Why it matters: Am I a member of the “doctrine police” constantly issuing heretic alerts? That is a good question to ask. Why? It might be more about contempt for the opinions of others than heresy. Please read on!
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the [a]servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. | Romans 14:1-4
The big picture: Do I hold fellow followers of Jesus in contempt because of what they believe? What if my contempt is around something that is a weakness of faith and not heresy of doctrine?
Again in verse 10, Paul warns against judging and contempt.
But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
Worth noting: It could be that some of our doctrinal disputes are really about theological opinions that aren’t offered by false prophets and heretics. This may seem like a fine line but maybe it isn’t sometimes. There were many old ways of thinking that Jesus and the new covenant leave behind. Like what, you say? How about circumcision? How about what Paul is referencing here in terms of what can and can’t be eaten?
Paul also had a lot to say about false prophets and heresy. He also said that some things are about opinions and strength of faith, so there is something here to consider.
The bottom line: What about Jesus? Jesus warns us about both false prophets and also about contempt as well. Contempt is very dangerous. It is the attitude of I’m righteous (and right about doctrine) and you are not.
And Jesus also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt. (Luke 18:9 NASB)
What about “false prophets” and heretics? We need to understand the seriousness of deception and our responsibility to look out for it constantly. What are we to do? “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good…” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Even here, Paul recognizes that not everything is heresy. Upon examination, some things are good. There is a difference on opinion and heresy.
Let’s dig deeper: Most of issues of heresy are around focusing on (1) what Jesus has in fact said and (2) who Jesus is. Is Jesus central to everything you hear? Is it the Jesus you know from the 4 Gospel’s (aka good news)?
- 1 Timothy 6:3–4 (NASB) — If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions.
- Jude 3–4 (NASB) — Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus the Messiah.
- 1 Corinthians 3:10–13 (NASB) — According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus the Messiah. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.
Consider this from the Apostle Paul.
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. | Ephesians 4:1-6