APOSTOLIC DIRECTION FOR DEALING WITH HERETICS, AND ON HERESY IN GENERAL.

Brother Beebe: - I, a short time since received by letter a request to give, through the Signs, my views on Titus 3:10: "A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject." As the request was that I should give the exposition as soon as convenient, I send these remarks on, with a request, that you will publish them as soon as you can find room without crowding out other communications.

The direction contained in this text was given directly to Titus; but as Paul had left him in Crete, that he should set in order the things that were wanting, &c., as he had appointed him (1:5); this injunction must be considered as a part of that order which Titus, under Apostolic authority, was to establish in the churches. The term reject might have been considered here as confined to the idea of refusing such characters when offering for membership, or for the eldership or ministry, were it not that this rejection is presented as the closing part of a course of discipline; being preceded by a "first and second admonition," by which it is evident the person was, previous to his rejection, not only under the watch care of the church, but also under its discipline. Hence this must be considered as an apostolic injunction to reject or exclude from the communion of the church, persons who retained their heretical sentiments after having been twice admonished to renounce their error.

The expression, a man that is an heretic, appears rather discriminating, as though females were not so likely to become heretical, or that their being heretics was not so likely to disturb the peace of the church as in the case of the males. But it is to be remembered that the parallel direction in Rom. 16:17, makes no such distinction; but requires all who cause divisions, whether male or female, to be avoided.

This rule evidently includes the idea of rejecting from the privilege of preaching to the church all that bring and persist in heretical doctrines. The provision in this rule requiring a first and second admonition before rejection or exclusion is designed to lead the church to make the attempt to reclaim the heretic before excluding him, as well as to prevent a too hasty decision, by which a person might be made an offender for a word, or be rejected when the error was perhaps only in expression, not in sentiment; or had been fallen into through ignorance, not from determinate choice. But when after being once and again admonished of his error, a member persists in it, the church should act decisively in rejecting him, "Knowing," as the Apostle says (verse 11) "that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself."

This rule has been undoubtedly entirely too much neglected by the Baptist churches. The enormities practiced by the Catholics under the pretense of dealing with heretics has probably had considerable effect in bringing the idea of disciplining heretics, as such, into disrepute. Another reason for this neglect may be traced to the error the churches themselves had fallen into of consulting human creeds and human authors as standards; and as these varied it became difficult to fix the charge of heresy on any but a very flagrant corruption. Owing to the continued prevalence of this error among the churches, it is a particular difficulty in obeying this injunction to decide on what constitutes a man an heretic. But this point, at the request of my correspondent, I will try to illustrate.

If we look at the etymology of the original words rendered heresy and heretic, we find them to import the idea of sentiments of men's own choice, being from a verb which signifies to choose, elect, pick out, &c. Hence that man is a heretic who chooses, or picks out his doctrine or system of doctrine of himself, and to suit his own notions. The heretic is thus manifestly distinguished from one who receives the doctrine of Christ as taught of God; for the latter has been brought to desire, not to be left to choose his doctrine for himself, nor to pick out a system, to suit reason or popular opinion. What God reveals to his mind as truth, that he receives as such, and because God has revealed it, without stopping to inquire whether human reason can comprehend why it should be so, or whether it be popular or not. His prepossessions fall before the truth, when thus received, as dagon fell before the ark.

Again, if we look at the use of these words in the Scriptures, we shall find they involve the idea of division, or of forming a sect or party. Thus, we find the word used in Acts 24:14; and in Acts 28:22, the translators have rendered this word by the term sect. In I Cor. 11:19, it evidently, from the connection, has the same leading idea. Heresy, therefore, in the scriptural use of the term, is not only something of human device and choice, but it relates to a leading sentiment, such as will so affect the faith, or practice, or both, as to form a dividing point in the faith professed, or in the order and practices. Thus Peter speaks of the damnable heresies which some should bring in, as being "even a denial of the Lord that bought them" II Pet.2: 1-3. Most religionists calling themselves christians, profess to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has bought or redeemed them. Connected, however, with this very profession, many of our day deny Him as Lord; for it is not enough to say Lord, Lord, to be exempted from this charge, whilst they "Do not the will of His Father which is in heaven." See Mt.7:21. Some, by their systems, deny His essential Godhead, some the divine perfection of the work of redemption, some, His divine sovereignty in ordering the work of salvation, and others deny Him as Lord in denying His sovereign authority as King of Zion. These damnable heresies, the Apostle foretells, they shall bring in privily; not openly avowing them at once, but disseminating them by degrees, and under a profession by the saints, having their corruptions wrapped up as to conceal their bearing towards a denial of the Lord. With feigned words of great zeal for the cause of Christ, great love to souls and great pretended affection for the saints, they will gain multitudes of followers, and on this account wax bold and revile the truth and those that adhere to it; others again will charge their absurdities, and the divisions occasioned thereby among professors, to the cause of truth, and thus the way of truth comes to be evil spoken of. They will, through their covetousness, make merchandise for a while even of the churches of Christ. But I need not enlarge upon this prophecy, for the last thirty years affords a full comment upon it, in the manner in which corrupt systems have been introduced among the Baptists, and the plans for gaining money, &c., which have been so fully manifested. The consequence to themselves will yet be as fully verified as has been their heresies.

