History of Heresies part A

 

Why do I need to know church history?

 

I have come across many who have said to me that my interpretation of the Bible or my understanding of what Jesus said is wrong. Often these are responses I hear from people who are connected with an apostate Christianity. That is, though this movement or group, profess to be ‘Christian’, there is hardly any evidence that they are truly Christian in their theology. There are many ways to show them that what they follow is a false type of Christianity, for example we could show them what the Bible teaches and prove from Scripture that their doctrines are not rooted in the teachings of Christ. Yet, one of the ways I try to help them see that their organization is not true Christianity, is directing them the historical Christianity. Let give explain why.

 

If I was to come and begin preaching something which made other Christians suspicious, what I was teaching; then imagine if they come up to me and say ‘I don’t agree with your interpretation because of what you said so and so on’. Then I would probably defend myself by showing them a text from the Bible that seems to agree with Scripture. But then if they ask me ‘how do you know if that is the meaning of the text?’ And this is one of the reason why I can go and appeal to History. Because, what we really are asking is not only: is the right meaning of the text; but also: is this the norm? Is this the normal way that the Historic church has always held to. The benefit of that is first, History tells you how the church has dealt with different agreements that were against the truth of the Gospel. Second, it teaches us to recognize errors in the past that come in the present. Third, it teaches us also the way the church has always interpreted the Bible. This is also known as biblical hermeneutics.

 

 

Now I am not saying that the church and History itself is the authority over the truth, but it is a means to identify the truth of God’s word and God’s work on developing His church throughout the ages. It’s just a tool. The authority that every Christian will stand for is the Word of God.

Furthermore, by looking to History it is important that we recognize and learn from the errors of the past. In fact in Matthew 24:5, 23, 26 the Lord Jesus predicted with a warning to His early followers that many will come to us and proclaim a false Christianity, saying that ‘we are Christian’s’ or ‘we are part of the body of Christ’ or ‘ I am Christ;’ and they will lead many astray.

 

Another reason why looking at church history is useful is so that we would not to be conformed to the teachings, system or ideology of the world (Romans 12:2), but to discern what is good and acceptable to God. The Apostle Paul warned the church in Acts 20:28-30 that many wolves will come from among them and teach false doctrine. Heresies do not begin outside the church, but from within, that is the lesson. Thus we must be watchful and on guard.

Paul warns Timothy to watch out for false teachers in 2 Timothy 4:3, that they will come to convince people their heretical doctrine.

In 2 Thessalonians 5:21, 22 the church is commanded to test all claims that seem suspicious, so that we won’t be caught in evil doctrine. Later the Apostle John writes that false teachers have come from among us, but they were not from us (1 John 2:18-19).

 

Hence, as Christians we are commanded by Scripture to defend the truth of the Gospel. And hold on to what is trustworthy and holy (Titus 1:9). But without realizing the significant role of Church History in discerning those enemies and evil doctrines, the church becomes open to any type of ‘new’ perspective or ‘new’ movement or ‘new’ theology.

 

Ebionism.

 

Term.

Ebionism was a term used by an early church father called Irenaeus in the 2nd Century. The word means ‘the poor’ ‘implied, humility, suffering for righteousness’ sake’[1].

 

The Ebionites were the doctrinal descendants of Judaism, which:

 

First taught that Christ was to be respected and worshipped in the same way, with their as traditions.

 

This meant that they wanted Christ and the Mosaic Law, tradition, and works of self- righteousness. It is similar to saying: ‘I believe in what God says, but I also submit and believe in what traditions of my former religions tell me to do’. The Judaizers who later where formed into the Ebionites, believed that in order for someone to get in heaven, he must first be circumcised, to become a Jew, then follow the ceremonial ritualistic aspect of ‘being saved’. Which biblically, were unnecessary, for the Bible does not say that these things (works, keeping traditions and ritual, ceremonial laws,) secure our salvation. You can spot examples of false Judaism teaching in Acts 15:1, 5.

 

Secondly, the major idea was that a person had to earn his salvation by works, by trusting in himself rather than someone else.

 

As we see in the book of Acts, the first council with the Jerusalem leaders , Peter , John and James, rejected that sort of teaching, even though the Judaizers and later the Ebionites claimed to be ‘followers’ of Christ. Their claims for being Christians were used as a foot note to manipulate Gentiles (non-Jews) for doing things that was not needed for their salvation. In fact, the Apostle Paul brought with him his disciple Titus, a Greek, before becoming a believer  he didn’t need to go through any ceremonial tradition, neither was he physically circumcised. But rather he was spiritually circumcised. That is, he was born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3). This was to prove the council in Jerusalem that God alone saves sinners. It is by faith alone in Jesus Christ that sinners are saved from eternal punishment for their sins, not by achieving good works.

This is what Moses, Jesus, the Apostles and the early church fathers taught. We are all sinners, even the apostles were born in sin, but look at what Paul says in Galatians 2:16 “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

Now some might be confused by the term ‘ works of the law’. When it says that, it does not mean that we should abolish the law of God given to Moses. That is not the case. The point is that if you put your faith in your own human strength and ability to save yourself by trying to ‘obey’ the law, trying to achieve a favor with God, then you have not understood the mercies of God and justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ. This is what the Ebionites and later on the Roman Catholicism face.

The Gospel proclaims that Christ saves sinners, not sinner’s finding their way of salvation. And yet the false Judaizers and the Ebionites rejected this essential doctrine. They desired to keep their traditions. I do not despise tradition. I believe it is a problem to believe that those traditions can make you a real believer in God, in Jesus Christ. Ceremonies, ritualism and traditions are not the basis of salvation. Why did they keep it then? The reason is seems obvious.

 

Third, for they claimed that for them Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, but at the same time they rejected his deity as God.

 

According to experts “Jesus was regarded as the last and greatest of the prophets, the natural son of Joseph and Mary, but not the eternal Son of God.”[2] Thus, rejecting the Incarnation. Instead of having a Savior who they can trust by acknowledging their need for his mercy to save them, they trusted that man was well off without Christ’s death and atonement. They trusted that man is well able to stand and defeat his own sin and remain ‘perfectly’ right before God and please him. They saw Jesus as just a man born of a women, but nothing significant and nothing divine in him. This is a denial of the Christ deity and Christ death and resurrection and power to save. This is what is known as heresy.

I mentioned before that they denied the trinity; which is another essential doctrine of the Church.

 

Fourthly, the denial of the trinity came from Adobionism, which is a form that came out from Ebionism, which believed that Jesus Christ became the Son of God for the first time in his Baptism.

 

But that is not the case at all. Scripture tell us that Christ was with the Father in the begging of the ages, before the foundation of the world (John 1:1-5, Ephesians 1:4). So Jesus was God, and he is also God now.

 

It is however interesting to point out that they only used the Gospel of Matthew for reading and “Paul was rejected as an apostate from the law”[3] And when the destruction of the Jerusalem, the temple came in AD 70, many of them were scattered and their doctrine was spread further in the east. Moreover, throughout church History, you will see battles between legalism vs grace. We can see even today this heretical teaching still being taught in many ways by different names such as Islam and then Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Later in the 18th -19th Century many cults also taught this from the period of Restorationism (part of American History) such as: Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventist, JW’s and later Oneness Pentecostalism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Baker’s dictionary of theology, Baker Book House, 1979, p.176

[2] Baker’s dictionary of theology, Baker Book House, 1979, p.176

[3] Baker’s dictionary of theology, Baker Book House, 1979, p.176

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