Dec 112017
 

Essentials

Irenaeus of Lyon

Against Heresies

Even the title is frightening – Against Heresies.  Today, we either don’t like talking about something being heretical or, conversely, we love using the term “heresy” about anything that differs from our particular theological, denominational or confessional opinion. 

 

There seems to be little middle ground.  Maybe this goes back to the original meaning of the “heresy” which comes from the Greek word meaning to choose or to make a choice.  In the early Church the term was used for those who had “chosen” not to follow the teaching of the Church as it was revealed in Scripture and handed down in the apostolic tradition and to those who had chosen to physically separate themselves from the fellowship of the Christian community.   Moreover, the term seems to be specifically reserved, at least in the first five centuries, for those who had chosen, in one way or another, to deny the full reality of the Incarnation – that is, that Christ was fully God and fully human. 

It is in Irenaeus of Lyon that we first see all these elements brought together in an attempt to refute those who had chosen another way.

Irenaeus was born just after the turn of the second century (c. 115) in Smyrna (Asia Minor). From his own account, we know that he came under the tutelage of the local bishop, Polycarp, who had been a disciple of the Apostle John (Adv. haer. III, 3,4) It was from Polycarp that Irenaeus imbibed the Johannine tradition.  It appears that in due time he made his way to Rome and, by 177, to Lyons in Gaul (present day France) where he was a presbyter in that community which was experiencing severe persecution. He is known to have carried a letter to church in Rome from those awaiting martyrdom in Lyons. It is thought that the letter urged toleration toward the Montanist sect, which while being thought heterodox, was apparently not considered heretical – and this from people facing martyrdom for their faith. Upon his return, Irenaeus became the bishop of the Christian community in Lyons, eventually passing from the scene in the late second century.

It was during his time in Lyons that Irenaeus wrote Against Heresies. Now, this work is slightly longer than the other texts we have encountered, but not by a great deal.  It is divided up thematically into five books containing a total of 36 chapters, each chapter being only a few paragraphs in length.  It can be easily read in the course of one or two evenings.

The heresy with which Irenaeus is concerned in this treatise is Gnosticism.  Christian Gnosticism in the early centuries is a field of study unto itself and it is beyond the scope of this small article to provide a comprehensive overview.  There are numerous monographs, some popular, some scholarly, that are available.  A good introduction to the field is Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels (1979) which provides a popular approach to the movement and the related Nag Hammadi manuscripts.  Essentially, Gnosticism promoted a “spiritual” approach to the life of Christ and many of the sayings found in the Gospels and the Pauline epistles.  Arising out of an amalgam of Platonic thought, non-rabbinic Jewish sects and early Christian splinter groups, Gnostics believed that the material world was the creation of a lesser god and therefore to be rejected, ignored or thought inconsequential (depending on the group in question). This was also the case with humanity, except that each person had trapped within them a “divine spark” which only “secret knowledge” (gnosis) could liberate, thereby making a person truly “spiritual”.  For Christian Gnostics, this meant that the Scriptures were filled with secret meanings that only the enlightened would discover.  Owing to their view of the physical creation as the creation of a lesser emanation or god, Gnostics in some sects were ascetics (rejecting the creation) while others were libertines (counting the creation of no importance).  The Docetists of Ignatius’ time who rejected the physical nature of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, may well have been an early gnostic sect.  This denial of the physical, the embrace of secret knowledge and the rejection of the created order has remained with us in many Christian circles through the centuries down to the present day, in lesser or greater degrees.

In his five little books, Irenaeus speaks directly to the Gnostics of his day, but also speaks to us through the centuries, to many of the issues of our own day.  In Book 1, he refutes the Gnostic position by the use of reason; in Book 2, he gives a brief history of Gnosticism and the traits by which it may be recognized; in Book 3, he refutes Gnosticism by appealing to the handing down of the teaching of the Apostles through the tradition of the Church; in Book 4, he cites the saying of Jesus himself in the Gospels in an open, rather than secret, manner; in Book 5 he provides a view of things to come and his own eschatological views.

Now, Irenaeus is important for many reasons.  Firstly, he openly embraces the use of both faith and reason.  While faith (rather than secret knowledge) was the only way to attain true salvation, reason could be used to appropriate and to understand  what has been communicated to us through faith, such as the Gospels and the traditions handed down to the Church from the apostles.  No secret tradition or knowledge could supersede the revelation given to the Church and handed down in its open, public and common tradition.  This understanding would later influence Augustine – one believes in order to understand – yet reason and faith remain different dimensions of a single reality. Secondly, he openly embraces, and extensively quotes from the emerging canon of Scripture.  Indeed, he quotes from every book of the New Testament apart from Philemon, II Peter, III John, and Jude.  Moreover, he indicates knowing of at least one false Gospel – the Gospel of Truth – which he considers heretical. Finally, Irenaeus “sets the bar” for what would be seen as heretical in the centuries to come – the rejection of the physical nature of the Incarnation and, thus, the faith of the Church.

In the centuries to come, this would inform the issues which the Church would address. Essentially it is about the manner in which God, in Christ, is present in the world and the Church.  Now, most of us will hold to the Ecumenical Creeds.  We will accept the outcome of the Arian controversy and confess that Christ is of one substance with the Father.  We will accept the outcome of the Monophysite controversy, settled at Chalcedon, that there are two natures in the person of Christ, human and divine.

