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Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

The modern Church’s ever increasingly fad-driven, relevancy-craving, world acceptance-seeking, thirst for impressive numbers

In Apologetics, Chrisitian, Christ, Christian, Christianity, Prayer, Satan, Saved, Sin, Trinity on January 29, 2011 at 7:26 am

Found this interesting and relevant

In contrast to the modern Church’s ever increasingly fad-driven, relevancy-craving, world acceptance-seeking, thirst for impressive numbers of people even at the cost of truth and genuine shepherding of the flock, Martyn Lloyd-Jones understood long ago that our ambition should be to be pleasing to Christ:

“The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first. That is how revival comes. That must also be true of us as individuals. It should not be our ambition to be as much like everybody else as we can, though we happen to be Christian, but rather to be as different from everybody who is not a Christian as we can possibly be. Our ambition should be to be like Christ; the more like Him the better. And the more like Him we become, the more we shall be unlike everybody who is not a Christian.”

-D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

 

 

Tenn. Baptist exec: Belmont abandons Christian roots

In Apologetics on January 28, 2011 at 5:48 am
By Michael Foust
Jan 27, 2011
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Less than two months after facing a controversy over the departure of a lesbian soccer coach, Belmont University’s trustees Jan. 26 added “sexual orientation” to the school’s nondiscrimination policy, a landmark move that is being criticized as a major departure from its Christian founding.

Located in Nashville, Belmont had ties to the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) for more than 50 years until the university’s board, in 2005, voted to move away from a TBC-elected board to a self-perpetuating board. Two years later, the two sides reached a settlement in which Belmont would pay the TBC $11 million over 40 years.

“For decades Tennessee Baptists poured themselves into making Belmont what it is,” Randy Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press. “We did sever ties in 2007, but many of us never dreamed that the school would walk away so rapidly from their Christian heritage and roots. My heart is broken for all of the Tennessee Baptists that have loved and invested themselves in Belmont over the years. Many of our strongest leaders today are Belmont graduates, and the sentiment that I am hearing from them is one of outrage.”

The controversy began in early December, when former women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe left her position. It was unclear whether she resigned or was fired, but her players claimed she was let go when she told them her lesbian partner was pregnant. Howe seemed to imply that her sexuality was an issue, saying that her dedication to the program and school did not change “when I acknowledged that I am a lesbian and that my partner and I are expecting a baby.”

Belmont initially stuck by its decision, with Belmont trustee chairman Marty Dickens saying “we do adhere to our values as Christ-centered, and we don’t want to make apologies for that.”

Christian leaders outside of Belmont circles applauded the school, but it soon became apparent the school might be backtracking. Just days after Howe left, Belmont President Bob Fisher held a press conference and said that in his 10 years, “sexual orientation has not been considered in making hiring, promotion, salary or dismissal decisions.” He also acknowledged there are “many gay and lesbian students, as well as gay and lesbian faculty and staff.”

Belmont also faced pressure from record executive Mike Curb, who had given $10 million toward construction of the basketball arena and said he would “do everything” he could to get the board of trustees to “change its policy on homosexuality and rehire Howe.”

Fisher held a press conference Jan. 26 during which he said the new policy simply reflects the school’s “long-standing practice.”

“We are a Christian community that is welcoming, loving and inclusive of everyone,” Fisher said, according to the Belmont Vision newspaper.

Howe released a statement, saying, according to The Tennessean, that Belmont needs to make sure “that acceptance of LGBT students and staff is not just a written policy.” LGBT is an acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”

Belmont’s board Jan. 26 also affirmed that school faculty and staff are expected to “uphold high Christian standards of morality, ethics and conduct,” The Tennessean daily newspaper reported.

Davis, the Tennessee Baptist executive, said the school logically cannot claim to be biblically grounded while affirming unbiblical values.

“If you hold to a high Christian moral standard, and yet you embrace a lifestyle that the Scripture condemns, there is a conflict,” Davis said. “In this postmodern era, there is a strong temptation for believers to become more tolerant of sin because they are afraid of being labeled. I think this issue [homosexuality] is a flagpole kind of issue that many Christians are silent on. But compassion toward people and a biblical conviction can coexist.

