HAIRESIS denotes (a) a choosing, choice (from haireomai, to choose); then, that which is chosen, and hence, an opinion, especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth, and leads to division and the formation of sects, Gal. 5:20 (marg., "parties"); such erroneous opinions are frequently the outcome of personal preference or the prospect of advantage; see 2 Pet. 2:1, where "destructive" (R.V.) signifies leading to ruin; some assign even this to (b); in the papyri the prevalent meaning is "choice" (Moulton and Milligan, Vocab.); (b) a sect; this secondary meaning, resulting from (a), is the dominating significance in the N.T., Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5,14; 26:5; 28:22; "heresies" in I Cor. 11:19 (see marg.). See SECT.
---from "An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words," by W.E. Vine
The grounds of this melancholy division (i.e., between what became known as the "Exclusive" and the "Open" Brethren) were, as we gather from Mr. Darby's Narrative, sectarianism, clericalism, and erroneous prophetic views. There was no charge of heresy.
Note, Mr. Ironside is no "lone voice" but is widely considered a leading, if not the leading, exponent of Christian fundamentalism in the first half of the twentieth century.
This begs the question: what is heresy? Heresy is error, pure and simple. Quite obviously, then, in that errors are of varying degrees of severity, the degree of severity of heresies is variable. What can be more plain than this? If a heresy is an error, and the severity of an error is variable, then the severity of a heresy is variable.
But that is not how "heresy" is treated in the churches of God. No, it is treated as pertaining to doctrine and not practice. Practice, by comparison, is treated as a matter of indifference.
May I remind you again that according to the New Testament, teachings or doctrines are to be obeyed and practices are to be imitated. Were one to say that NT practices are to be obeyed, why, this is a contradiction in terms. Does one obey the tradition of observing Independence Day? No, he keeps the tradition, which is to say he imitates it. Thus Paul wrote, "Be imitators of me." Either this entails imitating any and every NT practice, or it entails imitating Paul "as we wish," or "as the church sees fit."
It turns out that one of the protestant church's esteemed theologians, John Calvin, wrote concerning the mode of water baptism, which he considered a matter of indifference,
- Wherefore the Church did grant liberty to herself, since the beginning, to change the rites somewhat, excepting this substance.
The New Testament establishes the inspired distinction between "heresy" and "damnable heresy," and this is highly pertinent to the issue. Of course there are serious errors and there are also less serious errors. Are we then free to disregard the less serious errors as matters of indifference, or matters of opinion, or matters of Christian liberty? Only by absurdity.
Clericalism and sectarianism are errors. Clericalism and sectarianism are heresies. However they are not "damnable heresies," they are simply heresies. A believer may succumb to a heresy or error. However a damnable heresy concerns the doctrine of Christ, His person, His body, His blood, and His work on the Cross, and the salvation obtainable by all men through belief in Him and on Him.
Concerning damnable heresies, no believer ever succumbs to these errors. If one has succumbed to these errors, he or she is not saved. Do you believe Jesus is not God? You are not saved. Do you believe His shed blood avails nothing? You are unsaved. Do you believe there is any other name under heaven by which a person may be saved? Unsaved.
No, it is false teachers, unsaved themselves, which perpetrate damnable heresies. II Peter 2:2 says,
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
---II John 9-11
However in the Bible-believing churches in Christendom the teachers are almost without exception believers who teach much sound doctrine. These teachers do not teach falsely. It is the church practices that they embody and uphold that are heretical.
There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. I know and believe this to the uttermost. No believer goes to hell for believing a heresy. No believer is condemned by believing a heresy. In Scofield's Bible notes for II Timothy he wrote that the holding of a heresy by a believer "may be due to the snare of Satan (2 Tim. 2:25, 26),...(and) may consist with true faith."
In contrast with damnable heresies there are simply heresies. Titus 3:10-11 says,
A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.
Note, in my majoring on the errors of clericalism and sectarianism I am widely considered a heretic. The difference between what I am doing and what heretics do, however, is that I do not go into the churches and incite divisions. I also do not say that clericalism and sectarianism are damnable errors, but only that they are errors. I do not question anyone's salvation due to their holding these things. The only test of salvation is how a person sees Jesus.
So I say 1) sectarianism and clericalism are heresies, 2) they are not damnable heresies, 3) they may be and are subscribed to by many believers, and 4) this does not make heresies matters of indifference.
That which distinguishes a heresy or error is that it is a matter of opinion, not only in respect to fundamental doctrine but also concerns revealed New Testament church practices. Thus, Paul wrote,
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
---II Thessalonians 2:15
In sincerely believe that brother George Müller, one of the giants of the faith, and a man whose shoes I cannot tie, made his only recorded error when he refused to call Mr. Newton a heretic. I believe that Mr. Müller simply made the error of believing that all heresy was damnable, and he believed Mr. Newton to be a brother in the Lord. I believe so, too. And yet, and yet...Mr. Newton was certainly guilty of both sectarianism and clericalism.
I note once more Mr. Ironside's assertion that these were not matters of heresy, an assertion shared by other Brethren chroniclers!
The church's widespread, nay, virtually universal failure to distinguish between heresy and damnable heresy, irony of ironies, serves the clerical and sectarian system. You see, if the only form of heresy is damnable heresy, than sectarianism and clericalism are matters of indifference! And that is the way they are treated. Writers like this one--and I am far from alone--are treated as "troublers of the churches!" But I have never gone into a church like a bull in a china shop. What I write on these pages is for all to read, but I do not go into the churches with an agenda. Rather, it is read and believe because what you find here is based in the New Testament, or if you do not find what is taught here in the New Testament, then reject it. It is very simple. No one is forcing you or your church to do anything. If anything is forced, it may be your own conscience and not mine.
Adding to the confusion is the undeniable fact that for a thousand years, or the Middle Ages, "heretics" were thrown to the lions, boiled in oil, sawn asunder, stoned, etc. Predominantly by the church of Rome. In fact legions of these "heretics" were believers in sound doctrine, especially "the doctrine of Christ." Many of these went joyfully to their eternal home.
So heresy has a bad name and is in fact an embarrassment to the churches of God, with the consequence that, while Bible believers are willing to admit the existence of heresy, albeit solely in the form of "damnable heresy," they are unwilling to admit that errors concerning church function, order, and polity are worthy of consideration, but instead are much ado about nothing.