We will accept the conclusion of the later Monothelite controversy, that indeed Christ possessed a human and divine will.  We will even accept (at least most of us) the earlier conclusion of the Council of Ephesus that Mary may be called, Theotokos, (the “God-bearer”) not merely to honor her, but to emphasize the reality of the Incarnation. The overarching theme of Irenaeus is that Christ is not only fully present in the Incarnation, he is fully present in the Eucharist (Adv. haer. V, 2).  Yet, not only is he present in the Eucharist, he is present in the apostolic tradition and teaching of the Church (Adv. haer. III, 3)

That is, he is present in the Church itself as a real and physical manifestation of Christ’s presence among us. I have come to believe that to deny Christ’s presence in the Church is, in some sense, to deny his Incarnation or, perhaps as bad, like the Gnostics, to spiritualize what “Church” and/or Christ’s presence really means.

When we relegate “Church” to an amorphous spiritual entity that we say we belong to, but that we never engage in on a real, physical basis, I believe we are verging on heresy.  In my reading of the Fathers of the Church, if one were to say that, “I’m a Christian, but I am not a part of a body of believers”, they would most likely consider you  to be in grave error, or perhaps a Gnostic, but almost certainly verging on heresy, if, in fact, not a heretic already.   We are very good at quoting the promise that Christ will be with us “always, even to the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20), but look at the context… Christ is talking to “them”… the Church.  Almost every promise of Christ’s presence is related to the Church.  “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).  The Book of Acts is about the Church.  The Pauline epistles are to churches – real, physical, communities of believers in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus and the rest.  Even in the Book of Revelation it is, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia…” (Rev. 1:4).  It is inescapable.  

Now, the obvious question will arise, “Are you saying I can’t be a Christian without being part of a church?” 

Ultimately, only God can answer that question.  What I will say, is that one does not find it in Scripture, the Church Fathers, the Nicene Creed (“We believe…”) or the tradition of the Church. The Apostles Creed, used at baptism, of course says, “I believe”, but that is used as a profession of individual faith as one enters, yes, the Church. Indeed, without “spiritualizing” either the nature of conversion, the meaning of baptism, the presence of Christ, or the concept of what “Church” means, it is very difficult to make sense of a Christian apart from a body of believers.

For those of us who live in the post-apostolic age, who are not “eyewitnesses of his glory”, the Church is the place of the Incarnation.  It is the place of Christ’s continuing physical presence among us – the physical act of baptism, the physical act of chrismation, the physical presence of fellow Christians, the physical movement through the Church year, the physical act of hearing the Gospel proclaimed, the physical nature of the Eucharist.  This was the case in the early Church, the medieval Church and the Reformation Church.  Today, however, we have, as a society and as Christians, embraced the modern, secular, post-Enlightenment idea of “the individual” and personal choice and fulfillment as being the highest good. In many cases, we have overlaid that secular idea on to Christian faith and life.  In so doing, we have abandoned the historic faith in favor of a self-affirming personalism.

Many have been hurt at one time or another by churches and church leaders.  Sometimes this has been intentional, and at other times it has been unintentional. It is important, however, to realize that there are numerous churches that are providing light and life to those who attend and participate. Yes, we have all witnessed conduct by churches and church leaders that is wholly unacceptable by any standard. I will admit, there are times, in my darker moments, when the American ecclesiastical scene appears to be a vast wasteland of politics (right and left), intolerance and tribalism. Indeed, one has to believe that many church leaders, and some congregants, will face an accounting for what has been done, as well as that which has been left undone.  Yet, the Church is  there and it remains the means by which Christ comes to us in time and space. To make the “choice” to deny it, or spiritualize it, may well be our very own personal modern heresy.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

  126 Responses to ““Essentials” Irenaeus of Lyon by Duane Arnold, PhD”

  1. I think this is fascinating…and really worth wrestling with.

    It comes down to ecclesiology…what is the church?

    In Scripture and history it is both spiritual and physical…and it seems that those attributes are inseparable,

  2. #1 Michael

    Indeed. I think, however, we have become so used to the idea that “the Church” is some great floating spiritual cloud somewhere “out there”, that we’ve lost the sense that it is “right here” on the corner, down the street, with real people and, yes, real obligations…

  3. Duane,

    Yes…
    The other issue in view is our doctrine of Incarnation…which I think most people think ended at the Ascension…

  4. #3 Michael

    Yes, I’m afraid many have fallen into a Hallmark card “footprints in the sand” idea – very “spiritual”, but not really what it is about…

    What do you think most Protestants (and some RC) would say about the incarnation in 2017?

  5. Hold on to the rail so you don’t fall down.
    I agree with it all – 🙂

  6. “What do you think most Protestants (and some RC) would say about the incarnation in 2017?”

    It’s the Christmas story and it happened 2000 years ago…without Jesus continuing to be incarnated today in any way…

  7. MLD is in agreement…so a rewrite may be called for. 🙂

    MLD, how would you answer the question of whether one can be a Christian outside the church?

  8. “When spirituality becomes spiritualization, life in the body becomes carnality. When ministers and priests live their ministry mostly in their heads and relate to the Gospel as a set of valuable ideas to be announced, the body quickly takes revenge by screaming loudly for affection and intimacy. Christian leaders are called to live the Incarnation, that is, to live in the body, not only in their own bodies but also in the corporate body of the community, and to discover there the presence of the Holy Spirit.”
    ― Henri J.M. Nouwen,

  9. “Man’s maker was made man that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.”
    ― Augustine of Hippo

  10. Just a second, I’m slipping the pill under my tongue so I don’t fall over from a heart attack…

  11. #8 Michael

    A great quote… and so, so true.

