Because of our unitarian beliefs, we have for many years been considered “heretics” by the “orthodox” Christian community. Although we have tried very hard to get along with and to work within traditional ministries and churches, we have often been excluded from Christian groups and even been considered unsaved. Having thus endured the pain of rejection by other Christians, one would think that we would be quick to get rid of the idea of “heresy” altogether. But we cannot do away with an idea that is intrinsically biblical, even if it would take the pressure off us. The godly thing to do is to be clear on what truly constitutes “orthodoxy” (right belief), so that “heresy” (wrong belief) can be meaningfully defined. As we have seen in the historical section of this book (One God and One Lord), when “orthodoxy” is not real orthodoxy, then “heresy” is not real heresy.

What is a true “heretic”? According to God’s Word, it is one who teaches and/or practices error and thereby introduces division into the Body of Christ.

Titus 3:10
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.

The words “a divisive person,” come from the Greek work hairesis, which is transliterated into English as the word “heresy.” It literally means “one who chooses,” but the implication is “one who asserts his own choice above God’s Word and draws disciples after him” (cp. Acts 20:30). In other words, it refers to those who choose to be factious and to elevate their teaching above that which can be established biblically, and who promote this teaching to the point of making disciples. We think that many people who accept the doctrine of the Trinity do so because they have been taught that if they are true Christians they must believe it, and yet they do not aggressively teach it to others because they cannot even understand it themselves. They are not “heretics” just because they accept it. However, those who aggressively teach Trinitarian orthodoxy cause divisions in the Body of Christ by their insistence that a person cannot be a true Christian without believing it. Such people are within the purview of the following key verses on this subject:

Romans 16:17-18
(17) I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.
(18) For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.

Clearly, the standard for determining a heretic is one who causes divisions by teaching things that are contrary to the “apostles’ teaching” (see Acts 2:42). Therefore, the crucial issue is what constitutes apostolic teaching. We think it is obvious that the apostles never believed or taught the Trinity.

It is an ironic general fact of Christian history that when Trinitarians have been the ruling party in countries without separation between church and state, they have held their position by intimidation, violence and force. When unitarian Christians have had the upper hand, they have used force less and shown themselves to be more tolerant of other beliefs (a fact that worked toward the demise of the unitarian movement in America during the 1800’s). Rubenstein notes that the Arians (the “heretics”) were better able to “tolerate a variety of theological perspectives without declaring their opponents agents of the Devil.” [1]

Romans 16:17 addresses the issue of the proper Christian treatment of heretics. Because people who teach wrongly are still, biblically, our “neighbors,” we are commanded to love them regardless of the fact that they are teaching error. Simply because a person goes to Church or acts in a pious manner does not necessarily mean that he is a Christian or a Christ-like person. The Pharisees may have seemed religious to many, but when the light of Jesus Christ was shined into the secret places of their hearts, the evil inside them was clearly revealed. We assert that when Christians persecute, torture and execute those whose only “crime” is having a different belief about the Lord Jesus Christ, their acts reveal the evil and hate inside them beneath their false piety.

We do not have to fellowship with those we believe are teaching error or who persecute us, but we are commanded to love them, which would certainly forbid us persecuting them in response. But how we are to love them is different from how we would if they were teaching and practicing the truth. God’s Word has clearly spoken: we are to avoid having fellowship (full sharing) with them until they change. We are not to “unify” with them just because they are professing Christians.

What it means to “avoid” a fellow Christian is not entirely clear, and must be determined according to the dictates of one’s own conscience in accordance with his sometimes complex and obligatory social relationships. We can have many kinds of relationships, even relatively close friendships, with others of even non-Christian faiths, yet we are exhorted in Galatians 6:10 (KJV) to be especially good to the household of faith (i.e., fellow Christians). To be obedient to God’s Word, then, there must be some sense in which we reserve our most intimate relationships for those whom we can trust to give us sound biblical counsel and manifest the genuine love of God and Christ toward us.

The testimony of both Scripture and history is that “evil companionships corrupt good character” (1 Cor. 15:33 – AMP). This means that when people who hold the truth come into an intimate relationship with those who do not, the convictions of those who hold the truth are more likely to be diminished than the deceived ones are to be converted. We are fundamentally responsible for the choices we make concerning those we allow to influence us. Therefore, we ought not to be influenced by those whose “opinions” and “judgments” are going to lead us in the wrong direction, even if standing for what we believe means we are criticized for being “narrow-minded,” “judgmental” or “arrogant.” To be obedient, we must wait until God reveals to us, or we are convinced by our own experience, that we can safely commit ourselves in an intimate relationship to another person whose faith and Christian commitment are known. Such a person is then in a position to deeply influence our beliefs, our attitudes and our behaviors in a godly direction.

The Bible contains a variety of verses that recommend avoiding intimate fellowship with those who habitually teach and/or practice error. There is no verse that tells believers to unify in spite of false doctrine, nor to just “agree to disagree,” which is a modern way of saying “quit trying to persuade someone as if there were such a thing as truth.” In fact, Scripture says just the opposite:

1 Corinthians 1:10
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

In a clear example of Jesus rejecting the idea of universal acceptance, he tells his disciples to “leave” the Pharisees, who were “blind guides.” Note these other clear verses on the subject.

Matthew 15:14
Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
(14) If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.
(15) Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

(See also Matt. 16:6,11 and 12; 1 Cor. 5:9-11; 2 Cor. 6:11-18; 1 Tim. 1:3 and 4; 2 Tim. 4:14; Titus 1:9; 2 John 7-11).

Notice that the commandment in 2 Thessalonians 3:14 is for the sake of helping the other more than just keeping ourselves pure. The goal of not associating with someone is to exert godly “peer pressure” on him so that he would realize the seriousness of his choice to the point of being “ashamed” and repentant. Today, the prevailing attitude of unlimited toleration runs counter to this biblical directive. There is little or no social pressure applied in a godly direction. In fact, it seems like the only ones who are “avoided” these days are those who are unenlightened enough to insist that there is a standard of belief and practice necessary for an intimate relationship with another Christian. [For further study read “The Death of Truth”.]

Although it seems easier to get along with everyone and pretend that doctrine does not matter, fidelity to the text of Scripture demands that we do our best to uphold the truth. The fact that God gives people the freedom to have their own opinions does not mean that we ought not to try to influence them in the direction of God’s Word. In fact, God says that is exactly what we should do. Clearly, men like Jesus, Paul, et al, were committed to “persuading” everyone they could to embrace the truth. The biblical model for Christian unity is given in Ephesians 4:4-6, which clearly links doctrine and unity. True Christian unity is not achieved by surrendering all one’s convictions, but by engaging in loving and rational dialogue in the hope of arriving at like-mindedness on God’s Word.


Endnote:

1. Rubenstein, op. cit., When Jesus Became God, p. 179. Back to top