Sunday, August 26, 2018

"Heresis" Part VI

Matthew 1:20 tells us,  (But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
Mat 1:21  And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Mat 1:22  Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
Mat 1:23  Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.)  

Those are astounding words, the scriptures both Old and New are filled with many such divine revelations concerning our fall and redemption. It is the revealing of the Divine purpose of God from all eternity, (1Pe 1:18  Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;
1Pe 1:19  But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
1Pe 1:20  Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,
1Pe 1:21  Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.)

Orthodoxy is the right understanding of these doctrines, heresy is the wrong understanding of them. Once the human mind receives understanding and faith is born, it begins to ponder about how these things could be. Was it not a popular publication not many years ago which coined the phrase, "Inquisitive minds want to know"? It is our attempt to explain and understand how these things were done and how they came to pass that is our difficulty. It is good to ponder things, for they bring us into a state of awe at the Glory of our Father and the wonder of our redemption. However, it is in these areas we must be extremely careful. A look at history, as well as the present day, reveals the damaging effect of prying into the things we know not.  (Jud 1:10  But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.)  

The Orthodox teachings of the Trinity speak of the Godhead in terms that help us understand in limited ways the being of God. However, it is careful not to reach too deeply into the mystery as to lead us astray. The Orthodox teaching of the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds define for us the nature of Christ in terms that help us in our understanding. They present the elements that are necessary for His being to bring about our salvation in a way that gives us assurance. Yet again they are careful not to probe too deeply into the mystery of the incarnation.  

The church confessions of the reformation are also very helpful in maintaining Orthodoxy. They safeguard us from being lead astray by a personality or persuasive speech of an individual. They define our explanations of the major doctrines held by the church concerning our faith.  They are not the product of any private interpretations, but of a gathering of minds deemed qualified for such a task. However, we must be constantly aware they are not infallible, for they are the works of men and should always be understood as such. 

Many of these Creeds and Confessions were a product of Orthodoxy responding to some error that was induced into the church. Their response was to set the right doctrine in place of the error. It is extremely important for us to consider all these things. If this all seems to be of a great effort, it is because it is of great importance. We have only one divine revelation delivered to us, great care must be taken that we understand it correctly, for a hope and faith in anything else is a false hope and fruitless faith.

Therefore, we should be encouraged to study to show ourselves approved (2Ti 2:15  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.) taking advantage of every tool made available to us. 

May the Grace of God be upon each of you,


For a much more in-depth study please see the book by Harold O. J. Brown "Heresies"  

Sunday, August 19, 2018

"Heresis' Part V

Why are the things we are discussing important? Why are they necessary? It has to do with the Christians desire to know God and be able to understand who He is. The Scripture is truly our only rule of faith and practice, the creeds, and confessions that formulate our doctrine are but tools to aid us. They help us articulate the conceptions of our mind as we study and understand the Scriptures.

The Apostles' Creed is a great aid in doing that, yet it proved insufficient to demonstrate the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus for two centuries, men struggled to understand how God could be one God, and how we could worship the Son and not be said to worship another God.

Monarchianism and Arianism were but two great heresies that developed in an attempt to answer these questions. It was two full centuries before the church was able to articulate this understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. It was implicit in our worship from the beginning, but we were unable to articulate the understand in human language. The Monarchians affirmed the oneness of God but denied that the Son and the Holy Spirit are real Persons, distinct from the Father which is clearly seen in the Scripture.

The Arians acknowledged the distinctness of the Son (and to an extent the Holy Spirit) from the Father, but they did not acknowledge Him to be fully or equally God. Yet Scripture declares, "Php 2:6  Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
Php 2:7  But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
Php 2:8  And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Php 2:9  Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
Php 2:10  That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;"

Since the 4th century, trinitarian theology has been an essential part of the Gospel in articulating this understanding.

Our Orthodox Trinitarian doctrine expresses our understanding as "One essence in three Persons" There is truly but one God as the Shema affirms (Deut 6:4), for there is only one divine essence. This essence subsists in three distinct subjects or Persons. This divine essence is identical with God, and subsists in and only in the three Persons. These divine Persons are distinct, yet they cannot be separated from one another or the essence (Godhead)

This language and understanding still fall far short of a complete understanding of Gods otherness. However, it is a very helpful tool for expressing our faith. It is also helpful in keeping us from falling into the errors of the past.