“The truth about the love of God is paramount in Scripture. Dr. Fisher spoke of holding to a high standard of Christian morals. The biblical high standard is one man, one woman marriage. Anything less than that is a drastic lowering of the standard that is biblical and Christian.”
–30–
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.

© Copyright 2011 Baptist PressOriginal copy of this story can be found at http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=34527

 

Last Christians ponder leaving a hometown in Iraq “What gives me courage is that my Muslim brothers say, ‘Don’t leave'”

In Apologetics, Chrisitian, Christ, Christian, Christianity, Prayer, Satan, Saved, Sin, Trinity on January 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm

By JOHN LELAND and DURAID ADNAN

HABBANIYA CECE, Iraq  — The last Christian man in town goes to church each morning to clean the building and to remember the past. Romel Hawal, 48, was born in this town in Anbar Province back when most of the population was Christian. Now, he said, his 11-year-old son knows no other Christians and has no memory of attending a church service.

“When my son swears, it is on the Koran, not the Bible,” Mr. Hawal lamented.

His wife wants to leave town or leave the country, joining what is becoming an exodus of Christians from Iraq and throughout the Middle East. But Mr. Hawal said he felt an obligation to stay. And he found support from an unlikely source.

“What gives me courage,” he said, “is that my Muslim brothers say, ‘Don’t leave.’ ”

Here in Habbaniya Cece, residents talk about their town as an oasis of ethnic and religious harmony, where Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites all lived together for decades without friction.

On one short stretch of rutted road near Mr. Hawal’s church, Mary Queen of Peace, are an Assyrian church, a Sunni mosque, a Shiite mosque and another, older, Sunni mosque.

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“This is the best place you will find in Iraq, because we have Christians and Muslims together,” said the mayor, Sabah Fawzi, a Muslim, who stopped by the church to look in on Mr. Hawal. “When my wife and daughters want something, sometimes they come to the church to ask God for it.”

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But even on this street the buildings tell a more complicated story. The Assyrian church, St. George the Martyr, lies empty and hollowed out after an explosion in 2005. The Shiite mosque, Husseiniya Habbaniya, is a brand-new building but has no imam, or cleric, because of attacks against Shiites in the region, including a 2006 bombing that damaged the previous building.

These and other attacks shattered the mutual interdependence that had flourished for much of the past century, residents say.

As Anbar Province became a stronghold for Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni extremist groups, Christians and Shiites, feeling singled out, fled the area, until this town of 10,150 had only one Christian family, down from about 70 families before the American-led invasion of 2003. There were not enough Shiites to fill the big new mosque.

Jehad Nga for The New York Times

Romel Hawal, a Christian, sits in the garden of the Mary Queen of Peace church in Habbaniya Cece, Iraq, on Jan. 17, 2011.

Khadem Owaid, the caretaker of the Shiite mosque, said people from the town had no part in the sectarian violence that swept through the province after 2003. “The occupation destroyed everything,” Mr. Owaid said. “It was strangers who came and made trouble, trying to plant something between us. But we’re living together now, there’s no problem.”

At Mary Queen of Peace, Mr. Hawal is now caretaker not just to an old church but to a history. For most of the last century Habbaniya was an important hub for Assyrian Christians from around Iraq, with an educated elite and a unique dialect. Assyrian regiments fought alongside the British against Arab nationalists and the Axis powers, and the name Habbaniya Cece comes from the Habbaniya civil cantonment established by the British air force after World War I.

From their British counterparts, Assyrians here brought soccer to Iraq, said Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East in Beirut, who was born in Habbaniya.

The Christian population began to drop in the 1970s and 1980s for economic reasons, the archdeacon and current residents said.

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Mr. Hawal, who is Assyrian, switched to Mary Queen of Peace, which is Roman Catholic, after his brother became the caretaker, and remained after his brother moved to Baghdad and then to the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq. About half of Iraq’s Christians have left the country since the invasion.

‘I can’t leave’

Mr. Hawal remembered Christmas celebrations in the garden at Mary Queen of Peace, staying up all night with his Muslim neighbors, both Arabs and Kurds.

“This is history for us,” he said. “I can still smell my friends here and my family here. Many friends now say I should leave, that they have work for me where they are, but I can’t leave the church.”

