On Heresy

hI always thought when I met a heretic I would know exactly what to say. I would be armed with all my beliefs and I would quickly dismantle such an argument. Instead I was just awestruck.

“God’s love is conditional upon our obedience.”

“We must hate God’s enemies.”
Me: “Are you serious right now?”

Until about a year ago I thought that heresy came in two forms, early first century church heresy involving the divinity of Christ and modern ideas of moral relativity, religious pluralism, and a general denial of miracles. Oh was I mistaken.

What is heresy?

It is important to define heresy first. Heresy is any belief that defies doctrine. The first thing to point out is that all churches have doctrine. Scripture cleaves to doctrine. If you fail to express what your doctrine is you will still have it. A good example of this might be if a church fails to note a doctrine claiming that “All you need is to love Jesus.” A church might view loving Jesus as making disciples and doing bible study and ignore the possibility that the religion our father finds favor with is that which cares for orphans and widows. But heresy isn’t just an ignorance of a belief; it is an actual belief. “We are a discipleship making church, therefore we don’t minister to orphans and widows.” is a heretical statement. A heretic is a baptized believer who believes a heresy. There is a very good reason to take heresy seriously. Since the start of the church what made you Christian has been what you believe. It is the marking of a Christian. Partly in response to the first heresies involving the divinity of Jesus the Council of Nicaea was formed. A major result is the Nicene Creed. Those who believe in the creed are called Christians.

Calling someone a heretic has historically been among the worst labels to have. It ranks slightly above apostate and witch. It is important to note that heretics mean well. Heretics usually fail in one of two ways: it says too much (removing all mystery by explaining the unexplainable) or doesn’t go far enough (failing to maintain the full radicalness of orthodox Christianity and replacing it with a more “applicable” solution). In my first example above the man attempts to remove the radicaliness of the grace of God by making our salvation our work. In the second example he removes the radicalness of the Jesus’ teaching in Mat 5:33-34. Most early Christian heresies on the trinity are examples of explaining the unexplainable.

So what?

To conclude I am sure many of you are thinking “So what?” Isn’t this all just theological fine points that ignore the two great commands of Jesus? Bad theology leads to bad practices. I have seen and heard of bad theology lead to legalism, family abuse, feelings of isolation and loneliness, and even atheism. Good theology must exist because bad theology exists. Bad theology leads to bad practices and bad practices leads to pain, suffering, and sorrow. I might be a little out of my league with this essay. I hope that you might point out any faults you find as I am sure there are many.

How has heresy affected you? How do you deal with it? How do you love the heretic?


  1. Thanks, Forests, Perhaps a “heresy” that practically affected me for the first two plus decades of my Christian life is that I should “cut off” anyone who does not study the Bible, believe in Jesus, or attend church.

    As a result I distanced myself even my own family and all of my old friends, simply because in my mind they were deliberate, intentional, sinful, arrogant, godless, God-hating, unrepentant pagans who are not worth my time!

    I somewhat addressed this in a previous post: http://www.ubfriends.org/2014/03/21/christians-behaving-badly-toward-their-own-family/

  2. “simply because in my mind they were”

    Again, I want to emphasize that this was not really your mind. It was an altered mind, transformed by UBF using mind control methods. It think it’s important that we speak clearly and unmistakenly about what happened. Sure, we were also guilty of letting ourselves be manipulated. But these were never our ideas. This was not what we really believed on our own and deep down in our souls. These were ideas imposed onto us by UBF leaders who managed to suppress our real feelings and thoughts.

    You put too much blame onto yourself, instead of blaming your teacher Samuel Lee who cleverly instilled all these ideas onto you. Or at least, blame the UBF system that Sameuel Lee created, if you don’t want to blame the person Samuel Lee. Yes, usually it’s better to blame ourselves than other people and circumstances. But in this case it’s really not helpful because it confuses people and blurs the view for the real cause of the problems.

    • Chris, God is the ultimate and final Judge. I do not play the blame game, nor should I play judge, jury and executioner toward SL, a man who has died 14 years ago. Also, even if SL “instilled those ideas in me,” I am still ultimately responsible before God and man for accepting them.

    • “nor should I play judge, jury and executioner toward SL”

      That’s why I said you shall not judge the person Samuel Lee, but the system that Samuel Lee created and the way he manipulated you. You’re not doing that.

