I get into a lot of…um…“discussions” with those who disagree with my use of the words “Apostasy” (apostate) and “Heresy” (or heretic) when I call out the false teachers of the day and their false doctrines. I thought I’d take the time to memorialize the distinctions between the two (or four) terms, and defend my continued use of them. Plus, I figure I could just forward this article as an answer to future criticism instead of having to type it all out again…
In his book “The Truth War”, John MacArthur explains what an apostate is:
An apostate is therefore a defector from the truth—someone who has known the truth, given some show of affirmation to it, perhaps even proclaimed it for a while—but then rejected it in the end. The typical apostate may still purport to believe the truth and proclaim the truth; but in reality he opposes the truth and undermines it. He is a traitor to the faith and secretly an enemy in the Truth War. But he wants everyone to think otherwise. Most apostates seek to remain within the church and actively seek acceptance among the people of God. Because everything they do undermines faith and corrupts the truth, such people pose a grave danger to the health of the flock—even though they usually bend over backward to appear friendly, likable, and pious. That is why Jesus compares them to ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15).
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines the word “apostasy” as:
An abandonment of what one has voluntarily professed; a total desertion of departure from one’s faith, principles, or party; esp., the renunciation of a religious faith;
And it states that an “apostate” is:
One who has forsaken the faith, principles, or party, to which he before adhered; esp., one who has forsaken his religion for another; a pervert; a renegade.
Likewise, Webster defines the word “heresy” as:
An opinion held in opposition to the established or commonly received doctrine, and tending to promote a division or party, as in politics, literature, philosophy, etc.
And it states that a “heretic” is:
One who holds to a heresy; one who believes some doctrine contrary to the established faith or prevailing religion.
Many argue that using these words is “inflammatory” and “vile rhetoric” – hearkening back to the early church when folks were burned at the stake.
The truth is that based on the technical definition of the words, the terms “heretic” and “apostate” are rightly applied to Carlton Pearson, Oprah, the pope, many (if not all) Word of Faith false teachers and pulpit pimps, and anyone else who blatantly twists the Word of God and the doctrines of our faith to suit their fleshly purpose.
So there you have it – if we sincerely believe in the concept of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), then we can’t be afraid to call a spade a spade – even if it ruffles a few feathers.
***hat tip to defending contending for the MacArthur quote***