A free copy of Christianity Today landed in my office. Flipping through I found a list of heresies. I scanned the list. I was not surprised to see people believe “Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God,” but I was surprised 73% strongly agree. 1
Down the list the church started to perform better (agreeing less with heresy). But I quickly discovered the study had a very broad definition of heresy 2. Then I came to this heresy: “The Holy Spirit can tell me to do something which is forbidden in the Bible.” And my first thought was, that is not a heresy. To the contrary, “we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6, see also 2Cor 3:6). Yet here written in black and white – with a colored graph – my belief was declared a heresy. So I started pondering.
Before we jump in, the Bible is our example. Essential to our faith. We will not ever be lead by the Spirit to counter the overarching message of the Bible. But we may be lead — rarely and only after much prayer — to counter a specific teaching.
For example, the bible teaches the Sabbath is the last day of the week. Saturday. Yet we celebrate on Sunday. Nowhere does the Bible change the sabbath day. The scripture leaves it on the six days of the week, but generations of the Spirit led church has moved the Sabbath to Sunday. Some suggest we should go back to Saturday 3 but the Spirit declares Sunday is the day of Resurrection.
But maybe you see the Saturday Sabbath as part of the Old Testament law turned over by the New Testament. So lets turn to divorce. The New Testament allows two reasons for divorce: marital unfaithfulness (Mt 5:32) and if an unbeliever leaves (1Cor 7:15). But let us imagine the too common situation of abuse. If a husband continues to pummel his wife, is it sin to divorce him? Or could the spirit lead her to divorce him – “to do something forbidden in the Bible.”
Now, turn the argument another way. If the New Testament is our guide and example, then we should act like Jesus and the disciples. Again and again we see Jesus and the disciples following the Spirit to do something forbidden in the Bible.
For example, the sabbath codes mentioned earlier. But a bigger and more important issue is the inclusion of Gentiles. The revelation of Acts 10 shows the journey of Peter to accept the Gentile, Cornelius. The Spirit of God declares, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (v15). And when the Spirit descends on Gentiles, the church is “astonished”, but baptizes the new believers (v46, 48). Because the church is following the Spirit! And as they continue to follow — after much prayer and searching — they remove the requirement for circumcision (Acts 15). A sign that goes back beyond the Law of Moses, to the original covenant with Abraham. Yet at the Spirit’s leading, the church follows.
Now, my point, if the Bible is our example, then we should live out that example. Namely, we should follow the Spirit. As Paul writes, “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (1Cor 3:6, the rest of the chapter is powerful!)
So the statement is not heresy. In fact, to do the opposite – following the Bible over the Spirit – would be the heresy. For then we would put the Bible in God’s place. But there is only one God. By beautiful grace He came to save us and even now walks with us as the Spirit. And so we follow.
How did the Study claim “The Holy Spirit can tell me to do something which is forbidden in the Bible.” to be heresy? Here is their explanation: (Click here for the study)
“God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33); thus, God cannot contradict Himself, for that would cause confusion. Since the Holy Spirit is God and since God ultimately authored the Bible (Acts 5:3–5; 2 Tim. 3:16–17), the Holy Spirit will never contradict Himself by telling us to do something that is forbidden in the Bible.”
I might quibble over language (did God “ultimately author” or did God “inspire authors”), but their core proof is about confusion. I agree that God is NOT confusing, but can the same be said about the Bible? The Bible is often confusing. For example, to stick with 1 Corinthians 14, the verse that follows says “Women should remain silent” (v34) . Yet a few chapters earlier, 11:5, Pauls commands women to keep their heads covered while they are prophesying. Now I would say this is confusing. Unless maybe women were to prophesy with sign language?!
This is one example and I could go on listing. Or, I can just write what the Bible says about part of itself, “Paul’s letters contain some things that are hard to understand” (2Pt 3:15-16).
Again, God is NOT confusing. So why would the Bible be confusing? Could it be that God inspired a book that required interpretation?! This way we would have to follow the Spirit and not letters on a page! We would have to be in a relationship with our Savior! In submission to our Father!
1 Jesus is God. As is the Father and Spirit. A part of the Trinity was not created, but has always been.
2 For example, “Worship alone or with one’s family is a way to replace church.” — I certainly think this statement is incorrect. But I would not call it a heresy. A heresy is teaching a different gospel: denying the trinity or claiming there is salvation apart from Christ. This statement is an error of belief. But I could see a moment, as a family looks for a church, where home church is very important.
3 This will explain the Seventh Day Adventists, who believe we must move the sabbath back to Saturday! They have allowed a literalist view to overrule the work of the Spirit’s work in generations of the church.