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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Those Who Do Not Learn from History

You'd think, after all this time, we wouldn't have these difficulties. You'd think that, these questions and complaints having already been addressed, we could move on to bigger and better. If you did, you'd think wrong.

Perhaps the best known heresy, even if you don't know you know it, is the heresy of legalism. The Bible talks a lot about that one. In fact, Paul's epistle to the church at Galatia was specifically written to address that heresy. He outlines the problem with this question: "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?" (Gal 3:2) In this epistle Paul tells of how he actually rebuked the Apostle Peter for this error (Gal 2:11-14). Legalism actually sounds right. Be good; go to heaven. In Paul's day it had a Jewish twist. "Be circumcised and observe Jewish law and you'll go to heaven." But it still hangs around today. In fact, it's almost inescapable. It is the human way of thinking on the subject. Be good; go to heaven. Over against this we have the stark, opposing notion that salvation is accomplished by God (Gal 3:3). There are churches in America today that affirm that we're "saved by faith" while clutching in their other hand the certainty that if you drink alcohol, go to a dance, or engage in "mixed swimming" (males and females swimming in the same location), you're certain to go to Hell. There's a contradiction there. The Roman Catholic theology includes both concepts -- "saved by faith" and "meritorious salvation". You're saved by faith to start with, but from there you're going to have to earn it. And you'd better not commit a "mortal sin". It plays to standard human religion. Biblically, it is heresy.

Ever hear of the Laelius Socinus and his nephew, Faustus Socinus? No, probably not. From 16th century Poland, their doctrines -- Socinianism -- strayed from the existing ones into something new and, well, not improved. The Church already dealt with the Trinity question ... multiple times ... but Socinianism was quite sure that God was one, the "Holy Spirit" was simply a reference to His power (not a person), and Jesus? Oh, he (lowercase "H") was just a man. Oh, a deified man, but still not divine in nature. He wasn't pre-existent (John 1:1; Heb 1:8-12). The Socinians were the first of the "Open Theists", denying God's Omniscience. God, they said, only knew "necessary truths" and not necessarily what would might to pass ("contingent truths") (Psa 33:11; Isa 14:24; Isa 46:10). The Socinians rejected the propitiatory concept of atonement. Christ didn't die to satisfy the demands of a just God. No, He died as an example, encouraging us by example to abandon our sins (2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13; Isa 53:10; . No, God didn't need any appeasement; He just ... forgave. "No, no," they argued, "you can't have sin paid for and forgiven." (Rom 3:26) Despite the violation of so many Scriptures on matters like the Trinity, the true nature of God (including His Omniscience), the deity of Christ, and the Atonement, you'll still find these same errors today. It turns out that lots of people, even counting themselves as Christians, believe that God forgives out of love, not satisfaction. Somehow His love overcame His justice and we end up with mercy and forgiveness. There is no small contingent of self-professed Christians who claim that God cannot know everything. There are Unitarians and Open Theists and "Oneness Pentecostals", Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, and even pantheists, where God is "in all", all seeming to slice off their favorite pieces of the Socinian heresy and all failing to recognize that it is heresy.

Take Marcionism. Marcion argued that the God of the Old Testament was an angry, legalistic God not at all like the God of the New Testament. The Old Testament, therefore, was out and with it the law. Marcion built his own Bible, eliminating the Old Testament (which Christ viewed as Scripture) and editing New Testament books to eliminate Old Testament references. (Marcion's heresy pushed the Church into starting the whole canonization process.) Modern Marcionists include Pauline Dispensationalists who wish to eliminate the Old Testament as well as many closet Marcionists who "don't like that angry God of the Old Testament very much." They practice various arts like mythologizing or trivializing the Old Testament because, for instance, "God would never order the execution of men, women, and children like it says He did." Substituting a "better god" for the genuine, they consider themselves above all that. Modern Marcionism; modern heretics.

Consider Sabellianism. Later "Modalism", this argued that there was no Trinity. The first "God" we see is "Father" who later is expressed as "Son" and eventually is shown as "Spirit". (This, of course, is extremely problematic when Scripture refers to two or three existing and interacting at once.) Today's Sabellians (or, more likely, modalists) prefer to stip off the Trinity than accept it as we find it in the pages of Scripture. Popular preachers like T.D. Jakes and the United Pentecostal Church hang onto this. With the warm-sounding "Oneness Pentecostalism" name applied, they deny historical orthodox Trinitarianism. They like the "ice/water/steam" parallel of "the Trinity" (which is a parallel of modalism, not the Trinity). Simply put, if the Trinity is not the biblically orthodox position, Christianity cannot stand.

One of the most famous heresies was Arianism. Arius argued that Jesus was not God. He was a created being and certainly did not pre-exist creation. He was of similar substance as God, but not the same substance. This one was the reason for the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD which brought us the Nicean Creed. (It's also the one where Santa Claus slugged Arius.) (Note: The decision to side against Arius in favor of the doctrine of the Trinity was not a product of Constantine. The decision of the 318 attending bishops was 315 to 3. Oh, and Constantine favored Arius's view. He restored Arius, but the primary opponent, Athanasius, was exiled five time for defending Trinitarian orthodoxy.) The best known modern Arians (as opposed to Aryans -- not the same thing) are the Jehovah's Witnesses. They had to redefine Scripture in order to come to their conclusion. Their favorite "proof" is that John 1:1 actually reads "the Word was a god", not simply "God". This, of course, falls apart when you go two verses down (which they don't reinterpret that states) and read "All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:3) So, riddle me this. How can He make all things that were made if He was made? So they deny the Trinity and undercut salvation while replaying the ancient Arian heresy.

And we mustn't forget Pelagianism. This is perhaps the single most popular heresy today. In its earlier origins, it was presented by a fellow named Pelagius that taught that the human will was sufficient to live a life worthy of God's grace. He fundamentally denied that human nature was fallen. Adam's sin was not imputed to the rest of humanity. And the substitutionary atonement? Yeah, that was bunk. Not necessary. (This one was the catalyst for the Council of Carthage in 418 AD.) Are there modern Pelagians? See if this sounds familiar. "Human beings are basically good." Oh, yeah, there are modern Pelagians. I suspect there are more modern Pelagians than all other modern adherents to ancient heretics combined. You'll hear it in the streets and in the government, to be sure, but you'll just as likely hear it in your church as well. One of his most famous adherents, in fact, is a modern saint to many Evangelicals today. Charles Finney wasn't a Pelagian; he was an arch-Pelagian, arguing not only that all people had the ability to be good, but that if you could use the right speeches and music and mood, you could push them in that direction. So we end up with the current de facto position of most of the world. It is the first position natural man takes: "I'm okay. I surely don't need God to be good." It is the standard position from all sides. People are basically good ... which eliminates our need for a Savior ... which eliminates Christ as true. At best, we end up like the church at Laodicea, thinking we're okay when we're not (Rev 3:15-19).

The thing is, all of these heresies have been addressed in Church history. All have been struck down. All have been denounced. And here they are, still functioning today, some with very large proponents. Most of them consider themselves "Christians" when in fact they're heretics. They're not just disagreeing on some minor point. They are undercutting Scripture, orthodoxy, salvation, the nature of God, every essential element of the Christian faith. You'd think they'd learn from history. Unfortunately, too many are doomed to repeat it.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Great comment
Stan i have to give it to you, God has definitely given you a gift of teaching.
there is so much in this paragraph that i had no idea. i asked myself how could i keep track
of all these heresies and concluded that i really do need to so much so long as i know the truth. the truth of God's word speaks plainly enough to dispel the counterfeit.
thank you Stan
u da mannn