Heresy is a belief or doctrine that is contrary to orthodox doctrine. It’s a danger to every church, because God’s truth is absolute; Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6) and we need to hold on to truth to know freedom. (John 8:32)
Heresy does not always look evil, however. It can often appear innocent and even have some basis in truth. Paul, when warning the Ephesian elders about this, said that ‘even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.’ (Acts 20:30) Heresy arises from a distortion of truth, a twisting out of shape, rather like the strange mirrors in the Hall of Mirrors at fairgrounds which make us look tall and thin or small and fat, twisting our bodies into shapes that do not actually reflect reality. Often distortion of truth appears attractive and not a lie: exaggeration is itself a distortion of truth and is not necessarily harmful. But we must be careful with truth and be aware that a distortion of this can easily lead so far away from right belief that we end up a long way from our desired destination.
Paul has already dealt with various distortions of truth, such as the need for circumcision as a necessary part of salvation. In our own day, those who emphasise the love of God without also understanding the justice of God can distort the truth into teaching universalism, that all people will be saved regardless of faith in Jesus Christ. We need wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit so that we are guardians of truth and are not led astray from God’s paths by hollow and deceptive philosophy which may sound plausible, but which is actually a distortion of the truth.
We must, however, also be on the alert for ‘wolves’, those who, however plausible and pleasing they may sound, actually do untold harm to the flock of Christ; Jesus Himself warned about ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ (Matt 7:15). A shepherd’s task in the natural was to feed the sheep (by leading them to good pasture) and to protect them (from the wolves which were their chief enemy.) Spiritually speaking, pastors need to feed the sheep (by teaching the truth of God’s word) and to protect them (by warning of error.) In this way we are kept, nurtured and protected.