  12. I want to tackle the incarnation question because I agree that most in American Christianity today deny that Jesus is physically present in the church today – let alone the communion supper.
    We will see in the next several weeks as we open the study to Revelation, that although John is seeing a vision, it is a present action vision. John is seeing Jesus walking among his churches. There is nothing spiritual (non physical) in the vision as the description is quite physical. Although the descriptions may be symbolic to an extent, the symbolism is describing a reality.

  13. “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last,and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.”
    (Revelation 1:17–2:1 ESV)

  14. MLD,

    I would concur.
    As Duane and I discussed this article last week before he wrote it, that was one of the first verses that came to mind.

  15. Let me clear about something.

    This is not intended as a condemnation of those believers who are currently unchurched.
    It is an invitation to think again about what the church is and experience a deeper understanding of how God was incarnated and is still present as we gather.

  16. #15 Michael

    Agreed, it is not about condemnation… but it is about reexamination.

  17. My goodness, most of American Christianity would deny that Jesus is present physically? i guess my question would have to be what do you mean by ‘physical?’
    to the woman he (physically) encountered at the well, Jesus said,

    John 4:23 …”But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
    4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

    that said, there is far too much candy and not enough meat being fed to evangelicals today – those who have a heart to follow Him will, however, be blessed by God the Holy Spirit’s presence when the hard times come… at least, that is my hope in the all sufficient and faithful Father

  18. Michael,
    “MLD, how would you answer the question of whether one can be a Christian outside the church?”

    One can have extraordinary circumstances that keep one from being a part of a church. Being in prison in a country that does not allow church services.
    As usual, things come down to not so much what you confess, as you may not know enough to confess something – but it comes down to what you deny. If you are on the refusal end of not going to church, you may have an “am I a Christian issue.”

  19. #18 MLD

    “If you are on the refusal end of not going to church, you may have an “am I a Christian issue.””

    While writing this, I tried to think of any period, pre-Enlightenment, in which this would be acceptable for a professing Christian. I could not come up with anything. I must confess, I think it has much to do with the current dysfunction of many churches as well as the adopting of an individual mindset that says, “I can do it on my own, I don’t need to be a part of a church”. It is a tragedy for the churches as well as for the individuals…

  20. “It’s the Christmas story and it happened 2000 years ago…without Jesus continuing to be incarnated today in any way…”

    How is Jesus now being incarnated?

  21. #20

    “For those of us who live in the post-apostolic age, who are not “eyewitnesses of his glory”, the Church is the place of the Incarnation. It is the place of Christ’s continuing physical presence among us – the physical act of baptism, the physical act of chrismation, the physical presence of fellow Christians, the physical movement through the Church year, the physical act of hearing the Gospel proclaimed, the physical nature of the Eucharist. This was the case in the early Church, the medieval Church and the Reformation Church.”

  22. Hmm. Interesting take. Not that I disagree, not sue that I would consider that Incarnation.
    But we certainly agree that He is present.

  23. #22 Josh

    Since the Incarnation, they are the ways in which he promised his continued presence in a real and physical manner…

  24. Agree. Incarnation on the same level as the manger? Don’t know.

  25. Google today is celebrating Max Born who is quoted as saying, “The belief that there is only one truth, and that oneself is in possession of it, is the root of all evil in the world.”
    Born and Jesus wouldn’t have seen eye to eye… hmmm … maybe, folk who hold this view need to see Jesus…
    i hope as the PhxP teachers examine the history of the Church’s doctrines that this central fact stays central…
    John 14:5 “Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
    14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

    just sayin’ … again

  26. Duane wrote:

    “This denial of the physical, the embrace of secret knowledge and the rejection of the created order has remained with us in many Christian circles through the centuries down to the present day, in lesser or greater degrees.”

    This has been a concern of many of the American version of Christianity. I don’t think the discussion thus far has picked up Duane’s thought sufficiently. Duane, could you give us examples of how Gnosticism manifests itself in the life of many American churches today?

  27. #26 Jean

    To quote Peter Gilquist, there is a physical side of being spiritual. To be specific:

    1. The things that many consider “worldly” – the arts, literature, music, etc. – are considered not to be “spiritual” by many.
    2. In many senses, the varied eschatologies and “prophecy updates” border on the idea of secret knowledge, along with some charismatic practices.
    3.The “I’m more spiritual than you” attitude of some.
    4. “I don’t need the Church, my walk is with Jesus alone” version of Christianity.
    5. The lack of regard for baptism (apart from an “entrance rite”) or the Lord’s Supper comes to mind.
    6. A spirituality that gives scant regard to creation as a matter of stewardship.
    7. Not going to church… and saying, “that’s alright”…

    Have I gotten myself in enough trouble?

  28. Duane,

    I don’t like to walk the plank alone, especially when it’s your article. 🙂

  29. Jean: “I don’t like to walk the plank alone, especially when it’s your article.”

    In this case, the captain will walk the plank as well. ⚓️

  30. To point 7 at Dr. Disney’s comment #27….
    Let me indulge in a little self justification here… or at least explanation… as one who believes that renewing one’s mind is more efficacious to growing and sustaining spiritual health (more so than is partaking of sacraments), I firmly believe in church attendance where teaching is given first place (can be Sunday School). Over the whole of my years as a Christian, church attendance, learning and fellowship were always of prime importance. While I am not attending one now, if I lived in town I would be… although running the gauntlet of useless, or worse, fellowships doesn’t sound appealing, the quest is still necessary… easier for the Lutes and Anglicans and orthodoxes, and such i guess… dunno

  31. Duane, Michael, MLD, Em, Josh and Jean,
    Great discussion. So much meat to chew on. Unfortunately, I’m afraid teaching along these lines, among those with whom I fellowship, would be met not with the sound of Amens, but with the sound of crickets.

