Define what it is to be a Christian? More importantly, how do you treat those in heretical churches? As brothers? With careful separation? Confrontationally?
Let me give some context for the questions; I come out of a cult or heretical church and am now in a mainline evangelical church after a conversion and great spiritual awakening.
The importance of these questions was demonstrated very clearly to me this last weekend as I spoke with a neighbor about some job difficulties that have been going on in his life for some time. I’ve always considered him a Christian because of his participation in church activities and the many conversations we’ve had on faith issues. Later, after reflecting on our conversation, I began to understand that what he calls "his faith" really means his religious culture. He does not believe/is NOT a believer/is NOT saved--in the sense that he is not willing to stake any risk on his beliefs. His belief is barely an intellectual one but by his actions and upon close examination even by his assertions he rejects a saving faith and relationship in a loving God in whom he can put his trust in the form of action.
I assume the reasonable and Christian response would be through a relationship based on grace and love--that those two will have the greatest impact. Where I run into difficulty is that having believed the lie, I never want anything to do with it again no matter what the form. So, to be able to defend the faith and more importantly to take ground, there has to be a point at which a separation occurs between Truth and what is not true. I think that is why Truth is often so offensive and why 1 Peter 3:16 is so important. With that said--any help?
Your passion for truth and for souls to know the Lord Jesus in true relationship is a marvelous blessing! You honor God so greatly with your heart of understanding.
I think the simplest answer is to look to the Lord for how He handled those in the religious system of His day. He didn't paint whole groups of people with a single wide brush; He dealt with people individually. So he made a great separation between Himself and the Pharisees and leaders who were so addicted to their power and their system that they missed the Lord of Glory standing in front of them. Yet, He made Himself available to Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, because they were genuine seekers after God and truth.
Since the Lord warned us to discern between sheep and wolves, we know there are people calling themselves Christians who are merely religious (or not Jewish or Muslim!). So I think you are right to look for someone who has trusted in Christ and has spiritual fruit to indicate new life within as the definition of a biblical Christian.
I think we need to show grace and truth and love to those in heretical churches so that those with eyes to see and ears to hear can have a chance to respond to truth. Jesus said, "If I be lifted up, I will lift all men to myself." So we need to lift Him up, with the unhappy understanding that some people won't care when they are shown Life and Truth.
I don't think a confrontational approach is wise because most often, being in a heretical church is a matter of spiritual deception rather than deliberate evasion or avoidance of the truth. So the wise thing to do is to pray that they will see where they're being deceived as a result of being exposed to the truth. The enemy of our souls is very crafty and he uses religions and systems as well as individuals.
Hope this helps.