It aids us in the understanding that God did not create out of need, for He has never been alone.  He has always existed in this perfection of One in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.

This is important because any other understanding steps outside of Orthodox truth in our attempts of worship. And in our worship, it is our desire to be right. To think rightly and worship rightly.

In our attempts to comprehend God, it is generally easier for us to understand what He is not rather than what He is. His otherness leaves us reaching for that which we cannot comprehend in its fullness. It is safest for us simply to state what we believe concerning the Trinitarian nature of God rather than attempt to explain it.

"Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These Three are one essence, not one Person, as it is said, 'I and the Father are One,' in respect of unity of substance, not singularity of number." ~ Tertullian (155-240 AD)

For a much more in-depth study please see the book by Harold O. J. Brown "Heresies" 

May the Grace of God be with each of you,


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"Heresis" Part IV

Joh 13:35  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Rom 12:16  Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

The scriptures are so pure, their commands so straightforward, they flow so wonderfully together. If we did not know, we could not imagine they were written by 40 different authors who lived hundreds of years apart. They walk with the same message and carry the same theme. Each book lends support and strength to the other.

It is equally difficult to imagine that we are so divided over a book of such unity. It seems we must be determined to disagree upon something and separate ourselves from one another. This has become so distasteful to some they disdain doctrine and label it divisive. They refuse to define what they believe other than Jesus is their savior and God is their Father. They will make superficial references to the Holy Spirit and stress the love factor professing that is all we need. The sermons consist of moral ethics laced with more love your neighbor feelings. However, this is not a faith that will stand the test of time.

For one to truly be committed to a person, one must know who that person is. The Christian by faith is called to a commitment of such magnitude in Christianity that death itself will not break it. Therein lies the importance of doctrine and maintaining Orthodoxy. As we are seeing, that is not and has not been an easy task for the Church. Men are weak in their passions, pride and emotion rules much to often in the Christian heart. The tendency of the Christian to follow a personality and be influenced by people with Charisma or popularity weaken our position.

History demonstrates this is not unique to today, the errors and division of the first few centuries of the church were not unlike ours. They were perhaps even worse, which demonstrates the divine origin of the scriptures. For it is evident that men of themselves could not produce such a work of perfection.

That brings us to one of the greatest struggles the church has faced concerning Christ. Who was He? Why does it matter? It matters because we are called to trust in Him for our redemption, our very eternal existence depends on His ability to perform His claims.

Arius was an influential teacher that rose up from within the church which brought division for over half a century. Some of these movements lasted hundreds of years before losing influence, and even then to resurface time and time again throughout history.

Arianism is as big as history itself, it almost consumed the church and even exist today in various movements. Arianism defined the nature of Christ as a new created being. God created Him in order to mediate between Himself and the world which had fallen. Christ was independent of God and distinct from Him. Like fallen man Christ could have exercised his free will to disobey God. In certain forms of Arianism Christ was not worthy of divine worship as the Father. However, being a perfect creature through which all creation was made He could be our mediator. If you are familiar with other sects claiming the name Christianity today many of these element will sound familiar.

This belief became very popular among Christians as it seemed to maintain the oneness of God demonstrated in Scripture and maintained the uniqueness of Christ that is found in Scripture. This theology matters immensely because it denied the divinity of Christ. In this controversy as in all controversies the weakness of men becomes evident. Men of influence within the Church began to us the political powers that be to gain advantage over those that opposed them. Over those years Orthodoxy was determined by the view of the Emperor who happened to be in power at time. Advantage was gained by whatever means possible to promote the view each party thought was correct.

After years of struggle, Orthodoxy finally came to the forefront. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 325 AD and 381 AD established Orthodoxy for us for over a thousand years. Only in the last century has that understanding of Scripture come under attack again.  

 What are we to take away from this? First the positive, these difficulties only magnify the majesty of the Scriptures, (2Pe 1:19  We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
2Pe 1:20  Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
2Pe 1:21  For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.)

