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          





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