  32. 😣 😁 😠 it did it again and I that I had watched for for the gremlin in the Amazon pad…
    Sorry Dr. Duane … It’s hard to hold a thot and watch this thing “correct” my typing…
    Some are outrageously funny – wish I’d kept a list…

  33. Em, Dr. Disney!! 😁

  34. You folks walking the plank do realize that the last step leaves the boat and leaves you all wet? LOL (where’d they get those planks, BTW? )

  35. Aye aye – Captain… 😀 my apology jumped in ahead, I guess

  36. I don’t think I’ve been consigned to a pirate ship… yet.

  37. You can narrow down your list til we’re all Gnostics or Heretics in someone’s eye. Depends on how far back you want to go.Not too concerned about those charges.

    Adding church attendance as some sort of work necessary for salvation doesn’t sit well with me. We need each other, for sure. I don’t think there will be growth outside of some sort of community, but can one be a Christian and not attend church services? Absolutely.

    You’d have to also define what a church is. If I am the church, do I attend church, or is church where I am? Could I meet with a couple of brothers in a coffee shop for prayer and call that church? Could I lead my family in bible study? Is that church? I’ve got a feeling when we start describing the necessary kind of church service needed for salvation…it will look a lot like your preferred church service.

    By all means, find a good church and go there. You will grow, but staying home won’t stop Jesus from loving you.

  38. “…but staying home won’t stop Jesus from loving you.”

    No, but in the end it will probably keep you from loving Jesus given enough time.

    Interesting you left out the sacraments in your various scenarios.

  39. Good points Josh

  40. Dr. Arnold
    Could you publish a list of suggested readings on the early church fathers.I’m acquiring an interest in the subject.

  41. #37 Josh

    “Adding church attendance as some sort of work necessary for salvation doesn’t sit well with me.”

    Let me be clear, it is not “necessary”, but it is a part of the ongoing work of salvation. All the examples you cite, meeting in a coffee shop, Bible study, etc., may indeed be “church” of some sort. But I will disagree with you that Church is where I am… unless, of course, you are Christ.

    I will repeat, and a bit more strongly, I think that the idea of an amorphous, spiritualized “Church” that is somehow “out there” in the ether is probably a prevalent modern heresy. You cannot find it in Scripture. You cannot find it in the tradition of the Church. You cannot find it in the theology of those accepted by the Church (East and West) through the centuries. Every promise that I can find of Christ’s presence is addressed not to an individual, but to a collective – the Church. While our salvation is individual, it is within the context of other believers – the Church. The idea of the singular individual being able to say, “I am the Church” is, on its face, completely foreign to Scripture, tradition and reason. If you can find something that makes this assertion, I’d be glad to look at it.

  42. “But I will disagree with you that Church is where I am… unless, of course, you are Christ.”

    I am not Christ, but I have the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. He will never leave me or forsake me. I have the promise of His presence in the bad times and good, in a group, or in a closet. He is with me.

    “spiritualized “Church” that is somehow “out there” ”

    Not “out there”, but “in here”. Big difference.

    “but to a collective – the Church”

    That collective is spread out across the world and across all time.

  43. #43 Josh

    So, the Church is in you? I always thought we were one part of a Body…

    Sorry, Josh, we’re going to have to agree to disagree. This, indeed, was my point about “spiritualizing” the meaning of “Church”. I don’t see it in Scripture, tradition or the mainstream theological reflection of the centuries. Is Christ in you… yes. Does that make you as an individual the Church… no.

  44. Now, note that I am not saying that people should stay away from assembling together, only that it does not affect their salvation. The question was can you be a Christian without attending church, to which I answer: yes, obviously. How effective will you be? How much will you grow in your relationship with the Lord? Those are legit questions. Church attendance being somehow required for salvation is not.

    Were I to build a biblical argument, I would start with 1 Corinthians 3:16.
    “Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you?”

    Then I would establish that the church is a universal body spread across time and distance, rather than a local gathering: Ephesians 2:19–22
    “So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together f by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.”

    Umm, this could get long. I’ll stop there and wait for response.

  45. “So, the Church is in you?”

    You asked if I was Jesus, saying that I could say “I am the church” if that were true.
    I answered that I am not Jesus but HE is in me.

    I think you are purposefully obfuscating.

  46. Josh,

    It is an ontological, textual and historical question. You are saved as an individual. What does that salvation entail? Is it in isolation? You are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. Concurrently, you are baptized into a community of faith. What is the result of individual salvation in Scripture? Becoming part of the community of faith by means of that salvation. We then look to Scripture for the means by which Christ is present and it is in the gathering of believers. Then we look to the apostolic and post-apostolic practice and understanding of the Scripture and the direct teaching of the Apostles and we find the Church.

    It is only when we reach the Enlightenment (or deal with heresies like the Gnostics) that we encounter the “lone ranger” Christian.

