The Great Heresies: Nestorius and Eutyches

Article by Gervase Charmley at this link.

We have made these studies of the so-called Great Heresies because they represent significant false steps in the history of Christian teaching; in each of them a true teaching is distorted, and so becomes false. Each precipitated a crisis that forced the Church to look deeper into the Scriptures and consider the fullness of God’s revelation there.

Our previous study, that of Apollinarius, marks a move from the question of the deity of Christ to that of the relationship between the Divine and human in Christ. Opposing the ruinous heresy of Arianism, Apollinarius took a crude approach, teaching that the Divine replaced a part of the human nature, a position that was rightly condemned on the ground that it made the Incarnate Christ less than human. The next great theological controversy would be driven at least as much by politics as theology, and ended in the great Council of Chalcedon. The two men who gave their names to the heresies condemned there were Nestorius and Eutyches, and they came from Antioch and Alexandria respectively.

HISTORY

After the Council of Constantinople in 381, theologians in the Eastern Church continued to debate the questions that had been raised by the Arian controversy, and consider how best to keep from falling into error on the question of the person of Christ.

Broadly speaking there were two main approaches, characterizing schools of thought based in Alexandria and Syrian Antioch respectively. The Alexandrians laid great stress on the unity of Christ’s person, while the Antiochenes stressed the two natures and the true humanity of Christ. The different emphases were not too much of a problem so long as they were only emphases, but there was always a danger of losing proportion; the Alexandrian emphasis could too easily result in a view of Christ that down-played his humanity, while the Antiochene approach might lead to a view of Christ that divided the two natures rather than just distinguishing them. Not only that, but there was a risk that the two schools might mistake a difference in emphasis for outright heresy.

This is what actually happened in the Nestorian controversy; Nestorius has perhaps the unique distinction of being the only one of the ‘great heretics’ who almost certainly did not teach the heresy that his name has become attached to. Complicating this were political issues; the church, freed from persecution and favoured by the Caesars, had developed its own complex political system of parishes, dioceses, bishops, archbishops, and patriarchs. The Patriarchs were archbishops of five particularly significant cities. These were Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople. Jerusalem was always small and rather insignificant, while Rome, away in Europe, was distant and had its own concerns. Continue reading

Error and Heresy

2016

More than ten years ago, Al Mohler wrote a seminal blog post outlining what he called “theological triage.” Borrowing the term from the emergency room, Mohler discussed the need for Christians to prioritize certain doctrinal issues over others.

In what can be the chaos of an emergency room, medical professionals need to know how to weigh the urgency of various patients’ needs against one another; that is, a gunshot wound should be prioritized over a sprained ankle. Similarly, in the theological world, Christians must understand the difference between (a) “first-order” doctrines—where to hold an errant position actually precludes one from being a true brother in Christ—and (b) “second-” and “third-order” doctrines—issues on which two genuine Christians can disagree and nevertheless be truly saved. In other words, we need to be able to discern the difference between erroneous teaching (on non-fundamental issues) and heresy.

All biblical doctrine is important. I would go so far as to say all biblical doctrine is essential. It is difficult to put any doctrine into a second or third tier, because it somehow feels as if to do so is to say it’s not important. But employing theological triage doesn’t mean that everything that’s not first-order is unimportant, any more than a doctor’s prioritizing a gunshot wound necessarily thinks a sprained ankle is unimportant. But the fact remains: genuine Christians can disagree on things like the mode and recipients of baptism; but if two people disagree on the triunity of God, one is a Christian and the other isn’t.

The Reality of Damning Error

Some people reject the very notion that disagreements about doctrine could preclude someone from salvation. After all, no one has perfect theology, and we’re saved by believing in Christ, not by believing in doctrine, they say. And it’s true, regeneration does not promise protection from all error. But it does promise protection from some error—that is, the kind of error which, if believed, indicates you’re not a child of God at all. We know that that kind of theological error exists because the Apostle Paul wrote Galatians 1:6–9:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

Paul wrote that about the error of the Judaizers, which, if you think about it, by some evaluations was quite a fine point of doctrinal disagreement. Think about everything the Judaizers shared in common with the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints. They believed in one God, who exists eternally in three Persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They believed in the deity and humanity of Christ. They believed that He was Israel’s Messiah in fulfillment of the Old Testament. They believed in penal substitutionary atonement—that Christ bore the punishment of God’s wrath against the sins of His people when He died on the cross, so that they might be free from sin’s penalty and power (and one day its presence). They believed that He was buried, and that He rose on the third day. And they believed that repentance and faith in Christ was absolutely necessary for forgiveness of sins and fellowship with God in heaven. That is a lot of really important doctrine that they got right! Continue reading

The Meaning of “You are gods”

The chief reason for me being a Reformed Christian is not a heartfelt devotion to the Magisterial Reformers like Martin Luther or John Calvin. No, the main reason is that the Reformed message thunders out from the pages of Scripture when the principles of hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation) are correctly applied. When the Biblical text is left to speak for itself, within its own context, the truth is clearly seen. Texts taken out of their setting can be made to support many erroneous views and heresies. Surely, a text out of context is a pretext for all false doctrine. However, error is exposed when individual texts are subjected to analysis such as identifying the background, use of words, context, syntax, etc.