Mr. Fawzi, the mayor, mourns the loss of his former neighbors. “I would give my life for the life that used to be here to come back.”

The church building now is a monument to their absence, with its heavy wooden pews moved to the edges of a barren concrete floor. It has no heat or electricity. Next to it is a large field of garbage. “When I come here I feel pain,” Mr. Hawal said. “I don’t think it will ever be back again like it was, when we had a beautiful garden.”

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Gone, too, are the sounds that once defined the town. “The bell used to ring here, and the azzan from the mosque,” said Nofah Ramah al-Dulaimi, 72, who runs a small clothing shop next to the church, referring to the Islamic call to prayer, which sounds five times a day.

Ms. Dulaimi said she used to keep a notebook of the names of all the families in town, Christian and Muslim, but she burned it two or three years ago, “because I didn’t want to remember.”

Like Mr. Hawal, she especially recalled celebrating Christmas together. Christian friends would remind her that the holiday was approaching, and she would bake cakes and pies for the occasion. But this year, she said, “I didn’t know when it was Christmas.”

Mr. Hawal said that his life had become culturally identical to those of his neighbors. At his construction materials shop he hangs a sign that says Allahu Akbar, or God is great, and the customers know him as Abu Yousif (father of Yousif) the Christian. The family prays at home, he said, but the rituals are incomplete without a priest.

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The hardest part, he said, is raising his son here.

“Whenever I look at him my heart breaks,” Mr. Hawal said. “He is my closest friend. I just want him to live a normal life where he can practice the Christian traditions.” If another Christian family would take care of the church, he said, he would leave town.

Even with security improving, he still worried about Yousif. Sometimes his wife calls him to say Yousif is missing, and Mr. Hawal has to track the boy down to the soccer field, where he is playing with Muslim friends — enjoying the game that Assyrian Christians brought to Iraq, momentarily free of sectarian strife. But the sanctuary is fragile, Mr. Hawal knows.

“I am afraid to lose him,” he said. “I always tell him not to go to far places, and not to talk to any stranger. He is everything I have left.”

This story, ” Last Christians Ponder Leaving a Hometown in Iraq,” originally appeared in The New York Times.

 

What Do You Want Me To Do God?

In Apologetics on January 20, 2011 at 7:27 pm

What Do You Want Me To Do God?.

Know Your Heretics part 2

In Apologetics on January 9, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Know Your Heretics part 2

 

The Historical Background

Sabellius, a third-century theologian and priest, was a proponent of modalism. Modalism is a non-Trinitarian heresy claiming that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are simply different modes of God and not distinct persons within the Godhead. Little is known about Sabellius, who was excommunicated in 220 AD, but the teaching attached to his name became infamous and is still with us today.

 

Sabellius’ View of God

The modalists were rightly concerned with maintaining the oneness of God as well as the full deity of Christ. However, this led them to the error of seeing any suggestion that the Son was a distinct person from the Father as creating a duality within the Godhead. Early historian Hippolytus summarized the modalist position as one in which the names “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” did not stand for real distinctions in the Godhead, but rather mere names that described the actions of the one God at different times in history. In other words, “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit” are merely adjectives describing how the one divine Being acts and is perceived. Sabellius used the analogy of the sun to explain his position. In the same way that the sun gives off both light and heat, so also the single divine being radiates in history in different fashions. In creation, the divine Being acts as Father; in redemption, as Son; in the lives of believers, as the Holy Spirit.

 

The Orthodox Response

The orthodox response to the heresy of Sabellius (and other modalists) came from Tertullian, the African theologian. In Against Praxeas, Tertullian argued that Scripture reveals that the Godhead is three who are at the same time one. He rightly considered this an essential doctrine of Christianity. In the Sabellian modalist view, the three are not anything real, but rather just different manifestations of the one. Therefore, Tertullian proposed that we speak of the Godhead as “one substance (substantia) consisting in three persons (persona).” This terminology would serve as the basis for future Latin theology, and it is from Tertullian’s pen that the important Christian word “Trinity” (trinitas) was first inked.

 

Why Does All This Matter?