    “The question was can you be a Christian without attending church…” Yes, but it is abnormal and drives an artificial division into what it means to be a Christian. Note, the passage in Ephesians is expressed in the plural, not the singular…

  47. #46 Josh

    And if He is in you, is it in isolation? The Scripture that we value arises out of the Church. You do not baptize yourself (there’s an interesting question…) someone else baptizes you in the stead of Christ… Not trying to obfuscate, just trying to clarify.

  48. “The question was can you be a Christian without attending church…” Yes, but it is abnormal and drives .”

    Yes, I agree.

  49. Speaking of “Lone Ranger” Christians, where do the Desert Fathers and other ascetics fit into this?

  50. I should point out a strange irony:

    A few days ago we have an article asking if one must even confess Christ to be saved.

    Now we have an article implying one must confess Christ AND attend a local church meeting to be saved.

    And if we are being honest, we are talking about a very specific type of local congregation. Look back at pasts # 26 and 27. We often say we are writing for the readers who do not comment, but those posts are using code to get around saying things.

    For those reading along, I’ll translate a couple of those points. Jean picked up that Duane was wanting to accuse some of the Gnostic heresy. Jean didn’t want to do it himself, as he has often made it very clear in the past and has been reprimanded.
    Duane looks to feed Jean a little red meat without out and out calling many of us heretics.
    He posted this list of almost heresies:
    1. The things that many consider “worldly” – the arts, literature, music, etc. – are considered not to be “spiritual” by many.
    2. In many senses, the varied eschatologies and “prophecy updates” border on the idea of secret knowledge, along with some charismatic practices.
    3.The “I’m more spiritual than you” attitude of some.
    4. “I don’t need the Church, my walk is with Jesus alone” version of Christianity.
    5. The lack of regard for baptism (apart from an “entrance rite”) or the Lord’s Supper comes to mind.
    6. A spirituality that gives scant regard to creation as a matter of stewardship.
    7. Not going to church… and saying, “that’s alright”…

    I’m not sure what some of those mean, but #2 and #5 are clear. And Duane can correct me if I am wrong, but Duane wants Jean to know that Dispensationalism and Memorialists are … kind of heretics.

  51. #50 New Victor

    You read my mind this morning! Most of the Desert Fathers were in loosely set communities like that of Pachomius and still acknowledged the leadership of an Abbot or Bishop. As to Simon Stylites… it appears so many religious tourists came to see him on his pillar that he apparently sometimes longed for isolation!

  52. #51 Josh

    I will correct you. As you know, I am not a dispensationalist, but I was actually referring to extreme eschatological schemes (“Jesus has told me he’s returning on Tuesday at 3.30…) which I believe even you abhor. As to #5, yes I hold to a sacramental system, but I believe you have regard for baptism as more than an “entrance rite”. As to the Lord’s Supper, I am very comfortable (apart from debating the theology of presence) in saying it was the normative weekly practice for Christians for centuries. If you can disprove me on this point, please feel free.

    Yes, I think much that advertises itself as “personal spirituality” these days veers dangerously close to Gnosticism. Combined with the post-Enlightenment idea of each person being a law unto themselves, I think it is a dangerous brew…

  53. “As to the Lord’s Supper, I am very comfortable (apart from debating the theology of presence) in saying it was the normative weekly practice for Christians for centuries. If you can disprove me on this point, please feel free.”

    You are absolutely correct. Are you implying that not doing it weekly is close to heresy?

  54. “Inclusivism” is good for the God-denier but not a Brother who worships a different way.

  55. #54 Josh

    Not implying that at all – heresy has to do with the denial of the Incarnation, not differences or abnormalities (mine or yours) in worship.

    Not sure that I mentioned “inclusivism” with regard to anything…

  56. That was Michael on the last Mere Christianity post.

  57. Jean asked:
    “Duane, could you give us examples of how Gnosticism manifests itself in the life of many American churches today?”

    You answered with a list of 7, not having to do with Incarnation denial, but worship practice.

    It’s Ok, you are a nice guy so I won’t hold you to it.

  58. Duane,

    You said that church membership is normative in Scripture and there is no example Christians without church membership. Would you agree that it is unquestionable that both the Old and New Testaments assume that the people of God worship, learn and serve within a church body?

    The only exhortations I am aware of on the necessity of the matter is in Hebrews where the author writes:

    “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some”.

    and

    “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

    Are there others you would point to?

    One of the reasons I’m asking is that if someone were to say: “I don’t need to be a member of a church to be a Christian” then what stops anyone else from saying: “I don’t need to follow this or that command or law of God to be a Christian”?

    Yes Christians are justified by grace through faith, but “faith” in what? If we deny the places Christ has ordained for Christians to receive grace, worship together, serve one another with the gifts God has given them, etc., at some point is faith misplaced? Isn’t that the same issue for would-be Christians who despise other teachings of Scripture?

  59. I appreciate your boldness and questions Josh. I am a both/and inclusivist. That makes me a heretic among some here, I know.

  60. “I don’t need to follow this or that command or law of God to be a Christian”?

    There is a law that people have to follow to be Christians?!?!

  61. Thanks JoelG – I value clarity.

  62. I don’t think people who avoid church understand church. Even if you do not go because you are housebound, pestered by anxiety, think the people next to you stink or sing off key – the church still has a purpose and you deny them of that purpose.

    To those who proclaim they no longer go to church, have you set something up with the pastors and or deacons to come to you each week, every other week – to come into your home, read and discuss a Bible passage with you, pray with you, help you to pray with and for others and most of all to serve the Eucharist? If not, why?

