Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ecumenism: Heresies, Part 1

Part 1.2 of an ongoing Bible study on ecumenism. See first part here.
The Definition of Heresy
     Heresy, according to one dictionary, is a “Belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious doctrine,” or an “Opinion profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted.” The phrase “profoundly at odds” is important, because this differentiates a heresy from lesser forms of error. A heresy is the worst form of error, because it strikes at the very foundations of the Christian faith. To believe in a heresy is to believe in something that is sub-Christian.
  • Q: If an individual, church or organization believes in one of these errors, can we fellowship and do ministry with them?
  • Because we are people who believe that the Holy Spirit enables all truly born again persons to understand at least the basic doctrines of the faith, we must question the faith of any person or group that perseveres in heresy even after confronted with the truths of Scripture. Such a case calls for evangelism not fellowship, separation not partnership.
     The first group of heresies we need to tackle undermines the Godness of God.

MARCIONISM – God the OT vs. God of the NT
     Marcion (c.85-c.160). He was the son of the bishop of Sinope, a place in modern-day Turkey. He was probably ordained as a bishop himself, but was later excommunicated by the Church. Nevertheless, he continued to propagate his teachings, and Marcionism survived for several centuries.
     Dividing God. Marcion denied that the God of the Old Testament was the same God described in the New Testament. Guided by gnostic ideas about the evil of matter, he constructed a dualism between the God of the OT and the God of the NT. The OT God was the Creator of the universe. He was also matter-oriented, inconsistent, wrathful, petty-minded, even malevolent. The God of the NT, on the other hand, was spiritually-minded, and was concerned only with love, mercy, and compassion. Marcion therefore concluded that the God of the NT was much better than the OT Deity.
     Marcionism today. Marcion's form of dualism survives today in those who seek to indict God for His commands and actions in the OT.
  • Q: Can you give present-day examples? How would you respond to such an objection?
     Mani (216-c.277) was a Persian philosopher who claimed that the Church had perverted Christianity, and that he was appointed an apostle by God to reestablish the true faith. Mani taught that behind the universe lay two ultimate principles: light and darkness. God the Father reigns over the spiritual kingdom of light, while a horrible prince rules over the material kingdom of darkness. By degenerating into dualism, Mani denied God's omnipotence, because He was incapable of decisively defeating his rival deity.
     Widespread. Manichaeism spread quickly through the Aramaic-Syriac speaking regions and thrived from the 3rd-7th centuries. At its height was one of the most widespread religions in the world, reaching from China to the Roman Empire.
  • Q: Why is dualism incompatible with the Christian idea of God?
    • The Scriptures clearly teach that “God is one” (Isa 46:9). For God to be God, He must be the only One—unchallenged, unrivaled, unequaled.
  • Q: Will our relationship with God be affected if we accept dualism? How so?
    • We can no longer have full confidence in God, since He is not really all-powerful. In fact, we will live in constant fear of the Enemy, since he is just as powerful as God, and can harm us at any time.
OPEN THEISM – God is not sovereign and all-knowing.
     History. Although some form of this teaching existed in the Church as early as the 5th century, it really began to be developed toward the end of the 19th century by liberal theologians. But the term "open theism" was introduced in 1980 with theologian Richard Rice's book The Openness of God: The Relationship of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will. Since then, several notable theologians have advocated this view, including Clark Pinnock, John E. Sanders, Richard Rice, and Greg Boyd.
     Seeking Relationship. Advocates of open theism claim that historical theology has emphasized God's transcendence and immutability, thereby presenting God as someone distant. Their premise is that for a true relationship to exist between God and man, man must be completely free to make his own choices. (This is called the libertarian view of freedom. According to this view, man is never so inclined towards a certain choice that his choice becomes an inevitability. In contrast, evangelicals hold of a complementarian view of freedom, which asserts that God is sovereign and that man is also responsible for his actions.) God, therefore, desiring to have a genuine relationship with man, refrains from imposing His will upon the latter.
     Reformulating Omniscience. Historical Christianity asserts that God knows everything in the fullest sense of the word—all things past, present, future, and potential (cf. Mt 11:23). But open theists argue that God's knowledge does not extend to what does not exist. Since freedom of choice means that people create reality with their choices, the future does not exist, and is therefore unknowable even to God. They would say that not to know a no-thing does not undermine omniscience.
     Sovereignty Undermined. God's sovereignty is premised on God's omnipotence, omniscience and exercise of authority. Since open theism rejects the 2nd and 3rd doctrines (as formulated by traditional orthodoxy), it effectively undermines God's sovereignty.
  • Q: Should open theism really be considered a heresy? Evangelicals are divided on this issue. What do you think?
    • Throughout the Bible, God affirms that He is in control of all things, and knows “the end from the beginning” (Isa 46:10). This is precisely what distinguishes Him from all other man-made gods. The gods of the other nations were made in the image of man, with their own limitations, weaknesses, and moral failures. But the Judeo-Christian God is completely other, transcendent, who “dwells in unapproachable light” (1Tm 6:16). The God of open theism therefore falls far short of the God of the Bible.
     Contemporary critics. Timothy George calls open theism a “sub-Christian view of God.” D. A. Carson argues that it “so redefines the God of the Bible and of theology that we wind up with a quite different God.” Wayne Grudem contends that it “ultimately portrays a different God than the God of the Bible.” According to Albert Mohler, in this debate, “The very identity and reality of the God of the Bible is at stake.”

