I’ve been talking about the difference between error and heresy and in my most recent article, I argued that Scripture and not church courts and councils is the final authority on such matters. As I was looking at Acts 15, I realised that we had a helpful case study regarding the difference between the two things.
Some people have suggested that Acts 15 provides the basis for councils and denominational courts. As I showed in my last article, this does not really stack up with what the passage says. I think people have mistakenly read back their own denominational practices and other historical traditions onto the text.
Now, that’s no big deal on one level is it? We are all fallible and we all make mistakes. However, it could get serious and in fact in some cases has done. The Roman Catholic Church throughout history, on the basis of such thinking has emphasised the role of the church, specifically the magisterium in deciding doctrinal matters. The church even sits in judgement over what is included in Scripture. The result of this kind of thinking is that Scripture is no longer seen as sufficient. This is starting to look a lot like heresy isn’t it.
Now can you see the difference between my reformed/evangelical presbyterian friends and the Roman Catholic position (and that of those who push it further). I may think that my friends in the IPC are mistaken in their interpretation, I may also be worried about the risk that their position may be used by others to push the church deeper into trouble, however I don’t consider the Presbyterians to be heretics. Why? Well because through careful conversation and observation of their practice I do know that they treat Scripture as authoritative and sufficient. Their councils and courts are aiming to discern Scripture. I also would assume that if they decided someone was heretical that if they asked me to share their judgement then the basis of this would not be because they said so and they claimed some special authority. Rather, they would (I presume and hope) want to convince me that their decision was correct based on our shared understanding of God’s Word.
So, whilst there may be, in my opinion, errors in their thinking and practice, those errors are made within the boundaries of orthodox doctrine as taught by Scripture and for as long as those boundaries are kept in place, we are all protected from heresy.