Monday, February 7, 2011

Holy Heresy - Part 1

Why heresy is needed in the true Church

At first blush, it seems like a strange statement to say that heresy is “necessary” to the condition of the true Church. But history demonstrates the truth of this assertion. The great ante-Nicene African theologian, Tertullian, wrote, “We ought not to be astonished at the heresies (which abound) neither ought their existence to surprise us, for it was foretold that they should come to pass; nor the fact that they subvert the faith of some, for their final cause is, by affording a trial to faith, to give it also the opportunity of being ‘approved’.” 1 Even St. Paul warned that heresies must occur. He said, “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” 2

Perhaps at this point we should define heresy. In the earliest uses it meant primarily the work of schismatic or divisive teachers within in the Church. But by the writing of Peter’s second epistle, heresy had come to mean the false teachings of these schismatic or divisive teachers. This is the meaning which has persisted to the present day. Peter calls their teaching,”damnable heresies.” 3

But even in the Old Testament, God warned Israel that false teachers would arise and that the whole point was to test Israel’s faithfulness to God’s Law. Moses wrote, “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” 4 This means that just because a leader is attractive this is no guarantee that he is led by God. New ideas from inspiring people may sound good, but we must judge them by whether or not they are consistent with God’s Word.

Throughout the history of the Church, heresies have forced us to formulate more clearly what we mean to say by the terminology we employ. In the first four centuries of the Church, the heresies of Marcion, Arius, Paul of Samosata, Nestorius, Eutyches, Sabellius and Pelagius drew forth from the early Fathers the great Creeds of Nicaea, Constantinople and the definition of Chalcedon. During the Reformation era, the Remostrants prompted the synod of Dort. This is perhaps one of the greatest services of heresy for the true Church: it forces us to think clearly. We are required by the exigencies of the situations to declare the whole counsel of God not in an “uncertain sound.” 5 One thinks of the great Councils of Nicaea, Orange and Dordt as examples of this process. When error encroaches upon the Church, the Lord raises up an Athanasius, a Prosper, a Luther, a Calvin or a Voetius to help the Church more clearly define what she means by the terms she uses.

This method has always been an effective remedy for dealing false teaching. But since the Enlightenment, men in general have become increasingly relativistic in their view of truth. Unfortunately, this has trickled down into the church as well. Therefore, since the onslaught of Liberalism in the late 1890’s the Church has lost her ability to effectively put down heresy.

No plainer example of this fact exists than the Pentecostal movement and the Charismatic Movement in particular. The Pentecostal movement began a little over 100 years ago in a small church on Asuza Street in downtown Los Angeles. Many of the key leaders of the “revival,” including its primary leader, William Seymour, were adherents of the “apostolic faith” 6 theology, which is pure Sabellianism. Apostolics are known by such names as “Oneness,” and “Jesus Only,” because of their denial of the Trinity in three Persons. They adhere to the Sabellian doctrine that the three are really One Person manifesting Himself in three distinct modes.

The Pentecostal movement lived under the disapproval of mainstream Christianity until the late 1960’s when Dennis Bennett (1917-1991), an Episcopal priest in Van Nuys, California was “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” and began to speak in “tongues.” From there, the Charismatic Movement has spread like wildfire throughout the globe. But surely water cannot rise higher than its source. And surely God cannot condone error. But this is what the Pentecostals and Charismatics would have us believe. If this movement is genuine, then God is in fact endorsing Sabellianism, post-biblical revelations, Buddhistic mind-over-matter “faith,” and even image-worship (the Charismatic movement has spread to the Roman Catholic Church and its equally idolatrous sister, the Greek Orthodox Church). 7

All accounts of heresy and its counterpart polemic since the days of Irenaeus to the present, have given us six main characteristics of heresy, all of which can be seen in the dark from a thousand miles away in the Charismatic Movement. They are:
1. Novelty,
2. Mystical experiences as a source of post-biblical revelation,
3. Mystical interpretations of Scripture,
4. Disregard for and/or belittling of Scripture,
5. Unverifiable claims, and
6. Intimidation of those with opposing views.

God willing,tomorrow we will begin dealing with these marks of heresy in the presented order.

1. Tertullian - The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 1. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3
2. 1Corinthians 11:19
3. 2 Peter 2:1
4. Deuteronomy 13:1 – 4
5. 1 Corinthians 14:8
6. Seymour went to Charles F. Parham’s Bible school. Parham was the founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement
7. Another feature of Pentecostalism, and its daughter the Charismatic Movement, is the prominence of women in positions of authority. Both camps speak strongly of interpreting Scripture literally, but they resort to exegetical gymnastics when they interpret Paul’s prohibition against women preaching. Many of the leaders of the Azusa Street revival were women. Seymour was actually replaced by a woman, Jennie Evans Moore, as senior pastor of his church when he died. Moore held this position until 1936. If we hold to the position that women should not preach, we must assume that theological error is endemic in their teaching, because they are disobedient to Scripture in this case, in the first place. A short survey of Church History confirms this. In most of the heretical movements from those of Paul of Samosata, to Arius, to Montanus, women have been prominent figures. Surely this is not without significance.

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