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Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 8:14-25

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall[a] of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.

————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry discussed the ministry of Philip the Evangelist (not the Apostle) in Samaria. Those verses also introduced a magus — magician, sorcerer — called Simon, more about whom later.

Simon had a hold on the Samaritans because of his sorcery. He called himself great and people came to believe that he had God-given gifts, partly because of the hype he told about himself.

Philip, on the other hand, truly had divinely-given gifts of preaching and healing. He worked miracles among the Samaritans. He also brought them to Christ and baptised them.

Simon was one of those who was baptised and continued to follow Philip. However, John MacArthur explains:

He thought Philip had another particular bag of tricks that maybe he could lay hold of and he ought to get in on this baby so he figured I’ll join up. But he looked at salvation as a commodity to be added to his bag of tricks …

One gift that Philip did not have was the ability to confer the Holy Spirit on his converts. Matthew Henry says that Philip himself had received the Holy Spirit, but lacked the power to bestow those gifts. Henry also thought that only certain Samaritans were chosen to receive those gifts, possibly those who would go on to lead the Church in Samaria:

We have reason to think that Philip had received these gifts of the Holy Ghost himself, but had not a power to confer them; the apostles must come to do this; and they did it not upon all that were baptized, but upon some of them, and, it should seem, such as were designed for some office in the church, or at least to be eminent active members of it; and upon some of them one gift of the Holy Ghost, and upon others another.

Therefore, once word reached the Apostles, who remained in Jerusalem, that Philip was baptising Samaritans, they sent Peter and John to ask that the Holy Spirit descend upon the converts (verses 14-16).

Recall that the Holy Spirit worked particularly powerfully through Peter, who was able to discern the hidden truth behind false converts, namely Ananias and his wife Sapphira, who pledged to make an important donation to the new church in Jerusalem then held some of the money back. They thought no one would ever find out, until Peter confronted them. Both dropped dead from the shock of being discovered.

John had been the closest to Jesus and his Gospel is testimony to His understanding of our Lord being the light in a very dark world, one which rejected — and rejects — Him.

As Henry explains, they were the foremost of the Twelve and went to help Philip, setting an example for clergy to follow (emphases mine below):

Two apostles were sent, the two most eminent, to Samaria, 1. To encourage Philip, to assist him, and strengthen his hands. Ministers in a higher station, and that excel in gifts and graces, should contrive how they may be helpful to those in a lower sphere, and contribute to their comfort and usefulness. 2. To carry on the good work that was begun among the people, and, with those heavenly graces that had enriched them, to confer upon them spiritual gifts.

The two Apostles laid their hands upon the people who then received the Holy Spirit (verse 17). Henry tells us:

The laying on of hands was anciently used in blessing, by those who blessed with authority. Thus the apostles blessed these new converts, ordained some to be ministers, and confirmed others in their Christianity.

Henry says that the Samaritans who had received the Holy Spirit began speaking in tongues.

Simon watched this take place and thought it was some kind of gift he could purchase, so he offered them money, as if it were something he could be trained to perform (verse 18). He did not understand that this gift came only from God. The Apostles were but conduits.

Simon himself had not received the Holy Spirit in this blessing. Whether that was because of Peter and John’s discernment or something Philip told them about Simon, we do not know. Henry points out that:

He does not desire them to lay their hands on him, that he might receive the Holy Ghost himself (for he did not foresee that any thing was to be got by that) …

MacArthur thinks Simon followed Philip just to maintain his own exalted status as a sorcerer:

I think three things, at least, number one he continued because he wanted to maintain a following. If all of his followers went to Philip he figured he’d go with them because he wanted to be associated with what was going on. Second thing, people would associate the power with him if he stayed next to Philip. I’ll just believe that Philip had Simon on his tail all the time and it might have even been that whenever Philip was doing the miracles Simon was doing some hocus-po[c]us in the background so people would think he was in on it. And the third reason he hung around was he was looking for an opportunity to figure out how to buy this power because the sorcerers would exchange their tricks and their incantations for money and he figured I’ll get in on this deal, surely Philip’s in the same thing I’m in. That’s what makes me believe that Simon was not a conscious fraud that he actually believed that he was doing. He figured he’d buy Philip’s tricks. And he went through the rigmarole to get in. But he had a wrong view of salvation, external.

Peter turned on Simon Magus. Again, whether the Holy Spirit was giving him the ability to seek out Simon’s heart, we cannot say, but Peter discerned that Simon’s heart was not with Jesus, God or the Holy Spirit. MacArthur says:

He saw [him]self egotistically he saw salvation externally and he saw the Spirit economicallyhe thought he could buy the Holy Spirit. He thought that was the magical power he needed. Now to him the Holy Spirit was just another one of these demons that he trafficked in and so he just figured he’d buy into this one

As soon as Simon offered money to buy this gift (verse 19), Peter rebuked him, saying that God’s gift cannot be bought with money (verse 20).

Peter did not stop there. He told Simon that he was unworthy because his heart was not right with God (verse 21). Peter then told Simon he had better repent and pray that God would forgive him (verse 22).

Peter treated Simon harshly because, as MacArthur explains:

He didn’t want the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit within, did he? He was a vile, demon infested individual. He wanted the power of capturing people with more miracles. In fact, the word simony which is an ecclesiastical word comes from this man’s name and it means the illegal buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices. There use to be in the big structures of the church, if you wanted to be a bishop you paid somebody off and you got the job. So Simon had a high view of himself and a low view of God. He thought he was some great one, he thought God was some kind of cheap commodity to be bought like a bag of tricks to add to his repertoire. He didn’t understand the glory of God.

Henry sums Simon up:

He was ambitious to have the honour of an apostle, but not at all solicitous to have the spirit and disposition of a Christian. He was more desirous to gain honour to himself than to do good to others.

MacArthur tells us that ‘wickedness’ (verse 22) in Greek is:

Kakia – general evil.

Our two commentators differ on interpreting Peter’s words about repentance and forgiveness in Simon’s case.

MacArthur thinks that Peter believed God might not forgive such heinous sin:

Peter’s acknowledging that he doesn’t know whether God will forgive him. You know, that you ought to repent of your sins not because God will forgive you but because your sin is rotten. That’s enough reason to repent of it and then hope that He will forgive you.

However, Henry puts Peter’s doubt on the sincerity of Simon’s repentance:

When Peter here puts a perhaps upon it, the doubt is of the sincerity of his repentance, not of his pardon if his repentance be sincere. If indeed the thought of thy heart may be forgiven, so it may be read. Or it intimates that the greatness of his sin might justly make the pardon doubtful, though the promise of the gospel had put the matter out of doubt, in case he did truly repent: like that (Lamentations 3:29), If so be there may be hope.

Peter hadn’t finished in his stark admonition of Simon. He used an expression which might be strange to us (verse 23):

you are in the gall[a] of bitterness …

Henry says that means as bitter as bile (gall) and comes from the Old Testament:

They are in the gall of bitterness–odious to God, as that which is bitter as gall is to us. Sin is an abominable thing, which the Lord hates, and sinners are by it made abominable to him; they are vicious in their own nature. Indwelling sin is a root of bitterness, that bears gall and wormwood, Deuteronomy 29:18. The faculties are corrupted, and the mind embittered against all good, Hebrews 12:15. It intimates likewise the pernicious consequences of sin; the end is bitter as wormwood.

Simon, overcome by Peter’s rebuke, asked the Apostle to pray for him that God might refrain from pouring out His wrath on him (verse 24). However, as MacArthur points out:

he’s just saying – Do something to save my hide. He’s still not repenting. There no forgiveness asked for, no confession, no self-judgment, no acknowledging sin, no exhibit of confidence in the Lord, no asked forgiveness, no nothing.

Baptism, in Simon’s case — and countless others since — did and does not confer salvation. Depending on denominational belief, baptism washes away original sin but does not remove man’s inherent sinful nature and/or it makes us one in the Christian community. That said, it confers grace and we should be ever mindful that it signifies we should be walking with Christ, not away from Him.