Sabellianism is one of the heresies in Christendom that keeps appearing again and again in different forms. Anyone who has sat in a Sunday School class and heard that God’s Tri-unity is like water in that it appears to us in three forms (liquid, steam, and ice) has been exposed to a contemporary variation of modalism. God is not one person that exists in three different forms at three different times, but three distinct persons concurrently sharing one common essence. Modalism also reared its ugly head in the classic liberal theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher, and it is even seen today in the “Oneness” sect of Pentecostalism, which clearly denies the doctrine of the Trinity. What is at stake in the debate is not merely fancy theological terminology, but our understanding of God himself. For example, if Sabellian modalism were true, the intimate relationship that existed between the Father and the Son from all eternity (John 17) would be irrational. Modalism undercuts the atoning work of Jesus Christ, as well. If there is only one God who works in different modes of being throughout history, one must question whether Jesus Christ was truly a man, or if he only appeared to be such, as the heresy of Docetism declares. If Jesus Christ is not fully God and fully man, then he cannot be the one mediator between God and man. It is for this reason that the heresy of Sabellian modalism must be rejected, and the biblical doctrine of the Trinity must be affirmed.

 

Questioning the Trinity

After the Council of Nicaea in 325, the orthodox understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity as three persons sharing one divine essence was not universally agreed upon. One theologian who disagreed was Photinus, the Bishop of Sirmium and the disciple of Marcellus.

 

 

 

Did God Choose a Man to Become His Son?

The theology of Photinus veered close to adoptionism by suggesting that the man Jesus was chosen by God to be his Son when he was in Mary’s womb. Photinus denied the doctrine of the pre-existence of the Son.

 

“Photinus elevates man to the place of Son…”

 

Ambrose described Photinus’ theology in his De Fide: “We say that God is One, not as does Photinus, holding that the Son first came into existence in the Virgin’s womb.”

 

Hilary of Poitiers also spoke of the theology of Photinus in his De Trinitate:

 

Sabellius denies that there is a Son of God; against him Photinus elevates man to the place of Son. Photinus will hear nothing of a Son born before the worlds… Our present adversaries are ranted in the matter of the Divine nature of the Son… Photinus is convicted of ignorance, or else of falsehood, in his denial of the Son’s birth before the worlds…Photinus maintains His manhood, though in maintaining it he forgets that Christ was born as God before the worlds.

In other words, Photinus did not believe that the second person of the Trinity—the divine Word, the Son of God—existed with the Father in eternity past. He believed there is no second person of the Trinity that existed before the human person Jesus of Nazareth.

 

 

 

The Word Was With God in the Beginning

The most straightforward response to this denial of the pre-existence of the Son is found in John 1:1-3. This passage explicitly expresses the fact that the Word, Jesus—who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)—existed from before creation with the Father. Indeed, it was through him that all things were created.

 

Hilary of Poitiers cites John 5:17-19 to show that the works of the Father are often executed by the Son. Hilary argued that because the Son has the power to do the same things as the Father, he must have the same nature.

 

“The Word existed from before creation with the Father”

 

Contrary to Photinus’ teaching, the Father and the Son co-existed in complete equality from eternity past, and it was the second, eternally-existing person of the Trinity who took on flesh and became incarnate in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Contemporary Relevance: Jesus Is Fully God

The error of Photinus is important for several reasons. If the Son did not exist eternally with God the Father, then he cannot be fully and completely God. If the Son is merely a man chosen by God to be his son, then Jesus cannot be fully God and fully man.

 

This error would obliterate the doctrine of the atonement. The reason that Christ can satisfy the wrath of God is that he is fully God, and the reason that he can represent humanity is that he is fully man. Without the doctrine of the pre-existence of the Son, Jesus is merely a man who lived a good life as a spiritual teacher here on earth but can in no way be the savior of the world.

 

 

 

The Most Formidable of Heretics

 

Marcion is one of the most significant heretics in Christian history. His teachings captivated many for centuries after him. Henry Chadwick called Marcion “the most radical and to the church the most formidable of heretics.”