    I go to a small church 75 – 80 in the summer, 150 – 170 in the winter. We are an older congregation – I am 68 and considered part of the youth group. But we have besides the pastor, 2 deacons, 1 seminary trained deaconess, and 3 retired pastors who make the house calls, hospital and hospice visits.

    My experience – most people gone from church 1 yr have a very light touch still on their Christian faith – 5 years? Gone.

  63. And I hate to keep giving away my good stuff from the Revelation study but check out Jesus in the first 3 chapters – he is not walking among Ralph and Sally, Billy Bob and Aunt Ethel – he is walking among the churches – and lo and behold, these are not just the Church Universal (but they do represent all churches) – but he is walking among specific churches. If you are outside of a specific church, you may be putting yourself outside of what Christ is doing. Just perhaps

  64. I don’t disagree with much of that, if any. Church attendance is a vital part of the Christian life.

  65. “There is a law that people have to follow to be Christians?!?!”

    What does Paul say:

    “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”

    Christians are not saved by works of the law, but we certainly uphold it as God’s eternal and immutable will.

  66. Jean answers:

    “I don’t need to follow this or that command or law of God to be a Christian”

    With:

    “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”

    So you are saying we DO need to follow the law of God to be a Christian?

  67. Picture, for a moment, the Word of God as the Shepherd’s rod and staff. Can an individual objectively wield the rod and staff upon himself as both undershepherd and sheep?

    I would argue no.

  68. Yes, even I as an introvert that despises social gatherings, acknowledges that going to church to hear the Word and receive Communion is vital. As a scattered and broken family we may go twice a month. We should do our best to get there. That’s all one can do.

  69. So you are saying we DO need to follow the law of God to be a Christian?

  70. Josh, can you be a Christian if you do not keep the first commandment?

  71. Josh,

    If someone walks into your church and says he doesn’t like the commandment about adultery, and since he’s under grace, says it’s not binding on him, and therefore has affairs regularly. Would you baptize him, commune him, give him church membership, say he can be a Christian?

  72. Just back… I’ll answer in sequence.

    #58 Josh

    I will say that many of these practices are tinged with a denial of the Incarnation, by a matter of degrees, not absolute denial.

  73. #59 Jean

    I’ll quote from the article:
    In my reading of the Fathers of the Church, if one were to say that, “I’m a Christian, but I am not a part of a body of believers”, they would most likely consider you to be in grave error, or perhaps a Gnostic, but almost certainly verging on heresy, if, in fact, not a heretic already. We are very good at quoting the promise that Christ will be with us “always, even to the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20), but look at the context… Christ is talking to “them”… the Church. Almost every promise of Christ’s presence is related to the Church. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). The Book of Acts is about the Church. The Pauline epistles are to churches – real, physical, communities of believers in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus and the rest. Even in the Book of Revelation it is, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia…” (Rev. 1:4). It is inescapable.

    Everything that we know in Scripture, tradition and theological reflection points to the centrality of a real and physical community of faith. Some people can’t see the forest for the trees.

  74. #61 Josh

    I don’t consider fellowship with a church to be a law, it is simply to be a reality… If you’re alive, you breathe, if you don’t breathe, you die…

  75. Just top be clear, you are saying we DO need to follow the law of God to be a Christian?

  76. #69 Joel

    I hear you. We often have to do the best we can.

  77. Duane – The question about law is specifically to Jean, unless you agree that one needs to follow the law to be a Christian.

  78. #76 Josh

    If that is directed to me, of course not.

  79. Duane @ 73 – I offered to let you off the hook on that one. Do you just want to come out and name the heretics by name?

  80. @ 79 – It seems Jean disagrees.

  81. OK – for those who, in my mind, wish to “spiritualize” the nature of the Church, a few questions:

    1. Can you baptize yourself, if not, why not?

    2. A couple comes to your fellowship. They are living together. They tell you that they have made vows to each other privately and are “spiritually married”. Your reply?

    3. A gay couple comes to your fellowship and says they have been legally married, made vows before God and a group of their friends. They say their marriage is legal and spiritual. And you say?

    4. You take communion on your own. Is it legitimate? Then what about the old RCC idea of private Masses?

  82. #80 Josh

    To quote a great theologian, one must make their own application…

  83. “OK – for those who, in my mind, wish to “spiritualize” the nature of the Church, a few questions”

    I think “those” is just me, and I haven’t spiritualized the nature of the church. But I’ll take a crack at your questions in a minute.

  84. #84 Josh

    Nope, it is for all and sundry… I don’t do ad hominem, you’re too nice a guy…

  85. “Then what about the old RCC idea of private Masses?”

    Being divorced and remarried I couldn’t join the Catholic Church, even being repentant. So I need to hope for Grace outside that church or go to one that will accept me.

    The idea of private masses sticks in my craw.

  86. #86 Joel

    I have a problem with private masses as well… For me it is a denial, at least in some sense, about what communion is supposed to be at its essence.

  87. I recall reading years ago that Mel Gibson had a private chapel built on his Santa Barbara or Malibu estate, so that he could have private pre-Vatican II Mass held there for him.

  88. Jean

    Yep.

