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.

26 December, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Antidicomarianism

With Christmastide upon us (happy second day of Christmas and Feast Day of St. Stephen!), it seemed appropriate for this week's heresy to have something to do with the Nativity of Christ.  There are lots of "good" options, from denying the divinity of Christ to denying the virginal birth, etc., but my favorite heresy to say the name of won out.
Antidicomarianism is considered to be a sub-Apollinarianism heresy. By the 3rd century, it was considered an Orthodox teaching that Jesus’ siblings, mentioned in the Bible, were Joseph’s children from a previous marriage, or cousins. The Antidicomarianites, a word literally meaning “Adversaries of Mary”, taught that the brothers and sisters of Christ from the New Testament were actually the younger children of Mary and Joseph, born after Jesus. They were not, contrary to what the name implies, “against Mary”, but rather, were against the perpetual virginity of Mary. This thought was prevalent from the 3rd to 5th centuries and often considered a heresy, as it was found in the writings of known heretics Tertullian and Origen. Other Antidicomarianism heresies are Bonosianism, Helvidianism, and Jovinianism. Most protestant churches are Antidicomarianites, however in confessional Lutheranism, there seems to be a mix of Antidicomarianites and those who subscribe to the perpetual virginity of Mary.

A few brief notes on this one:
  1. Until I started researching heresies earlier this year, I didn't actually know any Lutherans believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary.  I knew Luther held to that belief, but I was surprised to find out that many confessional Lutherans do as well, particularly Pastors.  I honestly never gave it much thought previously.  I don't fall one way or the other on this, and since it is an issue of adiphoria (not of doctrinal consequence or having effect on one's salvation), I don't feel a particular need to worry about it.  I think I tend to lean on the side of the Antidicomarianites, but as one Pastor I spoke to about this put it... why on earth would we care about the sex life of the mother of our Savior?
  2. Because it doesn't affect salvation and is an issue of adiphoria, I don't know if this can be considered a heresy other than loosely (heresy meaning anything that departs from orthodoxy), but because it was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church as one, I've included it in my listings.
  3. What would be a heresy and would affect salvation to some degree would be denying the virginal birth.  To be clear, Antidicomarianism doesn't do that.  Other heresies do.

17 December, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Synergism

I briefly mentioned Synergism in my first Heresy of the Week post on Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, so I thought it might be time to expand a little bit.  First, a brief overview.

Synergism is an Arminian protestant, Semi-Pelagianism-family heresy that teaches man and God work cooperatively together for salvation. In other words, God offers the salvation, but man must receive it. This is the source of the Arminian prevenient grace doctrine, which means God comes and offers salvation to the human being (who cannot come to faith without this grace being offered), but the human may then freely choose to accept or reject faith. This is similar the teaching of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, both of whom reject total depravity of humanity and maintain that even after the Fall, humans remain free and human nature has not been totally corrupted, particularly after baptism.

Arminian theology was named after Jacobus Arminius, a 16th century Dutch theologian, who opposed John Calvin and his elimination of free will from theology.  Arminianism goes the exact opposite way from Calvinism a la Synergism--instead of predestination (or worse, double predestination), we have pure free will and the ability of a Christian to have a role in his salvation.  Both are wrong.

A review from the Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism post:
Arminianism teaches, in line with Semi-Pelagianism, that:
  • It is possible to not sin (posse non peccare).
  • While man is inherently sinful (Original Sin), he isn't entirely fallen and still has the opportunity to choose good (and, indeed, must choose good because God can only offer faith, man must "receive" it).
  • God offers faith, but man has to "choose" to "accept" faith on their own, through "prevenient grace", which God gives to all sinners.
  • Man's "role" in salvation, as a "response" to "prevenient grace", is to freely "choose" to "accept" faith in God
  • Once man "accepts" faith, God justifies man and continues to give further grace to sanctify man.
The primary difference between Synergism and Semi-Pelagianism is that in the latter, man can choose to have faith without grace, whereas in the previous, man can only have choose to have faith as a "response" to "prevenient grace".
For a good analysis of the soteriology of Calvinists, Arminianists and Lutherans, read this one page document from a friend of mine, Pr. Gregory Wagner.