Note that when Peter and John had laid hands on the Samaritans and preached to them, they left, but continued to spread the Gospel to the villages they passed through on their return to Jerusalem (verse 25). Henry offers this advice:

In their road home they were itinerant preachers; as they passed through many villages of the Samaritans they preached the gospel. Though the congregations there were not so considerable as those in the cities, either for number or figure, yet their souls were as precious, and the apostles did not think it below them to preach the gospel to them. God has a regard to the inhabitants of his villages in Israel (Judges 5:11), and so should we.

What then of Simon Magus? According to the Wikipedia entry, much has been written about him throughout history. The first Doctors of the Church considered him to be the root of all heresies. As such, he is still an important figure to the Gnostics, perhaps the movement’s originator.

Historians of that era also wrote about Simon Magus.

Some of those who wrote about him said that Simon was able to levitate and/or fly at will. There are several ancient legends about him.

Hippolytus wrote that after Peter confronted Simon, the latter was thrown into despair. He renounced his faith and continued with sorcery. He sailed to Rome, where Peter confronted him once more.

Justin Martyr wrote that Simon was famous during the reign of Claudius and that a statue was erected to him on an island in the Tiber with the following inscription:

Simoni Deo Sancto, “To Simon the Holy God” (Apologia, XXVI).

Simon had his followers, called Simonians. He documented his own set of beliefs for them to follow. Epiphanius wrote that Simon twisted Holy Scripture:

Epiphanius further charges Simon with having tried to wrest the words of St. Paul about the armour of God (Ephesians 6:14–16) into agreement with his own identification of the Ennoia with Athena. He tells us also that he gave barbaric names to the “principalities and powers,” and that he was the beginning of the Gnostics. The Law, according to him, was not of God, but of “the sinister power.” The same was the case with the prophets, and it was death to believe in the Old Testament.[citation needed]

The versions of Simon’s death are varied. Some say he was crucified and/or flayed alive.

The apocryphal Acts of Peter says Simon was levitating and Peter — and possibly Paul — prayed that God would stop him. Simon then fell and broke his leg in three parts. The people began stoning the magician, who had to be carried out of Rome during the night and taken to a nearby town, where he died after two local surgeons were unable to save him.

A church in Rome claims to be built on the place where Simon fell:

The church of Santa Francesca Romana, Rome, is claimed to have been built on the spot where Simon fell. Within the Church is a dented slab of marble that purports to bear the imprints of the knees of Peter and Paul during their prayer. The fantastic stories of Simon the Sorcerer persisted into the later Middle Ages,[39] becoming a possible inspiration for the Faustbuch and Goethe’s Faust.[40]

Whatever the case, Simon Magus put himself above God and claimed to be His Son. He was a very bad man.

Next time — Acts 9:19b-22

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Donald Trump was inaugurated five days ago.

Some Christians are disconcerted. A few examples of essays posted last week on the subject follow. Emphases mine below.

1/ John MacArthur’s Grace To You (GTY) blog has an excellent post by staffer Cameron Buettel who reminds GTY readers about obedience to government, specifically Romans 13:1-5 and MacArthur’s sermon ‘Why Christians Submit to the Government’.

GTY readers — conservative Evangelicals — were most unhappy. How on earth could an immoral, unbiblical man become president? One surmises they would have preferred the scheming, conniving and possibly criminal ‘Crooked Hillary’. Bottom line: Trump isn’t Christian enough to be in the Oval Office! (As if abortion and single sex marriage advocate Obama was?!)

2/ Moving along to the Episcopalian/Anglican site, Stand Firm, one of their contributors, A S Haley, was, rightly, more concerned about what he calls the Sea of Political Correctness. In ‘A Wave of PC Crashes into a Solid Barrier’, Haley points out:

The Sea of Political Correctness, fed since November 9 by the tears of the self-righteous, is now engulfing its devotees and followers. Vainly casting about for safe spaces where they may continue to breathe air unsullied by what they perceive as the sulfurous emanations of their opponents, they are gasping, choking and sinking as wave after wave of fresh emotional outbursts crashes over their heads …

The politically correct crowd was so certain of its ability to name the next President that it shattered on the shoals of the Electoral College. It has been unable since then to re-form under a single, agreed leader. It is instead trying to coalesce under a common hatred of the successful candidate. Hatred, however, like fear, needs a crowd in which to dissolve, and a crowd needs direction—which is supplied by a leader.

Although I disagree with Haley when he says that Trump’s platform lacks

concrete programs of proposed legislation and executive actions

because those had been laid out in detail on Trump’s campaign website for over a year, he is correct in saying:

there is every reason to hope that a beginning has been made—is being made as I write—and that, with God’s grace, America may truly once more show the way in its humility, in its decency, and in its willingness to serve without expectation of reward.

One of Haley’s readers wrote about the protests during the weekend of the inauguration:

In fact, since one of the main complaints about Trump is his vulgarity, the vulgarity and viciousness of these speakers should negate any of those complaints.

I hope so. How can people — e.g. the GTY readers above — miss the stark contrast?

3/ From there, I went for a Reformed (Calvinist) perspective. Dr R Scott Clark of of Westminster Seminary California is the author of several books on the Reformed Confessions. He also writes the ever-helpful Heidelblog. He posted an excellent essay at the time of the inauguration, ‘A Reminder Of Why We Should Not Long For A State Church’.

The GTY readers moaning about Trump not being Christian enough should peruse it, but it looks at something anathema to conservative biblicists: history.

Excerpts follow:

… I am regularly astonished at the number of American Christians who seem to want a state-church. They seem not to understand the history of the post-canonical history of state-churches nor the difference between national Israel and the USA …

The governor of my state is a former Jesuit seminarian turned New Ager. I certainly do not want the Hon. Edmund G. Brown, Jr dictating what is to be preached or when it is to be preached. I am sure that Americans who advocate for a state-church do not want the Hon. Barack Hussein Obama or Donald J. Trump to meddle in the life of the institutional church.

Of course, when this objection is raised, the reply is an appeal to an eschatology of great expectations. This raises the problem of the chicken and the egg. Does the postmillennialist want to facilitate the coming earthly glory age through a state-church or is the state-church only to come about after the glory age has descended? This is not clear to me …

Under the new covenant and New Testament, there is no state-church. There is the state and there is the church. Calvin described these two realms as God’s duplex regimen (twofold kingdom). He rules over both by his providence but he rules the church, in his special providence, by his Law and Gospel revealed in holy Scripture. He rules over the civil magistrate by his general providence through his law revealed in nature and in the human conscience (see Romans 1–2) …

The visible church’s vocation is to announce the Kingdom of God in Christ, to preach the law and the gospel, administer the sacraments and church discipline (Matt 16 and 18) …

4/ I then sought another sensible Calvinist perspective, this time from Dr Michael Horton, who also teaches at the same seminary as Dr Clark. He is Westminster Seminary California’s J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics.

The Washington Post invited Horton to write an article on faith. On January 3, the paper published ‘Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy’. It concerns one of the prosperity gospel preachers who prayed at the inauguration: Paula White.

On the one hand, I heartily agree that White is a very poor example of a Christian pastor. On the other hand, she and Trump found solidarity in the prosperity gospel which he grew up with under Norman Vincent Peale. Furthermore, White was helpful to his campaign in getting out the vote among this sector of misguided churchgoers.

Even more unfortunate than her praying at the inauguration is the news that she will head the Evangelical Advisory Board in the Trump administration. I suspect this had not been announced when Horton wrote his article. Still, Trump is no theologian. I refer readers to Clark’s essay above.

Horton points out that such preachers have been around the White House before and are popular among certain sections of American society:

Peale and [Robert ‘Crystal Cathedral’] Schuller were counselors to CEOs and U.S. presidents. Word of Faith has been more popular among rural sections of the Bible Belt, where faith healers have had a long and successful history. But in the 1980s, the two streams blended publicly, with Copeland, Hinn and Schuller showing up regularly together on TBN.

He goes on to explain the dangerous heresy:

Televangelist White has a lot in common with Trump, besides being fans of [Joel] Osteen. Both are in their third marriage and have endured decades of moral and financial scandal. According to family values spokesman James Dobson, another Trump adviser, White “personally led [Trump] to Christ.”

