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,


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