The Battle for a Word

In all likelihood, the current myth that “Heresy is getting Jesus wrong,” which pops up from time to time, can be traced back to the Second English Act of Supremacy of 1558 (sometimes titled 1559, the year of its approval), which was part of the Elizabethan Religious Settlement under Elizabeth I which reestablished Protestantism as the faith of the Church of England following the reign of Mary I (Bloody Mary). It declared that anyone acting under the authority of the monarch…shall not in any wise have authority or power to order, determine, or adjudge any matter or cause to be heresy, but only such as heretofore have been determined, ordered, or adjudged to be heresy, by the authority of the canonical Scriptures, or by the first four general Councils…or such as hereafter shall be ordered, judged, or determined to be heresy by the High Court of Parliament of this realm, with the assent of the clergy in their Convocation.14

In his 1978 speech, “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later,” science fiction writer Philip K. Dick (who wrote the book that became the movie Blade Runner) wrote, “The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words. George Orwell made this clear in his novel 1984.” Forty-five years later we find ourselves living in a world where perhaps most of the conflicts in public discourse are somehow connected to the manipulation of words.

Suddenly, words like “gender,” “racism,” and “equity” don’t mean what they used to mean. Meanwhile, our ears and social media accounts are bombarded by new terms like “microagression,” “intersectionality,” and “cultural appropriation.” If it seems as though other worldviews are wrestling for control of the English language’s steering wheel that’s only because they are.

“Haven’t You Heard It’s a Battle of Words?”

It should come as no surprise that today’s word manipulators gravitate to terms that carry maximum impact on hearts and minds. This is true whether they’re coining new terms or plundering old ones. As Robert J. Lifton explained long ago, people who practice this, whom he called “totalists,” “live in an environment characterized by the thought-terminating cliché.”2 They conscript words and phrases into the service of their ideology, strip them of their former identities, shave their heads, and put them in new ideological uniforms. In the war of ideas, words are the boots on the ground. They must be drilled into disciplined troops.

Does the reigning ideology require that the LGBTQ+ agenda be accepted by Christians? Then positive, inviting words like “affirming” must be drafted into service and applied to those churches who cooperate with that agenda. Those who don’t are obviously “haters” and “bigots.” (These are but early assault troops paving the way for the full-on invasion of elite forces like “gender non-conforming,” “transphobia,” and “lived experience,” thus signaling that the occupation is fully underway.)

But what if the other side mobilizes its own time-tested terminology in defense of its opposing beliefs? For example, how does the ideology defend itself against a word like “heresy?” Obviously, that word must be captured, re-educated, if you will, and assigned to its appropriate place on the battlefield.

“LGBTQ+? Where Do the Early Creeds Even Mention That?”

One of the most common ways of doing that with the word “heresy” is to limit its firepower. To slightly mix metaphors here, throughout church history “heresy” has served as a kind of “military assault weapon,”3 if you will, in theological battles. In a far less tolerant time, countless people were executed, often rather gruesomely, for heresy.

Of course, for the past few centuries the worst thing that can happen to most people accused of heresy is that they might have to find another place to go to church. Even so, that is now considered cruel and unusual punishment in the rhetoric of today’s ideologues (who will gladly “cancel” you out of your career and social circle if you step out of their prescribed verbal line).4

So, in recent years, many have tried to retool the weapon of the word “heresy” to degrade its functionality. They realize they can’t scrap it altogether, so they try to rebuild it with a much shorter range and less ammunition capacity, mainly so that it can’t be effectively used against them.

Perhaps the most popular way of doing this has been to limit the number of doctrines that “heresy” is able to target by insisting that it can only be applied to a limited set of doctrines—specifically, those doctrines that were established within the first half-millennium of the Christian church concerning the Deity of Christ and the Trinity, specifically at early church councils like the one that produced the Nicene Creed, which is still recited in many churches. This way, they can claim that current controversies over issues of sexual morality have nothing to do with heresy.

I once had a pastor in my own denomination tell me, “Heretics deny Nicea, not Westminster,”5 the Westminster Confession of Faith being one of our denominational standards affirming such things as the sole authority of Scripture and justification by faith alone, which are not found in the Nicene Creed. He couldn’t be more wrong.

If they can fool educated, conservative, Bible-believing Christians into accepting this canard, they will have effectively disarmed them of an important weapon in the battle over the teachings of God’s word.

A Recent Example

Several days before I wrote most of this on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, i.e., X, Megan Basham called out LGBTQ+ “affirming” pastor Kevin M. Young for “his heresies regarding sexuality.”6. Two minutes later, Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor Ben Marsh upbraided her, telling her to “get a life.”7 Less than a half-hour later, Basham asked Marsh to tell her “whether what Kevin Young teaches about homosexuality and transgenderism is heresy, which led to the following exchange a few minutes later. 

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