Posts tagged ‘Heresy’

Of Quibbles and Quarrels

Boxing Match

Last week, I had the privilege of having dinner with a well-known Christian author.  I talked to him about his career, what inspired him to get into writing, and what he’s thinking about these days.  I also talked to him about his most popular book, which was published several years ago.  In it, he addresses some of the challenging questions the Church needs to answer as our society continues to drift into a morally post-Christian morass.  As we were talking about his book and the challenges he raises in it, he shared that he had received plenty of hate mail when his book was first published, accusing him of everything from heresy to being a tool of the devil himself.  I couldn’t help but grimace.  I myself do not agree with everything this author has written, but I hardly think of him as a heretic or a spawn of Satan.  I simply process some of the challenges the Church is facing a little differently than he does.

Sadly, the ways we address differences in our society have become increasingly polemicized as our ability to have civil, thoughtful, and helpful conversations has become progressively nominalized.  This is especially true in politics, as any comments section on a political article or political Facebook post will indicate.  But it is also true in other areas that span from philosophy to morality to theology.  We are no longer able to respond measuredly to someone with whom we disagree.

It is useful to remember that there is a difference between a quibble and a quarrel.  A quibble is a point of concern that needs to be addressed.  A quarrel is spawned by a dangerous and damaging falsity that demands a repudiation.  People who are willing to quibble, rather than quarrel, with us are important because they serve to sharpen our thinking and hone our worldview.  Solomon explains the value of quibbling with a metaphor: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).  Quibbling can, at times, seem to be little more than nitpicking.  But when it is received graciously, it can be invaluably helpful.

The problem is that too many people are too quick to take quibbles and turn them into quarrels.  Among some Christians, for instance, heresy is no longer defined by teachings that fly in the face of the ecumenical creeds, but by whether a person uses a version of the Bible that is not King James or by whether a person believes that it’s okay for a congregation to be even selectively purpose-driven.  In these instances, we would do well to remember the words the apostle Paul: “Avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9).  In other words, don’t take quibbles and turn them into quarrels.

In the case of the author with whom I had dinner, most of the quarrels about his book centered around his critiques of the Church, in which he can seem to imply, at times, a decrease in the Church’s value.  Frankly, I too am concerned by any argument that would somehow diminish the Church.  The Church is, after all, the Bride of Christ.  I still don’t think, however, that this author is a spawn of Satan.  I also know, if the fruit of his career is any indication, that he loves the Church and seeks to serve the Church with everything in him, even as he critiques it.  Indeed, his love for the Church is probably why he critiques it.  So perhaps a robust discussion of the nuances of his ecclesiology is needed before we launch into accusations of heresy.

Ultimately, making a quarrel out of a quibble robs us of the opportunity sharpen each other because we’re too busy bludgeoning each other.  So if you aspire to serve the Lord, keep these words in mind:  “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (2 Timothy 2:24).

The next time you disagree with someone, there’s a verse to remember – and practice.

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May 16, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

CHRIST.ology – Part 2

This blog is part two of a three part series I am writing on Christology, based on the Tuesday morning Men’s Bible Breakfast series I am teaching at Concordia.  In part one, I spoke of Christ’s two natures as truly God and truly man.  Sadly, over the centuries, these two natures have regularly been disparaged and misrepresented by heretics.  So that we do not make the same mistakes as these heretics of old, it is worth surveying some of the historical mistakes made concerning Christ’s two natures.

Broadly speaking, Christological heresies have fallen into one of two categories:  those which deny Christ’s two natures on the one hand, and those which confuse Christ’s two natures on the other.  Let’s look at some examples of each.

Heresies which deny Christ’s two natures…

Arianism
Arianism rose to ascendancy in the third and fourth centuries.  This heresy taught that though Jesus was a god, he was not the God.  That is, Jesus was indeed divine, but he was not “of one substance with the Father,” as the Nicene Creed confesses.  A letter that Arius wrote to Eusebius of Nicodemia, the bishop who baptized Constantine, succinctly states the Arian position: “Before Christ was begotten, he was not…The Son has a beginning, but God is without beginning.”  The Arians taught that Jesus’ was God’s first creation and not eternal.  John 1:1 firmly refutes such a notion:  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  Jesus, the Word, was in the beginning.  He is uncreated and without beginning because he is in the beginning.  Thus, he is not a god, he is the God.

Adoptionism
The heresy of Adoptionism surfaced at the turn of the second century.  The Adoptionists taught that Jesus was not just declared God’s Son at his baptism, he was made God’s Son (cf. Luke 3:21-22).  To back up this claim, the Adoptionists used Psalm 2:7:  “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”  According to Acts 13:33, this Psalm is fulfilled in Jesus.  The Adoptionists pointed to God “becoming” Jesus’ father as proof that he was adopted.  However, their reading of this passage is woefully mistaken.