Like her mentor, T. D. Jakes, White adheres closely to the Word of Faith teachings. Besides throwing out doctrines like the Trinity and confusing ourselves with God, the movement teaches that Jesus went to the cross not to bring forgiveness of our sins but to get us out of financial debt, not to reconcile us to God but to give us the power to claim our prosperity, not to remove the curse of death, injustice and bondage to ourselves but to give us our best life now. White says emphatically that Jesus is “not the only begotten Son of God,” just the first. We’re all divine and have the power to speak worlds into existence.

Again, Trump doesn’t get this because his family left their mainstream Presbyterian church in Queens after his confirmation to worship at Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. After Trump married Ivana and became even more successful, he drifted away from the church. Although in recent years he has been attending Episcopal church services, his theological formation isn’t very good. But, again, echoing Calvin’s two-fold kingdom theology, voters did not elect Trump as Pastor of the United States but rather President of the United States.

I nodded in agreement to this comment, which is 100% true:

Trump is president not a theologian and Horton shouldn’t be holding him up to that standard. Where was Dr. Horton when Planned Parenthood and the Gay marriage thingy was going full steam under Obama. Yes, Horton, we realize you are not an evangelical fundie, but jumping on Trump for this?

Michael plays the ‘guilt by association’ card very well.

Correct. I do not recall Horton criticising Obama’s policies very much. I’ve been reading and listening to him since 2009.

5/ Finally, I found Dr Carl Trueman‘s article on First Things, ‘President Trump, Therapist-In-Chief?’

Trueman, a Presbyterian, is Professor of Historical Theology and Church History and holds the Paul Woolley Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is politically centrist but theologically conservative.

Trueman says:

I agree with Horton’s analysis but would take the concern a step further. All Americans, not just Evangelicals, should be worried that Paula White is praying at the inauguration, though not for particularly religious reasons. By and large, the rites of American civic religion are harmless enough, bland baptisms of the status quo by the application of a bit of liturgy emptied of any real dogmatic significance or personal demands.

That is what inauguration prayers are largely about. Rightly or wrongly, everyone is represented, especially those who were helpful to the incoming president during campaign season.

He concludes that the real shame is that Trump seems to be endorsing the notion of ‘Psychological Man’.

However, once again, may I remind Drs Trueman and Horton: voters did not elect Trump to serve as the nation’s pastor-in-chief.

6/ The best rebuttals to Trueman’s article is in the comments to his essay. The two comments that nailed it perfectly came from Mike D’Virgilio, whose website is called Keeping Your Kids Christian. It looks very good.

D’Virgilio is a Trump supporter and I agree with his assessments. Excerpts follow. First, from this comment:

I believe Trump is a net positive for Christianity because what he’s doing (including putting the huge “Merry Christmas” signs on his podium during his thank you tour) is potentially contributing to the re-building of the Christian plausibility structure of America. The term “plausibility structure” goes back to sociologist Peter Berger’s 1967 book The Sacred Canopy. In a more recent book he defines this simply as, “the social context within which any particular definition of reality is plausible”. In other words, what *seems* real to people. For the last 50 years the secularists have driven American culture off a cliff (via education, media, Hollywood, etc.) so that the dominant plausibility structure has been postmodernism/relativism/materialism/secularism (they are all logically intertwined). So God for many people (the rise of the “Nones” for instance) *seems* no more real than Santa Claus. Rarely, if ever, do people grapple with the evidence for the truth claims of Christianity; they just drift away or don’t see it as relevant at all.

So Trump, regardless of the content of his own faith, or those at his inauguration, is possibly making Christianity plausible again. Most Americans don’t pay attention to what these people actually believe, the theological content of their faith, such as it is. But all of a sudden with Trump this Christianity thing doesn’t seem like such the ugly cultural step-child anymore … None of this will change over night, but the arrival of Trump is the first time I’ve had hope in this regard since, oh, I was born!

… And I agree with pretty much everything Carl says here (I’m a graduate of Westminster myself), but I don’t at all agree that Trump is contributing to a therapeutic faith and the triumph of the psychological

This is from D’Virgilio’s second lengthy comment:

… There is no other candidate who has done what Trump has done, or could be doing what he’s doing. Cruz is closest of the bunch, but I’m afraid he’s just not a winsome fellow. Once you get beyond the caricature of Trump, he’s a very likable, appealing showman. Everyone who knows him likes him, says he’s humble (impossible to believe for many) and kindhearted.

The greatest thing he’s done is blow up political correctness. He’s taken that on, along with the shamelessly corrupt media that promotes it, in a way no other Republican can even get close. This is huge for a Christian plausibility structure because PC is antithetical to a biblical/classical (in the sense the objective truth exists) worldview …

And Trump was Trump before the Apprentice. Trump made the Apprentice, the Apprentice didn’t make Trump. So I totally disagree Hollywood had anything to do with making the man, The Man. I don’t disagree with your assessment of the secular materialism, which is one of the reasons I initially wanted nothing to do with Trump … He doesn’t have to be an orthodox, Bible believing Christian to fight for Christians, to appreciate and respect Christians, to love America and the Christian influence in its history. I leave the soul judgments to God. I’m just grateful he’s our next president, and not that other person.

I realise some readers are apprehensive about Trump, what he might do and what he represents. I hope this has given them some food for thought, especially in terms of Christianity in America.

Let’s remember that there were four other members of the clergy besides Paula White and a rabbi. Furthermore, in his remarks, Franklin Graham reminded everyone that there is only one God.

In closing, sensible Christians living in the United States should be relieved Trump is in the White House. This will be borne out in due course.

In the meantime, rather than sitting around carping, we can always pray that he becomes a better, more orthodox Christian.

This follows on from Monday’s post about hell. Please note that there is an adult image and disturbing content in this entry.

In the 1970s my secondary school religion teachers taught that Origen was a heretic and that the Church declared him as well as his teachings anathema. In short, they said that Origen started out as a devout Christian then went off-piste.

My mother told me the same thing years before.

Today, Origen seems to be all the rage. The modern Church has rehabilitated his reputation, and clergy are encouraging us to adopt his beliefs.

Two of Origen’s beliefs concern hell and universalism. Origen held that hell was temporary, akin to a very long-term purgatory, and wrote that there will come a point in eternity when God will accept the population of hell — including Satan — to heaven.

Is that what the Bible says?

As far as Origen was concerned, the Bible is entirely allegorical — down to the last word. In his mind, the simple-minded could take it literally or look at it in terms of genre (like me), but if one truly had faith in Christ, one would be able to interpret the words differently.

Origen also believed in the pre-existence of souls, which is a form of reincarnation.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica‘s entry on Origen states (emphases mine):

The chief accusations against Origen’s teaching are the following: making the Son inferior to the Father and thus being a precursor of Arianism, a 4th-century heresy that denied that the Father and the Son were of the same substance; spiritualizing away the resurrection of the body; denying hell, a morally enervating universalism; speculating about preexistent souls and world cycles; and dissolving redemptive history into timeless myth by using allegorical interpretation. None of these charges is altogether groundless. At the same time there is much reason to justify Jerome’s first judgment that Origen was the greatest teacher of the early church after the Apostles.

That last sentence demonstrates why heretics were and are so dangerous. Every one of them mixes truth with error.

The Church did not declare Origen to be anathema until 300 years after his death. Origen died in 254 and the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople condemned his teachings in 553.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica explains why:

In the 6th century the “New Laura” (monastic community) in Palestine became a centre for an Origenist movement among the monastic intelligentsia, hospitable to speculations about such matters as preexistent souls and universal salvation. The resultant controversy led Justinian I to issue a long edict denouncing Origen (543); the condemnation was extended also to Didymus and Evagrius by the fifth ecumenical council at Constantinople (553). Nevertheless, Origen’s influence persisted, such as in the writings of the Byzantine monk Maximus the Confessor (c. 550–662) and the Irish theologian John Scotus Erigena (c. 810–877), and, since Renaissance times, controversy has continued concerning his orthodoxy, Western writers being generally more favourable than Eastern Orthodox.

