Pristine Grace

The Insidious Rise of the Internet Heresy Hunter
by Brandan Kraft
The Insidious Rise of the Internet Heresy Hunter

He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings. - 1 Tim 6:4

    I sure do love what the Internet has done for believers as it has become a fabulous tool used to enable the saints to become closer together.  I use it every day to stay in touch with dear friends in the Gospel.  I like to pull my phone out and keep in touch with friends that are near and dear to me.  Friends send me short quotes, bulletin articles, hymns, sermons, and words of encouragement daily through the use of the internet and social media.   And having been a believer for a while now, I can remember when I didn't have this type of interaction with all the saints online.  Internet communication has become so simple and instantaneous, I have found a way to find fellowship and edification with nearly all the people that I love and appreciate.  This instant communication though is really only a supplement to actual face to face fellowship in the Gospel, and in my opinion cannot serve as a true replacement.  

    But like any tool that can be used for good, there is always another side to the story.  And in this case, there is an ugly side.  Strife, division, and lack of unity amongst believers is much more easily spread.  Just as these tools can be used for edification, prayer, and fellowship, these tools can be used to expose the worst of men which includes gossip, slander, and defamation of character.   And I think this is because the Internet enables one to hide in relative anonymity.  It's hard to imagine walking up to someone in church with whom you have a disagreement, pointing your finger at them, and yelling loudly, "You're a VILE heretic!" and then continue on with the church meeting like nothing happened.   You'd probably be asked to leave, and rightly so.  This is not behavior that should be tolerated in any assembly!  Yet sadly, it is tolerated every day on Facebook and other social media outlets by zealots of all religious stripes.

    And this is a sad thing, because it can be so disruptive, so harsh, and so cruel.  It can rob from the peace and unity in actual churches as well.  Gossip, slander, and defamation of character are things that occur regularly on facebook.  And it's because of these bad effects in our real offline lives that I have been prompted to write this essay.  My goal in writing is for this essay to be used in acknowledging the problem and correcting the behavior when it is encountered.

The Rise of the Internet Heresy Hunter

    Polite conversation and general courtesy are no longer popular in the overall culture of this world.   And with the rise of the internet, courtesy and polite behavior have taken a backseat to sensational speech and the dependence upon polemics in everyday speech.  Polemics are simply strong verbal attacks upon an individual.  And these attacks are now on display for everyone to see online.  Name calling, back biting, accusatory speech, and never ending tests of orthodoxy are part of what happens every day on social media groups where theology or fellowship in the Gospel is the focus.   Meme culture, advertisements for or against a particular doctrine, self promotion, and proud boasting in knowledge are now things I see every day even in free grace circles.   It's all become a very depressing display of man's vanity in my opinion.  But to add to this miserable show has been the rise of the internet heresy hunter.

    Having operated a website dedicated to the Gospel with my particular distinctives, I've grown accustomed to the heresy hunting.  Back in the day I was labeled a heretic by free willers when I first was turned away from freewillism to looking only to Christ alone in the doctrines of imputed righteousness, predestination, and limited atonement.  This website was once called "bornagain.net" and when I started to switch over to promoting the true Gospel a lot of my freewiller friends turned against me and really gave me a hard time.  The forum which I operated at the time was used for bible study.  And when I was converted to the free grace Gospel, I was the only professor of sovereign grace on the site with hundreds of freewillers.  I expected many people to see things my way when I laid out the scriptures for them showing the truth of sovereign grace, but I was attacked relentlessly. These freewillers eventually gave up and they moved on to different websites where they could continue to talk about their love for their freewill doctrine.  With all the freewillers leaving and only free grace believers left behind and moving in to using the forum, I thought my days of dealing with internet strife and heresy hunting were over.  But oh how wrong I was!

