Heresy Or ‘Hear Say’? – Reply By E. Calvin Beisner

in Evangelistic Education Ministries publication Notes & Quotes

September 17, 1991

Dear Sir,

Kel Good suggests sincerity of belief as a delineator between simple error, which is to be tolerated in the church, and heresy, which is not. Might he suggest some boundaries beyond which sincerely held error cannot go without defining itself as non-Christian? There are, after all, sincere Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and Armstrongites. Interestingly enough, they and other cultists routinely complain that their sincerity is under attack when in reality their doctrines are. The tactic is so common, one could almost call such complaints one of the characteristic marks of the cults.

The point of calling a doctrine or system of doctrine heresy is not to question the sincerity of its advocates allege that it is contrary to the fundamental doctrine of a particular church or Christianity as a whole, regardless of the sincerity of those who believe it. I argued in The Heresy of Moral Government Theology that the distinctive system of doctrine promoted today as Moral Government Theology is contrary to the fundamental doctrines of the chief Calvinist, Lutheran, and Wesleyan/Arminian creeds and other doctrinal authorities (e.g., Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament was officially recognized as authoritative in the resolution of doctrinal and exegetical disputes in Methodist churches until liberalism overran most of them in the past few generations). Since that distinctive system is comprised chiefly of the teachings of Pelagius (against original sin and in favor of human perfectibility), Socinus (against original sin, against vicarious satisfaction in the atonement and in favor of the moral influence view of the atonement, and against the intellectual infinitude and immutability of God), and Grotius (against vicarious satisfaction in the atonement and in favor of the moral influence view), and since from their inception those teachings have been opposed by every branch of Christianity that confronted them, it is reasonable to say that the system is heretical. I also argued that these views are in fact unbiblical because they are contrary to specific and clear passages of Scripture.

Rather than hiding behind complaints of being charged with doctrinal insincerity (which to my knowledge they never have been), proponents of Moral Government Theology should follow the Apostle Peter’s injunction and show themselves “always ready to give a defense to everyone who asks…a reason for the hope” they hold (1 Pet. 3:15). That will require hard exegetical, theological, and historical work–something rarely encountered in the writings of Moral Government theology adherents.

One other comment on Good’s essay. He insists, “Few theological systems insist on the call to holiness as does Moral Government. “Aside from the fact that there have always been strong emphases on holiness in Calvinism (just think of the caricatures of the Puritans!), Lutheranism, Wesleyanism, and Baptism, Good neglects that a call to holiness may be useless if it is accompanied by an unbiblical message about the means to it. No matter how much a doctrinal system insisted on our being holy, if it taught a means to holiness that Scripture said was impossible, that system would be wrong and would in fact not lead people into real holiness. Instead, it would lead them into a false holiness, which would become in them a root of pride. If, as Good says, “No one should teach doctrines which lead people to sin,” and if Moral Government Theology leads people into a false holiness that becomes a source of pride, then, on Good’s own criterion, no one should teach Moral Government Theology. Indeed, Moral Government Theology’s stern rejection of original sin and total depravity-doctrines common to Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Wesleyan theology alike–naturally engenders pride. Precisely such pride is what I have encountered time and again, especially among people and institutions that consider themselves well advanced in Moral Government Theology. They tend to think themselves immune to criticism, question, or correction from others in the body of Christ. Hence, for instance, Youth With a Mission’s persistent refusal to be held doctrinally accountable by any persons outside itself.

Why not quit the smoke screens and join the battle in earnest? Exegete the key passages of Scripture and see whether they support or oppose your distinctive doctrines; follow your ideas out to their logical conclusions and see whether you’re still happy to embrace them; labor through the key theological arguments and see whether yours can stand. See whether, in direct confrontation, you can persuade your critics, or even third parties, that your distinctive doctrines are true, or for that matter even mildly enough mistaken to be treated lightly by the Body of Christ, whether, as Arminius said of the notion that God is “freely good, they are “blasphemy,” and whether, as Wesley said of the denial (of-sic) original sin and total depravity, it is “heathenism.”


E. Calvin Beisner
Pea Ridge, Arkansas

Copyright 2019 Kel Good. This publication may be copied freely as long as no alteration is made to the text. For more information write: Kel Good via What I Believe This Week (

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