One thing I find interesting is that I've yet to met someone who actually claims the name Arminianist, and says that he is a Synergist.  I know many Calvinists who full TULIP or Double TULIP believers, a range of Lutherans, Catholics, etc., but I've never met an Arminainist who actually claims to be an Arminianist (I know some Weslyians, but no one who truly claims the name Arminian).  Fascinating, don't you think?  I'm sure they're out there, just not in my circle of acquaintances.  

Arminianism, or perhaps more specifically, Synergism, seems to have totally infiltrated the mega-churches and non-denominational churches in America. The focus on decision theology is proof of that.

16 December, 2012

Sermon Notes: "Defending John, Preaching Jesus"

Third Sunday in Advent (Gaudete Sunday)
"Defending John, Preaching Jesus"
Text: Matthew 11:2-10
Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora, CO
Pastor Brian Wolfmueller

"Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen." (Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent)

If you want to listen to the whole thing, click the link above.  Below are the notes I took while listening for an overview:

  • Feels like the world is falling apart
  • Things have always been bad for the people of God because of sin
  • We live in a work of darkness, sin, and death--inside and outside of us
  • Gaudete Sunday, Rejoice!
  • Appropriate that we discuss trials and darkness because the collect for today says, "...lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation."
  • We know that we and the world are not how we are/it is supposed to be, so we wait for the world to come
  • Advent is the season of preparation, which is why we read about Saint John the Baptist (preparer)
  • John leaping in the womb at the presence of Jesus was his first sermon
  • John was famous through the ancient world
  • John was so popular that the Pharisees sent a delegation to find out if he was the Messiah--John did what he did best, by preaching Jesus to them
  • John's greatest sermon: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
  • After Herod died, his kingdom was divided in three among his three sons
  • Herod Antipon became the ruler in Israel/Judea
  • The story of Herod's family was a disaster (Herod Antipon married his niece and brother's wife, Herodias)
  • Herod Antipon had Saint John the Baptist arrested for preaching against his marriage to Herodias
  • Herodias' daughter, Salome, danced for Herod Antipon, who was so pleased he said he would grant her anything, up to half his kingdom
  • After consulting with her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist
  • Interesting and surprising that our first glimpse of John the Baptist is when he is in prison, at his weakest and lowest
  • We always want a hero--someone who never doubts, but such a man does not exist
  • We see the sin of those mentioned in the Bible from Adam to Saint Paul so that we can know salvation is purely the work of God, not the work of any man
  • We see John's doubt here when he send his disciples to Jesus
  • There was surprise in the crowds at John's doubt--so upsetting, Jesus defends John to the crowds
  • Just because you doubt does not take away your faith
  • In the Treaties on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Phillip Melanchthon said that worship is faith fighting back despair
  • Even in his despair, John knows who to go to--Jesus.  We should know this too.

10 December, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Asceticism

This week's heresy is often repeated in other heresies (especially Gnostic-family ones).  It's fairly simple, and deals less directly with doctrine and more with behavior (although practicers of Asceticism believed their behavior helped them earn or hurry along their salvation, which is a Pelagianism heresy as noted below, and utterly heretical).

Asceticism is the belief that abstaining from “worldly pleasure” can help bring about salvation and liberation from mortal coils. This was a common practice of some early church fathers (at least insofar as many sought to distance themselves from the world in any way they could), and is still used in some protestant churches today. This is a Legalism heresy, and by extension, a Pelagianism-family heresy as well.

The biggest issue is when focus on the Law over the Gospel becomes disproportionate.  Any teaching that you can do something to help "earn" your salvation is dangerous, because it creates distrust and despair ("Did I do enough to make sure I am saved?" or something similar should never be a question on the lips or mind of a Christian).  That is what makes Pelagianism and Pelagianistic heresies so dangerous.