 

Marcion’s Two Gods and Gutted Bible

Marcion taught that there were two Gods: Yahweh, the cruel God of the Old Testament, and Abba, the kind father of the New Testament. Because of this belief, he eliminated the Old Testament as Scriptures and kept only 10 letters of Paul and two-thirds of Luke’s gospel for his version of the New Testament. He also deleted all references to Jesus’ Jewishness. Marcion’s “New Testament”—the first to be compiled—forced the church to decide on a core of what was considered Scripture: the four Gospels and the letters of Paul.

 

Making the Bible “More Spiritual”

Marcion’s heretical teachings destroyed the humanity of Christ and assaulted the Christian Scriptures. Because Marcion interpreted Christianity through the lens of a Gnostic philosophy that saw all created things as evil, he wanted to dismiss anything from the Bible that was concerned with the earthly realm. This caused him to cut from the Bible most of the Old and New Testament birth narratives. In his book Antitheses he made a list of what he saw as contradictions between the Old and New Testaments. He saw the God of the Old Testament as the creator of a miserable world, as the author of evil, and as nothing like the Father of Jesus. Because of his disdain for the material world, Marcion argued that any divine redeemer could not be born of a woman. For this reason, he rejected the story of Jesus’ birth.

 

Tertullian and Irenaeus Lead the Charge Against Marcion

Marcion’s heresy prompted the church to push back and officially recognize the Old Testament as Scripture. Furthermore, his rejection of the humanity of Jesus energized the church to develop a complete defense of it. Tertullian did exactly this in his work Against Marcion in 207-208. Tertullian saw Marcion’s denial of Christ’s humanity as detrimental to Christianity: “The sufferings of Christ will be found not to warrant faith in him. For he suffered nothing [if he] did not truly suffer; and a phantom could not truly suffer. God’s entire work therefore is subverted. Christ’s death, wherein lies the whole weight and fruit of the Christian name, is denied.” Irenaeus also challenged Marcion, saying,

 

He mutilated the Gospel according to Luke, removing all the narratives of the Lord’s birth, and also removing much of the teaching of the discourses of the Lord wherein he is most manifestly described as acknowledging the maker of this universe to be his father. Thus [Marcion] persuaded his disciples that he himself was more trustworthy than the apostles, who handed down the Gospel; though he gave to them not a Gospel but a fragment of a Gospel.

Irenaeus writes, Marcion “says that salvation will be of our souls only, of those souls which have learned his teaching; the body, because… it is taken from the earth, cannot partake in salvation.” While Marcion was excommunicated from the church in Rome in 144, because he was a wealthy man, he was able to establish quite a following through the next several centuries.

 

Marcion’s Views Alive Today

Marcion is relevant today because some contemporary wacky teachings about Jesus and the Bible are merely a restating of his ancient heresies. In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes,

 

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

This view is quite similar to that of Marcion and still wreaks havoc in the church today. Tertullian was right that if Christ was not truly human then he could not truly suffer, and if he did not truly suffer, then he cannot be the one who has identified with us as fallen human beings, winning our salvation by his atoning death and life-giving resurrection.

 

 

 

 

 

Know your Heretics

In Apologetics, Chrisitian, Christ, Christian, Christianity, Prayer, Satan, Saved, Sin, Trinity on January 3, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Historical Background

Arius (256-336 A.D.) is the most famous heretic of Christian theology. He was born in Libya and died in Constantinople. Arius held a prominent position as a priest in the Church of Alexandria when he started a theological controversy in 318. Arius denied the eternal deity of Christ and his equality with the Father. He argued that Christ was created by the Father. Since the age of the Apostles, Jesus had always been considered divine by his followers, but his precise relation to the Godhead had not yet been defined. Thanks to Arius, the Trinitarian controversy regarding the status of Jesus Christ erupted.

 

Arius’ View of Jesus

Arius did not believe that the Father and the Son were of the same substance. Instead, he believed in the eternal functional and ontological subordination of the Son to the Father—that the Son was a lower being than the Father. According to Arius, the Son was created before time. In other words, he was not co-eternal with the Father. As he put it, “Before he was begotten or created or appointed or established, he did not exist; for he was not unbegotten” (Letter to Eusebius). Furthermore, the Son was not of one divine substance with the Father. He was rather of a similar substance with the Father (homoiousios). On this view, the divine qualities of the Son are given to him by the Father. Arius claimed that when the Scriptures speak of Jesus as the “Son” of God, it is merely a title of honor—a title given to Jesus as the one on whom the Father had lavished a special grace. Thus, Arius says, “He is not God truly, but by participation in grace…He too is called God in name only” (Early Christian Doctrines).

