Don’t Know Much About Heresy

Cooke’s “Wonderful World” is about a man who doesn’t know much of anything but the fact that he loves his girl. In the hopes of her loving him back he aims to be number one, but he knows he’s woefully inept. Sometimes we can be like that when it comes to alternate Christian beliefs and sometimes we use words like heresy to describe these beliefs. Linking to the Archive, Curt noted that his illustration, in proximity to me, wound up having heretical ramifications (which he denies) and we wound up discussing (offline) what exactly defines a heresy and how does one deal with it.

Back in the early centuries of Christianity, a teaching was labeled a heresy (usually) in council. No one would go around proudly saying “I’m a Heretic” as yours truly would—it was a black mark. Believers would get together, look at the Scriptures and decide if what the person was teaching was at variance with Scripture.

It’s no wonder that the earliest heresy’s dealt with those things that are impossible to understand. The Deity of Christ and his role in the Godhead. Imagine sitting in a council of mere mortals trying to decide how the Godhead functions and how {X} doctrine vibes with Scripture when any understanding of the Godhead is based on an inductive study. Yeah, exactly sounds tough.

Nowadays, the term “heresy” has lost a lot of its punch and in all honesty, the way it’s bandied about I don’t see it getting back its original strength. I’ve seen the term used to describe Joel Osteen’s teaching, Rick Warren’s PDL program, Dispensationalism, and anything from Catholicism. With this type of confusion it’s no wonder that schism, heresy and apostasy are used nearly interchangeably.

How do we settle on what is actual heresy and what is not? True, there is an inherent danger of heresy being whatever {P} group decides is heresy…but does that absolve us of in-depth examination?

Gnosticism was an early heresy that had crept into Christianity. Basically the idea is God is spirit and spirit is good and the world is material and material is bad…therefore Jesus could not have been God as flesh, but rather the Spirit God entered the body of Jesus (at baptism) then left the body Jesus at death. Anecdotally, I’ve actually heard this concept applied to marriage and relationships painting the sexual relationship of a man and woman as evil because it is enjoyed in the flesh. Paul’s underlining of the deity and humanity of Christ proves to be a direct answer to the Docetist and Gnostic claim.

Now, what should a person today do with the (for example) Gnostic claims: (1) embrace it because God is so far above us (2) allow the idea to stand and abrogate it to personal conviction (3) rely on historical councils against the claim and denounce it as heresy (4) rely on Scripture alone to point a person in the right direction (5) something else?

  1. Well if a person simply embraces any claims because the Godhead is something the human mind can’t come to terms with then the person is ignoring the countless areas in Scripture where we’re told to examine, test, question and prove what is being taught.
  2. If a person allows an idea to stand and abrogate the belief thereof to personal conviction then we’re left with the problem of trying to decide what is not (at this level) relative. God is not the author of confusion. When Jesus points at Himself as the Truth He’s referring to a relative truth—some things of necessity have to be true when it comes to Scripture.
  3. Now referring to councils has a whole lot of merit. These guys were well versed, grounded in the Word and nearer to the apostles than we are. I would posit that there words are exceedingly helpful, but they are not God’s words on the matter. Referring to their decisions alone denies personal conviction (and responsibility) and may even repeat error. For instance, relying solely on Trent to dictate what is wrong with the Protestants may ignore what the Protestants are saying.
  4. Relying on Scripture alone does repeat the Reformer’s cry of Sola Scriptura and at first glance may seem to be the best option. Two problems: (one) a proper heretic would raise the same banner just as easily and (two) different believers come up with different interpretations. This second problem increases when there is an understanding of original languages, ancient culture, parallel literature and so on.
  5. The something else category I think is the one where the answers could prove helpful. A person should rely on Scripture, refer to previous councils, at least listen to what the idea is and then employ all possible resources in trying to find out if it is heresy or not. This is not limited to fact-gathering knowledge but would also consist of prayer, a personal examination of self’s motives, understanding (etc.) and consistently increasing in knowledge while expressing it in fruitful action. I think this is the idea of relying on God’s wisdom…it’s not something given to one person, but it is evident in fruits, actions, consistency and constant reexamination (semper reformada?).

I wonder if it would be helpful to actually teach heresies in churches. Too often we’re taught what are the heresies but I don’t know how often we teach why. Or, if we do teach why it is often more of an “I don’t agree with it” sort of approach, which is sloppy. It’s like the bible-study ring: “what does this mean to you?” Personally I think this sort of study actually breeds heresy. Ideas are embraced over the text and then proved with the text.

Anyway, here’s a list of some heresies with super simplistic definitions that you should probably look up for the whole definition. Why are they heresies? Do they make valid points? Where do they get their support? Where are they weak? Are they right (or wrong)? You don’t have to answer the questions, it’s basically closing thoughts.

Gnosticism: Spirit good…material and flesh bad. Jesus was flesh. He had God inside of him but God left him when Jesus died.

Docetism: Jesus was fully God and His suffering and dying weren’t real.

Dynamic Monarchism (adoptionists): Jesus was a man who was given power by God.

Modalistic Monarchism: Jesus was a mode, or role, that God manifested at need.

Arianism: the Son didn’t always exist…the Father created Him.

Apollinarianism: Christ had no human spirit (he is body, soul and Holy Spirit)

Ebionitism: Jesus was a prophet…not God

Eutychianism: Jesus had one nature made up of two merged natures leaving him divine.

Nestorianism: Jesus was a host of two separate persons: Son of God and a man.

Macedonianism: the Holy Spirit is a servant, like angels.

Pelagianism: Men can be good without the grace of God. Christ was an example of good.

Semi-Pelagianism: Men can’t save themselves but they have to make the first move before God works.

Marcionism: OT God and NT God are different. OT is false.

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