When discussing theology, I've come to realize that not only is personal study of doctrine a necessary component to faith, but it is something that shouldn't be kept to oneself. I want to share my journey, both past and ongoing, into the realm of theology. Through this, I hope that you will gain insight into the Christian faith as a whole. Before reading anything else, I suggest you read the introduction and definitions (found in the pages tabs above) so you may better understand where I am coming from in everything I write. Because many of my posts are on heresies, there is also a page above with a family tree of heresies and links to all the posts I have so far on the topic.

19 November, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Swedenborgianism

This week's heresy is a new one to my list.  I discovered it listening to Table Talk Radio (I can't remember which episode, if I can find it, I'll link it).  It's a newer heresy.  It seems a very weird blend of Gnosticism, Pelagianism and Eastern Mysticism to me.  And yes, even Lutherans can go bad (see my previous post for comments on Pietism).  As much as I needle other denominations, I think it's both important and only fair that I air our faults as well.

Swedenborgianism, also known as the Church of the New Jerusalem, is an 18th century heresy founded by Emanuel Swedenborg. Formerly a Lutheran and a scientist, Swedenborg (like Joseph Smith) claimed a revelation from God that revealed secret knowledge to him (Gnosticism). Like Sabellianism, Swedenborg taught that God only existed in one ‘mode’ or form now: Jesus. Swedenborg’s soteriology said that believer’s had full cooperation in their salvation process (Pelagianism), and that strict obedience to commands (Legalism) is necessary for salvation. It was taught that Swedenborg was witness to the Last Judgment, and that the New Church of the Jerusalem was the result of the Last Judgment already being complete. Followers believe that all who do good, even non-believers, will be acceptable to God and taken to Heaven (God is goodness, therefore those who do good join themselves to God). Swedenborg taught that the church should be based on charity and love, not belief and doctrine.

13 November, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Circumcellionism

I was planning on doing another heresy this week, but the research is taking too long, so hopefully I'll have that one ready for next week.  In the meanwhile, I present Circumcellionism, a rather odd sub-Donatism heresy.  

Briefly, Donatism (which I shall further explain at a later time) was a sect of North African heretics in the 4th and 5th centuries who focused on asceticism, martyrdom, and "purity" in the church (that the church must be one of saints, not sinners).

Circumcellionism (also known as Agnosticisism) was a band of heretical Christian extremists in North Africa in the 4th and 5th centuries. While initially concerned with remedying social grievances (such as condemning property ownership and slavery, and advocating the cancelling of all debts), they became obsessed with the “true Christian virtue” of martyrdom. Because of Jesus’ warning to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane to put down his sword, they never used bladed weapons, often opting for blunt clubs. They would randomly attack passersby in an attempt to provoke the victim to retaliate and kill them. Sometimes they would interrupt courts of law and provoke the judge to order an immediate execution (the usual punishment for contempt of court at the time). Circumcellionism was connected with the Donatism heresy.

11 November, 2012

"Sharing" Jesus and Our Faith (or... Flabby Theological Language)

After seeing an excellent quote from Pr. Donavon Reily on Facebook (like I see at least a few times a week), I share it.  And such a fascinating discussion ensued, I thought it would be worth documenting here as well.  I offer it to you without my commentary, but would be interested in your thoughts or comments on "sharing" vs. "fellowship" or "communion".

The initial quote (from Pr. Reily) says:
‎"Christians are not called and sent to share Jesus or worse, share their faith... We are to preach Christ, and Him crucified, for the forgiveness of sins. The world doesn't need us to share Jesus with them, they need to hear of God's free choosing of them through Jesus' dying and rising "for you." They don't need a toe, or a spleen, or a wisp of hair. They need Jesus: all of Him, or nothing at all."

To which he added:
"As a brother-pastor noted, because we have transliterated the word "koinonia" into "share," we now have "sharing" instead of "fellowship," or, "communion." In other words, we've allowing flabby language into our high-speed, highly-tuned theology."

And, of course, that is from where I got the title for this post. Then a friend of Pr. Reily, Larry Griffin, added:
"English Standard Version (©2001) 'and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.'"

