Baptist pastor and author John Piper says Roman Catholics are heretics because they don't agree with him on something or other. He imagines a conversation with the Pope:
“Do you teach that we should rely entirely on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith alone as the ground of God being 100% for us, after which necessary sanctification comes? Do you teach that?”
And if he said, “No, we don’t,” then I’d say, “I think that right at the core of Roman Catholic theology is a heresy,” or something like that.
First of all, does anyone understand his question? He seems to be arguing for justification, but the question is so convoluted that a person can't be entirely sure what he's talking about.
"Imputed to us by faith alone"?--imputed? What is "imputed"? "Faith alone" did this? Who is "faith alone"? "The ground of God being 100% for us"? Now, he's a Tillichian all of a sudden? Sanctification is "necessary"? You have to do good works? I thought he was arguing for justification!
We've not always had "heretic hunters" in the church, but we've had them for a good long time, at least since the fourth century. "Heresy" comes from a Greek word that simply means "other," as in a different point of view.
In the fourth century, heresy came to mean both "other" and "bad." Heretics not only had their own opinion on things, but their opinions were inviting the judgment of God and must be stamped out. Books were banned and burned in an attempt to stamp out the heresy.
There had been differences of opinion within Christianity ever since the beginning. Early Christianity appears to have been a murky sea of many disparate groups all of whom claimed, in their way, to be Christian. Some of this is reflected in the New Testament itself. Matthew and James do not agree with Paul, for example, and the fourth gospel appears to have some tension with Peter.
In the second and third centuries, all kinds of conceptions were floating around, some of which would seem quite strange to us today. The Ebionites, for example, were Jewish and they saw Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, but not a divine figure. Meanwhile, others saw Jesus as a spiritual figure without a real physical body.
In the fourth century, Christianity became legal. The Emperor Constantine instituted religious freedom throughout the Empire. Ironically, it was this freedom which led to the rise of heresy hunting.
Constantine was a benefactor for both the existing Roman religion and Christianity as well. He gave a palace to the Bishop of Rome. He built churches, and showered gifts on the church. He also gave tax breaks to Christian clergy. (Not surprisingly, this increased the number of people who considered themselves Christian clergy, and invited the question: Who really was Christian clergy?)
Constantine wanted unity throughout the Empire, but Christianity, which he hoped would be a unifying force, turned out to be a disputatious morass. He convened the Council of Nicea (AD 325) to bring some order--and unity!
For most of the fourth century, the central argument--the one between the trinitarians and the subordinationists (those who thought Christ divine, but somehow less than God the Father)--raged back and forth. Great power and money were at stake, and the atmosphere was heated. In such a context, those with whom one disagreed easily became enemies, and one's enemies easily morphed into God's enemies. This is when heresy became not just "other" opinion, but bad opinion as well.
This could come in handy. The Emperor Theodosius used the charge of heresy against the Goths when they threatened Constantinople. The previous Emperor, Valens, had been destroyed by the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople in AD 378. Adrianople was just to the west of Constantinople. Valens' catastrophic defeat sent a shock wave of fear through the city.
The new Emperor, Theodosius, rallied the Greeks by accusing the Goths of being subordinationist heretics. (The Goths had been converted to the subordinationist form of Christianity.) The Goths were not only the enemies of the Greeks, but the enemies of God too! Therefore, you Greeks, smite the infidels! God wills it!
Heresy hunting became a millenium-long fad right after that. People sniffed here and there for bad thoughts so that pretty much any theologian with any smarts would wind up being so labelled--Origen and Nestorius most famously, and many others as well. Piper thus represents an old tradition. Thankfully, he's not very good at it.