How Heresy Begins
When a man dabbles with his own mind in Scripture, he is liable either to imagine he can see things in God’s Word which are not there, or to become blind to that which lies on its surface. He receives a perverted view of its teaching. The Holy Spirit is the only interpreter of Scripture, and once His guidance is lost, there is no telling the distance from the truth to which one can travel. A small departure from a straight line leads to a progressively greater and greater deviation. Of course, gift, diligent study, and a pure conscience are all valuable, and have their place, but the fact remains that only a Spirit–taught man can properly understand the Spirit–written book. Spiritual things are communicated by spiritual means (see 1 Cor. 2: 13).
In honouring the Spirit of God, the saints will not only find power and enlargement in the truth, but unity in it as well. Where the human mind is allowed to usurp the place that belongs to the Spirit, the opposite will be the case. That is why we read of “strifes” and “sects” (1 Cor. 1: 11; 11: 19) at Corinth––the wisdom of man had sway. Hence things may be brought forward that are not even in the Bible, but are presented as truth for our acceptance. Or again, connections may be made between passages of Scripture where there are none, so building up an apparently sound system of doctrine. Sometimes, certain truths may be exalted to undue prominence, or relegated to positions of unwarranted obscurity. All these things contain in them the germ of heresy––the little seed from which a school of opinion (see Gal. 5: 20) or heresy grows. They may have a fair appearance, but it is a fair appearance in the flesh.
When the enemy is working by heresy, he rarely takes up as instruments any who are unappealing to the natural mind. Many an attractive personality, oratorical talent, or genius of learning has been used to conceal the evil at work. By its very nature, however, the leaven, unless seen and judged, must eventually rise up and manifest itself, and disciples are drawn away after the “heretical man” (Tit. 3: 10). He becomes the leader of a school of opinion––an opinion which, in itself, need not be evil, but which unless action is taken against it, will lead to an outright schism or rupture among the people of God. Instead of gathering to Christ, which is always the Spirit’s aim, he gathers to himself.
As heresy begins with the natural mind playing with the truth, so often its mode of action in forming a following is to get saints occupied with complicated reasonings and questions with which they may be ill–equipped to deal. When Paul’s preaching provoked controversy, he communicated “privately to those conspicuous” in Jerusalem. (Gal. 2: 2). The heretic communicates his teaching privately as well, but to the weak and simple, and especially women (comp. 2 Tim. 3: 6). Such are easily “tossed and carried about by every wind of that teaching [which is] in the sleight of men” (Eph. 4: 14). Thus a situation can arise whereby leaders propagate error through wickedness, while sadly, their followers do the same through ignorance.
Every Christian, however simple, needs to watch the spirit in which teachers hold and set out their views. Is it Christ–exalting––or is there more emphasis on the servant himself? Where there is a tendency to force ideas upon people (even commendable things), and where those who, with good conscience, decline to accede are disregarded, belittled or even threatened, then the leaven of heresy is operating. May we watch our own spirits too. We should not even have the unspoken attitude of mind that would divide saints into supposedly ‘well–taught’ and, by implication, ‘less knowledgeable’ camps. View things as God views them, and resist most strenuously any attempt to divide into parties, whether in thought, word or deed, where there should be oneness.