    The reason I asked the questions in #82 is to point out that we make judgements on a regular basis about the nature of Church, the local community of faith, Scripture, tradition, etc., but we do it for those “outside our comfort zones” and we tend not to apply the same judgements, using the same tools, to our own practices…

  89. When Duane first sent me this article my flesh instantly rebelled.
    This is because, as I’ve stated before, if I didn’t pastor a church I would stay home.
    My theology and practice is at odds with the vast majority of what is available in churches in my area.
    I also worship the god of my independence as if it is what gives me life.
    Having thought about this piece for a week before you folks read it, I have no biblical argument to bring against it.
    Indeed, if you read Paul, local church attendance is assumed and if you read 1 Cor 12, it’s necessary.
    From Moses to Revelation, God inhabits the gathering of His people.
    There is so much more to the Christian life and Christian theology than personal salvation…and ecclesiology is a neglected area of study…in my opinion, of course.

  90. Duane, I’ll tackle your first question.
    1. Can you baptize yourself, if not, why not?
    ___________________________________________________________________
    Does your question assumes baptismal regeneration? If it does then I would say baptizing yourself makes sense if there is no one else around and its urgent before you die. Otherwise, this is completely silly and off the charts and makes absolutely no sense to baptize yourself. Of course you can do it in your bathtub. Its not a matter of whether you can or not but whether you should.

  91. “if you read 1 Cor 12, it’s necessary”

    Necessary for what?

  92. #91 Steve

    I agree, but the next question follows – why is it silly, off the charts and makes absolutely no sense?

  93. Hey Robert Duvall baptized himself in “The Apostle”. 😉

    This is a tough lesson for those that have been hurt by Pastors or other Christians. Or for those, like me, that sometimes think fellow believers have less grace for others than the common unbeliever. I know this has been acknowledged but I want to repeat it. But this lesson is good and needed. I need to have as much grace for those I think have as much grace as a rock as much as anybody else. I just need a stick to bite down on when gathered with them. 😉

  94. #90 Michael

    First of all, thank you. Secondly you remember my question to you as I laid it out… “Am I crazy?”

    For myself, I can only go where the evidence leads. I see what is in Scripture, the Creeds, the tradition and then try to make sense of it all. I have now spent about 40 years studying Church history with a special emphasis on the Fathers and the Creeds. I simply cannot walk away from the importance and priority of the Church and church life…

  95. Its not really that silly though if you believe in baptismal regeneration which I know MLD is a firm believer in. I’m on the fence with that doctrine.

  96. Josh,

    I’m assuming that if this subject matters to someone that they are”saved” by whatever way that is defined by the person.

    What then?

    The following seems to indicate that unless they are part of a functional gathering that not only are they going to be off kilter, but the whole Body is.

    “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
    For the body does not consist of one member but of many.If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.If all were a single member, where would the body be?As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
    The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
    (1 Corinthians 12:12–26 ESV)

  97. #94 Joel

    The old joke – if it wasn’t for the waters on the outside of the Ark, Noah could never have stood the smell on the inside…

  98. Duane,

    I think it appropriate to inform the readers that when you sent me this you did not do so as if you were speaking from Sinai…we wrestled separately and together over this.

    We were both cognizant of the fact that many of our readers came out of abusive church situations.

    “I simply cannot walk away from the importance and priority of the Church and church life…”

    I think many of us have…and at least for me, it’s something I need to remedy.

  99. #99 Michael

    Indeed…

  100. Over the past 50 years of my adult life I have had great disappointment in grocery stores – poor quality foods, ever increasing prices, switch and bait on sales, selling outdated products just to keep their profits up – rude checkout people and dirty stores. For some reason, I have not withdrawn from going weekly to a grocery store.
    Why? I still need to be feed. The same reason I go to church no mater the internal obstacles.

  101. MLD,

    You and I would define what the food is that we’re feeding on differently than Josh would…and that might be the core of our differences.

    If I lost our church I would probably have to go to the local RC church for a while…the Lutherans wouldn’t commune me… 🙂

  102. The RCC wouldn’t commune you either.
    But their is a solution as no one wants to rope off the table.
    Come to your senses and confess what the supper truly is. 🙂

  103. In traveling, I’ve often been in places or situations in which church options are limited. As a result I’ve been with RCs, French Reformed, English Congregationalists, Welsh Baptists, Polish Lutherans, Calvary Chapels and more that I can’t recall.

    What was important for me, was to be in a place and time with fellow believers worshipping.

  104. Michael at 96 – Completely agree.

  105. sometimes reading these threads is much like the conversations that i’ve had at my front door with the JWs (they will engage as long as you’ll let them)… 🙂
    the young Mormon fellows say their piece and they’re done for the most part

    persistence in proving our doctrines, getting in the last word on the subject… sometimes we lose Christ in the conversation… sigh…

  106. The main article also spoke a little about the 2 natures in Christ. I wonder how often we see this violated. It’s Christmas time – what the heck.

    I was singing along to Away in the Manger on my walk this morning and this verse jumped out of me as I thought – did I just sing a heresy?

    “The cattle are lowing the baby awakes
    But little lord jesus no crying he makes.
    I love you lord jesus; look down from the sky
    And stay by my side until morning is nigh

    Was the baby Jesus not a human baby? Did he not cry or did he not have a human reason to cry? Hungry? Need a diaper change?

    Just some of the things that roll around in my head. 🙂

  107. Outside of the patristic period, the best book of the two natures of Christ is:

    Martin Chemnitz, “The Two Natures of Christ” trans. by JAO Preus

    Brew a great deal of coffee for this one…

  108. Snoozer? 🙂

  109. Josh

    It’s really, really good. Chemnitz really had a grasp on Chalcedon. Jack Preus’ translation is really accurate. He was one of the best Latinists around. Tom Torrance told me that Preus could read a Latin text like we read the newspaper! That said, the text is dense and long. Like I said, lots of coffee!

