What’s So Bad About Heresy Anyway?
Heresy has been defined by some as “that which subverts the logic of the gospel.” For instance, Athanasius argued against Arianism based on the logic that, “if the works of the divinity of the Logos [the Word = Jesus] had not taken place through a body, humanity would not have been made divine.” (Against Arians III.33.1) That is to say that if Jesus was not fully man, we could not be joined with him in salvation; if He were not fully God, then we could not be united through Him in union with God. Athanasius is arguing that if the church starts teaching heresy then the gospel stops making sense.
But does it? I don’t know. It seems like the gospel can make perfect sense before one comes to any kind of metaphysical view of who Jesus is. It seems like the stress in the Bible is on Jesus as Messiah, and that through Him God was reconciling the world to Himself. If a person surrenders their life to Jesus, that seems like it would be enough for salvation. It is not belief THAT He is God that saves, but belief IN Him as Savior.
So it seems to me that heresy is more an issue about what you are teaching others than about whether you can be saved; it is more a matter of ecclesiology than soteriology. Thus I contend that it is not necessary for a person to sign on to the doctrine of the Trinity in order to be born again. The problem comes when they begin to teach others that Jesus was not fully God (or fully man, or whatever). They must be corrected or be cut off from the church lest they infect it with their naughty little doctrines.
Is my view consistent? Probably not. If I am right that adherence to the doctrine of the Trinity (for instance) is not necessary for salvation, then what would the dangers of denying it from the pulpit even be? If it’s not going to keep me from being saved, why would it keep you from being saved if I preach it? Clearly the church Fathers like Athanasius disagreed with my view. They thought it was very important that you believe the right thing. But I’m having a difficult time following their logic through. Why is it so important that we subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity anyway? What makes it’s denial any worse than, say, subscribing to infant baptism instead of believer’s baptism?