After Church: On Heresies

Coffee With Jesus - That One Faction

Look, I think the Coffee with Jesus comic from Radio Free Bablyon constantly exudes brilliant commentary. Unfortunately, they’re wrong on this one specifically.

So here’s my perspective: the early Church fought for decades to determine what constituted “true” Christian religion. This wasn’t an underhanded tactic, a power grab, or any other modern ideology you’d imagine (given the stuff you may learn in public school, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that way). Rather, many people sought to learn the exact truth of their faith, and sought to define exactly what constituted that faith. As a result, they also had to define what ideas and beliefs would threaten that faith and tear it apart at the very seams.

Nowadays, we might see the word “heresy” as some empty visage of by-gone age, but I assure you: such an idea takes root, only we’ve decided that the false teachers and wolves in sheep’s clothing should find their equal say in our forums. I imagine that’s more a result of our cultural paradigm, rather than our actual beliefs.

Take Arianism, for example.  Arius, whose name became endemic with Arianism (pretty much a non-factor by now), provided one of the essential conflicts of Christianity. Arianism is named after Arius, a Presbyter from Alexandria in Egypt. He believed that the Father is greater than the Son, who is in turn greater than the Holy Spirit. However, he was a strict monotheist and did not see a “holy hierarchy”. Instead, he believed the Father alone was God, and the Son was the one through whom the Father created the universe. But, and this is the important part, Jesus is only a creature made ex nihilo, not God. He has a beginning, “There was once when he was not”. We are persecuted because we say that the Son had a beginning…and likewise because we say he is made out of nothing.” Jehovah’s Witnesses use this same teaching today.

Let’s say that this belief was not rejected out of hand. In fact, he had a great deal of support from other factions of the Church at the time, such as the Origenists of the Eastern Church (who believed much the same, but took a hierarchical position in the “Trinity”.) There was not a clear definition or idea of the relation between the persons of the Trinity, and that is what led to these controversies. When, in 324, Constantine became the head of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, he was forced to intervene by setting up the Council of Nicea to fi x the problem. Not surprisingly, the Creed of Nicea formed here, specifically condemning Arius. Read the Creed of Nicea in the book’s text. Use the book’s text to explain the problem here.

In our modern world, we might assume this is an secondary issue, or perhaps something better left to the past. Still, it remains essential to our faith. How could it not?! What if Jesus Christ were merely a creature sent by God? What would His death mean (and I doubt I could capitalize the His without experiencing some sort of backlash)? The results would utterly change the whole of Christianity, top to bottom. If Jesus does not exist as fully God and fully human at the same time, how could we possibly expect that same person to remain sufficient for the sins of the world, let alone the redemption of mankind?

Doctrine’s serious business, much contrary to your possibly Protestant mindset. What we believe affects what we do, whether consciously or subconsciously. It’s that subtle attitude that lets us make light of so much that people lived, fought (whether by rhetoric or by arms), and DIED for that we get to say “our theology somehow doesn’t affect our faith”. To which I say: it affects EVERYTHING, whether you’re cognizant of said thing or not.

I say this by the Bible primarily, which notes a particular need to root out “false teachers”. If there wasn’t a “wrong” way to do it, why mention it, as in 1 Timothy 1:

3 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furtheringthe administration of God which is by faith. 5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

And then in Acts 20, we see much the same thing:

29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

I’m  not sure when it became such a non-concern that we “teach the right things”. If we do not know that Jesus Christ saves (which somehow becomes a discernable belief by default), then how could we possibly know anything else in the right way? Salvation’s a basic belief by which eveyrthing else stands, and to say “well, your theology doesn’t matter” seems a bit of a cop-out. Your theology inevitably affects the way you live, totally and utterly, and to expect anything else means succumbing to modern culture’s standards of how faith, belief, and the supernatural should function. Seriously, it was such a concern of the early Church that the New Testament’s positively FILLED with warnings against those who taught falsely. One more for the road in Galatians 1:

6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel;7 which 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! 9 As 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!

10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

We shouldn’t try to please anyone but God. That’s why this modern impulse so disturbs me: that we somehow think being “light” on issues of eternal importance somehow constitutes an olive branch. No, you’ve exhanged that olive branch for a broken twig, and one that leads people to a dark path. The human heart’s a dark and perverse place where I can imagine anything, so why should we leave doctrine and belief to chance? Am I the only one to which a correct theology makes any sense?

Things are put into the Bible for our benefit. The structure of societies, the right way for individuals to live, why obeying God brings such wonderful joy and fulfillment, and why the humble overtake the proud. Why, then, should we capitulate simply for the sake of saving souls to a false Gospel, one that doesn’t represent Christ at all? Just think about it for a second.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.