  110. This is a good though exercise offered by Duane, so I’m thinking through these. Others should give it a shot:

    1. Can you baptize yourself, if not, why not?

    As baptism is a public profession, a sign of identification with Christ and a local assembly, and imitating Christ who was baptized by someone else, no , it doesn’t make sense to baptize yourself.

    2. A couple comes to your fellowship. They are living together. They tell you that they have made vows to each other privately and are “spiritually married”. Your reply?

    Sorry, but you are living in sin. I would seek to instruct them on marriage from a Biblical, Christian point of view.

    3. A gay couple comes to your fellowship and says they have been legally married, made vows before God and a group of their friends. They say their marriage is legal and spiritual. And you say?

    The response from above partially applies, but is definitely murked up because their marriage is legal. I would explain to them where are definitions of marriage disagree, then I would invite them to keep coming back and try to make friends with them.

    4. You take communion on your own. Is it legitimate? Then what about the old RCC idea of private Masses?

    Legitimate? Yes, could be. Why are you taking it on your own? I guess like sin, this would be more of a heart issue than a practical issue. IF you are stuck on an island by yourself and serving yourself communion to remember the work of Christ and to be joined together with Him and all the saints from all times, I’d say that is totally legit. If you are taking it yourself because you don’t like the pastor down the street, I’d guess you are just having a snack.

  111. Duane, may I offer up for those not ready to pay the $100 for the book or willing to read the 600 pages, try this
    Rod Rosenbladt’s 21 Vimeo lectures on Chemnitz’s work

    https://vimeo.com/channels/christology

  112. #112 MLD

    Of course, but the book is better 🙂
    I think there is a Kindle edition out, if I remember correctly.

  113. #111 Josh

    No. 1 Church
    No. 2 And where and why would you suggest a “real” marriage, rather than a “spiritual” marriage?
    No. 3 Again in what context would you explain a “definition” of marriage?
    No. 4 Yes, the context is a community of faith, unless you’re on the desert island. Once again, Church…

  114. @114 – No beef with any of that. Again, I’m not arguing that anyone should stay away from church. It is vital to the Christian life. Your questions demonstrate some of that vitality.

  115. MLD – Does the film version have comic relief, like say, Jar Jar Binks?

  116. Josh – I know its not a Charles Stanley talk, but it’s pretty good. 😉

  117. Ya know, Charles Stanley is full on royalty around here. My pastor and every decent pastor I know can quote him on any passage in the bible. Luther Rice is mainly know because he went there, and he has been very good to the school in the years since.

    I’ve never listened to one full sermon by him.

  118. Duane @ 94

    “The old joke – if it wasn’t for the waters on the outside of the Ark, Noah could never have stood the smell on the inside…”

    Part of that “smell” is me. On one hand I demand grace from fellow believers. On the other I exclude myself because, hey, I’m a sinner. Forgiving those I think are graceless is extremely difficult but necessary to be part of His Church. Sigh….

  119. JOel, I’m sure you know but its always good to be reminded: Jesus loves you as you are, not as you should be. You are accepted, right now. There are no hoops to jump through. Jesus did all of that.

  120. #115 Josh

    I think, perhaps, it’s an issue of teaching. In past years the local church was “assumed”. We assumed that when baptized (your tradition or mine) it would be within the context of a community of faith. The same with marriage. The same with communion (your tradition or mine). I don’t believe we can make those assumptions any longer. Many are convinced of their own “spirituality” without any reference to a community of faith, and the secular culture encourages that manner of thinking. “So, why are your church vows superior to the vows we made in private” (I’ve had these conversations). It’s just a step away from, “I’m spiritual and I can interpret the Bible according to my own spirituality”, which we’ve all heard.

    I don’t think we are making, much less winning, the theological argument for the value and importance of a local community of faith. Not wanting to reignite an argument here, but the issue with “The Shack” was one of “this is my spirituality” and “it was meaningful to me”. It all becomes a subjective spirituality, not far removed from the Gnostics.

    Unfortunately, as we know, there are many churches and church leaders who, by their conduct, have made it harder to make the argument for the value of a community of faith. If, however, local churches are going to survive and make a difference in people’s lives, it is an argument that need to be made… at least in my opinion.

  121. Thank you Josh I can’t hear that enough.

    This is an important lesson for many of us “outsiders”. I tend to hang on to resentments from the past which are rooted in fear and try to avoid those situations again. But I need to not prejudge and assume the worst out of brothers and sisters in Christ and keep intentional distances.

    Just pondering these things in light of these lessons…

  122. @ 121 – Duane, agreed.

    Hang in there Joel!

  123. There is a lot of dissonance emerging on the blog over doctrine and practice.

    Multiple and conflicting arguments are being made, sometimes by the same person, but also within the diversity of opinion.

    Are they two sides of the same coin or not?

    Can you have one correct without the other being correct?

    Does one naturally follow the other.

    Most people know where I stand, and that I made personal adjustments when I realized this issue.

  124. Jean

    I’m afraid you’ll have to be a bit more explicit…

  125. Jean,

    Give us an example.

    We are going to have conflicts as we do not all agree on what is sound doctrine and practice beyond the essentials.

    Agreement on the essentials make us family…

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