Second, the weakness of our understanding and the nature of our passions leave us at a disadvantage. Approaching our study in a humble state recognizing these elements of our nature is necessary. Awareness of the same weaknesses in others should cause caution in us in following any new movement. Scripture must be weighed against Scripture while taking into considering the Orthodox beliefs of those before us. We must remember, the Scriptures have been scrutinized for thousands of years by men of great minds and much understanding. The excitement of finding some new revelation that has not been explored is an unsafe approach. Such has been the downfall of many and the cause of much confusion within the body.  

Finally, the two considerations above brings us within reach of the assurance of our faith. We are assured of the ever-present help of the Holy Spirit to teach us as we study. Our cautions only aid us in that understanding and helps bring clarity as we learn. We can find Orthodoxy as it is understood in the scriptures. We can understand by Nicene Creed that Jesus Christ is "the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds;
God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God;
begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,
by Whom all things were made:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man:
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried:
And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures:
And ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father:
And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead:
Whose Kingdom will have no end:" 

We can take that Orthodox understanding and find that it does not conflict with the flow of the Scriptures. In this, we can find unity and assurance of faith. 

For a much more in depth study please see the book by Harold O. J. Brown "Heresies" 

May the Grace of God be with each of you,




Monday, August 13, 2018

"Heresies" Part III

In Christian thought, attempts to understand the Godhead was the source of much erroneous teaching that arose in the first few centuries and even abides with us now.

A Christian confesses that God is One, yet God is seen in scripture as Three persons. Attempts to explain this has led to much controversy. The Nicene Creed of 325AD which we will look at later provides our Orthodox understanding. However, before the Nicene Creed, there were others who offered less than acceptable understandings. We must not look so much upon these as enemies of the faith, but see them as examples for caution. It seems their attempts were sincere, just sincerely wrong in their understanding of scripture.

How does a finite mind grasp the understanding of an infinite being whose otherness is so far from us we have nothing to relate to or compare Him to? We can only understand as far as His revelation reveals Him in scripture. Though He is infinite we can know Him by the scriptures, but no further. It has been the attempts to go beyond what is revealed that has led into error.

Monarchianism was one such attempt that can be broken down in two parts. One part being Adoptionism and the other Modalism. They both appeared in the second century and as Monarchianism does, they tried to explain the Oneness of God amidst what we know today as the Trinity.

Adoptionism would see Christ, not as God, but as a man who received the Spirit of God in a special way. This solves the mystery of the Trinity, but it leaves Christ as a man and not divine. This is unacceptable with Orthodox Christianity and had to be confronted.

Modalism was a form of Monarchianism that took another approach. They wanted to solve the mystery of the Trinitarian nature of God without doing damage to the divinity of Christ. It would hold that Christ was God, but only as a mode in that certain age. Modalism does not allow for the individual person of Christ along with the person of the Father and the Holy Spirit. This solves the mystery, but it leaves an incomplete Gospel and does damage to other parts of scripture.

Orthodoxy see God subsisting of three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All being of the same One essence, all being eternal, and all being divine. Adoptionism removes the divinity, Modalism ignores the personage.

Yet a greater threat was soon to arise, we will look at it next time.

For a much more in depth study please see the book by Harold O. J. Brown "Heresies" 

May the Grace of God be with each of you,


Sunday, August 5, 2018

"Heresies" Part II

One of the first issues that had to be address in the Christian faith was something known as Gnosticism. Gnosticism was not just found within the Christian faith. It was a vein running through it, and was a part of a larger Gnostic movement that pervaded the time. The Christian form varied from the other movements that extended into other religions and religious thought.

Gnosticism really did not resemble Orthodox Christianity at all, but it did borrow certain terms and Jesus as a savior in its presentation. The Jesus it presented was a mystical Jesus that didn't really have a human body, but only appeared to be flesh. He didn't really die on a cross, he only appeared to do so to help those with little understanding comprehend salvation.

