Saturday, March 31, 2007
They speak with forked tongues you know
So what are the major heresies and false teachings troubling the church where you live?
I'll leave it to you to choose errors that are a clear and present danger arising from within, and those entering from without, the church (Acts 20:29-30):
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
If the comments are slow moving I'll quickly move on to some quotes from David Wells and Al Mohler...
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Snaking all over the road
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
The Atonement: Mechanics, Meaning and Misrepresentation
I have never understood that when discussing something so personal as the Father not sparing his own Son but giving him up for us all (Rom. 8:32) or the Son being delivered up for our trespasses, it could ever be thought appropriate to refer to this as the "mechanics of the atonement." The very phrase jars with the profound, personal, God-ward, depths of the meaning of the Cross. In its worst form that phrase is used to obvert attention from this explanation of the atonement (penal substitution) to another. But in doing so, let us be clear, a phrase is being used that creates prejudice and misrepresentation against substitutionary atonement.
It is strangely reassuring to know that Gresham Machen was having to deal with the same prejudice in his own day. Please not how he aims to uncover heart issues in the avoidance of the Bible's teaching about the Cross:
According to Christian belief, Jesus is our Saviour, not by virtue of what he said, not even by virtue of what he was, but by what he did. He is our Saviour, not because he inspired us to live the same kind of life that he lived, but because he took upon himself the dreadful guilt of our sins and bore it instead of us on the cross. Such is the Christian conception of the Cross of Christ. It is ridiculed as being a "subtle theory of the atonement." In reality, it is the plain teaching of the word of God; we know absolutely nothing about an atonement that is not a vicarious atonement, for that is the only atonement of which the New Testament speaks. And this Bible doctrine is not intricate or subtle.
On the contrary, though it involves mysteries, it is itself so simple that a child can understand it. "We deserved eternal death, but the Lord Jesus, because he loved us, died instead of us on the cross"--surely there is nothing very intricate about that. It is not the Bible doctrine of the atonement which is difficult to understand--what are really incomprehensible are the elaborate modern efforts to get rid of the Bible doctrine in the interests of human pride.
Modern liberal preachers do indeed sometimes speak of the "atonement." But they speak of it just as seldom as they possibly can, and one can see plainly that their hearts are elsewhere than at the foot of the Cross. Indeed, at this point, as at many others, one has the feeling that traditional language is being strained to become the expression of totally alien ideas.
J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, p. 118-9
Monday, March 26, 2007
The Agony of Deceit: When good teachers go bad
Two perceptive comments on heretics from Vincent of Lerins. The one states the principle, the other supplies an illustration of it:
The reason is clearer than day why Divine Providence sometimes permits certain doctors of the Churches to preach new doctrines--"That the Lord your God may try you;" he says. And assuredly it is a great trial when one whom thou believest to be a prophet, a disciple of prophets, a doctor and defender of the truth, whom thou hast folded to thy breast with the utmost veneration and love, when such a one of a sudden secretly and furtively brings in noxious errrors, which thou canst neither quickly detect, being held by the prestige of former authority, nor lightly think it right to condemn, being prevented by affection for thine old master.
For to take first a very recent and very plain case: what sort of trial, think we, was that which the Church had experience of the other day, when that unhappy Nestorius, all at once metamorphosed from a sheep into a wolf, began to make havoc of the flock of Christ, while as yet a large proportion of those whom he was devouring believed him to be a sheep, and consequently were the more exposed to his attacks? For who would readily suppose him to be in error, who was known to have been elected by the high choice of the Emperor, and to be held in the greatest esteem by the priesthood? who would readily suppose him to be in error, who, greatly beloved by the holy brethren, and in high favor with the populace, expounded the Scriptures in public daily, and confuted the pestilent errors both of Jews and Heathens? Who could choose but believe that his teaching was Orthodox, his preaching Orthodox, his belief Orthodox, who, that he might open the way to one heresy of his own, was zealously inveighing against the blasphemies of all heresies? But this was the very thing which Moses says: "The Lord your God doth try you that He may know whether you love Him or not."
Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, Extracts from Chapters X & XI
Open to Correction?
