Thursday, January 2, 2014

Three Ancient Heresies that Still Live

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun. That is certainly true when it comes to heresy. As Christian history progresses it seems the orthodox faith continues to battle many of the same doctrinal wars as the generations prior. Though the names and movements might change, the same basic theological heresies continue to reappear.Below are what I believe to be the three leading heretics of church history who still speak in many cults, movements, and even in some of our own congregations.

Arianism

Arianism was a 4th century heresy condemned at the Council of Nicea. Its biggest threat was over the full deity of Jesus. Arius had famously taught that "there was a time when the Son was not." That is to say, Jesus is not eternal like the Father, but is, instead, the literal firstborn of all creation; the first "being" created.

The hero who stood against Arius and his movement was Athanasius who sacrificed much to fight against it. Arianism was at one time more popular than orthodox theology causing Athanasius to be exiled on a number of occasions. Athanasius' works on the subject remain influential today. To me, one of his best arguments contra Arianism regards the immutability of God. If God is unchanging, and Arius did not deny that, then all of His attributes are eternal. If God is Father, then He has always been Father. But the word Father has no meaning unless there is also a Son. Thus if the Father has always been the Father, then the Son is eternal as the Father.

Arianism continues today most notably within both liberalism and Jehovah Witnesses. JW's make virtually the same arguments as Arians did in the fourth century in their denial of Christ's deity. In my own interaction with JW's I always bring up Arius and I am given confused looks. The point is to show that even when it comes to heresy, there is nothing new under the sun. Liberalism, too, denies the deity of Jesus but not on biblical grounds. It is the Bible, after all, they are rejecting. A divine Jesus is simply not palatable. 

Pelagianism

Pelagius was a British monk condemned as a heretic. In essence, Pelagius was a moralists who believed that humans were completely free. He denied, therefore, original sin, depravity, or any suggestion that the individual is in any way bound by sin. As a result, Pelagius promoted self-righteousness teaching that one can be, and truly is, good enough to enter the Kingdom of God on their own. This is contradictory to the clear teaching of all of Scripture. Grace is by faith alone.

The hero that stood against Pelagius was Augustine whose theology, even more than Athanasius, remains influential today. Augustine did not deny human responsibility, but redefined it. We are trapped as sinners conceived in sin. Augustine developed the doctrine of original sin through his exegesis of Paul in Romans 5 and elsewhere. Furthermore he taught that salvation is based on God's election of sinners.

The debate over free will, divine sovereignty, etc. continues today. Even within denominations, like the Southern Baptist Convention, this remains a hot topic. However, when discussing this issue both sides should be clear to refrain from the heretical strain of Pelagianism.

I had a professor in college who was asked by a well-intentioned New Calvinists if as a pastor he should try to "convert" (a strong word in this sense in my opinion) his congregation to the doctrines of grace, i.e., Calvinsim. The answer, I believe, was instructive. The professor suggested that instead of leading our congregations to Calvinism, we would do well to shepherd them out of Pelagianism and into Arminianism.

In America, autonomy is king. Free will, as defined by Pelagius, remains the dominate assumption among many Christians in the West. I agree with my professor. Often when Calvinists argue against Arminianism, they are really arguing against Pelagianism (or semi-Pelagianism). Arminians are our brothers. Pelagians are not. There is no gospel with Pelagianism. No grace at all.

Marcion

There are many things to say regarding Marcion and the movement he led. First, Marcion was docetic and shared a similar theology with the Gnostics. Docetism denies the humanity of Jesus and instead teaches that Jesus only appeared to be human. He was more of an apparition.

Instead of Marcion's Gnosticism and docetism, I want to highlight Marcion's contribution to confusion over the biblical canon. Marcion rejected the Old Testament and all New Testament writings he deemed as "too Jewish." As a result, he threw out Matthew, Mark, and John and removed portions of Luke. He loved Paul but rejected some of the other epistles. In many ways, Marcion encouraged a more serious discussion on the New Testament canon among the orthodox believers.

Christians have always debated the canon. The Apocrypha was never fully accepted until the Council of Trent. Protestants, though respecting the influence of the Apocrypha, have never accepted it as inspired.

Add to this the number of other Christian offshoots with their own revelations, both written and oral. The Church of Latter Day Saints have the Book of Mormon and anticipate the discovery of other documents. Jehovah Witnesses have doctored the Scriptures to fit their theological aberrations. Charismatics and Pentecostals have, since their own conception, placed a heavy emphasis on new revelations. Many have made false prophecies, while the more known characters are anything but orthodox. Their denial of orthodox doctrines is rooted in their belief that experiential revelations trumps the written Word of God.

In addition, even conservative Christians are subject to questions over the canon. Some prooftext the Bible without context while others relegate their biblical diet to short, tweetable quotes that would fit a Joel Osteen daily calendar but fail to represent the full council of God.

In this sense, Marcion still lives.


In a similar vein, in the video below, Phil Johnson summarizes five heresies and how they are still around.




For more:
"Heresy" by Alister McGrath: A Review
A Call For Discernment: The Heresy of Prosperity Preachers

Shai Linne and Calling Out Fal$e Teacher$
"Health, Wealth, & Happiness": A Review
Justin Peters: Exposing the Word of Faith Prosperity Gospel Teachers
Twice the Son of Hell: An Atheist Visits Lakewood
Is Joel Osteen An Inclusivist?
Osteen Says Morminism is a Christian Faith
The Problem Wasn't Finances But Theology: Mohler on the Bankruptcy of the Crystal Cathedral
What's the Difference?: Osteen and Washer
9Marks: We Watch TBN So You Don't Have To!
Where Did All the Tongue Speakers Go?: The Historical Argument For Cessationism
The SBC and Private Prayer Language
A Call For Discernment: An Important Video Series Exposing the Word of Faith Movement
Benny Hinn Goes Primetime  
Duplantis Went to Heaven . . . He Thinks
Congress Investigates Hinn and Other Ministries 
Dembski on Todd Bentley    
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