? First, commit to being a life-long learner, for yourself. Paul recognizes that God not only appoints ends or goals (here, the salvation of His people); He also appoints means to those ends (here, the persistent and patient consideration of doctrine, or what we believe). As we require food and oxygen to achieve physical maturity, so spiritually we require means to move in the direction of maturity.
Second, realize that God employs you in the rescuing of those who are lost in darkness and death. Their situation is grave. Eternity hangs in the balance.
When you speak with friends who have embraced ideas which appear unorthodox, require that they test everything by the only standard which you or they have: the Word of God. A lack of willingness to submit to the Scriptures is indicative of a heart not yet made responsive to the call of God.
In connection with this, require of your friend or neighbor that the whole of the teaching of the Bible be considered. Most if not all cults and heterodox groups are established by misunderstanding or misapplying isolated texts of Scripture. Heresy can be much more difficult to deal with than things which are pagan because heretics, cultists, and others tend to know their Bibles well. Know your Bible well and develop a comprehensive understanding of Scripture which measures and judges aberrant ideas.
Finally, many people are somewhat unwittingly involved in heretical ideas and practices. Remember that they are not the enemy and that God has and will continue to rescue people like them. Be patient in loving them. Answer their questions. At times sober and hard confrontation may be required. With some, that will mean alienation and rejection. For those in whom the Spirit is working a resultant “joy unspeakable and full of glory” will come.
Conversations are never easy with people in cults, marginal Christian groups, or paganism. They require knowledge, wisdom, and courage. For centuries, God has been pleased to use the faithful speaking of the Good News by novices like us. The result: an innumerable host will gather to worship and adore the Lamb throughout eternity.