 

Orthodox Response

The theology of Arius became so controversial that Constantine intervened in 325, calling the Council of Nicaea. Athanasius, the leading defender of Nicene orthodoxy and the most prolific writer of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine in the fourth century, saw a major flaw in the writings of Arius and called his heresy the “forerunner of the Antichrist” (Athanasius, Or. Ar. 1:1). According to Athanasius, the Son was eternally begotten from the Father such that he can be said to be of the same essence (homoousios) with the Father: “The Son is other in kind and nature than the creatures, or rather belongs to the Father’s substance and is of the same nature as He.” (Athanasius, Contra Arianos, III).

 

Why Does All This Matter?

There are some today who repeat Arius’ views. However, Jesus claimed to be God and the Christian tradition has held that there is an intimate connection between salvation and the deity of Christ. We are saved from God by God. Only a divine Savior can bear the weight of God’s wrath in atonement. Only Jesus as the God-man can satisfy the enormous debt and penalty caused by human sin against God. No mere human could bridge that gap. Only a divine Savior can pay the costly price of redeeming us from our bondage to sin and death. Only the God-man can conquer all his people’s enemies. Our salvation rests on the infinite capacities of our savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Historical Background

In the early 5th century a debate arose between Pelagius, a British monk, and Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. They disagreed over the relationship between human nature after the Fall and saving, divine grace in Jesus Christ. When Pelagius arrived in Rome and saw the city’s dim view of morality, he developed a reputation for being a spiritual director who urged people to reform their behavior and live lives as upstanding, moral citizens.

 

Pelagius’ View of Sin

Pelagius rejected the doctrines of original sin, substitutionary atonement, and justification by faith. Pelagius emphasized unconditional free will and the ability to better oneself spiritually without grace. This was in direct contrast to Augustine, who believed that humanity was completely helpless in Adam’s sin and in desperate need of grace. Specifically, Pelagius took issue with Augustine’s prayer in his Confessions, which asked God to grant humans grace to act in accordance with his divine commands: “Grant what you command and command what you will.” (Confessions, X. 40). Pelagius rejected the teaching of “original sin,” the results of the Fall upon humanity. According to him, Adam’s sin in no way made humans corrupt, but instead “over the years our sin gradually corrupts us, building an addiction and then holding us bound with what seems like the force of nature itself.” (Letter to Demetrias, VIII). Humans by nature have a clean slate, and it is only through voluntary sin that humans are made wicked. Potentially, then, one could live a sinless life and merit heaven. Pelagius thought that God commanding a person to do something that he lacked the ability to do would be useless: “To call a person to something he considers impossible does him no good.” (Letter to Demetrias, I). If God called humans to live moral lives, Pelagius thought, it should be within their power to carry out such commands.

 

Orthodox Response

Pelagius’ error was deemed heretical in 416 by the Council of Carthage. Originally Adam, Augustine said, possessed freedom—the ability not to sin. After the Fall, all human beings participate in Adam’s sin, which renders them not able not to sin. After the mediation of divine grace in Jesus Christ humans are once again given the ability not to sin. Augustine replied to Pelagius’ views in two treatises: On the Grace of Christ and On Original Sin. Augustine writes: “We must realize that Pelagius believes that neither our will nor our action is helped by divine aid…he believes that God does not help us to will, that he does not help us to act, that he helps us only to be able to will and to act.”(On the Grace of Christ, V.6). Augustine saw Pelagius’ teaching to be a clear denial of Philippians 2:12-13, because Pelagius located the capacity “to will and to do” what pleases God in human nature rather than in God’s grace.”(On the Grace of Christ, V.6 and VI.7).

 

Why Does All This Matter?

