At first blush, it seems like a strange statement to say that the true Church needs heresy. But history demonstrates the truth of this assertion. The great ante-Nicene African theologian, Tertullian, wrote, “We ought not to be astonished at the heresies (which abound) neither ought their existence to surprise us, for it was foretold that they should come to pass; nor the fact that they subvert the faith of some, for their final cause is, by affording a trial to faith, to give it also the opportunity of being ‘approved’.” 1 This statement is especially poignant when one stops to remember that Tertullian himself fell for Montanism is his later years. St. Paul warned that heresies must occur. He said, “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”2
Perhaps at this point we should define heresy. In the earliest uses it meant primarily the work of schismatic or divisive teachers within in the Church. But by the writing of Peter’s second epistle, heresy had come to mean the false teachings of these schismatic or divisive teachers. This is the meaning which has persisted to the present day. Peter calls their teaching,”damnable heresies.” 3
But even in the Old Testament, God warned Israel that false teachers would arise and that the whole point was to test Israel’s faithfulness to God’s covenant. Moses wrote, “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”4 This means that attractive leaders are not always led by God. New ideas from inspiring people may sound good, but we must judge them by whether or not they are consistent with God’s Word.
Throughout the history of the Church, heresies have forced us to formulate more clearly what we mean to say by the terminology we employ. In the first four centuries of the Church, the heresies of Marcion, Arius, Paul of Samosata, Nestorius, Eutyches, Sabellius and Pelagius drew forth from the early Fathers the great Creeds of Nicaea, Constantinople and the definition of Chalcedon. During the Reformation era, the Remostrants prompted the synod of Dort. This is perhaps one of the greatest services of heresy for the true Church: it forces us to think clearly. We are required by the exigencies of the situations to declare the whole counsel of God not in an “uncertain sound.” 5
This method has always been an effective remedy for false teaching. But since the Enlightenment, men in general have become increasingly relativistic in their view of truth. Unfortunately, this has trickled down into the church as well. Therefore, since the onslaught of Liberalism in the late 1890’s the Church has lost her ability to effectively put down heresy.
No plainer example of this fact exists than the Pentecostal movement and the Charismatic Movement in particular. The Pentecostal movement began exactly 100 years ago in a small church on Asuza Street in downtown Los Angeles. Many of the key leaders of the “revival,” including its primary leader, William Seymour, were adherents of the “apostolic faith” theology, 6 which is pure Sabellianism. Apostolics are known by such names as “Oneness,” and “Jesus Only,” because of their denial of the Trinity in three Persons. They adhere to the Sabellian doctrine that the three are really One Person manifesting Himself in three distinct modes.
The Pentecostal movement lived under the disapproval of mainstream Christianity until the late 1960’s when Dennis Bennett (1917-1991), an Episcopal priest in Van Nuys, California was “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” and began to speak in “tongues.” From there, the Charismatic Movement has spread like wildfire throughout the globe. But surely water cannot rise higher than its source. And surely God cannot condone error. But this is what the Pentecostals and Charismatics would have us believe. If this movement is genuine, then God is in fact endorsing Sabellianism, post-biblical revelations, Buddhistic mind-over-matter “faith,” and even image-worship (the Charismatic movement has spread to the Roman Catholic Church and its equally idolatrous sister, the Greek Orthodox Church). 7
All accounts of heresy and its counterpart polemic since the days of Irenaeus to the present, have given us six main characteristics of heresy, all of which can be seen in the dark from a thousand miles away in the Charismatic Movement. They are: Novelty, Mystical experiences as a source of post-biblical revelation, mystical interpretations of Scripture, disregard for Scripture, unverifiable claims, and intimidation of those with opposing views.
Marks of Heresy Within the Charismatic Movement
New ideas are the part and parcel of heresy. In theological matters novelty is another name for heresy. Even a cursory reading of the Reformers will reveal how deeply they believed that they were standing in the stream of historic Christianity. The sheer number of citations by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli to Augustine and the other Fathers is proof of this assertion. They knew that novelty is another name for heresy. Every single Charismatic preacher is guilty of using lines like: “Are you ready for something new?” They love to entice their audiences with bits of new revelations from God that only they have. This is Gnosticism.