      Also, you’re wrong. You are to judge those inside the church. God will judge those outside (1 Cor 5). If you believe UBF is part of the church and Samuel Lee was a church man, you and other members of the church have the obligation to judge him. The ultimate judge over the person will be God, of course. But you can and must judge the visible behavior of the person in the church. If you fail to judge sins like forcing people to have an abortion and creating a manipulative cult, you are becoming guilty of their sin, too. Sometimes I’m shocked to see that you don’t even understand such simple things. UBF has really twisted your mind a lot. You’re discussing whether we need to follow OT laws on this blog, while even ignoring simple and evident NT commands about the church like written in 1 Cor 5 or Mt 18.

      Also, you’re continuing to play rhetorical games with me. I tell you that you need to judge the evil deeds of the founder of UBF, and you then answer you should not play his “judge, jury and executioner” which is something different. Maybe you’re not doing this conciously, but I have observed it many times in discussions with you. You’re building a false dichotomy or a straw man argument and then you attack the straw man instead of the real arugment. My real argument is that UBF members need to clearly expose and distance themselves from the sins and wrongdoings of its leader and from the cult-like set of rules and beliefs he created. Nothing more and nothing less.

      Regarding your straw man of being an “executioner”: Even if Samuel Lee would be still alive, you would not be his “executioner”. You don’t “execute” a leader by pointing out his sins, asking him for repentance or removing him from office if necessary (all of which is requested from us in Mt 18). Why do you equate these things? Actually, the opposite is the case. You’re helping both the offender and the church by clearly exposing sin. Unfortunately, Samuel Lee died 14 years ago, so it’s not possible to ask him to respent anymore, and not needed to remove him from office. However, it is still necessary that UBF formally distances itself from all his wrong teachings and practices, and repents and apologizes for having tolerated these things for decades, harming not only the sheep, but also corrupting and harming the person Samuel Lee himself. As you said, power corrupts, and UBF gave Samuel Lee that power that corrupted himself and other leaders.

      I sometimes asked you, but you never really answered: Do you think it is worthwile to study the history of cults like Mormonism, Unification church, Jehovah’s witnesses or movements like the ICC? If yes, how important is it in your view to study the personality of their leaders and founders and expose their wrongdoings and the methods they used, even if they are long dead, like John Smith or Charles Russell? Do you think you can understand ICC and its problems without talking about Kip McKean? Or do you think you can understand Lutherans without talking about Luther or Mennonites without talking about Menno Simons?

      So why do you think it’s different with UBF? Do you deny that Samuel Lee shaped UBF as much (and even more) as these leaders shaped their movements?

  3. Chris, I’ve stated repeatedly already about the influence of SL, both good and bad. I’ve also alluded to repeatedly that UBF today is primarily the fruit of her primary founder and shaper of the ministry. This should be obvious.

    What I am also saying, which perhaps is displeasing for some to hear is that each person is also personally responsible, and the undeniable fact that God is sovereign: God, for reasons known only to Him, allowed you to come under the (authoritarian) influence of SL and other spiritually abusive leaders “trained” by him. Before you refute me on this, please understand what I am NOT saying when I proclaim God’s sovereignty: http://www.ubfriends.org/2014/08/08/mark-driscoll-removed-from-acts-29/#comment-14749

    Check out this post from my previous comment under Mark Driscoll that speaks to the fact that whatever we write we should remember that MD has 5 kids who love their dad and will read what you write and how your write about their “fallen disgraced” father.: http://rachelkingbatson.com/2014/08/09/on-behalf-of-mark-driscolls-children/

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I won’t pretend to know anything about how Mark Driscoll’s children are being affected by the current media reports right now.

      But Driscoll has intentionally made himself a public figure. Time and time again, he has invited and incited reaction by making controversial and inflammatory statements. He has cultivated an in-your-face persona and has profited from the notoriety. If his family members are being negatively impacted by bad publicity right now, chances are, it’s been happening all along and is one of the unfortunate consequences of the kind of ministry he does.

      I won’t take delight in Driscoll’s present misfortune. But it seems to me that, in his teaching and preaching, he has intentionally stirred up negative reaction and thrived on it. And he may be smart enough to figure out how to turn this situation to his advantage and thrive on it even now.

      And if the current negative publicity chastens him and causes him to reassess himself, it may transform him into a kinder and gentler human being, to the benefit of his family. Once again, I won’t pretend to know what is going on in Driscoll’s home right now. But I don’t want to assume it is all bad.

    • “that each person is also personally responsible, and the undeniable fact that God is sovereign”

      Joe already answered your second argument, “God is sovereign,” better than I could do.

