Welcome to Becomning Closer! 

Second Peter (new series)


Lesson Audio

    The well educated reader must be offered an apology: this is by no means a solid theology course session on heresies. It in fact can offer little more than a survey of heresies ancient and modern, with but the following justification:

  1. We hope to dispel the notion that “it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.” It does matter. There is a right answer.
  2. We also plan to show that what you believe does in fact affect the life of the ordinary Christian on a daily basis.
  3. Finally, to the extent possible, we intend to demonstrate that heresy is not some ancient problem, but a modern one.

    Heresies: the Divinity of Christ

    A couple of ancient heresies:



    The Nestorians (somewhat like the Arians, below) believed that Jesus Christ had two separate natures:

  5. One was the gentle Jesus, friend of the sinner – a human nature.
  6. The other was Christ – the stern God of the Old Testament.
  7. Their prime question was, “How could God be a three day old baby?” But see the consequences of this belief: if this is so, how can God (the Christ part) understand my human deficiencies? Jesus might, but God can’t – and therefore I need to appease the Christ while I applaud the Jesus. I’m still dealing with God at arms length. What does that do to your prayer life?



    This heresy holds that Christ is separate and less than God. He is not an eternal being, but the highest of created beings. (This is a central belief in Mormonism). Jesus had a human soul, but this was replaced by the Logos when Christ entered into him.

    If this is so, how can Christ connect us with God? How can he forgive – if he is not God, he is not the one morally offended when we sin?


    The truth is simple: Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, is, always was, and always will be God. I may not be able to explain how, but I know it’s the truth.



    Heresies: the Humanity of Christ

    OK, if his divinity pleases you, what about his humanity? Was he really human like us?



    This heresy holds that Christ’s humanity is somehow different from our humanity. It’s therefore held that he couldn’t really suffer the way we do; in fact, his actions just before the Cross are held to be some sort of “example only.” But this has its consequences:

  8. If he’s really not like us, how could we possibly be expected to follow his example?
  9. If he didn’t really suffer, is the atonement real? And are we really saved?


    Didn’t like that last one? This variant holds that he really did have a human body like ours, and emotions like ours, but his mind was purely divine. In other words, he wasn’t really tempted like we are – for how could anyone tempt God? So any record of his being tempted was simply play-acting for our benefit, then. Which, of course, means that he is again not to be used as an example for withstanding temptation. (Which quickly degenerates into the only response to temptation is giving in to it.)



    You have to have a little help to fall for this one. It’s a Gnostic heresy – the kind that comes with a special revelation only to the chosen few, those in the know (hence Gnostic). This one says that Christ only appeared to have a human body – it was really just an illusion. Which means:

  11. There’s no sense imitating an illusion.
  12. Illusions don’t suffer and die; therefore there is no atonement.
  13. There is therefore no salvation.
  14. There is thus no way that those of us who aren’t illusory bodies could ever be resurrected from the dead.


    Heresies: The Nature of Sin

    Sometimes the error isn’t about Christ, but about the fundamental nature of man, or sin, or judgment, or matter. Here are three that concern the nature of sin:


    Sin and grace: Antinomianism

    (Anti = against; noma = law). This is one which is commonly thrown around as an accusation against other denominations. It can be argued that the Christian is not under the law, but grace. Therefore, the Christian need not obey any laws of morality – everything’s permissible, right? But hear the common form:

  16. “When I sin, God increases his grace and forgives me.”
  17. “Therefore, by sinning, I cause God’s grace to increase.”
  18. “More of God’s grace is a good thing.”
  19. “Therefore, as long as I believe, it’s better to do what I please than to try to follow God’s laws.”
  20. You can see this can go both ways. Augustine put it, “Love God – and do as you please.” That’s the correct view; you don’t follow laws once your heart follows God. But often we have heard this as justification!

    (This is sometimes summed up by “God will forgive me; it’s his hobby, you know.”)