Some people are very quick to say that “the Lord” showed them the meaning of a verse. Yet it is often the case that the context of the verse totally repudiates the interpretation given. To fail to study the text’s context is not a mark of spirituality, but the exact opposite – a failure to honor the Holy Spirit who inspired the original words. We would never wish for our own words to be treated this way. How much more should this be the case when it is God the Holy Spirit who has inspired Scripture?

An old heresy, based upon a misinterpretation of John 10:34, suggests that men can become gods. This is the doctrine espoused by the LDS (Mormons) and other cult groups. I will let an excerpt from Dr. James White’s book “Is the Mormon my Brother?” show the context and true meaning of John 10:34.

James-White23Dr. White writes:

John chapter ten is one of the most beautiful in all of Scripture, for it speaks of the Lord Jesus’ relationship to His people in the terms of the Shepherd and His sheep. In the midst of talking about the glorious salvation that belongs to those who know and trust Christ, Jesus asserts that He and the Father are one in their bringing about the final and full salvation of all those who are given by the Father to the Son (vv. 28-30). When the Lord says, “I and the Father are one,”[1] He offends the Jews, who realize that such a claim implies deity. No mere creature can be fully one with the Father in bringing about redemption itself! This prompts the dialogue that concerns us here:

“I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I SAID, YOU ARE GODS’? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:30-36)

The use of this passage in LDS literature is widespread. “I said, you are gods” is used to substantiate the idea of a plurality of gods, and men becoming gods. Yet, even a brief review of the passage demonstrates that such is hardly a worthy interpretation, and some of the leading LDS apologists today avoid trying to press the passage that far, and for good reason.[2] The unbelieving Jews seen in this passage, with murder in their hearts, are hardly good candidates for exaltation to godhood. What is more, the Lord Jesus uses the present tense when He says, “You are gods.” So, obviously, He is not identifying His attackers as divine beings, worthy of worship by their eventual celestial offspring! What, then, is going on here? Continue reading

Pelagianism

Sproul Jr In an article entitled “Pelagianism: Self-Righteousness” Dr. R. C. Sproul, Jr writes:

Pelagianism is an ancient error built on man’s self-righteousness. Though roundly condemned when it began, it’s still with us.

Transcript:

I suspect that when we are finally ready to wrap up all the “-ism Fridays,” all the –isms that we end up doing, that this for many of us may very well be the most obscure -ism that we will cover because I’d like to talk today about Pelagianism.

Unless you’re some sort of theology wonk, you probably have never heard of Pelagius. Pelagius was a British monk who lived in the fourth century who came onto the radar of the church when he determined to publicly grumble about the prayer of another believer. That other believer was none other than St. Augustine.

Now, St. Augustine is, in my judgment and I would suspect in the judgment of anybody with any sense of sanity, the greatest theologian of the first millennium of the church era. Augustine was perhaps the greatest theologian ever. And so Pelagius was rather bold in striking up his beef with Augustine. What was the prayer that Augustine pray? He prayed this way, “oh Lord, command what thou wilt and grant what thou doest command.” In this prayer, Augustine was acknowledging God’s sovereign authority. That God has the ability, the liberty, the authority to impose obligation on us. Command what thou will – “God, you are our God, I am at your service, I am your servant, I am your creature, whatever you want to command, I know that is what I have an obligation to do.” And that part of the prayer did not upset Pelagius. Rather, what upset him with the second part, “…grant what thou doest command.”

Augustine is praying to his Maker, “you do whatever you want, you command whatever you want but please give me the ability to do what it is you command me to do.” That is what got in Pelagius’ craw. Pelagius argued that it would be immoral, wrong of God to command that which we do not innately, inherently, have the ability to do on our own.

In making that objection, Pelagius fired a shot across the bow of the doctrine of original sin. And, to his credit, he recognized that that was what he was doing. In defense of his own position Pelagius reached the necessary conclusions that flowed out of it. One conclusion being that there is no such thing as original sin. Now, please understand that “original sin” is not the story of what happened to Adam and Eve, rather it is the doctrine of the fruit of Adam and Eve’s sin.