Would you be happy arguing a point to the death even when you are losing?
Are you submissive in your handling and reception of Scripture?
Do you rate critics of your position as troublemakers, lacking in intelligence, narrow, harsh, power hungry and bigoted?
Do you see all theology as in flux or are there some truths that are fixed in place and should never be moved?
Do you change your mind on issues often?
When you are persuaded of a new position are you zealous in advocating it (as zealous as you were when you held the opposite view)?
Good questions to ask yourself from time to time.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
The Pelagian pelt under the Evangelical fleece
The title is A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing: How Charles Finney's Theology Ravaged the Evangelical Movement
He denied the doctrines of original sin, justification by faith alone, and penal substitutionary atonement.
Here's Phil Johnson's conclusion:
Charles Grandison Finney was a heretic. That language is not too strong. Though he excelled at cloaking his opinions in ambiguous language and biblical-sounding expressions, his views were almost pure Pelagianism. The arguments he employed to sustain those views were nearly always rationalistic and philosophical, not biblical. To canonize this man as an evangelical hero is to ignore the facts of what he stood for.
Friday, March 23, 2007
On "What Lies Beneath"
It is the passing off of errors that have originated elsewhere under the form, and at times authority, of biblical truth. That is why it is so deceptive, and why it successfully makes inroads among churches.
The following short extract from Augustine, and the lengthy one from Vincent of Lerins illustrate this point. Vincent's Commonitorium is not a work that I am citing with unqualified approval. But his point in the chapter that I am quoting from (about heresy hiding beneath orthodox words, and happily using the Bible to promote itself) I am in full agreement with.
"For if we think carefully about the meaning of Christ, we shall see that among some of the heretics who wish to be called Christians, the name of Christ is held in honour, but the reality itself is not among them."
Augustine, Enchiridion, p. 7
Here, possibly, some one may ask, do heretics also appeal to Scripture ? They do indeed, and with a vengeance; for you may see them scamper through every single book of Holy Scripture,--through the books of Moses, the books of Kings, the Psalms, the Epistles, the Gospels, the Prophets.
Whether among their own people, or among strangers, in private or in public, in speaking or in writing, at convivial meetings, or in the streets, hardly ever do they bring forward anything of their own which they do not endeavour to shelter under words of Scripture. Read the works of Paul of Samosata, of Priscillian, of Eunomius, of Jovinian, and the rest of those pests, and you will see an infinite heap of instances, hardly a single page, which does not bristle with plausible quotations from the New Testament or the Old.
But the more secretly they conceal themselves under shelter of the Divine Law, so much the more are they to be feared and guarded against. For they know that the evil stench of their doctrine will hardly find acceptance with anyone if it be exhaled pure and simple. They sprinkle it over, therefore, with the perfume of heavenly language, in order that one who would be ready to despise human error, may hesitate to condemn divine words.
They do, in fact, what nurses do when they would prepare some bitter draught for children; they smear the edge of the cup all round with honey, that the unsuspecting child, having first tasted the sweet, may have no fear of the bitter. So too do these act, who disguise poisonous herbs and noxious juices under the names of medicines, so that no one almost, when he reads the label, suspects the poison.
Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, Ch XXV
Thursday, March 22, 2007
The Invasion of the Body Snatchers
G. P. Fisher on how heresies originate:
"When Christianity is brought into contact with modes of thought and tenets originating elsewhere, either of two effects may follow. It may assimilate them, discarding whatever is at variance with the gospel, or the tables may be turned and the foreign elements may prevail. In the latter case there ensues a perversion of Christianity, an amalgamation with it of ideas discordant with its nature. The product then is a heresy. But to fill out the conception, it seems necessary that error should be aggressive and should give rise to an effort to build up a party, and thus to divide the Church. In the Apostles' use of the term, "heresy" contains a factious element".