    Having come from freewillism and not having been raised in a sovereign grace church I can understand a lot of the resentment there is out there toward the freewill doctrine of auto-salvation.  We were lied to for so many years, having been led to do all sorts of silly and God dishonoring things like walking down an aisle, proposing to save myself by exercising my free will, and believing the nonsense of dispensational eschatology.  I used to engage in practices such as leading people through the sinners prayer, and before I was revealed the truth of sovereign grace, I thought the biggest debates that existed in christianity were those of whether or not tongues (glossalia) are for today, if there was going to be a pre, post, or mid-trib rapture, or if you can lose your salvation.  As a dyed in the wool southern baptist, I thought the big debate was with pentecostals on OSAS (Once Saved Always Saved).  I was ignorant of the true Gospel for most of my youth and my early adulthood.  And so when I was brought to believe the truth, I nearly immediately develeloped a sizeable resentment for the lies I had been kept under for so long.  This resentment is still with me today, but as I've grown in the knowledge of His grace and mercy, I've come to understand that these lies and this blindness was for my good.  I'm no longer angry about those experiences, but am indeed thankful for the exact path the Lord has put me on as I know that God predestined every single aspect of my life both before and after my conversion.

    But there are still a lot of folks out there that have come to believe the truth regarding the doctrine of Grace and they are still resentful of the free-will lie that still exists and is being promulgated by the religious world.  And this resentment along with the advent of social media has resulted in a lot of caustic facebook posts by angry believers.  Instead of focusing on the positive aspects of God's glorious Gospel, they are still focused on the lie of freewillism, and cannot seem to get past it and grow in maturity.  They constantly post about freewillism or man-centered religion, and are constantly attacking anyone and everyone they think might be tolerant of it in any capacity.   Having had an opportunity to get to know several of these folks over the years, I've encountered innumerable facebook posts about freewillers, teachers of freewill, modern day calvinists who aren't as orthodox as their favorite teachers, and anyone who might be tolerant of anybody the poster does not endorse.   The posts are often laced with vitriol and most of these posters are often encouraged by like-minded fans with constant cheers, "likes" and post-sharing.  Facebook has turned into a veritable self-centered slobber-fest.  While much of their subject matter may be truthful and doctrinally accurate, the behavior is many times very much not Christ-like.  It's many times actually shameful, for many of the posters seem to boast in their knowledge, and continually try to shame all those who do not agree with them in every single capacity.  It's as if our modern day political culture of "my way or the highway" and "if you don't agree with me on everything, you're a heretic" has infected the minds of modern day sovereign grace proselytes.  There often appears little or no genuine desire for truth or true fellowship as many of these facebook warriors seem to show little desire for even assembling themselves together with the saints. The excuse they often give is there is not a congregation that is orthodox enough for them to attend in any regular capacity.  I certainly can understand that there is a drought of Gospel congregations out there, but where there is a will and desire to meet with the saints, there is a way, even if it's not a weekly thing.  I am in no way condemning folks with this statement as I understand that many of God's sheep out there are in circumstances which do not afford them the ability to travel the long distances to meet with a Gospel congregation.  But many are actually in parts of this world that live close to a Gospel congregation, but won't meet with the saints due to secondary issues.  The Gospel is not primary in their theology, and secondary issues like baptism, or uninformed hearsay keeps them separated from their brethren.  Many of these folks are much happier hanging out online causing strife, instigating needless arguments and fights, and glorying in their self-appointed role as the exposer of every person they deem a heretic.