This CCEL page has the full statement of the 15 anathemas against Origen — his person as well as his teachings.

Today, we read that Origen was not declared anathema in 553. This notion comes from Norman Tanner whose Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils was published in 1990. An Eastern Orthodox blog, Eclectic Orthodoxy, has more on Tanner’s explanation, a clear plea for universalism.

The general gist is that Justinian I did not like opposition and that Origen was not the only early theologian who had such ideas. Two others, St Clement of Alexandria and St Gregory of Nyssa, were also universalists.

Yet, they are saints. Origen was declared a heretic.

It seems that, as my teachers and our religious studies books said, Origen went too far. Dr Ken Matto has an interesting list of Origen’s beliefs, some of which are held by the Catholic Church, sects and modern churches in other denominations. What follow are the really unorthodox ones. Although many claim Origen fought against Gnosticism, Matto purports that he was indeed a Gnostic:

Gnosticism was and is a belief that all matter is evil and that freedom comes through knowledge. The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word “gnosis” which means “knowledge.”

Matto lists the beliefs of Gnostics, referring to Jay Green’s The Gnostics, the New Versions, and the Deity of Christ. There are eight, which you can read in full.

Those that stood out for me are that the Gnostic thinks he is Spirit while lesser beings are but flesh and blood; he has a knowledge which surpasses Christianity; he allegorises Scripture; he believes that Christ’s earthly body was an illusion and that He will always be inferior to Gnostic gods, the Demiurge and the Artificer.

Matto states Origen’s 14 beliefs. What follows are the most unusual — and wrong:

1/ He believed the Holy Spirit was a feminine force
7/ He believed in the transmigration of the soul and the reincarnation of the soul
8/ He doubted the temptations of Jesus in Scripture and claimed they could have never happened.
9/ The Scriptures were not literal. He was the father of allegory.
11/ Based upon Matthew 19, a true man of God should be castrated, which he did to himself.
13/ Christ enters no man until they mentally grasp the understanding of the consummation of the ages. (It was Frederick Dennison Maurice in the 19th century who defined eternal life as coming to a knowledge of God. This is the essence of Gnosticism.)
14/ He taught there would be no physical resurrection of the believers.

Gosh. I know Anglican and Episcopal clergy who believe some of these things. Not No. 11, however, I hasten to add. The painting of Origen below — courtesy of Bad News About Christianity — comes from Roman de la Rose [‘Romance of the Rose’], France 15th century, Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 195, fol. 122v.

Odd, isn’t it, that Origen — he of scriptural allegory — took Matthew 19:10-12 literally?

10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Natto follows with a useful Scriptural rebuttal of Origen’s teachings, concluding that Gnosticism fits in nicely with New Age teachings.

Indeed.

The New World Encyclopedia draws an empathetic conclusion about Origen:

In centuries much later, however, his work has been revisited by more sympathetic eyes, and his thought has been recognized as formative for the development of Christian theology. The historian Philip Schaff (1819-1893) sums up Origen’s contribution to Christianity, by saying that in spite of his condemnation he “did more than all his enemies combined to advance the cause of sacred learning, to refute and convert heathens and heretics, and to make the church respected in the eyes of the world.”[3] Origen’s hope for universal salvation and his tolerant attitude towards those who have different opinions would be more acceptable today when Celsus’ criticism of Christianity may tend to be more seriously reflected upon and ecumenism is more common-sensically practiced. It may be that as early as in the third century before church dogma was officially formulated he already had an insight into today’s situation.

Or maybe we are just leading ourselves down the garden path.

St Paul warned against false beliefs that tickle our itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3). How can something that sounds so good be so wrong? Paul warned:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,

On this point, the Wikipedia entry for Origen states:

Origen is regarded by the Catholic Church as a Church Father, but not a saint.[76]

Really? So, everything I learned about him in Catholic school has been conveniently overturned?

It would appear so. Catholic Encyclopedia has what can only be described as a puff piece on Origen. The entry explains away any criticism the Church had of him since the 6th century. It’s a long article and, like most Catholic Encyclopedia entries, is written in their typically arcane style, which is so unnecessary. I do wonder whether they want Catholics to read it or continue in blissful ignorance. But I digress.

In a nutshell, Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that through the centuries people have misunderstood or misinterpreted Origen’s teachings. The entry even casts doubt over whether Origen was actually anathematised! They base their reasoning on Pope Vigilius’s absence from the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 553, the fact that the subsequent popes through to the early 7th century never mentioned Origen and, finally, the Origenism that was condemned was not the one Origen himself came up with but a derivation of it.

Hmm.

Am I convinced by that? Certainly not.

Origen came into this post at length because Bad News About Christianity mentioned the man in the article ‘Invented, Amended & Discarded Doctrines’ — one of which is hell:

According to recent theories Hell is not a place at all. It is, as the heretic Origen suggested, a condition of being distant from God. Alternatively, if it does exist it is probably empty! This solution attempts to reconcile the traditional doctrine of the reality of Hell with the requirement for a modern, caring, God. It is a classic example of the way in which teachings change when doctrine starts to become unteachable because of widespread disbelief. The Church cannot bring itself to agree explicitly with the atheist Lucretius (c.96-55 BC) and admit that “There is no murky pit of Hell awaiting anyone”*, but that is really what churchmen have come around to after 2,000 years.

Well said, even if they are unbelievers.

Their entry on hell is worthwhile reading. It quotes the relevant part of the Second Council of Constantinople statement:

Whosoever says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of the wicked will not be eternal, that it will have an end …. let him be anathema.

The article goes on to say that this firmly established the Church’s belief in hell until relatively recently:

For centuries children and peasants were terrorised by the promise of eternal damnation. Theologians assured them that they would be crushed in giant wine presses, torn to pieces by wild animals, fed with the gall of dragons, burned for eternity, tortured by demons, and so on.

As Cardinal Newman pointed out, belief in Hell was central to Christian theology, it was “the critical doctrine — you can’t get rid of it — it is the very characteristic of Christianity”. The existence of God was held to prove the reality of eternal hellfire, so denial of eternal hellfire amounted to denial of God. The reality of Hell was simply not open to question.

The article mentions a Catholic priest, the Rev John Furniss, who wrote booklets about the faith for children. They cost one penny per volume and were well known in the late 19th and early 20th century. One of Furniss’s books was called The Sight of Hell, which is reproduced in full on the Bad News About Christianity site.

Those of us who are simple-minded when it comes to belief in a literal hell will appreciate Furniss’s work, several chapters of which begins with a Bible verse or have a variation on a Bible story. He wrote that the inspiration came from revelations that St Frances of Rome (1384-1440) said she received.

This is a brilliant book, but if you shared it with your children, you’d probably get arrested for child abuse. Here is an excerpt from ‘The Red Hot Floor’, about an adolescent of ill repute who ends up in hell:

Look into this room. What a dreadful place it is! The roof is red hot; the floor is like a thick sheet of red hot iron. See, on the middle of that red hot floor stands a girl. She looks about sixteen years old. Her feet are bare, she has neither shoes nor stockings on her feet; her bare feet stand on the red hot burning floor. The door of this room has never been opened before since she first set her foot on the red hot floor. Now she sees that the door is opening. She rushes forward. She has gone down on her knees on the red hot floor. Listen, she speaks! She says; “I have been standing with my feet on this red hot floor for years. Day and night my only standing place has been this red hot floor. Sleep never came on me for a moment, that I might forget this horrible burning floor. Look,” she says, “at my burnt and bleeding feet. Let me go off this burning floor for one moment, only for one single, short moment. Oh, that in the endless eternity of years, I might forget the pain only for one single,short moment.” The devil answers her question: “Do you ask,” he says, “for a moment, for one moment to forget your pain. No, not for one single moment during the never-ending eternity of years shall you ever leave this red hot floor!” “Is it so?” the girl asks with a sigh, that seems to break her heart; “then, at least, let somebody go to my little brothers and sisters, who are alive, and tell them not to do the bad things which I did, so they will never have to come and stand on the red hot floor.” The devil answers her again: “Your little brothers and sisters have the priests to tell them these things. If they will not listen to the priests, neither would they listen even if somebody should go to them from the dead.”