Here is where it gets fun. from Pr. Riley:
"Larry Griffin, you can cite a poor (Reformed) translation, but that doesn't resolve the matter. It's properly translated as ‘close association, fellowship.’ That is, for example, ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς κοινωνίαν ἔχητε μεθ’ ἡμῶν ‘in order that you may have fellowship with us’ 1 Jn 1:3; δἰ οὗ ἐκλήθητε εἰς κοινωνίαν τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ‘through whom you were called to have fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ’ 1 Cor 1:9."

Pr. David Juhl:
"The so-called "Koinonia Project" is not about "sharing" each other's faith. It is about restoring communion with one another. The German word is "Gemeinschaft", often translated "fellowship", but that doesn't catch what the Greek is saying. κοινωνία is oneness in the faith, a oneness that is not shared but believed. Therefore, we work together toward κοινωνία, oneness, intimacy of doctrine, not sharing."

Larry Griffin:
"I'm just not ready to say that the word "share" can never be used in a proper way. I am not a big fan of the word, but I have used it as an opposite of "keeping to myself" the truths that set us free."

Pr. Reily:
"You can use "share" as you so choose, but the Greek and the German don't support you. You're adding your own spin to the word. And that's what I (we) are getting at. It's not about what you want it to mean, but what the sources define it as ... as my brother also notes, "The word for "to share" as in to give another a portion of something is συγκοινωνέω." "

Pr. Juhl:
"Back to German for a bit. κοινωνία is not tranlated "Anteil". Anteil is "share" or "portion". The German word is "Gemeinschaft". Gemeinschaft is "community" or better "communion". Anteil denotes a part of something. Gemeinschaft is the fullness of something. Frankly, Brother Griffin, I would rather have the fullness, the Gemeinschaft, rather than the Anteil, the portion. I will grant you that "share" is a good word than can be used in a good way. I submit that "share" is not the best word to be used for κοινωνία. Let us not Anteil the κοινωνία, but Gemeinschaft!"

Pr. Brandt Hoffman:
"κοινωνία isn't some silly "mission project" or some popular buzz word. It is an actual reflection of the faith God has given us in His Word and Sacraments. There is a unity which is created by God's Holy Spirit. Consider Acts 4:32 and the use of koivwvia...
Τοῦ δὲ πλήθους τῶν πιστευσάντων ἦν καρδία καὶ ψυχὴ μία, καὶ οὐδὲ εἷς τι τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐτῷ ἔλεγεν ἴδιον εἶναι ἀλλʼ ἦν αὐτοῖς ἅπαντα κοινά. 
That isn't a mission project, or some sort of bogus "sharing" language. That is the full and complete giving of EVERYTHING of Christ Himself. His very proclamation IS "fellowship" / "Life Together". The life we have together IS CHRIST."

Pr. Reily
"Jacob Ehrhard writes: Koinonia is a noun, "a share of" something common.

If you run the verb form koinoneo, you get these uses in the NT (the thing which is shared is in parentheses):
Gal 6:6 (all good things, money, offerings)
Rom 12:13 (the needs of the saints)
Rom 15:27 (to have a share in the spirit with the Gentiles who have come to faith)
1 Tim 5:22 (sin)
2 John 11 (wicked works)
Heb 2:14 (flesh and blood of Jesus!)
1 Pet 4:13 (Christ's sufferings!)
And the best is Phil 4:15 (to have a share in the giving and receiving of St. Paul).

In most of these cases, the respective form of koinoneo has the understanding of "to have a share in" in a passive sense, rather than an active sharing of something that you have.

Also, in nearly every case, the sharing takes place with those who are already believers, that is, the "koino" stuff takes place between Christians and not from believers to unbelievers. In the cases where something is shared with an unbeliever, it's sin and wickedness."

Pr. Hoffman:
"Bringing down the requirements for Olympics runners so that guys like me can run in the Olympics only ruins the Olympics. The same is true for allowing flabby language into our high-speed, highly-tuned theology."

05 November, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Cerinthianism

This week's heresy is one of the many branches of Gnosticism.  It is of particular interest, because of it's connection to Premillennialism.