The Hebrew word for “become” in Psalm 2:7 is yalad, a word classically translated as “beget.”  This word can either denote cause or relationship, depending on what Hebrew mood is used.  That is, sometimes this verb can denote cause – one generation giving rise to another through procreation.  Other times, however, this verb is used to denote relationship, describing the love and affection that two people have for each other.  In Psalm 2:7, this verb, according to its Hebrew mood, is used to denote relationship and not cause.  That is, this verb is used to speak of the Father’s loving relationship with the Son and not the Father’s causation of the Son.  Thus, Psalm 2:7 is not meant to say that the Father adopted to Jesus to make him his Son, but that the Father loves his Son, even as many fathers love their sons.

Docetism
The name “Docetism” comes from the Greek word dokeo, meaning, “to seem.”  The Docetists taught that though Jesus looked, or seemed, human, it was merely an illusion.  He did not truly become a man and he did not truly die on a cross.  The Docetists based their position on the philosophy of the Gnostics who taught that the spiritual was inherently good while the physical was inherently evil.  Therefore, the Docetists taught that God, who is spiritual, would never become a man because a man is physical and the physical is evil!  John refutes this heresy again and again.  For instance, the evangelist writes in 2 John 7: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”  John is unequivocally clear:  If a person does not acknowledge that Jesus became true man, he is a deceiver.

Heresies which confuse Christ’s two natures…

Even as Arianism and Adoptionism denied Christ’s nature as God and Docetism denied Christ’s nature as a man, there were other heresies which affirmed both natures, yet confused them.  To these we now turn.

Nestorianism
Nestorianism became especially prevalent in the fifth century and taught not only that there were two natures contained in the one person of Christ, but that there were actually two Christs!  That is, although Christ may have looked like one person, he was actually two persons.  Thus, there were some things which the human Christ did which the divine Christ did not participate in and vice versa.  For instance, the Nestorians taught that only the human Christ died on the cross, for God cannot die.  This is in direct contradiction to Philippians 2:6, 8 which teaches:  “Christ, being in very nature God…and being found in appearance as a man, humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross.”  Paul clearly teaches that Christ, who was in his very nature God, died on the cross. Thus, God died on the cross contra Nestorianism.  Christ is one person with two natures, both of which participate in everything Christ, the one man, does, including his life, miracles, ministry, death, and resurrection.

Monophysitism
In reaction to Nestorianism, there arose yet another heresy called Monophysitism. Monophysitism taught that Christ was one person with only one nature.  That is, Monophysitism so desired to keep the two natures of Christ unified rather than radically separating them into two Christs as did Nestorianism that it melded Christ’s two natures into one hybrid nature.  Eutyches explains Monophysite theology thusly: “Christ’s human nature was dissolved like a drop of honey in the sea.”  Thus, Christ’s human nature, though still theoretically present, is not in any way distinct from his divine nature.  Biblically, this is problematic because Scripture speaks of Jesus’ two natures as distinct, though not separate.  For instance, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).  Here we see both Jesus’ human and divine natures.  As a human, Jesus does not want to die.  As God, he surrenders himself to his Father’s will.

Pope Leo the Great wrote against Monophysitism in a declaration known as The Tome of Leo:

The proper character of both natures was maintained and came together in a single person…The birth of flesh reveals human nature; birth from a virgin is a proof of divine power. A lowly cradle manifests the infancy of the child; angels’ voices announce the greatness of the Most High. Herod evilly strives to kill one who was like a human being at the earliest stage the Magi rejoice to adore on bended knee one who is the Lord of all. And when he came to be baptized by his precursor John, the Father’s voice spoke thunder from heaven, to ensure that he did not go unnoticed because the divinity was concealed by the veil of flesh: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Accordingly, the same one whom the devil craftily tempts as a man, the angels dutifully wait on as God. Hunger, thirst, weariness, sleep are patently human. But to satisfy five thousand people with five loaves; to dispense living water to the Samaritan woman, a drink of which will stop her being thirsty ever again; to walk on the surface of the sea with feet that do not sink; to rebuke the storm and level the mounting waves; there can be no doubt these are divine.

There is hardly a finer confession, explication, and affirmation of Christ’s two natures than the one penned above.  Pope Leo clearly confesses that Christ has two natures, yet he is only one person.  And indeed, this confession of Christ is sorely needed – not just because it is good Christology, but because it is good soteriology, a word which refers to the doctrine of our salvation. Christ must be human so that he can identify with us in our struggles, temptations, and sin.  He must be human so that he can die.  But he must also be God so that he can lead us, guide us, and redeem us.  He must be God so that not only does he die, but he also rises again.

Truly man.  Truly God.  Truly Jesus.  Truly our hope and salvation.  Don’t settle for anything or anyone less than him.

February 4, 2010 at 4:45 am 1 comment


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