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Christianity Today says Rick Warren's Mysticism isn't Heresy Because he affirms the Nicene Creed

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Recently, I wrote an article addressing serious theological issues that the CEO of Saddleback Church, Rick Warren, preached at the Hillsong 2015 Conference. Apparently this article ruffled quite a few feathers, since it has almost five-thousand Facebook shares, and Hillsong even contacted me requesting that I remove the video of Rick Warren’s sermon from Youtube (even though it’s protected under the fair use act). Now it appears that Justin Holcomb at Christianity Astray Today has taken an opportunity to lash out at Pulpit & Pen, though without any substance. Though he didn’t mention our blog or my name, my article would seem to fit the description, along with his passive aggressive, stereotypical depiction of Pulpit & Pen. He writes:

A group of bloggers seeking reform in Southern Baptist circles recently decried pastor Rick Warren for teaching that God communicates to believers via dreams. The bloggers named Warren and other speakers at a 2015 Hillsong conference “heretical preachers that claim extra-biblical revelation from God.” To be sure, the nature of God’s revelation has been debated throughout church history, and overemphasis on dream interpretation can be theologically dangerous.

He then goes on into a rant about some British guy, of which I know nothing about, and will not comment on. However, his beef with us seems to be more about semantics than anything else. His approximately 3600-word article is dedicated to attacking Pulpit & Pen (and this other guy) about the use of the word “heresy.”

The article I penned at P&P in which appears to be the focus of Holcomb’s harangue is titled “Rick Warren Preaching Heresy at Hillsong 2015 Conference.” He then spends the rest of the article attempting to define the word, “heresy,” as well as trying to prove that what Rick Warren was teaching is, in fact, not heresy. He says:

But are these problems of heresy? Both complementarian and egalitarian leaders have taken to the Internet to call each other’s views on gender and leadership heresy. That, though their respective movements have officially existed for about 30 years.

If we stopped reading his article here, one might conclude that in order for a theological teaching to be considered heresy, it must be relatively new. However, we will see by continuing that that isn’t what he thinks. So my question would be, why mention it? If the length of existence of a given theological teaching had anything to do with it’s being considered heresy, then that would have made all of Jesus’ teachings “heresy,” in which we know is not the case–at least not from a Biblical believer’s point of view.

However, Mr. Holcomb later asserts his definition of the word as follows:

Heresy, as historian David Christie-Murray explains, is a belief that denies a doctrine “officially defined” as orthodoxy…For example, according to Protestants, the Catholic teaching that Mary was born without original sin and remained a virgin for life is heterodox. It’s not heresy, because Catholics affirm orthodox Christology…However, Oneness Pentecostalism is an example of heresy, because it rejects historic orthodox Trinitarian theology.

And then goes on to conclude,

If a believer genuinely accepts the Nicene Creed, they should not be dubbed a heretic.

Okay, there are a number of problems with this. First, I would ask him that since the pope of the Catholic Church affirms the Nicene Creed, should he not then be labeled a heretic? This is assuming, of course, that he believes the Catholic Church to be a false church that teaches a false gospel. However, according to his definition, the pope affirms the trinity and other “orthodox” teachings set out at the council of Nicea, and, therefore, should not be labeled a heretic.

But is this the proper, biblical use of the word heresy?

First of all, let’s be clear, there was no Nicene Creed while the New Testament was being written. It did not exist. The Nicene Creed was established about 300 years later after the New Testament Canon was closed. So when Paul referred to heretics in his epistles, he wasn’t referring to people who didn’t affirm the Nicene Creed. Paul says in Titus 3:10m

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, (ESV)

and the KVJ translates it as,

A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;

The Greek word translated here as one who stirs up division, or “heretick,” (as the KJV translates it), is “αἱρετικός,” or “hairetikos.” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines the word as:

  1. fitted or able to take or choose a thing
  2. schismatic, factious, a follower of a false doctrine
  3. heretic

So what is “false doctrine?” Obviously Paul isn’t referring to simple disagreements over non-essentials in Titus 3:10. But Holcomb is attempting to make a biblical definition of the word “heresy” that equates to a more distinguished use of the word than that of the standard definition, which is basically, “a choice.” This is fine, as I am attempting to do the same thing, however, Holcomb’s “biblical” definition fails, as it is not consistent with biblical usage. He has narrowed the term down too far in order to avoid usage on those whom it should apply biblically.

Peter actually gives us a better picture of the biblical usage of the word in 2 Peter 2:1,

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

So basically, a heresy, according to Peter, is a “destructive doctrine,” or a doctrine that will lead someone to “destruction.” Again, there was no Nicene Creed during this time, and I simply don’t see any biblical support for limiting Paul and Peter’s usage of the word to those who would only deny certain declarations of it. For example, the Nicene Creed doesn’t even touch upon soteriology, yet the doctrine of salvation is by far the most important doctrine of the Christian faith. While all aspects of the Nicene Creed are important and essential, it is rather limited in its scope. The Roman Catholic Church, as well as any other sect that asserts a false gospel, or a false way of salvation, or any other teaching that could lead one down the wrong road to destruction, would clearly be considered heretical by biblical standards.

So back to Rick Warren, in whom Mr. Holcomb believes should not be referred to as a heretic. I would then ask, why not? Is not what he teaches dangerous? Is not teaching that the Bible is insufficient for hearing from God a destructive doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? Is not contemplative prayer, and other practices of mysticism and divination strictly forbidden in Scripture? Are these practices not linked with idolatry and rejection of God (1 Samuel 15:23)?

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. – Matthew 7:13

Perhaps Mr. Holcomb doesn’t see Rick Warren’s teachings as dangerous. To his credit, he does say “Traditionally a heretic is someone who has compromised an essential doctrine, usually by oversimplification, and has thus lost sight of who God truly is or what he has done for us.” I would agree with him on that statement, however, it appears he doesn’t see mysticism, contemplative/centering prayer or denying the sufficiency of Scripture as an essential doctrine.

Or does he?

It’s unclear because he goes through a number of false teachings that, although he refuses to call them “heresy,” he refers to them as “heterodox.” Is there practically any distinction between the two words? Traditionally, historically, maybe–slightly. But Holcomb, again, writes a 3600-word article refuting my use of the word “heresy” in favor of the word “heterodox,” in which there is no practical argument to be made. It’s clear that the biblical definition of the word fits much more than he is willing to acknowledge and is a proper term to fit Rick Warren’s practices. But even if it weren’t, what is the point of his article? What purpose did it serve? It seems to be just another attempt by the Evangelical Intelligentsia to distract from the real issues–issues that are bringing destruction in the church, further leading Christianity astray. It’s their typical game strategy.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. – Proverbs 14:12