Cerinthianism is a Gnosticism-branch heresy of the mid-2nd century. Unlike Marcionism, which was hostile to any Jewish remnant in Christianity, Cerinthus (for whom this heresy is named) revered Jewish Scripture and often only preached from the Gospel of Matthew, which he considered to be the most Jewish of the canonical Gospels. Cerinthians believed that God did not create the world, but creator-angels who were ignorant of the existence of the Supreme God created earth and gave humans laws to follow. Cerinthus taught a Donatism-like view of Jesus vs. Christ, in that Jesus was the man (also an Ebionitism heresy) and Christ the spiritual entity bestowed upon the man at His baptism (similar to Adoptionism, also a Gnosticism-style heresy that wouldn’t come to fruition until decades later after Cerinthus). He taught that Jesus’ body will be raised on the last day with all men. Cerinthus also taught that strict adherence to Mosaic Law (Legalism and Pelagianism) was a requirement for salvation (including circumcision), something rejected by the Council of Jerusalem. He was the first known teacher of Premillennialism, an end-times heresy that asserts Christ will establish a 1,000 year earthly kingdom prior to the physical resurrection and the New Heaven.

03 November, 2012

A brief note on hermeneutics

In listening to Issues, Etc. 24, Pr. Jonathan Fisk had great comments on hermeneutics before getting onto his given topic of the Lord's Supper--if you want to hear for yourself, they podcast all their broadcasts, and it would be well worth the listen once that podcast is available (probably later today or tomorrow).

What is hermeneutics?  Simply, it is the study of interpreting text, or in specific for our purposes, the study of interpreting the text of the Bible.

The greatest point that I heard was that we often bring the Devil's first question, "Did God really say that?" into our reading of the Bible.  Or, perhaps more specifically, when we come to a passage that we don't like or can't understand, we often seek other Scripture not to allow Scripture to interpret itselves, but to allow Scripture from somewhere else to trump that passage and explain it away.

As a child has faith their parents will protect them or feed them or love them, etc. without needing to understand "how" (they might ask, but generally they ultimately accept it without truly comprehending the entirety of "how"), there is no where in Scripture, other writings (Christian and secular) or anywhere else that says we, as humans, are to understand everything and know the "how" and "why" of absolutely everything.  Sometimes we simply need a child-like faith that understands stated truths without needing to realize everything behind it.

A specific example, and one I'm very familiar with, was that Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis) in most of his books and speaking engagements wonders why Christians cannot understand the plain language of a day meaning a day, and yet he does not hold the Bible to be clear and plain when Jesus gives us the Words of Institution.

Even other Christians who claim to hold a "literal" interpretation of Scripture often deny the Words of Institution and other clear, plain language in the Bible, while holding to figurative or non-literal passages as truth (i.e. Revelations).

After listening to a previous Issues, Etc. podcast on Dispensational Premillennialism, I made this comment on Facebook: "Great point re: Dispensational Premillennialism. Everyone I know who subscribes to that belief claims to be a "literalist" when it comes to Biblical exegesis and interpretation, and yet I don't know any Dispensational Premillennialist who also subscribes to a literal interpretation of the Words of Institution ("this IS My Body", "this IS My Blood of the NEW covenant"). So... are they only literalists when it comes to eschatology? If that is so, what other parts of the Bible don't they take literally, or is that only regarding the Eucharist? And how can they claim to be literalists if they don't believe in a literal interpretation of EVERYTHING the Bible says?"

Ultimately, proper hermeneutics means knowing what is being said (a study of the original languages is extremely helpful to this end), understanding the context (what do the verses around it say?  to whom was this written?  why was it written?  who wrote it?  when was it written? etc.), realizing that many translations are inaccurate to the context (surprisingly, humans tend to bring their bias into translation efforts--who would have thought that?), always allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture (even passages we don't like or make us uncomfortable), and most importantly, not allowing the Devil to creep in and cause us to ask, "Did God really say?".  Scripture never contradicts itself if you understand context, which is absolutely key in hermeneutics.  We don't need to know everything, we don't need to understand everything, we just need faith.