B. B. Warfield gave the following comments on this:
"Possibly Dr. Fisher would not himself present it as the formula by which every heresy has been compounded. It obviously fairly describes, however, the origin of most of the greater heresies which have vexed the Church. The early gnostic systems were but varied attempts to baptize oriental pantheistic and dualistic speculations. Each of the christological constructions of the ante- Chalcedonian Church was but an effort to pour the teachings of the Scriptures as to the person of the Redeemer into the molds of some human philosophy. The Pelagian exaltation of human ability and consequent denial of the necessity of the inner work of the Holy Ghost was but (as Hefele says) "the rehabilitation of that heathen view of the world," in accordance with which Cicero declared that men do indeed thank God for gold and lands, but never for their virtues; and Jerome accordingly speaks of it accurately as "the heresy of Pythagoras and Zeno." The subsequent semi-Pelagianism which has stained the thought of the whole Latin Church, and the Arminianism which has sapped the purity of so large a section of Protestant thought, are but less acute forms of the same exaggeration of human rights and powers as over against the sovereign right and absolute power of the Ruler of the universe".
And here's his conclusion:
"We are "orthodox" when we account God's declaration in his Word superior in point of authority to them, their interpreter, and their corrector. We are "heretical" when we make them superior in point of authority to God's Word, its interpreter, and its corrector. By this test we may each of us try our inmost thought and see where we stand-on God's side or on the world's".
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Form and Content
"Form and content are never so mechanically and externally related that a total change in one will leave the other unaltered. The conversion of religious 'representations' into philosophical 'concepts' also affects the religious content itself. The history of Hegelian thought soon brought this reality to light. In it virtually nothing remained of the Christian dogma; 'Trinity,' 'incarnation,' 'satisfaction,' though retaining their orthodox names, were interpreted very differently. The facts of Christianity were regarded as its form and considered worthless. In their place came concepts that no longer had any content."
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics vol. 1 Prolegomena, p. 257
Saturday, March 17, 2007
191 posts about heresy...but here's one about the rugby
Friday, March 16, 2007
The heresy you are not looking for
Thursday, March 15, 2007
The Defence Against the Dark Arts
It is also there to help the Church think clearly and rightly about the Triune God and his mighty words and works, that he might be rightly recognised and served, and that false representations of him might be exposed and rejected. But that is not always an easy matter, and it is not a leisurely pursuit. There was something deeply authentic and reassuring about B. B. Warfield being the professor of didactic and polemic theology at Princeton Seminary. Theology is a war time occupation.
Theology is about form as well as content. Or, to put it another way, we ought to pay attention not only to what is being said but to how it is being said.
One strategy for gaining entry with an argument is to "poison the well" against a position before presenting the alternative. This is done, for example, in the Watchtower booklet on the Trinity. Before we are given any passages of Scripture to consider we are told that the doctrine is against common sense, and unlike anything in our experience.
Another example would be to use, and sometimes to pile on, emotive words and phrases that prejudice the mind against an opposing position. So when God's absolute sovereignty is being opposed, the rejection is sometimes spun out by putting that sovereignty in a bad light. God's sovereignty is seen as controlling, aloof, micro managing, despotic. You get the picture.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
The Necessity of Labels
"From a postmodern perspective, the ultimate question is, Why is it important to label oneself as evangelical? Aren't labels simply artificial divisions that make us feel safe or help us to exert control?...What is obvious is that the ecclesiastical or theological label one decides to wear is of far less concern to emerging churches than how one relates to the gospel and culture." (p. 39)
Labels are of course short-hand, often single word, descriptions. We can use them negatively, but that is the use we put them to not their inherent meaning. I may call someone "egalitarian," or "arminian," simply to give an accurate recognisable description of their position. Of course I may whisper that word quietly to someone in a sentence that goes "hey, you know that he is an egalitarian don't you?" (assumption: don't trust his theology). I have no desire to defend the reverse situation where the attention is drawn to the label but with little concern to live up to it.
If Adam was to name the animals I cannot see why it is inappropriate to distinguish ideas and groups by calling them by different names when they are, after all, different things.