     Aside from the Godness of God, another concept that is unique to Christianity is a God who is One, yet in Three. This is not merely a fact that Christians need to accept formally bevause it's taught in the Bible, but has no real bearing on our faith. Rather, the doctrine of the Trinity is at the very center of our belief system.
  • Q: Can anyone tell me why?
    • First, because God is the center of our belief system.
    • Second, the work of the co-eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit defines the way we understand redemptive history and the way of salvation.
     Just to give an example of how central the Trinity is to redemption, we can look at the partnership between the Father and the Son, as revealed in the gospels. They were together in eternity past (Jn 1:1-2; 17:5) and were partners in creation (Jn 1:3). The Father sent Christ into the world (Jn 10:18; 17:3), gave Christ His flock (Jn 10:29; Mt 11:27), assigned Christ a kingdom (Lk 22:29) and glorifies Christ (Jn 8:54). Meanwhile, Christ's earthly ministry involved praying to His Father (Mt 14:23; 26:53), speaking His Father's words (Jn 8:38; 15:15), obeying His Father's commandments and abiding in His love (Jn 15:10), being perfectly submitted to His Father's will (Lk 22:42). Christ will acknowledge believers before the Father in heaven (Mt 10:32-33), and the Father will accept believers for Christ's sake (Jn 14:21,23).

MODALISM – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: three aspects of God.
     Sabellius (early 3rd cent.) was a theologian who opposed the idea of the Trinity and formulated his own theory, which we now call “modalism.” He taught that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were not distinct persons within the Godhead, but merely different designations (or “modes”) fulfilled by the one God throughout history. God is “the Father” with regards to creation, “the Son” with regards to redemption, and “the Holy Spirit” when at work in the lives of believers. Sabellius explained this by using the analogy of the sun's rays, which produced light and heat simultaneously. Light and heat are perceived as distinct, but are merely two aspects of the same thing.
     Marcellus of Ancyra (d. c.374). Bishop of Ancyra in Galatia, he was embroiled in the great Arian controversy. Although he opposed the Arian teaching that Christ was not fully God, Marcellus adopted a modified form of Sabellianism. He taught that the Trinity was only temporary. In eternity past, God was only One, but at creation the Logos went out from the Father and was later incarnated in Christ. The Holy Spirit, in turn, was issued from the Father and Christ. At the consummation, however, the Second and Third Persons will return to the Father. He was deposed because of his non-Trinitarian views.
     Modern forms. The analogy of explaining the Trinity by comparing God to ice, water, and steam.

ADOPTIONISM – Jesus adopted as the Son of God.
     Theodotus of Byzantium (2nd cent.) was an early Christian writer who claimed that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit as a non-divine man, and though later "adopted" by God upon baptism (that is to say, he became the Christ), was not himself God until after his resurrection.
     Paul of Samosata (200-275). Bishop of Antioch from 260-268, his doctrine was monarchian, and fell just short of adoptionism. He taught that Jesus was born a mere man, but at his baptism was infused with the Logos or Divine Word. The Council of Nicea ruled that Paulican baptism was void because, although they baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they had a non-orthodox understanding of this formula. Paulicanism faded quickly after Nicea.
     Photinus of Ancyra (d. 376). A student and later a deacon of Marcellus, he became bishop of Sirmium in 343. He taught that God chose Jesus to be His Son while he was in the womb. Because of this, the bishops tried to depose him, but were unable to because the people of Sirmium supported him. After some time, however, he was anathematized and successfully exiled in 351. His doctrine died in the West, but it seems he continued to influence the churches in Macedonia.

ARIANISM – Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not fully God.
     Arius (256-336). A prominent priest in Alexandria whose denial of Christ's divinity led to a theological controversy of such magnitude that the Roman Emperor Constantine had to intervene. He convened the Council of Nicea to settle the matter, and the Council condemned Arius' teaching.
     Homoiousios. Arius taught that the Logos was not God, neither eternal nor omnipotent. He was the first and greatest created being, and most approximate to God, but was not His equal nor of the same substance (homoousios). He was, rather of a similar substance (homoiousios), which set Him apart from both God and the rest of creation. This effectively relegated Christ to the status of a half- or demigod, which was actually a throwback to paganism.
     The Nicene formula. The Nicene Creed asserted that Jesus is “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds. God of God, Light of Loght, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made”.
  • Q: What will we lose if Christ is not God?
    • First, we will lose the testimony of the Scriptures, which unequivocally teach that Christ is God (cf. Heb 1:8-9), and therefore one with the Father (Jn 10:30).
    • Secondly, we lose our perfect Mediator in Christ.
     The Holy Spirit not God. The debate between Arius and the Trinitarians (most notably Athanasius) did not define the nature of the Holy Spirit and His relation to the Father and Christ. Nevertheless, later Arians did, in fact, deny the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

  • Q: What will we lose if the Holy Spirit is not God?
  • First, we will lose the testimony of the Scriptures, which unequivocally teach that the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4).
  • Second, we will become confused about what it means for God to be God. Don't the Scriptures teach that only God can give life (Acts 17:25), and directly influence people's hearts (Pv 21:1)? But that is exactly what the Spirit is said to do. The Spirit gives life (Jn 6:63; 2Co 3:6), and directly influences people's hearts (Jn 16:8). If the Holy Spirit can do what only God should be able to do, then doesn't that diminish the Godness of God?
  • Third, we will lose one very important aspect of the nearness of God. In Christ, God became man, and dwelt among men. In the Holy Spirit, God dwells within man! If the Holy Spirit was only an agent of God, then we lose the most direct connection we have with God!

     There are many more heresies, and we will discuss them next time. But our focus today has been to discuss sub-Christian views of God that evangelicals need to denounce as heretical. Sadly, with all the confusion today about what the Bible really teaches, it is very possible that as we minister in the world and in the Church, we will encounter so-called “Christians” and so-called “churches” whose beliefs have been tainted by these ideas. These people need to be evangelized, not included in Christian fellowship or partnered with in ministry.

(To be continued...)

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