There we have a variation of the Dives (‘the rich man’) and Lazarus story that Jesus related (Luke 16:19-31).

Back to the article. The atheist author(s) rightly point out that Catholics and Protestants alike feared God’s wrath and the unspeakable horrors of hell for centuries. These days, less so, if at all:

Now belief in Hell seems to be no longer necessary. Certainly the Church of England does not require it. The Privy Council decided many years ago that belief in it is optional*. Theologians have now started to redefine Hell. In fact, according to the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission, traditional teachings of hellfire and eternal torment are “appalling theologies which made God into a sadistic monster and left searing scars on many”*.

On the contrary, it is better to live in fear and trembling — and repent — now than have eternal regrets in the everlasting fiery pit later.

In closing, Bad News About Christianity has an article about Origen, which tells us what Catholic Encyclopedia does not:

Like some of his contemporaries he voluntarily castrated himself to remove a sinful source of temptation. He insisted on observing Jesus” instructions, such as the ones about not carrying an extra coat and not wearing shoes (Matthew 10:10). During his lifetime he was deposed from the priesthood and deprived of his teaching post by the Bishop of Alexandria. He was also condemned by the Bishop of Rome and by a synod of Egyptian bishops. St Jerome held that he had deliberately tried to mislead the orthodox into heresy. Views attributed to him were condemned by further bishops, emperors and councils. To clear up any remnant of doubt, Origen’s teachings were condemned by the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 553.

Now that sounds like my religious studies textbook (minus the first sentence)!

More on hell to follow.

Rob BellIn 2011, I wrote a series of posts on the enfant terrible of Evangelical Protestantism Rob Bell.

His universalist book, Love Wins, had just been published: there is no hell and God loves everyone.

Today — 2014 — he has another book out, The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage. He co-wrote it with his wife Kristen.

Zimzum (tzimtzúm in Hebrew) means contraction. In Kabbalah it refers to:

The self-imposed “withdrawal” of a part of God to enable the creation of the universe, as described by Isaac Luria.

Hmm.

The Huffington Post helpfully tells us what Bell has been doing for the past few years.

After the storm surrounding Love Wins, Bell left the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He had co-founded the church.

He moved to California to work on television projects.

In 2013, he came out in favour of same-sex marriage:

“This is a justice issue,” Bell said. “We believe people should not be denied the right to have someone to journey with.”

Never mind that same-sex couples have been able to live together for some years now.

Bell no longer belongs to or heads a church congregation:

Now resettled near Los Angeles, the couple no longer belongs to a traditional church. “We have a little tribe of friends,” Bell said. “We have a group that we are journeying with. There’s no building. We’re churching all the time. It’s more of a verb for us.”

He adds:

One of the most extraordinary things I’ve done since I left Mars Hill is be with people and engage with people who would never step foot in a church.

Day-to-day:

He conducts retreats in Laguna Beach and teaches on innovation, communication, creativity, how to read the Bible and how to surf. At the end of the gathering, he serves the Eucharist.

He is also something of a spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey, about whom he is fulsome in his praise:

“She has taught me more about what Jesus has for all of us, and what kind of life Jesus wants us to live, more than almost anybody in my life,” Bell said.

“Is she a Christian? That word has so much baggage, I wouldn’t want to answer for someone. When Jesus talks about the full divine life, you think, this is what he’s talking about.”

Really?

Oprah took Bell on a tour of the United States. Together, they presented the ‘Life You Want Weekend’.

On December 21, 2014, Bell will have his own programme on the Oprah channel. It is called The Rob Bell Show.

The Huffington Post observes:

Even when he talks about marriage, Bell sounds more like Oprah than a theologian, meshing what sounds both spiritual and evangelical when addressing marriage as an institution.

And therein lies the danger for Oprah’s viewers. Elsewhere the online journal has this gem:

The Church of Oprah incorporates as many religious concepts as possible, while evangelicalism commits to exclusivity.

Just so.

Rob Bell may be ideal for Oprah but, like the syncretic beliefs presented on her network, his religious outlook can be hazardous to the viewers’ salvation.

It is doubtful whether Bell, in eschewing the Cross, sin, hell, repentance and redemption, can be called a Christian.

The Pope’s discourses, as those of his predecessors and many other Catholic clergy, are impenetrable because of unnecessary complexity.

Why, for heaven’s sake, talk to the faithful and enquirers in such a way?

Make Christianity easy to understand and a joy to embrace!

The other day, I wrote about the Anglican Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, who suffers from the same affectation. Complex words can disguise a host of theological errors!

Today’s post concerns Pope Francis quoting G K Chesterton. How many translations did that go through?

I happened upon the Catholic site Crisis Magazine whilst trying to source a Chesterton quote Chartres used.

I didn’t succeed but found Catholic complaints about the clergy’s (and Chesterton’s!) use of language. Frankly, that’s been happening since John Paul II. Have a look at some of the essays and books he wrote for the faithful. They are impossible to understand.

First to the comment on Chesterton and the ‘smarty-pants’ intelligentsia’s use of language. This from Julia B (emphases mine):

Most of the working class folks in my area couldn’t care less about Chesterton or Teilard or even John Allen – that all bores them and they turn off. They are sincere about living their faith – more than the smarty-pants atheist ex-Catholic seminarians I know. It isn’t necessarily the smartest people who will get to heaven. I need to remind myself of Flannery O’Connor’s people whom she took very seriously.

Further downthread, she writes:

None of the blue collar people I know have ever heard of him.
Maybe it’s where I live. I grew up in East St Louis Illinois and now live in the town next-door where people are still overwhelmingly blue collar Democrats – union members or their children. We did that “Catholicism” series by Fr Baron at our parish and folks who attended thought it was boring and too difficult to understand.

Later, reader Redfish makes an excellent point:

Chesterton was speaking to a certain understanding of language, which was fine to make his points clear, which he did, but its also a certain understanding of language that ultimately formed the foundation of postmodernism, which ran wild with it and took it to its logical conclusions.

Well said, Redfish.

Frankly, I’d rather read Flannery O’Connor than Chesterton, and I have a degree in English. But that’s just my perspective. Your results might differ.

Evangelising depends on making the point clear and comprehensible for the reader. After we explain it, there should be very few, if any, questions afterward.

But do clergy care about using simple language? This is what Dr Timothy J Williams had to say about the Pope’s discourses:

The real question is, is it wise to listen to this Pontiff talk about anything? Wading through his labyrinthine comments in a desperate, good-willed search for orthodoxy is at best an arduous and discouraging activity.

Now onto the Pope quoting Chesterton. He said the following during a Mass in December 2013 during Mass at the Church of St Martha in Rome:

Isaiah says: “Have trust in the Lord always, for God is an eternal rock!” The rock is Jesus Christ! The rock is our Lord! A word is powerful, it gives life, it can go forward, it can withstand attacks, if this word has its roots in Jesus Christ. A Christian word that does not have its vital roots is a Christian word without Christ. And Christian words without Christ deceive. An English writer, once talking about heresies, said that a heresy is a truth, a word, that has gone mad. When Christian words are without Christ, they begin to go by the way of madness.

Hmm, okay.

The Italian newspaper citing the quote said it came from G K Chesterton. Dale Ahlquist, who wrote the post for Crisis Magazine explains:

… it didn’t quite sound right. But we have to keep in mind that this is an English translation of an Italian transcription of a spoken homily by someone who is giving an off-the-cuff Italian translation of a text he is quoting from memory of a Spanish translation of an English text that he never read in English. It is possible that something was lost—or even added—in translation.

Ahlquist goes on to cite two more Chesterton quotes which might have been those which the Pope had in mind.

I much prefer the quote from St Thomas More which Ahlquist uses. That explains heresy so much better and in far fewer words:

Never was there a heretic who spoke all false,’ said the great Sir Thomas More” (New Witness, April 4, 1919).