I cannot tell from the context if Gibbs and Bolger agree with the second question themselves or if they are merely stating it as the outworking of the postmodern perspective. Either way I bet they feel safe that the contents label on their soft drink corresponds to what it actually contains. Likewise you won't find someone who has issues about theological labels drinking from a bottle with a skull and cross bones on it. It is not true that labels are about exerting control. They can be about that, but again that is a use that they are put to. And even this isn't inherently negative. It seems to me that the New Testament is littered with verbal indicators of the danger of false teachers (wolves, dogs, gangrene etc.). These images convey to us the danger of bad theology.
And, thirdly, once you define the gospel it is inevitable that you will rule out some other views as being non-gospel, another gospel, or a different gospel. We cannot escape labels. Neither for that matter should we want to.
Monday, March 12, 2007
The practical consequences of neglecting doctrine
J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, p. 51
Friday, March 09, 2007
A spoonful of sugar helps the heresy go down...
"It hath been the constant practice of all persons, in all ages, who have made it their design to beget and propagate a belief of any doctrine contrary to the form of wholesome words, to begin with, and insist mainly upon, those parts of their beloved conception and offspring which seem to be most beautiful and taking, for the turning aside of poor, weak, unlearned, and unstable souls; knowing full well that their judgments and attention being once engaged, such is the frame of men's spirits under delusion, they will choose rather to swallow down all that follows than to discharge themselves of what they have already received."
John Owen, Of the Death of Christ, p. 431
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Contending for the Faith is a command
Please note the origin of what Owen calls the "bitter streams." Note also the role he attributes to Satan in this doctrinal controversy.
Finally note how Owen affirms the necessity of publicly opposing public opposition to the truth. When that happens today the sympathy too often goes with the attacker and the criticism gets levelled at the defender of the truth.
"It was in our hopes and expectations, not many years ago, that the Lord would graciously have turned back all those bitter streams which, issuing from the pride, unthankfulness, and wisdom of the carnal mind, had many ways attempted to overflow the doctrine of the grace of God, that bringeth salvation; but finding now, by experience, that the day of the church's rest from persecution is the day of Satan's main work for seducing and temptation, and that not a few are attempting once more to renew the contest of sinful, guilty, defiled nature, against the sovereign distinguishing love and effectual grace of God, it cannot but be convenient, yea necessary, that the faith once delivered to the saints be contended for and asserted from the word of truth in the like public way wherein it is opposed."
John Owen, Of the Death of Christ, in Works vol. 10, p. 431
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
The devil is in the details
The question of motives is secondary, but still important. After all a man may be sincerely deceived in the views that he holds, or he may be a deceiver. The primary question is "but what does this teacher mean when he says that he believes in justification by faith alone?" "What does he mean when he says that he believes that God is omniscient?"
The protestation of orthodoxy, and adherence to the confessions, whilst at the same time redefining doctrines smacks of heresy. Departures from the truth are grievous. But departing from the truth by the redefinition and retaining of confessional language is insidious.
Or as Irenaeus of Lyon put it:
"Lest, therefore, through my neglect, some should be carried off, even as sheep are by wolves, while they perceive not the true character of these men--because they outwardly are covered with sheep's clothing (against whom the Lord has enjoined us to be on our guard), and because their language resembles ours, while their sentiments are very different".
Saturday, March 03, 2007
No Alarms and No Surprises
Here are two quotes from Tertullian to ponder:
"The character of the times in which we live is such as to call forth from us even this admonition, that we ought not to be astonished at the heresies (which abound) neither ought their existence to surprise us, for it was foretold that they should come to pass; nor the fact that they subvert the faith of some, for their final cause is, by affording a trial to faith, to give it also the opportunity of being "approved." Groundless, therefore, and inconsiderate is the offense of the many who are scandalized by the very fact that heresies prevail to such a degree".
"But let us rather be mindful of the sayings of the Lord, and of the letters of the apostles; for they have both told us beforehand that there shall be heresies, and have given us, in anticipation, warnings to avoid them; and inasmuch as we are not alarmed because they exist, so we ought not to wonder that they are capable of doing that, on account of which they must be shunned.
