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HERESY IN PROTESTANTISM

Condemnation or censure for doctrinal deviation in a Protestant denomination. In the earlier stages of Protestantism, the concept of heresy played a major role in shaping the various churches. Doctrines like absolute predestination and practices like infant baptism were orthodox or heretical, depending on theological orientation, and the conflicting attitudes often gave rise to various denominations. Moreover, civil rulers were authorized to protect their subjects from erroneous doctrines. The duty of civil magistrates, according the Westminster Confession of Faith, was "to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed" (XXIII, 3). Presbyterians and others still provide that heresy is sufficient ground for deposition from the ministry.

With some exceptions, heresy in modern Protestant Churches must be extreme and "industriously spread" before action is taken against a member of the clergy. The rule of faith in these cases is the Bible and the norm of orthodoxy, in the spirit of John Wesley, is an inclusive Christianity. "We believe," he said, "Christ to be the eternal, the supreme God. But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think" (Works, VIII, 31). More commonly the heresy must "strike at the vitals of religion," as in agnosticism or atheism, to be officially proscribed.

A few denominations int he Lutheran and Evangelical tradition excommunicate even the laity if "convicted of denying a fundamental truth necessary to salvation -- the deity of Christ, vicarious atonement, or the resurrection of the dead." This may be done only after due admonition has been given and the person shows himself or herself "to be an incorrigible sinner and unbeliever." In practice, however, the churches seldom resort to these measures.

All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.

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