Just wanted to note that you can now find links to Lutheran sites (from the serious to the silly) in my sidebar, including a list of (as of today) 121 blogs that I follow, mostly gathered from the BBOV (Big Blogroll O'Vark).  I spent two days going through the hundreds of blogs listed there, weeded out the inactive blogs and the ones that were less theologically focused (I prefer to read about theology than pinterest, no offense meant) and came out with this condensed version.  The majority of these blogs have been posted in within the last two or three months, some more active than others.


06 December, 2012

(Special) Heresy of the Week: Arianism (also Semi-Arianism and Macedonianism)

Happy Slappy!!!

For those not familiar with the story of St. Nicholas and Arius at the Council of Nicea, my opening remark might require a little explanation.

Rather than go into a history of St. Nicholas, Pastor and Bishop of Myra, I'd like to focus more on Arius and Arianism.  For background on St. Nicholas, please read some of the plethora of posts on the topic from places such as Ask the Pastor (Pr. Snyder)Lest Every Man Be Blind (Pr. Koch) and Aardvark Alley.  Today (6 December) is, by the way, the Feast Day for St. Nicholas.

Before we get to the fun, here's a brief synopsis of Arianism.

Arianism is the 4th century teaching of Arius which denied the divinity of Jesus and the essence of the Trinity (antitrinitarian). Arius taught that the Father created the Son as His first creation. The Son then created the Holy Ghost, and the universe after that (not the Father or the Trinity, only the Son). Christ was considered to be adopted by the Father since He was merely a creation of the Father’s, but because He had great position and authority, He was to be looked upon by humans as a God and worshiped accordingly. At the First Council of Nicaea in 325, Arius was declared a heretic (the Nicene Creed was written specifically to counter his false teachings), exonerated at the First Synod of Tyre in 335 after recanting his heresy, and condemned again posthumously in 381 at the First Council of Constantinople (where the Nicene Creed was slightly modified to combat Macedonianism). Arianism had one of the largest followings of any heresy, and it was feared that they might grow so large as to take over the church. Their main teaching, that the Son of God did not always exist, and is distinct from and “less” than the Father because He was created by the Father, existed as a human (but heretical) way to help explain the Hypostatic Union of Christ’s two natures and attempt to humanize the Trinity.

As the story goes, at the Council of Nicea there were many heated discussions between Arius and his followers, and the Orthodox Bishops in attendance.  During one of these lively exchanges, St. Nicholas is said to have slapped Arius for his heresy.  St. Nicholas was then banned from the council until he apologized.  Puts a whole new light on Santa, doesn't it?

Why would a Bishop get so worked up that he would actually resort to hitting someone?  The teaching of Arius was so pervasive at the time that many were worried it would take over the Church.  As mentioned before, it is an understandable human way to try and describe the unexplainable  but that does not make it any less heretical  

Ultimately, it comes down to how one views the relationship between God the Father and God the Son: homousian ("of the same substance", the Orthodox teaching) or heterousian ("differing in substance", the heretical, or Arian, teaching).  Now might be a good time to review my post on the Trinity for more on how the Trinity works.

While this story may be just a legend (although records of Nicholas being 'suspended' and 'reinstated' seems to verify it to a large degree), the lesson from it is very important: we should take heresy very seriously, and so what we can to stamp... or slap... it out.

And, since we're on this topic, while we don't see much pure Arianism today, we do see some Semi-Arianism (or Macedonianism) floating about from time to time.

Semi-Arianism is a slightly softer version of Arianism. Rather than teaching that the Son was created, and therefore of a different essence than the Father, Semi-Arianism teaches that the Son was neither created nor uncreated in the same sense that other beings are created (meaning He was created, just in a different sense than anyone/anything else).

