Summary: In this sermon, we learn about the existence of false teaching.
The Letter of Jude deals with the subject of false teaching, which is the greatest danger to the Church of Jesus Christ today.
14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.
17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. (Jude 14-19)
Last week I mentioned that Martin Downes defined heresy as “any teaching that directly contradicts the clear and direct witness of the Scriptures on a point of salvific importance.” In other words, heresy is the kind of doctrinal error that completely redefines the gospel.
The first known usage of the term “heresy” in a civil legal context was in 380 AD by the “Edict of Thessalonica” of Theodosius I. Prior to the issuance of this edict, the Church had no state- sponsored support for any particular legal mechanism to counter what it perceived as “heresy.” By this edict, in some senses, the line between the Christian Church and the Roman State was blurred. One of the outcomes of this blurring of Church and State was a sharing of State powers of legal enforcement between Church and State authorities. At its most extreme reach, this new Church authority of legal enforcement gave Church leaders the power to pronounce the death sentence upon those whom they might perceive to be “heretics.”
Within 5 years of the official “criminalization” of heresy by the emperor, the first Christian heretic, Priscillian, was executed in 385 AD by Roman officials.
For some years after the Reformation, Protestant Churches were known to execute those whom they considered as heretics. For example, we think of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692-1693 in which 19 people were hanged.
The last known heretic executed by sentence of the Roman Catholic Church was Cayetano Ripoll in 1826.
The number of people executed as heretics under the authority of the various “church authorities” is not known. However, it most certainly numbers into the several thousands.
Today we no longer execute heretics. However, that does not mean that heretics no longer exist. In fact, they still do exist. They have always existed, and they will continue to exist.