Ignoring the consequences the Fall has on everyone leads to a diminishment of the multifaceted work of Christ. In his ministry Jesus not only bore our sins on the cross, but lived a perfect life in obedience to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit—the life that Adam failed to live—in order to restore fallen humans to their original state of grace. It is not only through the grace of God that humans are initially saved but also through this grace that they are sustained. As Augustine put it, God “guards the weak so that by his gift the saints unfailingly choose the good and unfailingly refuse to abandon it.”(On Rebuke and Grace, 38). Without understanding the magnitude of sin and the plight of humanity, the gracious work of Jesus for us and our salvation seems superfluous. 1 Peter 1:18-19 says: “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” Because of sin, humans are not naturally good—that’s why we need Jesus.

The Rise of the Judaizers

A problem arose in the early church when the apostles took the gospel of Jesus to Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. When Gentiles responded to the gospel, a conflict arose that threatened to divide the church. A group called the Judaizers opposed Paul and Barnabas at the Council of Jerusalem (AD 50) in Acts 15. They were uncertain that the benefits of the covenant people of God were to be extended to the Gentiles, thus doubting their conversion by the gospel. Paul’s response assures them that the Gentiles had indeed been made partakers in the blessings of the covenant, namely, the Holy Spirit: “And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9).

 

The Judaizers’ View of Salvation

The Judaizers were teaching that God still required everyone to observe certain rituals and statutes in order to be accepted by him as Father. Paul, in recounting his confrontation of Peter before the Judaizers, gives us an insight into the teaching of this group (Gal. 2:14). Apparently, the Judaizers were attempting to force Gentile Christians to live under the regulations of the Mosaic Law. They are also called the “circumcision party” (Gal. 2:12), because one of the specific elements of the Law that the Judaizers were forcing the Gentile Christians to live by was the practice of circumcision. Peter had withdrawn himself from eating with Gentile Christians, fearing the opposition that would come from the Judaizers. Eating with Gentiles would have rendered Peter ceremonially unclean under the Old Covenant, by breaking an important element of the Mosaic Law. However, Paul said Peter’s conduct was “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14).

 

The Orthodox Response

Paul’s response is given in Galatians 2:16: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Paul’s other response is found in Galatians 5:12: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” He suggests self-castration for those who require circumcision for others. Paul made his point clearly. According to Paul and the response drafted at the Council of Jerusalem, the Gentiles were not obligated to follow the restrictions of the Law. They were free in Christ, who had fulfilled the demands of the Law. Paul exhorted the Gentiles to abstain from practices associated with pagan idol worship, not to earn their salvation, but as a response to the life-changing message of the gospel and in gratitude for God’s gift of salvation.

 

Why Does All This Matter?

While the heresy of the Judaizers was put to rest by the Apostle Paul, the idea behind their erroneous belief still permeates the church today. The issues are no longer circumcision or ceremonial uncleanness, but the question of how the law relates to salvation—or how works relate to righteousness—is still something that many Christians remain confused about today. Paul’s exhortation to the Judaizers remains as important as ever. It is not by works that we are saved, but solely by the grace of Christ. In fact, to add anything to the work of Christ for salvation actually negates God’s grace. Paul says, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21).

 

The Historical Background

Sabellius, a third-century theologian and priest, was a proponent of modalism. Modalism is a non-Trinitarian heresy claiming that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are simply different modes of God and not distinct persons within the Godhead. Little is known about Sabellius, who was excommunicated in 220 AD, but the teaching attached to his name became infamous and is still with us today.

 

Sabellius’ View of God

The modalists were rightly concerned with maintaining the oneness of God as well as the full deity of Christ. However, this led them to the error of seeing any suggestion that the Son was a distinct person from the Father as creating a duality within the Godhead. Early historian Hippolytus summarized the modalist position as one in which the names “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” did not stand for real distinctions in the Godhead, but rather mere names that described the actions of the one God at different times in history. In other words, “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit” are merely adjectives describing how the one divine Being acts and is perceived. Sabellius used the analogy of the sun to explain his position. In the same way that the sun gives off both light and heat, so also the single divine being radiates in history in different fashions. In creation, the divine Being acts as Father; in redemption, as Son; in the lives of believers, as the Holy Spirit.