Macedonianism (also known as Pneumatomachism and Tropicism) is an anti-Nicene Creed heretical sect that denied the divinity of the Holy Ghost during the 4th and 5th centuries. While distinct from Arianism, some aspects of Macedonianism are similar in that they also reject Christ as being of the same substance as the Father (but regarded Him as of a similar substance as the Father, making them closer to Semi-Arianism). Because they believed that the Holy Ghost was a creation of the Son, the 381 First Council of Constantinople added phrases to the Nicene Creed to ensure it was known and taught that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and Son and is coequal with the Father and Son.

Anti-trinitarian heresies are a particular pet peeve of mine because they deny the most basic of our Christian beliefs, or attempt to make the idea of our unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity more palatable to "logic".  Doubt there, and why even bother being a Christian otherwise?  Anti-trinitarian heresies are pervasive today in various incarnations, often more subtle or in different form from Arianism, but they're still alive and kicking.  Maybe we need to take a page out of good ol' St. Nick's book and start slapping a few heretics of our own... at least mentally.

03 December, 2012

Theological Pet Peeves

Note: I originally wrote this two weeks ago (18 November, to be specific), and just haven't gotten back around to editing and post it between Thanksgiving, illness and travelling.  Finally getting there! -S

A few weeks ago was especially unnerving for me, hitting on many of the "theological pet peeves" I have, so I thought I might put together a brief commentary on each of them.  They're not in any particular order (other than how I thought of them).

1) "Accepting" vs. "Receiving" faith
While I generally understand what Christians mean when they ask, "When did you accept Jesus?", my mind immediately reacts with "SEMI-PELAGIANIST!!!"  I know it may seem like semantics, but in all the research I have been doing of late on Original Sin, I know that no one would ever "choose" faith.  We cannot choose spiritual good.  I've spent years trying to figure out how to explain this in a concise manner, and it finally dawned on me this week.  I've always said that our role in the creation of faith is passive, not active.  But finally, the right word to use instead of accept dawned on me.  It is receive.  We receive faith.  We may reject it (which is what everyone would do, were it not for the working of the Holy Ghost), but our receipt of  faith is entirely passive.  Putting the emphasis on our acceptance (or supposedly active) role in salvation is nothing short of Semi-Pelegianism, even if it isn't meant that way.  We have to be very precise in what we say, not be lazy or sloppy in theology.

2) Saying "just" in prayers
I don't know if there is necessarily anything theologically wrong with this, but I can't stand when people use the world "just" in prayers.  It's a filler, it's annoying and it just makes me want to scream.  Another thing that drives me nuts is when people mutter things under their breath in prayer.  Again, not sure there is really anything wrong with it, but I can't concentrate when I am listening to others when I'm supposed to be praying.  Interestingly, I don't think I've ever heard a Lutheran do either of those things.  I wonder why that is?

3) Dual Covenant vs. New Covenant Theology
With all that has gone on in Israel the past weeks, I keep seeing posts on Facebook about how America has to save Israel and (yes, some people have actually said this) how America was created to save Israel, even though Israel wasn't a nation until 150+ years after we were founded as a country.  This comes from a largely Dispensational idea that Israel must be restored before the return of Christ (something I've never found in the Bible).  What the Bible does make clear is the New Covenant, which is not just for Israel but for all in Jesus.  America may have strategic or other reasons to help or "save" Israel, but using Dispensational Theology with no Biblical basis to make political decisions terrifies me.

4) End Times Signs-seekers
Jesus told us that even He does know know when He is to return.  One of the frustrations that also comes from Dispensationalism is that there are those who continue to look for signs, even though we cannot know the hour or day when Jesus is to return.  From solar flares to the UN (which is, by the by, a misunderstanding of the Antichrist, who is a religious, NOT political, figure) to waiting for an invented Rapture, I seem to see something new at least weekly.  There are even those who claim that 21 December 2012, the day the Mayan Calendar supposedly predicts the end of the world, is also the day the Rapture will happen.  These attempts to read signs that aren't there just makes the rest of us Christians look silly and loony.  It's hard for anyone to take Christianity seriously when what is known about it is just plain goofy, and not actual Christian, Biblical doctrine.