The Lord teaches us that many "ravening wolves shall come in sheep's clothing." Now, what are these sheep's clothing's, but the external surface of the Christian profession? Who are the ravening wolves but those deceitful senses and spirits which are lurking within to waste the flock of Christ? Who are the false prophets but deceptive predictors of the future? Who are the false apostles but the preachers of a spurious gospel? Who also are the Antichrists, both now and evermore, but the men who rebel against Christ?
Heresies, at the present time, will no less rend the church by their perversion of doctrine, than will Antichrist persecute her at that day by the cruelty of his attacks, except that persecution makes even martyrs, (but) heresy only apostates. And therefore "heresies must needs be in order that they which are approved might be made manifest, both those who remained steadfast under persecution, and those who did not wander out of their way into heresy".
Tertullian, Prescription Against Heresies, Ch. 4
Friday, March 02, 2007
The Unpaid Debts of the Church
In fairness the phrase is a helpful explanation of what may in fact be the case. It is possible to discern in the developments of movements a reactionary spirit. Without a doubt the establishing of the NAE in 1942 was a self-conscious reaction against the hard-line separatism of fundamentalism. More than one commentator has seen in the Emerging Church Movement a reaction against the seeker sensitive mega church approach. Depending on your viewpoint (whether it is a good or bad thing) the re-installation of church furniture and the interest in the spirituality of the church (before the erecting of the evangelical big top in the late 20th century) is a reaction to the conversion of the church into a shopping mall or country club. It is an unpaid debt.
But as helpful as this phrase may be it does have two negative consequences. Because it lays the blame at the feet of one group it cannot but help give the impression that the reactionaries are the victims in all of this. Are they or are they not responsible for their own theology and practice? Can they pin the blame, like self-absorbed and badly behaved teenagers, on their theological parents. There is more than a whiff of this spirit among emergents. Just think of how many who gravitate toward the emergent approach are in fact dissatisfied ex-evangelicals in recovery. But it is the background influence of a victim culture that fixes the blame upon the home. Frankly it is embarrassing to hear grown men who left such churches long ago harping on about the damage that it has done to them. Yet one gets the impression that deep down they just want a different theology altogether.
The second negative consequence is far more insidious. If the "victim-in-recovery" posture is taken as the total, or dominant, explanation for theological approaches of dubious orthodoxy, then other explanations and factors are underplayed. Let me elaborate on them:
1. The New Testament links heresies with the influence of the devil. Ultimately the spread of destructive error is attributed to him. That at least is the apostolic interpretation of the matter. In the realm of theological confusion he is not on holiday. The devil persists in questioning God's Word and in offering alternative interpretations of it.
2. Since heresy is a matter of choice we ought to ask questions about what governs our choices. Do we sincerely desire to be in glad submission to God's Word or are we working with a basis of authority that would filter God's revelation through our own spiritual and moral criteria? Will I believe things because they are true, even when they are emotionally hard to take? Or will I let what is acceptable to me personally be the test that doctrines must pass? What we are dealing with here is the orientation of the heart and mind to God's revelation to us in Scripture.
What I am arguing is that even if there were no "unpaid debts" that would not eliminate theological aberrations. Even when the whole counsel of God has been proclaimed the choice to follow a different way will still be made.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Whether or not it looks like heresy depends on where you are standing
The apostle Paul makes this point as he warns the Colossians about false teaching. He switches back and forth so that the Colossians get a good look at the appearance of false teaching and then see the reality of it.
Watch how he does it...
"plausible arguments" (2:4)
"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." (2:8)
"Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath." (2:16)
"These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ". (2:17)
"Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind." (2:18)
"He has lost connection with the Head." (2:19, NIV)
"If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations--"Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (referring to things that all perish as they are used)--according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body." (2:20-23a)
"but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh". (2:23b)
So where can you stand to see clearly the difference between the two?
There is only one place and it is right here:
"the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge". (2:2b-3)
"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." (2:6-7)
"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". (2:9-10)
"...small groups of Christians are now moving into Festival and Sabbath practice as a result of what The Lord is doing through this revelation."
Isn't this what Paul warns against in Colossians 2:16-17?
"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ".
By Sabbath practice it means that they meet as a church on a Saturday evening.
I wonder how they respond to a "no thanks I'd rather have Christ than those shadows."