Original sin holds that because Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that they became fallen creatures and that the fallen nature, that inclination towards evil was passed on to all of humanity that would flow from them ever afterwards. That all of us (of course with the exception of Jesus who was conceived of the Holy Spirit) that all of us are born in sin, we were conceived in unrighteousness, that the imaginations of our heart and minds are wicked from our youths, that we are sinners from the beginning. We are in fact slaves to sin.

Pelagius said, “nope, we are born like a blank slate, a tabula rasa. There is no impact of Adam and Eve’s sin upon us. This means of course that we not only innately have the ability to embrace the work of Christ for us, but we have the innate ability to not need the work of Christ for us. Pelagius not only affirmed that we would come to faith in Christ out of an island of righteousness in ourselves, but he also affirmed that we don’t even need faith in Christ because faith in for Christ is for sinners and we can of our own goodness obey the will God.

Happily, Pelagius’ error was roundly condemned by the Early Church in an ecumenical council. The perspective of Augustine was affirmed and defended by the Church and became the doctrine of the Church at least until hundreds and hundreds of years later. In fact “Augustinianism,” even though it is a part of the history of the Roman Catholic Church, is rightly understood as another nickname for what we might call Calvinism or Reformed Theology. Indeed, if you read through the corpus of Calvin you find that Calvin quotes Augustine not only more than any other scholar, but he quotes Augustine more than all other authorities combined.

Augustine is truly the father of the Reformation. On the shoulders of Augustine stood such giants as Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Knox, and Farel. It is on Augustine’s shoulders that these giants stood. And it was Augustine who wisely, faithfully, truthfully first slew that ancient version of theological liberalism that we call Pelagianism.

Pelagianism is not completely gone, it is still with us here in different forms, but it began with Augustine and Pelagius. It was condemned then and it must be condemned now. We need to reject Pelagianism and give thanks for the biblical doctrine of Augustinianism.

To be sin for us

cross02Nathan Busenitz serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles. In an article entitled, “In what way was Jesus ‘made sin’ on the cross?” he writes:

Yesterday, as I was reading through portions of Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians, I came across the following:

“Christ took upon Himself our sins, not by constraint, but of His own good will, in order to bear the punishment and wrath of God: not for the sake of His own person (which was just and invincible, and was not in any way guilty), but for our person. So by means of a joyous substitution, He took upon Himself our sinful person, and gave to us His innocent and victorious person: with which we, being now clothed, are free from the curse of the law. . . . By faith alone therefore we are made righteous, for faith alone lays hold of this victory of Christ.” (Commentary on Gal. 3:13)

Calvin’s comments on 2 Corinthians 5:21 are similar:

“How can we become righteous before God? In the same way as Christ became a sinner. For He took, as it were, our person, that He might be the offender in our name and thus might be reckoned a sinner, not because of His own offences but because of those of others, since He Himself was pure and free from every fault and bore the penalty that was our due and not His own. Now in the same way we are righteous in Him, not because we have satisfied God’s judgment by our own works, but because we are judged in relation to Christ’s righteousness which we have put on by faith, that it may become our own.” (Commentary on 2 Cor. 5:21)

Those quotations, which underscore the doctrines of substitutionary atonement and Christ’s imputed righteousness, reminded me of an earlier study I had done regarding 2 Corinthians 5:21, specifically with regard to this question: In what way was Jesus “made sin” on the cross?

I thought it’d be worth rehearsing some of that material in today’s post. To state the question another way: Did Jesus become the literal embodiment of sin, or take on a sin nature, or become a sinner when He died at Calvary?

The heart of the question centers on Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

In what sense did Jesus become “sin on our behalf”? Does that phrase mean that Jesus literally became a sinner on the cross?

There are some today who teach that Jesus became a sinner (or took on a sin nature) at the cross. Benny Hinn is one such advocate. In a TBN broadcast, Hinn exclaimed:

“He [Jesus] who is righteous by choice said, ‘The only way I can stop sin is by me becoming it. I can’t just stop it by letting it touch me; I and it must become one.’ Hear this! He who is the nature of God became the nature of Satan when he became sin!” (Benny Hinn, Trinity Broadcasting Network, December 1, 1990)

Prosperity-preacher Kenneth Copeland echoes those same teachings. In Copeland’s words:

“The righteousness of God was made to be sin. He accepted the sin nature of Satan in His own spirit. And at the moment that He did so, He cried, ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ You don’t know what happened at the cross. Why do you think Moses, upon instruction of God, raised the serpent upon that pole instead of a lamb? That used to bug me. I said, ‘Why in the world would you want to put a snake up there; the sign of Satan? Why didn’t you put a lamb on that pole?’ And the Lord said, ‘Because it was a sign of Satan that was hanging on the cross.’ He said, ‘I accepted, in my own spirit, spiritual death; and the light was turned off.’” (Kenneth Copeland, “What Happened from the Cross to the Throne,” 1990, audiotape #02-0017, side 2)

On another occasion, Copeland reiterates that same teaching:

“How did Jesus then on the cross say, ‘My God’? Because God was not His Father any more. He took upon Himself the nature of Satan.” (Kenneth Copeland, “Believer’s Voice of Victory,” Trinity Broadcasting Network, April 21, 1991)

But do assertions like these accurately reflect Paul’s teaching that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf”?