5) "Baptism is just a symbol, but you must be fully immersed and not an infant for it to be valid."
If something is only "symbolic", why do you care how it is done?  What does it matter?  Sigh.

6) "You cross yourself?  Oh, you must be a Catholic."
Um... no.  I know many non-Catholics who cross themselves: Lutherans, Orthodox, Anglicans, etc.  I wish this was something more Christians did, but no, that doesn't make me Catholic.

7) "Lutherans are intellectual Christians."
For some reason, people seem to think this is an insult.  It isn't.  What's sad is that more Christians aren't "intellectual".  What I mean by that is that they know and understand the Bible, Theology, church history, other Denominations, early Church Fathers, etc.  So few seem to dig into the meat of Christianity, and it is sad.  Our faith is not just one of belief, but also of reason.  It is very logical, but you have to understand and study. That is the greatest disservice done by American Churches today--they seem to be nothing more than fluff and entertainment, and seriously lack substance.  Yes, that is a generalization.  But I hear so often we should ignore our differences for unity.  No.  We cannot have unity without understanding our differences, and why those differences exist.  Then we can have discussions about differences and perhaps come to a place of unity.  Ignoring them only makes the divisions worse.

8) Not capitalizing appropriate references to God
I've been typing up charts from a book written by a protestant theological professor which are largely helpful, but he seems incapable of capitalizing "He" in reference to God, or "The Word" in reference to the Bible, or many other similar examples.  It has reminded me how much that drives me nuts.  You don't have to capitalize everything, but when you're specifically referring to God or His Word, it is the right thing to do.

9) "Why do you have to be so arrogant?"
I get that a lot, and it is a fair criticism to some extent.  I tend to be a very snarky person by nature.  I'm very good at speaking the truth, I'm not so good at always doing it in love.  Rather than arrogance (which I can understand how it looks that way), though, I would submit it is confidence--confidence in my faith to the point that I would die for it.  I made that vow in my confirmation, and I take it very seriously.  I have a hard time even wanting to evangelize, because I see a broken church--and why on earth would I want to bring more people into something broken?  So I spend more (most) of my time attempting to correct the serious errors I see in Christendom today.  One thing I desperately miss about the early church is the condemnation of heresy.  The Roman Catholic Church still does this to some degree, but we need more of it.  There is so much heresy in the church today, and few seem to even realize it.  And so in my frustration and sadness over this, I tend to resort to snark.  For that I apologize.  I hope you will all understand it comes from a place of confidence in my faith and wanting to not see heresy in the church.
"Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen." -- Martin Luther

Heresies of the Week: Joachimism and Dulcinianism

Due to illness and travelling last week, I missed my 'heresy of the week' post--my apologies. As penance, today I give you two that are somewhat related to each other: Joachimism and Dulcinianism. 

 On Thursday, 6 December, there will be another post on a 'major' heresy in honor of my favorite heretic slapper, St. Nicholas.

Joachimism is a Millenarianism eschatological heresy from the 13th century that was condemned in 1215 at the Fourth Council of the Lateran. Many believed that the writings of Joachim were the Eternal Gospel, or at least the road to it. He attempted to predict the end of the world and the rise of the Anti-Christ through looking at historical events and preached that a utopia was coming. His followers believed this new utopian age (also sometimes called the New Age of the Holy Spirit) would be egalitarian and monastic. Like Dulcinianism (which many considered to be inspired by Joachimism), in order for the new age to come, the Catholic Church must be abolished and that perfection was in a communal (almost Marxist) state.

Dulcinianism is a Millenarianism sect of the late middle ages (13th and 14th centuries). The main concepts of this heresy were the fall of all ecclesiastical hierarchy and the return of the church to its “original ideals” of humility and poverty; the fall of the feudal system and the liberation from any human restraint and entrenched power; and the creation of a new egalitarian society based on mutual aid and respect, with property being held in common and an emphasis on gender equality. This heresy was considered to be inspired by Joachimism.