Wade Burleson had an interesting post recently about the free use of the term "heretic" in theological discourse between believers.
Wade references a radio interview featuring host Matt Slick. Pastor Matt heads up CARM, the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. He is quite adept at debating and refuting cults, but apparently sees no difference between pseudo-Christian cult groups and those who do not agree completely with him in every area of theology. The interview was with women's ministry advocate Cheryl Schatz. Here is what Slick had to say to Ms Schatz because she does not agree with his interpretation of I Timothy 2:11-15, (along with Wade's commentary):
Cheryl: "Is it a sin for you Pastor Matt to listen to me teach?"
Matt: "I listen to heretics all the time teach. That's what I do for a living so that I can refute it."
Cheryl: "So I am a heretic?"
Matt: "(In this) Yes you are."
I about fell out of my chair when I heard that exchange. Cheryl has already told the radio audience that she believes "every single word of the Bible is inspired by God." Cheryl further expressed her firm belief that "The grammar (of the Bible) is inspired."
Yet, Cheryl is called a 'heretic' simply because she disagrees with Matt over the interpretation of a text of Scripture. There is no dispute over the nature of Scripture, only the interpretation of it.
Wade makes an excellent point: The use of the term "heretic" should be limited to those who deny the Person or the work of Christ, not those who hold to a different interpretation of secondary or tertiary theological issues.
We should remember that Copernicus was labeled a heretic for declaring the earth was round. Galileo was called a heretic for proposing a heliocentric universe because the church believed the Bible taught an earth-centered universe. In 1521 the Edict of Worms declared Martin Luther a heretic because he opposed the church's corrupt practice of selling indulgences and he had the utter audacity to suggest the Bible taught salvation by grace through faith.
One would think we would have learned from these historic and embarrassing errors, but apparently we have not. Zealous, dogmatic "defenders of the faith" freely and regularly throw the term "heretic" at fellow evangelical believers because they - like church leaders in Copernicus, Galileo, and Luther's time - feel they have a lock on truth and the mind of God. It never crosses their mind that they - again like the accusers of Copernicus, Galileo, and Luther - might be wrong.
Think about this: Whoever you are, wherever you are on the theological spectrum, there is someone out there in the Christian world who believes you are a heretic and wouldn't hesitate to call you one. Interested in discovering exactly what kind of heretic you are? Take the heretic quiz here.
Read Wade's post here.