Mystical experiences as a source of post-biblical revelation
A common feature of heresy, and especially the Charismatic movement, is its appeal to unverifiable spiritual experiences which, in turn, serve as sources for extra-biblical revelation. Charismatics pay lip-service to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, but it is no secret that they rely much more on “words of prophecy,” or words in supposed “tongues.” And if a “word of prophecy“ ever runs counter to the revealed word of God, the “new” always takes the place of the old. Tommy Tenney sold millions of copies of his God Chasers, wherein he refers to Scripture as old worn-out love letters. 8 He tells of a mystical experience where the church’s plexiglass pulpit split in two, throwing the speaker to the ground. He then appeals to this as proof of all the erroneous things he says throughout the book. Tenney inteprets Hebrew 1:3 (upholding all things by the word of his power) by saying that God not only holds all things together, but that He is the sum of all things! 9 Even the untrained eye can see that this is heresy! It is not Christianity; it is pantheism – the same pantheism taught by Hindus for centuries. It would be easy to question the reality of the “split pulpit” story, but that is beside the point. Even if it were true, it is still not a verification of doctrine.
Kathie Walters has a book entitled The False Spirit of Judgment. It is the usual Charismatic refusal to submit their theology, rather mythology, to the bar of Scripture. Walters, who by her own estimation, knows how to live in the supernatural realm of the Holy Spirit, recounts how her four year old daughter was taken up to heaven. The 4 year-old saw and talked to Jesus. She came back down saved and speaking in tongues. The little girl can give you a description of what she saw and heard.
Of course, the acorn (or should I say ‘nut’) doesn’t fall far from the tree. Walters has had “several dynamic angelic visitations.” 10 Plus she has had two very special visitations with the Lord. On the first one, she was “taken up into heaven every day from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.” On another occasion, she was taken to heaven every day for three and a half weeks. She promises us that she can describe it all and she is writing a book about it. The book, she says, will probably surprise many of her evangelical friends. Of course, none of us can compete with this, so she is above the law. But what never seems to strike any of these people is, that in Scripture there is not a single description of heaven or hell by any of the people who died and came back to life. Tertullian refuted this tomfoolery nearly 2000 years ago. He wrote, “Now, although Paul was carried away even to the third heaven, and was caught up to paradise, and heard certain revelations there, yet these cannot possibly seem to have qualified him for (teaching) another doctrine, seeing that their very nature was such as to render them communicable to no human being.” 11 If Paul was not permitted to communicate what he saw and heard in heaven, what makes these people believe they are allowed to do so? Walters explicitly tells us in her book that she has had visions which she believes are prophetic “for the entire Church.” 12 If that is not a claim to inspiration on the level of the Biblical Prophets, nothing is!
The upshot of all these extra-biblical experiences is the professors are thereby impervious to correction. Someone once said, “A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.” Granted, this saying has a legitimate use; it is unfortunately true regarding adherents of heretical experiences. When people like Kathie Walters, Benny Hinn or Oral Roberts claims to have had angelic visitations or personal meetings with the Incarnate Christ, how are ordinary Christians like us supposed to compete?
1 Tertullian - The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 1. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3
2 1Corinthians 11:19
3 2 Peter 2:1
4 Deuteronomy 13:1 – 4
5 1 Corinthians 14:8
6 Seymour went to Charles F. Parham’s Bible school. Parham was the founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement
7 Another feature of Pentecostalism, and its daughter the Charismatic Movement, is the prominence of women in positions of authority. Both camps speak strongly of interpreting Scripture literally, but they resort to exegetical gymnastics when they interpret Paul’s prohibition against women preaching. Many of the leaders of the Azusa Street revival were women.
was actually replaced by a woman,
Jennie Evans Moore, as senior pastor of his church when he died. Seymour
held this position until 1936. If we
hold to the position that women should not preach, we must assume that
theological error is endemic in their teaching, because they are disobedient to
Scripture in the first place. A short
survey of Church History confirms this.
In most of the heretical movements from the doctrines of Paul of Samosata,
to Arianism, to Montanism, women have been prominent figures. Surely this is not without significance. Moore
8 Tommy Tenney, God Chasers
10 Kathie Walters, The False Spirit of Judgment
11 Tertullian - The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 24. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3
12 Kathie Walters, The false Spirit of Judgment