A heretic always states part of the truth. Otherwise, false and damning teaching would not appeal to so many.

It’s a pity that more clergy of all denominations don’t bother to adopt Sir Thomas More’s plain speaking.

In closing, one of Crisis Magazine‘s readers, Marcelus, points out that Benedict XVI’s thoughts about the future of the Catholic Church are similar to what Bishop Chartres thinks about the Church of England:

… did you know [‘P]ope Benedict called the charismatic “the future of the church” or something of that sort? …

An ill wind is blowing. Stick to a good Bible translation and a good Bible commentary. Get the truth. It’s out there and not far from you.

Yesterday’s post featured the first four verses of Luke 17.

The Revd Matt Kennedy, rector of Good Shepherd Church in Binghamton, New York, and a regular columnist for Stand Firm, included Luke 17:2 — among other New Testament verses — in his recent article, ‘A Declaration of Principles for Reconciliation’.

Most of my readers know that The Episcopal Church (as well as other parts of the Anglican Communion) has been torn apart by gender-based discussions over the past decade.

Kennedy’s article explains that the Church must not encourage or condone that which Scripture forbids. Anyone who does promote these ideas and activities is a false teacher. False teachers must be removed by the church community until they repent and are forgiven, at which time they can be readmitted to full participation in it.

As the New Testament passages cited say, this means anything which would encourage serious sin by the believer (the ‘little ones’ to whom Christ refers below).

Excerpts from Kennedy’s post follow, emphases mine.

First from the Preamble:

… about those who encourage such sins Jesus said: “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”(Luke 17:1-2)

Heresy, as Bishop Fitz Allison wrote, is cruel. It is cruel because it offers joy and fulfillment but delivers emptiness and hopelessness because it is grounded in a misrepresentation of God’s nature and character. Therefore, the New Testament everywhere instructs Christian shepherds to identify false teachers and drive them from the flock of God.

It is for this reason — as well as John MacArthur’s idea that our inability to forgive may inhibit God’s blessings — that some Christians might not be fully experiencing worship and fellowship. We’re still desperately unhappy, possibly even clinically depressed, because of — or aided by — the skewed, false teaching we receive from the pulpit.

From the principles to which clergy should commit (which follow the preamble):

1. Since Christian fellowship necessarily involves mutual recognition of the legitimacy and validity of one another’s profession of faith, as well as congruence of belief in the same Gospel, Christian fellowship with false teachers who purport to be Christians, yet do not believe the Gospel and lead people away from Christ is impossible. Reconciliation in the church means restored fellowship. There can be no fellowship with false teachers unless and until they publicly repudiate their false teachings and repent for the injury they have done to the body of Christ.

3. The success of the ministry of a false teacher adds greater influence and authority to his office and teachings. More souls are set at risk, the body of Christ injured, the glory of Christ diminished. Therefore we will not cooperate, collaborate, promote, or aid the ministry of false teachers in any way.

9. Teachers in the Church are accountable to the word of God. Rank and high office in the Church come with increased responsibility to live and speak as ambassadors of Christ. Leaders must submit both their words and their deeds to the measure of scripture. We willingly submit to biblically faithful correction and accountability and commit to hold one another to fidelity to the truth of the Gospel and to our vows.

10. Christians are called to live lives of repentance. In carrying out all of these commitments we recognize that we fail and fall in many ways every day personally and professionally. It is by grace alone that we are saved through faith and this is not of ourselves, it is a gift from God and not of works that no man should boast. We commit to confess our sins daily and to seek God’s grace and mercy remaining mindful of our weaknesses.

Luring people into sin is a serious offence against God. Sin, encouraged by false teachers, makes us doubt God or makes us think that we are on a par with Him. It is deceiving and unsatisfying. Ultimately, it weakens our faith by enabling an overly enhanced belief in our own wills rather than a reliance on God’s grace.

R C Sproull yankeerev_wordpress_comBy the time Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by nailing the Ninety-five Theses on the church door of Wittenburg, he had already begun distributing small pamphlets — tracts — about the downfall of the Church.

He compared the corrupt Church of his day to Babylon. Not only were the official representatives of Christ’s Bride collecting money for indulgences as repentance for sin, they were also denying the sacred, inspired truth of Holy Scripture.

The Catholic Church will readily agree to that post-Vatican II. I was taught of the Church’s errors in RE (Religious Education) class in the 1970s. Yet, what appears to linger there is the synergistic notion that we must work for our salvation. God’s grace is insufficient. In fact, we must merit it.

Things are not so different in certain Protestant denominations, especially in some — not all — Evangelical and mainstream Non-Conformist (e.g. Wesleyan, Baptist) congregations.

A works-based salvation is, at best, semi-Pelagian. At worst, it is full-on Pelagianism, which is a heresy. Pelagianism denies Original Sin and says that man is basically good. Semi-Pelagianism acknowledges Original Sin but says that man must work for his conversion, his rebirth in Christ or his ultimate salvation. Both of these dangerous beliefs are devoid of Scriptural truth and divine grace, which God the Father gives us in our Christian walk.

The Reformed theologian Dr R C Sproul — a monergist — deplores the Church’s departure from monergism. Monergism, involving God as the author of our spiritual regeneration and ultimate salvation, espouses the doctrine of grace — completely unmerited on our part but mercifully granted by our Father in heaven nonetheless.

The Covenant Presbyterian Church, a member of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) in Bakersfield, California, has posted several helpful articles and essays for their congregation as well as for other Christians who might wonder if they are truly saved. Worrying about one’s personal salvation can cause many late nights, much soul-searching and years of anguish.

Sproul’s article which sheds light on monergism, synergism, grace, error and heresy is called ‘The Pelagian Captivity of the Church’. Excerpts follow with page references to the PDF.

Sproul wonders what would happen if Luther were to see the state of Protestantism today (p. 1):

Of course I can’t answer that question with any kind of definitive authority, but my guess is this: If Martin Luther lived today and picked up his pen to write, the book he would write in our time would be entitled The Pelagian Captivity of the Evangelical Church.

Luther, Sproul tells us, believed in the doctrine of grace as revealed in the Bible (emphases mine):

Luther saw the doctrine of justification as fueled by a deeper theological problem. He writes about this extensively in The Bondage Of the Will. When we look at the Reformation — sola Scriptura, sola fide, solus Christus, soli Deo Gloria, sola gratia Luther was convinced that the real issue of the Reformation was the issue of grace; and that underlying the doctrine of sola fide, justification by faith alone, was the prior commitment to sola gratia, the concept of justification by grace alone.

Luther was not alone. Calvin, Zwingli and other early Reformers agreed on

the helplessness of man in sin and the sovereignty of God in grace …

In other words, our faith in Christ is

the free gift of a sovereign God.

Pelagius was a British monk. He lived in the 5th century AD, as did his rival, St Augustine of Hippo (Egypt). Although these were dark and primitive times, Church councils covering Europe and North Africa were ongoing. Pelagius objected to Augustine’s belief in a sovereign God.

Pelagius maintained that, although Adam and Eve sinned, future generations were spared inheriting that sin. This viewpoint goes against Scripture and Christianity, both of which point to our inherent and ongoing depravity because we actually have a proclivity to sin, which we received from Adam and Eve. As St Augustine believed, this state (p. 2), leaves us in

a sinful, fallen condition.

As such, we are able to achieve nothing good or godly on our own. We must rely on God’s grace, the workings of the Holy Spirit and the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins.

Yet, Pelagius insisted that Adam and Eve’s sin was not passed down to us and that any grace we inherited ‘facilitates’ righteousness to us. Sproul said that Pelagius meant that whilst divine grace helps mankind, mankind doesn’t actually need it. In fact, he said that people could live perfect lives under their own willpower, with no divine grace necessary (p. 3).

The Church condemned Pelagianism as a heresy at the Council of Orange in the 5th century, later at the Council of Carthage and, once more, much later, in the 16th century at the Council of Trent (p. 3).