The standard by which we are to test the truth or heresy of any sentiment next demands attention. On this point, I cannot admit the right of churches to set up any human composition such as expositions, creeds, confessions of faith, &c., as an unalterable standard by which to test the correctness or incorrectness of doctrine or practice; although I admit the propriety of churches making declarations, and giving summaries of what they consider to be the doctrine and practice taught in the Scriptures, yet, instead of establishing these as fixed standards of truth, they ought ever to hold them subject to correction by any additional light they may, through any medium, receive on the Scriptures. The proper objects of such declarations of faith are, first, for cultivating an acquaintance and correspondence with brethren abroad, by thus making ourselves known in our religious character; secondly, for a testimony towards those that are without. In objecting to declarations, &c., being set up as standards, I would not be understood as admitting that all points of doctrine are mere matters of opinion; that there are no fixed principles which all the children of God are taught in their experience, and of which they have received the inward assurance that they are infallible truths. But the fact is, that we are liable to connect with these truths, as parts, and perhaps as inseparable parts of the system of salvation, certain ideas which we have received, as inferences, connecting points, explanations, &c., and as there will be differences of opinion on these points, whilst we believe them true, we are likely to be very tenacious of them, and to have them set forth in our declarations of faith; when after all, if we should be graciously led to inquire into the correctness of them, we shall find we had no higher authority for them than that certain men whom we esteemed sound in the faith, had in their writings, preaching or conversation held them forth as parts of the doctrine of Christ; and that we had received them as Joshua and Israel did the declarations of the Gibeonites, without asking counsel at the mouth of the Lord. Josh.9:1-15.

As a test of truth and error, the Holy Spirit has given to the children of God an infallible standard, a more sure word of prophecy sustained by a twofold testimony, to which, as Peter has said, we do well that we take heed. "To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them," is the unalterable rule given by the Holy Spirit. Everything else must stand or fall as it is found genuine or reprobate, when tried by this standard. The letter of the Scriptures alone can be applied to as a rule bearing upon the unregenerate. And although to them much that is contained even in the New Testament is done in parables, yet there is a sufficiency of the plain declarations of Jehovah to leave them without excuse, in bringing in their will-worship, their vain ceremonies, vain hopes, and false systems. To you, says Christ to His disciples, "It is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven;" and says Paul (I Cor.2: 15), "But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man." This then is it, the inward teachings of the Spirit of God affords to the child of grace a ready test, if he will attend to it, by which to detect heresy. But then this inward teaching is not to him a safe standard until he has "tried the spirits whether they be of God." If the teaching be from the Spirit of God, he will find it so written in the Scriptures; and the one, as his understanding is now opened to understand it, is found to be an exact duplicate of the other. Hence he has a twofold testimony for the truth of what he receives. And when he hears the same things affirmed in the preaching of the gospel, it is with him that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word is established. Having this standard at hand as he would not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, it becomes him to consult it, instead of going to the creeds and expositions of men as a standard. And whatever application of the Scriptures, inferences drawn from them, or professed preaching of the gospel, which contradicts his experience as thus confirmed by the word, he should reject as false and heretical. Hence it is to this internal standard that the Apostle refers the saints as that by which to test heresies, as in Rom. 16:17 - "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them." Here the standard set up is not the doctrine which they have read or heard, but which they have learned, of course, from the teachings of the Holy Spirit. Again, in Gal. 1:8,9, he says: "But though we or an angel from heaven preach any other doctrine unto you than that which we have preached, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say we again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received let him be accursed." This is a high stand which he points out to the Galatians; yet high as it is, the gospel which they have received, is in the conclusion the ground on which they are to take this stand. I trust I am writing for those who understand the difference between a receiving of the gospel and a mere hearing of it.

In conclusion, whenever the saints can be generally brought back to primitive simplicity, and to view the Scriptures as the wise man describes them, when he says: "They are plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge"(Prov. 8:8), instead of viewing their meaning as so closed from the unlearned of this world, that none but a set of priestly beings, or men having a certain grade of the human learning can unlock them and bring that meaning forth; when, instead of going to the writings of any man as a standard by which to understand and test the doctrine and order of the Scriptures, they will go to the Scriptures for themselves, to try the doctrines of men, depending on the key which they carry in their own breasts, the teachings of the Holy Spirit, as that which best can unlock the Scriptures to them, then we shall find the saints all speaking the same things, and being of one mind, on every essential point in doctrine and practice. And not till then will this desirable period arrive, for so long as the writings of men are consulted as standards, the opinions of the saints will be as various as are the writings which they set up as standards; and not only so, but the children of God, many of them, have too high a sense of christian liberty to suffer their minds to be trampled down by any creed or confession of human composition, how much soever sanctified it may be by age or by the estimation of the many, so as not to think and inquire for themselves. As the Spirit of God teaches the same things and dwells in all the saints, so far as His teaching alone is consulted, so far there will be uniformity of sentiment among the saints. May the period soon arrive when this will be the case with all the saints; then it will be no great difficulty for the churches to detect the man that is an heretic and to unite in rejecting him. Then also will they experience the truth of the Master's promise, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" John 8:32.

Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia,
Jan.31, 1840.
S. Trott.
From: SIGNS of the TIMES. Vol.8 (1840)

Select Works of Elder Trott: pgs 208 - 213