Guilty by Association or Accessory to Heresy?

Almost every time someone points out the evils of partnering with heretics, sharing the stage with false teachers, or in any way violating the “one degree of separation” rule clearly laid out in Scripture, the complaints of labeling them “guilty by association” begin. This never fails. If someone were to mention that John Piper is compromising the Gospel by partnering with false teachers like Rick Warren and Beth Moore, his supporters would come unglued. If a brother critiques Ronnie Floyd for speaking at arch-heretic, Mike Bickle’s, Holy Spirit-blaspheming International House of Prayer (IHOP), he’d more than likely get an earful from those defending him, insisting he’s being accused of “guilt by association.” If a sister critiques Ravi Zacharias for hand-holding with Word of Faith pastrix and “spiritual mama,” Joyce Meyer or Prosperity Gospel tycoon, Christine Caine, she’d be shut down with the same ridiculous argument.

Is this argument biblical?

In United States law, there is a crime called “Accessory”. This term is defined by as, “one who knowingly assists a law-breaker in the commission of a crime but does not actually participate in that crime.” In the courtroom, to say that this is “guilt by association” wouldn’t last five minutes. A certain homicide investigator, when asked if this would be a good defense made by said accessory’s lawyer, said it wouldn’t get anyone off. In fact, he’d probably get laughed out of the courtroom.

Thank goodness that modern evangelical discernment does not create United States law, otherwise, it would get people off. You see, to attract a crowd for a heretic by speaking with them or to give them a pulpit from which to speak is assisting a heretic in the spreading of heresy, even if you don’t take part in the heresy yourself. So if heresy were a judicial crime (this is a hypothetical, I am not a theocratist), then these people who do partner with them would be charged with Accessory to Heresy. So saying someone is wrong for partnering with heretics is no more “guilt by association” than driving a getaway car for a murderer is. Guilt by association would better be defined as someone who happens to personally know a heretic and gets branded a heretic for no other reason than that they know that person.

Is this argument supported by Scripture? Well, yes. 2 John 2:10-11 (ESV) is clear in laying this out.

“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”

Romans 16:17 (ESV) similarly commands that we avoid false teachers, which would mean not promoting their books or speaking at their conferences.

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”

So it is clear from Scripture that we are not permitted to partner with heretics, or give them any credence as sound teachers, lest we take part in their wicked works. To do so would be to violate the clear command of Scripture, and it is definitely valid to raise concerns about anyone who violates this command.

[Guest Post by Brandon Hines]

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Brandon Hines

Brandon is a young writer and polemicist. He contributes to Pulpit & Pen as well as runs his own website at