However, despite Church theologians declaring Pelagianism a heresy, the appeal of man’s ‘island of righteousness’ — perhaps ‘divine spark’ — refused to fade away. Hence the rise of semi-Pelagianism: we need God’s grace but we are also capable of accepting or rejecting it.

Sproul writes:

Ironically, the Church condemned semi-Pelagianism as vehemently as it had condemned original Pelagianism. Yet by the time you get to the sixteenth century and you read the Catholic understanding of what happens in salvation the Church basically repudiated what Augustine taught and what Aquinas taught as well. The Church concluded that there still remains this freedom that is intact in the human will and that man must cooperate with — and assent to — the prevenient grace that is offered to them by God.  If we exercise that will, if we exercise a cooperation with whatever powers we have left, we will be saved. And so in the sixteenth century the Church reembraced semi-Pelagianism.

Now to the present day. Many Evangelical — mostly independent, but sometimes associated — churches around the world feature a believer’s testimony and an altar call. The unconverted in the congregation can seemingly ‘choose’ to ‘accept’ Christ as Saviour and Lord. These are also features of Holiness churches of the Wesleyan tradition. Essentially, even if the preachers talk about sin, they say that we have the inner power to overcome it. Furthermore, those sitting in the congregation — a Barna survey says more than 70% — believe that man is basically good (p. 3).

Sproul says (p. 4):

To say we’re basically good is the Pelagian view. I would be willing to assume that in at least thirty percent of the people who are reading this issue, and probably more, if we really examine their thinking depth, we could find hearts that are beating Pelagianism. We’re overwhelmed with it. We’re surrounded by it. We’re immersed in it. We hear it every day. We hear it every day in the secular culture. And not only do we hear it every day in the secular culture, we hear it every day on Christian television and on Christian radio.

You have no doubt heard the sayings ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease’ and ‘An empty paper bag makes the loudest noise’. One firebrand evangelist in 19th century America lived up to both. His name was Charles Finney. Whether we like it or not, he changed the face of much of American Christianity forever.

Whereas the earliest Reformers held to the aforementioned Solas, Finney claimed we had enough power and ability to affect our salvation alone. We don’t need divine grace — or possibly even Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection — for salvation. Sproul delivers his verdict (p. 4):

if what the reformers were saying is that justification by faith alone is an essential truth of Christianity, who also argued that the substitutionary atonement is an essential truth of Christianity; if they’re correct in their assessment that those doctrines are essential truths of Christianity, the only conclusion we can come to is that Charles Finney was not a Christian. I read his writings — and I say, “I don’t see how any Christian person could write this.” And yet, he is in the Hall of Fame of Evangelical Christianity in America. He is the patron saint of twentieth-century Evangelicalism. And he is not semi-Pelagian; he is unvarnished in his Pelagianism.

Sproul anticipates that people will object to this assessment, saying that grace is necessary for sinful man’s regeneration and redemption. Then he posits — and this is important to consider (p. 4):

But it’s that little island of righteousness where man still has the ability, in and of himself, to turn, to change, to incline, to dispose, to embrace the offer of grace that reveals why historically semi-Pelagianism is not called semi-Augustinianism, but semi-Pelagianism. It never really escapes the core idea of the bondage of the soul, the captivity of the human heart to sin — that it’s not simply infected by a disease that may be fatal if left untreated, but it is mortal.

Sproul explores two semi-Pelagian stories often heard in certain churches. One concerns God throwing a drowning man a life preserver, making an exact hit to reach the man’s hands. Another is about the Almighty assisting a dying man in taking a curative medicine. In both instances, the two men are able to accept God’s help yet contribute their own ability to their rescues.

But, Sproul asks (p. 5), are these accurate and in line with conversion and salvation according to Scripture?

Now, if we’re going to use analogies, let’s be accurate. The man isn’t going under for the third time; he is stone cold dead at the bottom of the ocean. That’s where you once were when you were dead in sin and trespasses and walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air. And while you were dead hath God quickened you together with Christ. God dove to the bottom of the sea and took that drowned corpse and breathed into it the breath of his life and raised you from the dead. And it’s not that you were dying in a hospital bed of a certain illness, but rather, when you were born you were born D.O.A. That’s what the Bible says: that we are morally stillborn.

Sproul goes on to describe a conversation he had with a believer who objected to his theology of grace. Sproul asked him how he came to be a Christian when his friend did not. In the end, the man says:

OK! I’ll say it. I’m a Christian because I did the right thing, I made the right response, and my friend didn’t.

Astonished, Sproul concludes (p. 5):

What was this person trusting in for his salvation? Not in his works in general, but in the one work that he performed. And he was a Protestant, an evangelical. But his view of salvation was no different from the Roman view.

Today, we have theologians (e.g. N T Wright), clergy (even in older Protestant denominations) and laity claiming that we must play a part in our salvation via ‘good works’. Divine grace cannot truly help us, certainly not fully; we must play our part and do something.

This semi-Pelagianism, made popular in the 16th century by Jacob Arminius who sought to deny the doctrine of grace as a comfort for Christians — when it did precisely the opposite, causing them endless anxiety — is the prevailing theology in many churches. And, he says, this anxiety will not disappear until — and unless (p. 6):

we humble ourselves and understand that no man is an island and that no man has an island of righteousness, that we are utterly dependent upon the unmixed grace of God for our salvation

Stained glass question jeremypryorwordpresscomMy apologies.

I had hoped that my last few posts of Forbidden Bible Verses explained why Jesus warned against making manmade religion law (from which the so-called great and the good would be exempt).

Those of you in a biblically based church or personal faith do not need to worry, however, we have many church members and clergymen, the latter often leading independent church congregations, who are imposing a Pharisaical burden upon each other.

On the other hand, we have rationalist Sadducee-like clergy who do not wish for believers to have faith in the miracles which took place in both the Old and the New Testaments.

This blog has been warning about such aberrations in religious practice. All of them — legalist, modernist or postmodernist — can be found in the lower half of my Christianity / Apologetics page. These have been occurring since our Lord’s time, but more frequently worldwide since Charles Finney’s time in the 19th century. Protestants and Catholics have both been found guilty.

I would encourage all those who consider themselves Christians to read the posts on that page as well as the secular posts on my Marxism / Communism page which demonstrate how socialism and communism have helped to weaken Christ’s bride, the Church.

 

 

A little over two years ago, I explored some Church history in delving into the theologians who were brought up Calvinist but separated themselves from it.

One of these men was the Dutchman, Jacobus — James, in modern day parlance — Arminius (see here and here). His ‘free will’ theology — that a person can freely come to Christ of his own human will — is called Arminianism. A number of Protestant denominations — Methodism and Evangelical churches — espouse it. In error, so do Anglicans, because the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion no longer have their rightful place in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Arminius has provoked endless confusion in non-Calvinist denominations because he was never formally denounced. His ‘free-will’ Remonstrants in the Reformed Church in the Netherlands — and offshoots elsewhere in the world — have used this to their advantage since the late 16th century. Even today, those who have had Remonstrant professors at university consider them Calvinist, when they are nothing of the sort.

Arminius lived in difficult times, not unlike ours today (emphases mine below). As I said back in 2011:

In 1588 Arminius moved to Amsterdam and served as a Dutch Calvinist pastor.  A few years later, it was apparent to his congregation and other clergy that he was preaching ‘opinions’ about free will, which clearly contradicted Calvin and Beza’s teachings.  The city councillors of Amsterdam — European cities were still run as theocracies at the time — managed to calm everyone down enough to avoid open Protestant conflict.

The plague, running rampant through Europe at the time, brought an opportunity to ArminiusAs some of the professors at Leyden fell victim to this fatal pestilence, the University invited Arminius to teach theology.  His appointment was not approved without controversy among the faculty.  Their difference in religious views also coincided with political partisanship, to the extent that Arminius and his staunchly Calvinist rival Franciscus Gomarus were invited to the Hague to each deliver speeches before the Supreme Court in 1608.  (Politics and Protestant Christianity were closely bound in the Netherlands until the 20th century.)

