From the days of the apostles heresy has plagued the Christian faith. The attack on creeds is more severe today than it was 50 years ago.
Statements such as these are evidence of this attack:
¥ “We need deeds, not creeds.”
¥ “It doesn’t matter so much what we believe, only that we are sincere in our belief.”
The Apostles’ Creed is a confessional statement of the Christian Church. Each Sunday morning in the Lutheran church, the congregation confesses its faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. For many of us, this is a high point in the service. It reminds us of what we believe and that brothers and sisters in Christ are confessing this faith around the world.
In this confessional statement, Christians confess their faith in God the Father, who is the Creator; God the Son, Jesus Christ, who is our Redeemer; and God the Holy Spirit, who is the Sanctifier. To deny any of these biblical teachings is a heresy. For example, if a person, who confesses to be a Christian, says, “I doubt that Jesus Christ rose physically from the grave,” he has denied the faith and is not a Christian. If that person is clergy, he should be dismissed from the clergy roster of his denomination.
Today our Lord opens our eyes to hidden heresies. These are wrong beliefs hiding in the souls of believers, who are unaware that what they are teaching is wrong. This is best illustrated by reading the text.
The apostles were overwhelmed at the calling Jesus had given to them. They were to go and make disciples of all nations. The apostles responded saying, “Lord, increase our faith.”
Jesus corrected their thinking by saying, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ÔBe uprooted and planted in the sea, and it will obey you.'”
Tom Wright, the English theologian, has said it well. “Jesus was telling them that it was not a great faith that they needed. It was faith in a great God.”
To believe that we can change ourselves, or others, is a hidden heresy. Many who would never deny the resurrection of Jesus believe that they can change themselves and others.
A heresy might be compared to a malignancy. Let it get out of control and it can kill you. The malignancy that is the most dangerous is not the one that is easily detected and is therefore removed. Instead, it is the malignancy hidden deep in the body, that even the most powerful equipment cannot detect, that are the killers. It is not until after they have done their killing work that they are found, and then it is too late.
So it is with our spiritual malignancies. We can deal with the obvious heresies. If a person denies a cardinal doctrine Ð like the resurrection of Jesus Ð we can work them. If they refuse to recant, they can be removed from any teaching responsibility in the church.
Our Evangelical Lutheran Church’s sexuality statement illustrates such a heresy. Once, the ELCA declared the practice of homosexuality was sin and prohibited such people from serving as pastors on its clergy roster. This is the teaching of the Bible. Today, practicing homosexuals may be ordained and called as pastors in our congregations. This is a hidden heresy.
Accept this hidden heresy and the ELCA can no longer honestly teach that it believes the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the only authority in matters of faith and life. Now where does it go for its authority?
Drive through some of our New England towns and you will see churches that have died. Once people gathered in those buildings to hear the Bible expounded, proclaiming Jesus Christ, his suffering, death, and resurrection for our sins. Now that message is no longer believed or proclaimed. If a congregation is still assembling, it proclaims another message telling the people of the beauty of creation and the goodness of the human being.
So God’s Word sends a warning to his people: Beware of false teachings, and do not forget the hidden heresies. They may not be easily detected but they pose also a serious threat to the life of the church.