Friday, July 27, 2018

"Heresies"

As Christians, we are a people of the book, the Bible that is. All true believers look to it for instruction and direction in their Christian walk. Yet, so many times we find ourselves at odds with one another within our understanding.

I spent most of my life believing things I was convinced was truth only now to have come to an understanding it was not. Some of the things we disagree on are of little importance, others are of profound importance. It is this striving to understand the truth that has brought me to this place. Jude speaks of a faith once delivered to the Saints. (Jud 1:3  Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.) It is of this faith that we are concerned.

I am re-reading a book by Harold O. J. Brown (1933-2007) "Heresies" subtitled, "Heresy and Orthodoxy In The History Of The Church". It is quit helpful in gaining understanding of the difficulties of maintaining truth throughout history. Because it is so helpful, I wanted to post a series of blog post giving an overview of the book. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to gain a better understanding of the faith once delivered and who has a desire to maintain Orthodoxy. He has done the work of researching the history and cataloging it into chronological order so we can view our history over nearly two millenniums.

First lets define Orthodoxy, from Webster's 1828: OR'THODOXY, n. [Gr. right, true, and opinion, from to think.]
1. Soundness of faith; a belief in the genuine doctrines taught in the Scriptures.
Basil bears full and clear testimony to Gregory's orthodoxy.
2. Consonance to genuine scriptural doctrines; as the orthodoxy of a creed.


Now lets define Heresy, from Webster's 1828: HER'ESY, n. [Gr. to take, to hold; L. haeresis.]
1. A fundamental error in religion, or an error of opinion respecting some fundamental doctrine of religion. But in countries where there is an established church, an opinion is deemed heresy, when it differs from that of the church. The Scriptures being the standard of faith, any opinion that is repugnant to its doctrines, is heresy; but as men differ in the interpretation of Scripture, an opinion deemed heretical by one body of Christians, may be deemed orthodox by another. In Scripture and primitive usage, heresy meant merely sect, party, or the doctrines of a sect, as we now use denomination or persuasion, implying no reproach.
2. Heresy, in law, is an offense against Christianity, consisting in a denial of some of its essential doctrines, publicly avowed and obstinately maintained.
3. An untenable or unsound opinion or doctrine in politics.



I'm sure you may already see a difficulty, one man's Orthodoxy is another man's Heresy. Dr. Brown effectively demonstrates I think that Orthodoxy was already implicit within the Church when heretical teachings began to surface. It was in response to the heretical teachings that Orthodoxy began to become explicit in the Church.

We will take a look at these heretical teachings as we go along in this series. We must first come to terms with something that may seem strange to us. In the beginning of the New Testament church they did not have a Bible as we have it. Even for the first three hundred years there was no established collection of books called the Bible. There were many churches that did not possess all the Apostolic writings. John had not written his Revelation until the end of the 1st century. With persecution being extremely strong and even martyrdom a true reality, there was not much time for what we know as theology or the development of it.

However, we know that Orthodoxy was already implicit within the church, though it may not yet have been developed and defined as it later became to be. We know this because when heretical teachings began to surface it was Orthodoxy that responded. The book of Jude is dated before A.D. 65-67 and he is already having to address false teachers. We also need to understand that all these false teachers were not intending to be destructive, they were sincere in their search of truth and many were martyred alongside their Orthodox counterparts. That is why error is so dangerous, it is also why heretics were rejected by the church so harshly, as they placed the salvation of souls in jeopardy.

As we endeavor to work our way through this overview, let us remember our love for truth. However, we must also be moved with compassion and love for those we discover in error. We must know all our understanding is weak. Therefore, we must be ever so cautious as we hold to established truth that has been affirmed and re-affirmed throughout the churches history concerning the scriptures.

We are not to be heresy hunters, but truth searchers and then pro-claimers of that truth. There is a trend today to accept anything that bears the name of Jesus Christ. However, we will discover that the most dangerous heresies in history held to the name of Christ. They delivered a Christ that could not save, it was a Christ created in their own minds and worshiped in their own imagination. What they brought and many continue to bring today, is a faith different from the one once delivered to the Saints that Jude was so earnest about defending.

It should be noted that these heretical teachings do not boldly appear so, but have the sound and feel of truth many times. One of the early church fathers stated, "Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than truth itself." ~ Irenaeus (AD 130-202). 

The error is so craftily spun that many times even the one infected is not aware of their falsehood. They are as deceived as those who follow them. If this sounds troubling to you, it's because it is troubling. It is dangerous and hurtful both to the world and the church. We may say I don't want it to be that they, I just want to go to church and not think about all this. We find in John's writings, 1Jn 4:1  Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
1Jn 4:2  Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
1Jn 4:3  And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.   


One of the first heresies we find is a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ. A number of early heresies preached a Christ that was not a man. John had to confront those who denied His humanity. They preached a Christ that was a God but not a man, but a Christ that was not fully God and fully man is not a Christ that can save us from our sins.

Another early heresy was a Christ that was man, but was not God. They denied His divinity. There is a constant assault upon the truth, John had to confront it, Jude had to encourage the church to defend it. It's not going away, therefore, we have the responsibility to defend it in our generation. To defend it we must know what it is, it is that we will set our purpose to establish in this series.