The basic root of Gnosticism was special knowledge. God gave special knowledge to certain chosen ones, knowledge that opened up understanding of the spiritual world. You were to depend upon them for help to understand the mysteries of the gods. There were many gods in Gnosticism both good and bad, Jesus being one of the good ones. It borrowed so much from Orthodox Christianity it had to be confronted, many were beginning to associate it with the Christian faith. The Apostle John confronted it in his writings and there are reasons to believe that it was Gnosticism that was held by Simon Magus of Acts 8:9-24 that brought the difficulties in his reception of the Gospel. Two individuals, Syrian Saturnilus, and an Egyptian Basilides developed a more complex form of Gnosticism during the 1st part of the 2nd Century.  One of the best known apologist to defend the faith against this error was Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. (125-202) His work "Against Heresies" was written around 180 through 189 and confronted it head on.

This early writing is very comprehensive and precise in defining the churches understanding concerning the doctrines affected by this error. You could say we owe the gnostic heresy for the theology that formulated for us the doctrines we now understand to be Orthodox. We know Orthodox belief was there and understood for it was the error that caused the Orthodox teaching to respond and produce this work within the Church.

Many of the gnostic beliefs that present secret knowledge or knowing along with making one feel elitist have resurfaced from time to time. One of the more resent would be "Christian Science" developed by Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910). It has many similarities with the old gnostic belief. Many other forms with much more subtle similarities have crept into various other modern day Christian movements.

From this gnostic belief came another form called Docetism, it focused on the fact that Jesus must have been a spiritual being without a body, only human in appearance. It would be foolishness to think a divine being could be flesh and be crucified. (1 Cor. 1:23)

A teaching called Marcionism was also developed out of these gnostic beliefs by a man named Marcion around the middle of the 2nd century. Marcion could be considered the first great heretic because he was able to organize his teaching into a rival church. This movement would exclude all Jewish scripture and use only the Gospel of Luke and the writings of the Apostle Paul as authoritative scripture.

Marcionism would be greatly opposed by the great apologist Tertullian (160 AD - 230 AD).  The Church owes much to Tertullian for his work confronting this false teaching and helping establish the Orthodox beliefs that were held by the church. It would be Tertullian though who would later fall for another false teaching called Montanism.

Montanism was more difficult to confront because it continued to hold to so many of the Orthodox beliefs that it would feel and look much like Orthodox Christianity.

Where Marcion excluded much of the Scripture, Montanus would not only retain it, but claim to add to it by divine revelation. 2nd century Christianity considered special revelation such as was given by the Apostles and Prophets to have ceased. The Apostolic gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues along with special miraculous healing and prophetic utterances were no longer in practice.

Montanus along with two women prophetesses claim to still possess these gifts. They promoted the idea that special revelation was still flowing through the church and mysteries beyond what had been revealed were still coming. It was an attempt to reform the church back to what he determined it had strayed from. There are many similarities between Montanism and what we know today as Pentecostalism and Charismatic movements.  Montanism was difficult for the church to deal with, but over time it became obvious that his claims to special revelation did not match up to the Apostolic writings. His prophetic utterances along with those of his female companions were much lacking in their accuracy.

He was eventually marked as a heretic and his teachings harmful to the church. Once again Orthodoxy had responded and produced the basis of sound teaching. (Tit 1:9  Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.)       

It was Marcion and Montanus oddly enough that perhaps pointed out the need for an established canon of Scripture. That is not to say there was not a collection of books and writings that were already considered authoritative. However, it is safe to say by the end of the 2nd century the New Testament canon had been completed with a few books remaining controversial into the 4th century. But these were all books that were already in circulation and being used by Orthodox Christianity.

There are those who promote the idea that the Christian faith evolved over time like all religions do. They attempt to say there was never a faith once delivered to the Saints as Jude 1:3 states. If there was, they insist it is impossible to know what it was since it has evolved so much over the centuries. Those who make such statements simply do not understand the efforts that have been put forth by the church to document and defend the faith. There is an Orthodox faith that has traveled the centuries and maintained it's truth for those who are chosen to believe it. In this series we will continue to watch it march its way to our own lives.

For a much more in depth study please see the book by Harold O. J. Brown "Heresies" 

May the Grace of God be with each of you,