To come back to the original question: “Did Jesus become the literal embodiment of sin, or take on a sin nature, or become a sinner when He died at Calvary?” My answer to that question is a resounding no.

Here are five reasons why:

1. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul declares that Jesus “knew no sin.” Whatever the rest of the verse means, it must be interpreted in light of Paul’s statement that Jesus “knew no sin”—meaning He had no personal experiential knowledge of sin in any way. If Jesus became a sinner or took on a sin nature then Paul would have contradicted himself in that very verse. Continue reading

Taking Error Seriously

EdenJohn J. Murray C. H. Spurgeon concluded: ‘Modern criticism, like modern theology, is like the sirocco that blasts and burns; it is without dew or suction, it proves itself to be unblest of God and unblessing to men’. What can be said of the situation today?

WHERE WE ARE TODAY

1. NO PLACE FOR TRUTH.

There was a day when men believed there was such a thing as objective truth and believed that the truth could be stated in propositions, using human language and comprehensible to human minds. A sea-change has taken place in Western intellectual life. It is now argued that we can no longer speak of objective truth. Truth and falsehood have been replaced by what is ‘true for me’ or ‘true for you’. This has infiltrated the church, as has shown in David Wells’ book No Place For Truth, a work which charts the demise of evangelical theology in the United States. He said: ‘The emptiness of evangelical faith without theology echoes the emptiness of modern life’.

2. NO FEAR OF ERROR.

How can we profess to love God without loving his truth? Truth is the revelation of his nature, character and works. Horatius Bonar warned in his day:

The spirit of the age which makes light of error, as if it were not sin. Even some who call themselves Christians, have lost their dread of error, and are hurrying on from opinion to opinion, exulting in their freedom from old fetters and trammels, reckoning themselves peculiarly honest and unprejudiced. Alas for truth in such a case! How can it be reached? Alas for the love of truth! How can it exist where there is no fear of error?

3. NO EXERCISE OF DISCIPLINE.

Ministers and elders can hold the most outrageous views and no action is taken against them. Trials for heresy seem to have become a thing of the past. We are living in a day when such matters have ceased to concern the evangelical church. Professor Thomas C. Oden has said: ‘The very thought about asking about heresy has itself become the new heresy. The archheresiarch is the one who hints that some distinction might be needed between truth and falsehood, between right and wrong’.

WHAT WE MUST DO

1. WE MUST BE INTOLERANT OF A FALSE GOSPEL. Continue reading

The worst doctrine?

What is the worst false teaching confronting and infiltrating the body of Christ in our day?

Television preacher Andrew Wommack believes it is..

wait for it…

…the doctrine that God is in control of all things (or meticulous providence).

Quote: “In my estimation, the worst doctrine that’s prevalent in the Body of Christ today and just completely voids all of these things about God being a good God is the wrong teaching on the Sovereignty of God – that God controls everything.”

Yes, you read that right, as this video shows:

Here’s my full response:

A Loving Appeal to Joel and Victoria Osteen

2 Timothy 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

I do not always agree with Dr. Michael Brown but in this instance, I very much appreciate both the substance and tone of his public letter to Joel and Victoria Osteen. It is certainly not beyond the scope of God’s grace to grant repentance to them.

Naming Names

Exposing heretics and those who are working in opposition is sometimes seen as an unbiblical activity. To some, it even seems to be a very unloving thing to do, especially when names are mentioned. Yet a vital function of a true shepherd is to protect the sheep from wolves, rather than allowing them open and unrestricted access to the sheep pen.

The Apostle Paul felt it necessary to point out those he wished his readers to be made aware of and avoid. Here is a list of six people named in 2 Timothy:

1) Phygellus (2 Tim 1:15)
2) Hermogenes (2 Tim 1:15)
3) Hymenaeus (2 Tim 2:17)
4) Philetus (2 Tim 2:17)
5) Demas 4:10 (apostate) (2 Tim 4:10)
6) Alexander the Coppersmith (2 Tim 4:14)

Referring back to Old Testament times, he names the two men who most stood in opposition to the ministry of Moses:

7) Jannes (2 Tim 3:8)
8) Jambres (2 Tim 3:8)