May the Grace of God be upon each of you,

David          





Monday, July 2, 2018

"The fight of Freedom"

To most Americans the sight of our flag spurs within us strong emotions, it is a symbol that reminds us of our struggle to obtain what we call freedom and our efforts to maintain it throughout our history. We have learned many lessons along the way, unfortunately we have also forgotten many. There have been times when events of providence would remind us of these forgotten things, but it seems in our remembering, we were never able to capture the fullness of those things again. Each time in our effort to return, we would find ourselves with less than we once had. This effect has left us in such a state of freedom and government that our founding fathers would most likely not even recognize it as their government, nor conducive to their ideas of freedom.

The remnants of what they gave us still provide us with (though to a great measure diminished) a certain measure of political and social freedom. I do believe in what has been termed "American Exceptionalism." This is not because I see us as some special people with superior minds and abilities. The Scripture tells us we are all under sin and depraved in our nature.   

(Rom 3:10  As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
Rom 3:11  There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
Rom 3:12  They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.)


Our exceptionalism lies at the foundation of our laws and forms of government. These ideas were formed in the minds of men who were influenced by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and who were learned in the Scripture. It provided them with an understanding of freedom that had alluded previous governments of history. Similar concepts of republican government had been tried before with some success, but limited in both time and effect. But here, the principles came into effect with a people whose hearts had been prepared to not only live under them, but understand them and cherish them.


"[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending
with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." (Source: John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co. 1854), Vol. IX, p. 229, October 11, 1798.)

[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue. (Source: John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, 1854), Vol. IX, p. 401, to Zabdiel Adams on June 21, 1776.)

At the founding of our nation, our people not only understood the principles of freedom derived from an understanding of the Gospel, but from that Gospel understood the nature of fallen man. This not only gave them the unique ability to form a free government, but the unique ability to be governed by that government. We have come so far from their experience that we are becoming indifferent to that religion and its morality that was so crucial to it. The freedom they envisioned was understood to only be possible with a people given to the principles embodied within the Christian faith. 

John Adams expresses this very well in the quotes listed above. The government they instituted and the constitution they so wisely produced could only govern such a people adequately. If the people became something else, the government of necessity would  have to change. Thus, the strengthening of our government and the increase of its rule in our lives is in direct response to the weakening of our people to govern themselves by the principles they entrusted their lives to. 

It is not that all citizens of the United States must be Christian for the Constitution to function adequately, this was understood to be unrealistic. But the principles of Christianity must be instilled into society for it to function properly, a morality so to speak that would form a basis of right and wrong, and appropriate conduct. To the extent this is disregarded is in direct proportion to the failure of the Constitution to function. 

“Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.” ---- Jedediah Morse. (Source: Jedediah Morse, Election Sermon given at Charleston, MA, on April 25, 1799.)

The pillars have been damaged, without God's grace they cannot be repaired. Time and man's nature have eroded them beyond recovery. Only God's Amazing Grace and its work upon the hearts of men can restore the freedom of Government those before gave us. 

But hope is not lost, if America crumbles into the dust ben of history and all her great principles lie in ruin, the God of Providence still rules and His Gospel still gives freedom. Whereas American freedom gives political and social blessings, the Gospel gives true freedom to the heart of man. It frees him from his brokenness and gives life where only death abides. 

The world is a broken place, America has been a shinning light, it was made to be that light by the Gospel and has been a blessing to its people and the world. America needs the Gospel, the Gospel does not need America. It is the Gospel that is the hope of the world and a reprieve from its brokenness. 

The freedom of the Gospel which is found in Jesus Christ likewise comes not without conflict and fighting. There is a continual struggle that abides in the Christian life. It is a struggle both within and without. 

2Co 7:5  For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. 

Gal 5:17  For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

Freedom is not easy in any realm, it must be defended and fought for. As there are enemies to American freedom, there are enemies to our spiritual freedom. If we neglect the one, we lose a nation, if we neglect the other, we lose life eternal. Like the principles that built America, the principles upon which the Church was formed have been so diminished in American Christianity that it is almost unrecognizable from the Church of our fathers. The fighting, the sacrifice, and the love for truth have been replaced with complacency, comfort, and the love of our own pleasure. We have convinced ourselves that God wants for us what our own carnal hearts desire. 

But this is not freedom, but bondage to our own corruption. We may be free to do what is right in our own eyes, but our eyes are blinded to truth. 

Deu_12:8  Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes.

Jdg_17:6  In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

Pro_12:15  The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.

Pro_21:2  Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.

There is great grace where truth is found. For a man to see, his eyes must be opened, this he cannot do for himself. For a man to understand his mind must be illuminated, this he cannot do for himself. Even yet, he is unable of himself then to do and obey the truth that he sees and understands. Our hope is in God alone, for in His grace we see, and the Holy Spirit so works this grace in our lives that truth is illuminated and then through His sanctifying work we are able to obey the truth we receive. Therein we have life and freedom from our own ruin. The bondage of our corrupt nature is broken, and we are free indeed!    

Joh 8:36  If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. 

The structure of our American government was such that it restrained and protected society from the unrestrained passions of men and gave a certain measure of peace and freedom in which to live. But the Gospel frees us from our own passions, gives real peace and freedom to do righteousness. Opens our eyes to God's truth and a desire and love for it. 

If you want to live in a free nation, seek the principles that produce that freedom. If you want to be free regardless of your political and social status, seek the one who alone gives life! Cry out to him in repentance, seek mercy and not judgment. He has Grace in abundance. If you have the least desire, move toward Him. Continue to press in, there is life in abundance!

May the Grace of God be with each of you,

David