By the time Arminius and Gomarus were invited back to the Hague the following year for a second conference, their respective viewpoints had begun to split Reformed clergy around the country. Arminius did not last the full duration of the second conference and returned to Leiden because of ill health. He died in October 1609.  However, his legacy of free will theology — as expressed in what he called Arminianism — lives on to the present day, most notably in Wesleyan and Evangelical churches, particularly in the United States.  Arminian followers of the 17th century were called Remonstrants, adhering to a radically revised view of Calvinism — which ended up being no Calvinism at all.

You might ask what the ‘problem’ is with ‘free will’. The difficulty is that it leads to the heresy of Pelagianism — salvation through good works and one’s own will — or semi-Pelagianism. Part of the difficulty with Christianity today is that no one knows the various heresies anymore; as such, they do not know how to avoid errors of faith, some of which are grave sins, which contradict the New Testament. See my Christianity / Apologetics page under ‘Heresy’ for more.

The problem with Arminianism is that, in the words of Dr Herman C Hanko, Professor Emeritus of the Protestant Reformed Seminary in Grandville, Michigan:

Ultimately the free offer also makes the perseverance of the saints a doubtful matter. It stands to reason that if man can either accept or reject the gospel offer, he can at one time accept it, at another time reject it, and yet again accept it. But because his salvation is dependent upon what he does, his salvation hangs by the thin thread of his own free will. Thus his final salvation is always in doubt. He can fall away from the faith, and he can, while once having accepted Christ, still spurn Him in the future. It is undoubtedly this general Arminian teaching that is the basis for revivals and recommitments to Christ through the invitation.

Read John 6 and the Epistles of St Paul — Romans, in particular — for scriptural backup.

Theological error causes much conflict, still alive in our doctrinally weakening churches today. Lutherans rightly take objection to Universal Objective Justification (UOJ), which, if I understand it correctly, says that everyone, in principle, is saved. The few orthodox Anglicans around grieve the lack of education on the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion — a combination of the original Lutheran and Calvinist theology based on the New Testament. True Calvinists, having condemned the original Arminianism, are now calling attention to its latest incarnation, Federal Vision, which attempts to combine Roman Catholicism and the Anglican Revd N T Wright’s New Perspectives on Paul (see my Christianity / Apologetics page for that series of errors) with classical education, therefore, legitimising this pernicious falsehood.

In short, if your mind is spinning now, what this boils down to is false teaching.

Dr R Scott Clark  of Westminster Seminary California (WSC) asks in his Heidelblog — in light of this Federal Vision encircling certain Reformed churches — whether a modern day Arminius should be invited to preach in a Reformed church. His answer is certainly not, but let us look at the historical background he gives to Arminius and the Reformed Church in the Netherlands of the late 16th and early 17th century.

This gives insight into the Remonstrants claim to be Calvinist, despite Arminius’s theological errors:

Despite the intense controversy that his views and teaching generated, views that fractured the church, that nearly ignited a civil war in the Netherlands, that split a university, and that ultimately led to the convocation of the greatest international synod in the history of the Reformed churches, the Synod of Dort (1618–19), Arminius remained and died a minister in good standing in the Reformed churches. Partly this was a fluke. Arminius died in 1609 and the Synod did not conclude for a decade later. At the time of his death there was great controversy but there was not unanimity as to what Arminius was actually teaching. This was intentional. Arminius was intentionally vague, even to the point of being deceptive. Despite the fact that he rejected significant aspects of established Reformed teaching, despite the fact the seemed bent on leading the Reformed churches away from the gospel and back to a form of medieval moralism and synergism, despite the fact the he called into question the teaching of the Reformed confessions, despite the fact that it was he, and not his opponents, who was elevated to Rector of the University of Leiden, and despite the fact that it was Gormarus (and not Arminius) who left the University, Arminius whined incessantly about the hardships he allegedly suffered at the hands of the evil orthodox.

To this day — and Dr Clark rightly cites Dr Roger Olson’s blog (yes, it’s in my blogroll, because he does cause one to think) — as being an example of an Arminian who objects to notional nasty Calvinists.

Yet, the Remonstrants of Arminius’s Dutch tradition carry on. They let the rest of the world think they are Calvinists — with great success, I might add (Lutherans have mistakenly come to believe that Calvinists are Universalists) — yet, they themselves decry the teachings of Calvin and Beza based on the New Testament. It’s a win-win for the Remonstrants.

Dr Clark says that, eventually, the learned representatives of the Dutch Reformed churches which met at Dort in the Netherlands to resolve the Arminian controversy concluded:

This Church has been attacked, first secretly and then publicly, by Jacobus Arminius and his followers (bearing the name of Remonstrants). They did this by means of various old and new errors. These flourishing churches, being persistently disturbed by offensive disputes and schisms, have been brought into such grave peril that they were in danger of being consumed by a dreadful fire of discord.

Furthermore:

They rejected the errors of the Remonstrants categorically and declared that the Remonstrants had brought “again out of hell the Pelagian error” (Rejection of Errors, 2.3).

In light of this, Clark rightly asks whether, in the name of unity, whether a Reformed church today should ask someone akin to Arminius (e.g. someone of the Federal Vision preaching N T Wright’s New Perspectives on Paul) to preach in their church:

In light of the judgment of the Synod of Dort, had you the opportunity, would you allow James Arminius into your pulpit? After all, he died in good standing with the Reformed churches. After all, he professed adherence to the Reformed confessions. Of course not! Why not? Because you know, despite Arminius’ protestations, that he was not actually a minister of the Word as understood and confessed by the Reformed churches. You know that he was disingenuous, that it’s not possible to reconcile what Arminius actually believed and taught with what the Word of God says.

If that is the case, then, what if you had the opportunity to allow a modern-day Arminius into your pulpit, would you do it? What if he was well-regarded by many as a social conservative and as a witty and articulate defender of the faith against a rising tide of neo-atheism? It does seem as if the foundations of the culture and civil society are collapsing and that the faith is under intense public assault.

No, never acquiesce to admitting or listening to an error-ridden clergyman — no matter how charming or relevant — preach in your church.

This is what Clark has to say about Pelagius and Arminius. This is why learning Church history is so essential:

The heart of the Roman Empire was sacked in 410. Their world was literally crumbling before their eyes. The British monk Pelagius was known for his strong adherence to Christian morality. He was also well-known for his denial of the doctrine of original sin, depravity, and what we today call the doctrines of grace. Should the churches of North Africa have overlooked his doctrinal errors and should they have invited him to speak to their congregations? As a matter of history, they did not. They prosecuted his errors in the courts of the church most vigorously and condemned his teaching repeatedly. Indeed, the entire catholic church (Ephesus, 431 etc) condemned his doctrine.

Arminius lived during a time a great social and cultural upheaval. The Reformed churches might well have said to themselves that the cultural and social issues they faced were too great to worry about doctrinal fine points. Indeed, there were powerful voices, some of whom protected Arminius from his critics in Amsterdam and in Leiden, who favored doctrinal latitudinarianism, who thought that Arminius had some good and useful things to say. We may be thankful, however, that the churches did not take this view.

Study the New Testament. Knowing the New Testament enlightens study of the Old Covenant made with Moses. We see that God was preparing Israel — via the Mosaic Laws — for the advent and birth of Christ Jesus. Christ came to fulfil that Law.

The Gospel and Epistle authors are careful at every stage and in every chapter to explain who Jesus is and what He taught.

There are no contradictions in the truth of Christ.

If you study novels, politics or film, please make time to put those aside for a while in order to absorb the New Testament this year. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll also be able to spot the errors in Arminianism and various heresies old and new.

St Augustine of Hippo stained glassSt Augustine would not have called these people ‘cafeteria Christians’, as the concept of cafeterias did not exist in his time, although, certainly, meals in common would have done.

I spotted this quote from Augustine on a Grace To You blog post — ‘Is God a Monster?’. Reader Philip Vance sent it in:

If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe but yourself – Augustine

How true. It is sometimes difficult to pray for stubborn doubters who actively reject portions of Scripture which, for whatever reason, offend them. Yet, prayer — that their minds be turned to God — is sometimes the only way to reach them.

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