    Original Sin: Pelagianism

    Pelagianism is a happy view. It holds that there is no original sin, or, more commonly put, that people are basically good. Therefore, moral perfection is obtainable in this life by man’s efforts alone. Adam was nothing more than a bad example – which implies that Christ is nothing more than a good example. Thus, the existence of free will implies that we are capable of leading a sinless life – if we could only be properly coached. So the church’s job is to coach us in how to lead a sinless life.

    This particular view – which acknowledges the existence of the concept of original sin – is not found very much today. But its offshoot, Semi-Pelagianism, is very much with us.


    Original Sin – Semi-Pelagianism

    This view ignores original sin in the abstract, but starts with the idea that man, unaided by God, makes the first step toward salvation. Thus, salvation is not really the work of God, but of man and God working together. God’s role is simply to increase man’s faith and guard it; man does the real work (“work out your salvation in fear and trembling.”)[1]

    This view is rather fuzzy to start with, and it keeps coming back in various forms. It’s particularly popular now because it justifies the emergent church movement’s penchant for self-help sermons. Unfortunately, it’s rather hard to nail down because its proponents don’t really think in these terms. They see it as determining what the church’s target market wants, and giving it to them. This means that Semi-Pelagianism is very popular right now – but its proponents would not recognize themselves as such.

    Historically, this label has been used frequently to call the other denomination a bunch of heretics.



    Modern Heresy


    Things that split the church today

    May I point out, please, a few of the modern heresies?

  21. Prosperity Gospel. This is the idea that God wants you to be rich; all you need to do to get rich is do good works. The best work is giving money to the church. The potential for abuse is clear, but consider also that this is a form of salvation by works. For if you consider God’s approval best expressed in the fatness of your wallet, then buying God’s approval is really a good investment. (A form of Semi-Pelagianism, sort of.)
  22. Political Gospel. Righteousness must be upheld in the political arena, therefore the good Christian is a Republican (if righteousness means mostly sexual righteousness) or a Democrat (if righteousness means mostly charitable – if forced – giving to the poor.) This is a disease that particularly afflicts democracies. The heresy comes in presuming that the state, which is temporal, is the primary agent of things eternal. Render unto Caesar, indeed.
  23. Many pathways. This heresy holds that people outside of Christianity will be saved if they are righteous enough. The argument is that Christ will judge them fairly; some will be righteous and therefore saved, even though they didn’t accept or never heard the Gospel. Can you see the concept of earning salvation in this? Or do you think that all have sinned and thus deserve hell? Perhaps salvation is by grace!
  24. Therapeutic Deism. Another form of Semi-Pelagianism, this holds that what people really need to hear from the church is the way to get better. The prime focus of the church is now in pop psychology, fixing your relationships, finances, etc. By doing this, Christians will lead happy, fulfilled lives. Note the difference: no one claims this technique will make you sinless. Just happy and fulfilled. Christ is just a happy addition to the really important stuff; the Scripture, a handy source of quotations to make the really important points.

    Reasons why heresy abounds

    So why does this stuff sound so familiar? Why is it that the evangelical churches have this problem today? I submit the following reasons:

  26. We no longer teach or preach exegetically, but topically. The Scripture is now a secondary source of teaching. Our students, therefore, have come to see the Scriptures as mere footnotes.
  27. Consequently, the Scriptures are no longer honored in the church. Those of sufficient antiquity will recall a time when most churches had two pulpits, so that when the Scripture was read, the listener understood its solemn import. In some churches one pulpit was reserved for the Scriptures alone.
  28. The anti-intellectual bias of our time (in the churches) means that age and scholarship have been discarded in favor of the “bold new idea.” Interestingly, that idea is often brought forward with the idea that we should believe it not because it is true, but because it’s the only way the church can survive. (No sense of history, either.)
  29. We now have Christians who no longer consciously follow Christ, or try to grow in him – but rather follow their feelings.

    The first defense against heresy is a church full of Christians who are growing in the knowledge of Christ. And that is the first thing the heretics attack.






    [1] But see Philippians 2:12-13.


Previous     Home