I See Dead People

    It's not enough for the modern day heresy hunter to rail against those living people they know and who they have their disagreements with.  No, they need to go looking for enemies to expose.  They rail constantly against popular preachers, and even dead theologians!  I've even heard many of them speak badly about John Calvin and Martin Luther!  There is not a single theologian in history that has been one hundred per cent correct on every single thing he has written.  You can take a popular theologian like Spurgeon, Gill, Clark, Hoeksema, Mahan, Calvin, and even Luther and quote that person against themselves.  Their writings will contain contradictions, and even some stuff that is outright false.  This is true not just for dead theologians, but for any person that has written extensively about Christ and His Gospel.  This is true for me as well.  And this will be true for any minister of the Gospel.  The Lord has been pleased to reveal the truth gradually over time to His people.  We've all come from the false man-centered religion of looking to our works for salvation or a benefit of our salvation.  And every believer has turned from relying on one's self to looking solely to Christ for every single good thing.  But this knowledge, this clarity in the Gospel doesn't usually happen all at once.  As a person grows and matures in the knowledge of Grace and Christ's Gospel, they will become more and more clear in their writings.  Take a young John Gill and compare it with a later John Gill, and I can almost guarantee you will find a more seasoned article of literature with the work from later in his ministry.   But to the modern day heresy hunter, this is not acceptable.  They will look for one seemingly false quotation, castigate that dead theologian for speaking about it, boast about it on their facebook wall, and ignore the vast majority of the writings from the dead heretic that teach the exact opposite.  I once saw a lady heresy hunter take a quote from Calvin, boast about how evil and sick he was was for supposedly believing in man-centered religion, and then defriend and block me and my wife for daring to say he had some good things to say.  This is not the Gospel.  This is not Christ honoring.  This is a sickness of self-righteousness that seeks to tear others and even dead people down so they can build themselves up.  I agree that it's good to point other believers to those writers which were faithful to the Gospel and the scriptures, and away from those that sought to distort the truth.  But in doing so, we need to be careful to do it accurately and in such a way that the truth is magnified.  When we inject ourselves and our egos into the equation, we have crossed into error.

Intolerant of Tolerant Compromisers (Carpenterism)

    Since the early internet days of Marc Carpenter and his endless exposing of people he disagrees with, a popular theology of intolerance has emerged within the free grace camp.  To the heresy hunters, you're not good enough for them if you express a love for Christ and His Gospel of free and sovereign grace.  The modern day heresy hunter will often submit folks to endless tests of orthodoxy and demand intolerance of all doctrines that even appear to teach against what they deem is the truth.  And it's not just agreement of these doctrines that will rile them up with self-righteous rhetoric.  They will demand intolerance for their list of unapproved preachers and theologians.   Claiming to enjoy listening to one of their unapproved teachers will earn you the badge of compromiser or "tolerant calvinist" and all fellowship will be discontinued along with being possibly exposed as a heretic on their facebook wall.   There is no love or tolerance for those they have disagreements with.  Commitment to their harsh and cold orthodoxy is necessary to stay in good graces with them.

    Additionally, there seems to be a focus on repentance of every false doctrine in the daily rhetoric of the carpenterites.  Some of them count themselves regenerated week after week after week and they fail to maintain assurance for any definite time.  Each week these folks will discover something new or another tolerant that they must repent of, and that is when they've achieved true repentance.  They fail to see that they get regenerated each week, and the end result is not on Christ and His finished work of redemption, it's upon the individual's perceived intolerance to that which is false.  It's a way to turn free grace into a form of works righteousness.   I know a couple folks heavily influenced by carpenterism that even committed suicide, presumably due to their lack of assurance.  Imagine decades of no assurance because you could never be intolerant enough of all the heretics around you!

The Heresy Hunter is Never Happy and is not Truthful

    Many of the heresy hunters have little respect for freedom and liberty in Christ.   They have difficulty accepting folks that would dare express a different opinion from them, and even on secondary issues.  Disagreement with them on secondary issues that don't affect the Gospel is enough to get labeled as a heretic and smeared all over the internet.  They live in bondage and despise those who live in liberty, hoping to tear folks down and have them join them in their misery.  The self-appointed heresy hunter is hard to please and will always find disagreement and an excuse for their vitriol.

    And I cannot tell you how many times I've seen heresy hunters that depend on hearsay and misrepresent those in their facebook roasts.  They often fail to gather firsthand knowledge, pass along second and third hand knowledge, and fail to accurately research the whole of the person with whom they find disagreement.  They simply won't go to the source.  And when per chance they do, they will take quotations out of context and innacurately read into the quote what they want it to mean (eisogesis) while disregarding the rest of a man's ministry and other works that seemingly teach against what it is they are claiming.  For the modern day heresy hunter, it's more important to have that digital scalp on a facebook wall than to accurately portray the truth of the matter.  They won't even try to understand the person they are attacking.  They think the worst of the person, look for the worst in them, and even will make things up, sometimes quoting from material that doesn't even exist anymore that only the attacker is privy to.  