 

The Orthodox Response

The orthodox response to the heresy of Sabellius (and other modalists) came from Tertullian, the African theologian. In Against Praxeas, Tertullian argued that Scripture reveals that the Godhead is three who are at the same time one. He rightly considered this an essential doctrine of Christianity. In the Sabellian modalist view, the three are not anything real, but rather just different manifestations of the one. Therefore, Tertullian proposed that we speak of the Godhead as “one substance (substantia) consisting in three persons (persona).” This terminology would serve as the basis for future Latin theology, and it is from Tertullian’s pen that the important Christian word “Trinity” (trinitas) was first inked.

 

Why Does All This Matter?

Sabellianism is one of the heresies in Christendom that keeps appearing again and again in different forms. Anyone who has sat in a Sunday School class and heard that God’s Tri-unity is like water in that it appears to us in three forms (liquid, steam, and ice) has been exposed to a contemporary variation of modalism. God is not one person that exists in three different forms at three different times, but three distinct persons concurrently sharing one common essence. Modalism also reared its ugly head in the classic liberal theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher, and it is even seen today in the “Oneness” sect of Pentecostalism, which clearly denies the doctrine of the Trinity. What is at stake in the debate is not merely fancy theological terminology, but our understanding of God himself. For example, if Sabellian modalism were true, the intimate relationship that existed between the Father and the Son from all eternity (John 17) would be irrational. Modalism undercuts the atoning work of Jesus Christ, as well. If there is only one God who works in different modes of being throughout history, one must question whether Jesus Christ was truly a man, or if he only appeared to be such, as the heresy of Docetism declares. If Jesus Christ is not fully God and fully man, then he cannot be the one mediator between God and man. It is for this reason that the heresy of Sabellian modalism must be rejected, and the biblical doctrine of the Trinity must be affirmed.

Historical Background

In the years following the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., the church was wrestling with many questions about the person and work of Christ. At Nicaea, the deity of Christ was established as orthodox Christian teaching, but many questions concerning the person of Christ remained. Apollinarius, named the Bishop of Laodicea in 362 A.D., is responsible for Apollinarianism. This view compromises the full humanity of Jesus by suggesting that the eternal logos (Word) replaced the human soul of Jesus and served as the life-giving principle in the body of Christ.

 

Apollinarius’ View of Jesus

Apollinarius says, “The flesh, being dependent for its motions on some other principle of movement and action…is not of itself a complete living entity, but in order to become one enters into fusion with something else. So it united itself with the heavenly governing principle [the Logos] and was fused with it…Thus out of the moved and the mover was compounded a single living entity—not two, nor one compound of two complete, self-moving principles” (Apollinarius, “Fragment 107”). J.N.D. Kelly, a prominent scholar of doctrinal history, writes, “The presupposition of this argument is that the divine Word was substituted for the normal human psychology in Christ.” Put differently, the humanity that was assumed in the incarnation was not a complete humanity but lacked a significant component of personhood. Apollinarius believed, then, that Jesus was only partially human.

 

The Orthodox Response

The teaching of Apollinarius was condemned at Antioch in 378 and 379 and by the Council of Constantinople in 381. The primary defender of theological orthodoxy was Gregory of Nazianzus, a 4th century Eastern theologian and the Archbishop of Constantinople. He saw Apollinarius as compromising the saving work of Jesus: “If anyone has put his trust in him as a man without a human mind, he is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which he has not assumed he has not healed; but that which is united to his Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole” (“To Cledonius Against Apollinarius”). In other words, if all of Adam was lost and ruined by the Fall, then Christ, the second Adam, must put on all that Adam possessed in order to restore human nature and live the life that Adam failed to live. These issues regarding salvation motivated Gregory to articulate a Christology faithful to the Bible.

 

Why Does All This Matter?

If Apollinarius is right and the “Word” replaced the human soul of Jesus, we are left wondering how Christ can be fully human. Far from lacking a normal human psychology, the Gospels depict Jesus as being completely human in the way he experienced sorrow, pain, and other genuinely human experiences. Certainly Jesus Christ was fully God, as the council of Nicaea maintained, but he was also fully man. And it was his deity—as well as his humanity—that allowed him to be our perfect substitute, the mediator between God and humanity for us and for our salvation.


 

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