KNOW: The Heretics

As M. James Sawyer once said "there is no such thing as new heresies, only recycled ones." Solomon echos this same concept in Ecclesiastes 1:9 when he says "there is nothing new under the sun." As we understand church history and look at the landscape of some of the teachings that are happening around the church universally there are seeds of heresies being taught, most of the time unintentionally. As a children's pastor I see it all the time when it comes to the idea of how do we talk to kid's about the Trinity. This is a question this gets asked a lot in a kid's ministry group I am apart of on Facebook. In attempts to try and help convey this concept to kid's a lot of times the ideas that get offered in comments are not Trinitarian but rather a form of Sabellianism. What do I mean by this? If you try and convey the truths of the Trinity as an apple, an egg, or whatever else the common illustrations are, that is Sabellianism and it is a heresy. I am humbled by God's grace in the fact that I was once one of those people! Not because I was intentionally trying to be a heretic but I just didn't know. I didn't have a biblical understanding of the Trinity and in my attempts to try and make it understandable I distorted it. This is how most heresies were started. It wasn't from a blatant disregard for the Bible, however some of them were. Most started from the basis of a finite human trying to intellectually explain an infinite God. In our modern day the word heresy or calling someone a heretic has morphed into this idea of someone who doesn't agree with you.

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"Heresy is not located in one’s beliefs about baptism, one’s beliefs about the continuation of certain spiritual gifts, or one’s beliefs about a specific view of the atonement. It is a specific and direct denial of any of the central beliefs of the Christian church about the deity and identity of the triune God and about the person and work of Jesus Christ." - Justin S. Holcomb

Do I believe that the Bible talks about those topics mentioned above? Absolutely. To call someone a heretic however because of my difference in opinions about those topics is not accurate however if it does not fall in the bounds of the central beliefs of the Christian church as mentioned in the quote above. The reality that we must face when it comes to our understanding of the central beliefs of the Christian church is that our understanding is all an act of God's grace. I said above I am humbled by the fact that God graciously showed me where I was wrong in my understanding of the Trinity. Most of those growing pains are a natural result in the process of sanctification and the understanding of the Christian beliefs. The difference between a heretic and someone growing in Christ is when God's grace comes to us will we submit our feelings to the Word of God. I mentioned above that most of these heresies started innocently in an attempts to intellectually understand an infinite God. The difference however is when they were confronted with the truth of the Scriptures, there was not a submission to the Word of God. The question we must ask ourselves is will we learn from the councils and the creeds that have been established before us, that God graciously gave us so that we can have an understanding of the central teachings of Christianity that are rooted in Scriptures.

"The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present. History is a hill or high point of vantage, from which alone men see the town in which they live or the age in which they are living." —G. K. Chesterton, “On St. George Revivified”

When Charisma Replaces Truth

As Bruce Shelley said in his Church History in Plain Language book: "Many Christians today suffer from historical amnesia." There has never been a more truer statement when it comes to how Christians today understand and relate to church history. Recently I was reading a book about the heretics throughout church history and I began reading a chapter on Arius. For those who aren't familiar with church history, Arius denied the deity of Christ. He taught that Jesus was not God, rather He was a separate being, not co-eternal but is the supreme creation of God. This clearly is not a Trinitarian view or what the Bible teaches which tells us that Jesus the Son is co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit and are of one substance. However, Arian's teaching gained a lot of ground and a lot of support despite his theological errors. Look what Justin Holcomb says in his book about Arius and his teachings and the influence it had on the culture: 

“The mob got caught up in the passion of the slogans, songs, and Arius’s personality, but they did not necessarily grasp the theological issues.”

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If you are a Christian that is a quote that should sadden you as you read it. Not because of what happened in church history, but because it is prevalent in our church culture today. There are a lot of churches and christians today who follow a person because of their charisma and their personality, just like Arius. Yet their theological teaching is not biblical, it is rooted in their feelings rather than in the Word of God. It is rooted in how creative can I be rather than will this lead the congregation to a place of awe and worship of Christ. Don't get me wrong, I don't take issue with creativity. The issue I take is when we use the creativity that God has given us and instead of using it to glorify God, we glorify ourselves. There was a mega church I visited once where at the end of the sermon the preacher received a standing ovation. Not because they were pointed to Christ, but because the preacher made the first letter of each of his points spell the topic he was preaching on. The congregation was led to worship of the creativity of an individual rather than worship to Christ. The question we must as ourselves is how many times today do we get behind an idea because it is culturally relevant or because it itches our sinful nature yet the theological issues behind it are devastating? I put that picture in this post because this is the rally cry of our hearts when we elevate our feelings over God's Word. It is the lie that humanity has believed since the garden when the serpent deceived Adam and Eve and discredited God's Word and it continues to this day. Our generation needs churches and people like Alexander and Athanasius who will defend orthodoxy in the face of heretical teachings no matter what the cost may be. Athanasius was exiled five different times because of the influence Arius had on the church culture. In his forty-six years as the bishop in Alexandria (because he was never officially removed from being the bishop in his exiles) he was only in Alexandria for seventeen years. When charisma replaces truth we do the very thing that Paul warns us about in Colossians:

"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority" (Colossians 2:8-10).

Look what Paul says is the answer to not getting swept up in the latest philosophy or culturally relevant teaching. He says to be filled with Christ. May your hearts be filled with Christ so that the truth of the Gospel would not be based on the charisma of an individual or a empty philosophy that doesn't bring life. Rather that it would be based in the truth of God's Word as it has been revealed to us by His grace and through His Son, Jesus Christ.

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:14-17).