Lack of Love

    I have witnessed an extreme lack of love for the truth by most of the modern day heresy hunters.  Ironically, that which they maintain to be defending (the truth), that is which the modern day heresy hunter seems to love the least.  It's a lack of love of the truth, the Gospel, and the brethren that I see on display day in and day out.  They do not read.   They do not research.  They only boast and roast.  The heresy hunter will continually create memes, poems, and post sayings and short quotes that seem to demonstrate they love the truth, but I believe for many of them it's just a showy display of self-righteousness.  They build themselves up by tearing others down.   And if you don't toe the line with them, you're out!  This is a far cry from biblical christianity and something that just would not be tolerated in the churches where I find fellowship.  Yet the heresy hunters are tolerated online by many well meaning believers.  And the ease of publishing and rise of internet media has brought these rancorous folks into our daily lives.  If you haven't encountered them online, count yourself blessed.

My Message to the Heretic Hunters

    I've concluded that many of these "Gospel Defenders" and "Heresy Hunters" do not love the Gospel they claim to defend.  And it's because they do not understand it.  They have a false understanding and defend their false understanding.  All problems in practice are rooted in a false understanding.  All problems are theological.  A proper knowledge of the truth leads to a love of the truth.   You cannot know the Gospel without loving the Gospel.  You cannot know the truth without loving Christ, and the brethren.  You cannot know the truth without being humbled and realizing that we are jars of clay.  Knowledge of the truth does not lead one to boast in it. 

    If you are a proud and boasting heretic hunter, it's because you have not gone to the school of Grace.  You have not been humbled and brought to see that you are nothing without Christ.  You are only using Gospel language to defame the brethren online, and those heretics you claim to be hunting are often God's humble servants that were men of their time and gave everything for the Gospel and the truth.  Your pithy and snark online comments will be forgotten, but men like Martin Luther who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause of God and Truth will be remembered for all time as one of God's humble servants.  If you are not brought to repentance and faith in the true Gospel, it will one day be revealed that you were the heretic, dividing brethren over hearsays, misrepresentations, and political alliances.

Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.1 Peter 2:1-2

    And if you are a believer that has gotten caught up in this harsh unsightly rhetoric, you need to turn away from it, get involved with folks face to face, and concern yourself with learning the truth and loving the brethren.  Bury your nose in the word of God, seek the Lord in prayer, and crack a hymnal with a local body of believers.  It is in true worship and true Gospel fellowship, you will meet the Lord. 

    I'm not asking you to compromise on the Gospel.  The Gospel of Free and Sovereign grace should never be compromised.  Freewillism and doctrines that attack the Gospel should never be tolerated.  But having an attitude of kindness, gentleness, and meekness should be what we all strive to be online.  Yelling, "heretic" or proudly boasting "blasphemy" should not be used loosely and freely on an internet forum and pointing out error should not be turned into a blood sport.  I myself have been sinfully caught up in all of this before and it pains me to see it even in my past writings.  But if this type of behavior characterizes you dear brother or sister, I urge you to re-evalute your strategy of dealing with folks and turn toward love, meekness, kindness, and gentleness.

How to Deal with Heretic Hunters

For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, ... Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. - 2 Timothy 3:2,5

    A close and dear friend of mine recently told me how he deals with the heretic hunting, self-promoters, and online facebook gospel language boasters.  He simply clicks "unfollow" next to anyone that starts acting this way.  He concerns himself only with his close brethren and those of his local congregation.  What a simple and convenient solution!  And this is something I started employing today.  I now just walk away and leave them be.  My life is already better!  I hope that this is the last I have to say on this topic.  May we be satisfied with the Gospel and all of its endless implications!  Thank you for reading, and I hope this paper has been useful in describing the problem and pointing people away from it.  Soli Deo Gloria! - B.