      Concerning your first arugment, it’s similar. In principle you’re right. Every person is personally respoonsible. The crux of the matter we’re talking about is, however, that UBF uses techniques of mind control which weaken and undermine peoples’ ability to reflect properly and act responsibly. During the reform movement, the main principle that my director taught us was that we needed to obey and follow Samuel Lee no matter what since he, Samuel Lee, was the responsible authority, established by God (“God’s servant”). If we follow him and are loyal, we would do right and follow the will of God. And as my chapter director and other UBF leaders at that time explicitly explained in various analogies, we should follow him even if what he did looked not right to us. The rationality behind was that we were probably spiritually blind and the sovereign God would lead everything properly, and evn if Samuel Lee was wrong, then this was his (Lee’s) responsibilty, and not ours – ours was just to follow the leader (this idea is sometimes called the covering doctrine).

      We’re talking about a system that systematically manipulates its followers, sometimes more subtle, sometimes through abusive “training,” depriving them of their ability to act responsibly and autonomously, making them believe absolute obedience tops personal conscience. I believe it’s just unfair to blame the victims of such systems of not acting responsibly, shifting the blame from the leaders of such systems to those who trusted these leaders. Of course, their still remains a certain part of guilt and responsibility witht the “sheep,” but the main culprit in this case is the shepherd who led the sheep astray.

      That’s all I want to say. When you talk about the silly things you did and believed in the past, always point out who made you believe and do these things, because I know you did not do these things on your own. I don’t mind if you blame the system that Samuel Lee created instead of the person Samuel Lee, as long as you make this point clear, that you did not follow your own ideas, but the ideas that others imposed upon you.

  4. I believe it’s just unfair to blame the victims of such systems of not acting responsibly, shifting the blame from the leaders of such systems to those who trusted these leaders. Of course, their still remains a certain part of guilt and responsibility witht the “sheep,” but the main culprit in this case is the shepherd who led the sheep astray. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2014/08/10/on-heresy/#sthash.jxYdf9Dl.dpuf

    Chris, I’d like to echo your words. They’re just what I wanted to say. I think it’s especially true when people are invited to what is called a church and told that they are being taught the Bible, the word of God, and that such and such is God’s way. All around the world you can hear the phrase “absolute obedience” in UBF Bible studies. What is being taught is not one of several options presented to people. The relationship of a personal teacher and student also lends itself to manipulation. There are countless testimonies that uniformly say that God taught them or gave them a Bible verse (from their shepherd).

    Driscoll’s family is at risk of being injured by others through this. I think it would be a terrible thing to see people taking delight in his situation by attacking him personally. Still, we need the grace of God to forgive and heal. The incident in John 8 comes to mind. There is a fear of God in casting the first stone. Yet, even through that episode I think they were held accountable in an indirect way.

    Still, how should we consider the many families injured by religious organizations that do not have proper accountability in place for its leaders? The link to Rachel’s blog shows that their family also suffered much because of a lack of accountability. She found out that many people knew of her father’s double life for years but didn’t say anything until it got to the point where the church felt that they had to cut off the family from their fellowship entirely.

    I find it strange that in UBF, even when reading outside materials, it’s members, not just the top leaders, instinctively read it largely to justify themselves and affirm their values, rather than be self-examining and critical or open to learning new ways and thoughts–evidenced by Daniel Lee’s staff conference lecture that referenced Lutz’s book, for example. I was guilty of this too for a long time. I wonder now how people are being shaped up like this? What I mean is just encouraging outside reading is not enough to create accountability. Instead, as I’ve witnessed from staff conferences where the outside reading was required, it is seemingly having an opposite effect. It makes me wonder why/how outside reading was introduced to staff conferences.

    • Charles, I thought Rachel’s blog was fair and balanced in her articulation: Definitely calling out the perpetrator, but also being gracious with them (the Mark Driscoll-types of the world).

      Did you attend the recent Galatians staff conf.? You may have already said you didn’t go, but I don’t remember. This forgetfulness is just “getting old” and hopefully not to the point of Alzheimers!

    • Hi Ben. No, I didn’t go to the Galatians conference. I took the family camping instead along with some cousins who had reserved a site on the beach. I wanted to do something fun for them (and for me). To be honest, I was ready to go to the conference and had my plane ticket and fee paid. But this opportunity to take the family out arose suddenly and I thought it was the better thing to do. Also, I was disappointed in the program and felt burdened with the thought of going through so many Bible studies hearing all the same old things from older members that I really didn’t want to hear and argue about. At first, it was fun to challenge their thinking and I also wanted to be challenged and learn from others. But it has become burdensome and just makes me angry to hear some of those things.

      Yes, Rachel’s blog articulated that point well. But it stood out to me that they may have also suffered more than needed to be because there wasn’t a system of accountability in place. As she mentioned, others knew about her father’s actions but didn’t say anything. She also mentioned the awkwardness the church felt in having them around still.

  5. forestsfailyou

    Quick edit. It’s Mat 5:43-44.