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Defending the Faith

In the first few centuries of the church there came forth Christians who articulated a defense of Christianity against the pagan society of Rome; they were known as the apologist. Educated in Greek philosophy, they used commonalities to bridge the gap in understanding, showing that Christians worshiped the true and only God. At this early point in Christianity, many false assumptions where made about the new Christian faith. At first Rome believed they were just a branch or sect of Judaism and as such offered to them some relative peace in worship of their own God. Judaism had gained that exclusive privilege largely due to their history of rebellion to any suggested blasphemy and the Roman government had rather let them be instead of forcing the worship of other gods upon them as was the requirement of any other religion. However, when Rome realized the Jews hated the Christians it moved them into a new category of religion and that privilege was revoked. Soon rumors of indecency, cannibalism, and taboo rites begun to circulate from an ignorance of Christian doctrine and added to the fuel of persecution throughout the empire. The apologist rose to combat these false reports.

Early Apologist

The earliest known of these apologists was Aristides of Athens. Aristides contrasted other religions against the Christian faith to show how that it is superior to all others and is the only true religion.

Another early but unknown apologist wrote what is known as the Epistle of Diognetus. (click here to read earlier post on this work) Like Aristides, this work contrasted pagan idol worship and morals to present the Christian life as the only true way. He also used examples of persecution as evidence of this faith.

Athenagoras, a philosopher turned Christian, used his previous knowledge and understanding of Greek philosophy to articulate a defense Christianity against accusations of Atheism and for the foolishness of polytheism. He appeals to reason in his writing, “A Plea for the Christians” as can be seen here in part as he states, “it would be irrational for us to cease to believe in the Spirit from God, who moved the mouths of the prophets like musical instruments, and to give heed to mere human opinions.”

Another important apologist of this era was Theophilus, the bishop of Antioch. He also made strong use of Greek philosophy in his writing making cases such as in Chapter 4 of his book II, about the “absurd opinions of the philosophers concerning God.”

Justin Martyr

Finally the most well-known of the apologist was the skilled man named Justin Martyr. Justin wrote two apologies and another work called a “Dialogue with Trypho the Jew” that we still have access to today. Justin’s philosophical apologies took aim at the pagan high-society, the empire, Judaism and heretics who misrepresented the Christian faith. He drew a distinction between Christian morals and those of the pagans as well as pulled from prophesy to prove out the truth of God.

The Logos

Common between these early apologists was the doctrine of the Logos. The Logos (the Word) was a concept understood by Greeks and afforded the opportunity to convince them of the true Logos; Jesus Christ. The Logos represented wisdom in the Greek understanding and allowed the skilled apologist to connect the wisdom of the Greek philosophers and everything that was good in them to the incarnate Logos, Jesus Christ as illustrated in this passage from Athenagoras, “the universe has been created through His Logos, and set in order, and is kept in being–I have sufficiently demonstrated. [I say “His Logos”], for we acknowledge also a Son of God.”

Leaving a Legacy of Defense

We must give thanks to the early work of these apologists; many of who were killed for contending for voicing the truth. These early fathers of the faith show us how we today can combat the false accusation and heresies of twenty-first century and beyond by contrasting the truth of scripture and the false world-view of man pointing the hearer to the glory of God and His salvation for man.

 

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shutterstock_166980404A few months ago I began a short series called “The False Teachers.” I wanted to look back through church history to meet some of the people who have undermined the church at various points. We looked at historical figures like Joseph Smith who founded Mormonism and Ellen G. White who led the Seventh Day Adventists into prominence, and we looked at contemporary figures like Benny Hinn, the prominent faith healer, and T.D. Jakes, who has tampered with the doctrine of the Trinity.

I will soon be starting a new series looking at The Defenders, Christians known for defending the church against a certain theological challenge or a specific false teaching. I will be focusing on modern times and modern issues such as inerrancy and Open Theism. But before I do that, I wanted to reflect on some of what I’ve learned as I’ve spent time considering false teachers and false teaching. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from false teachers.

False Teachers Are Common

The first and most fundamental thing I learned about false teachers is that we ought to expect them and be on the lookout for them. They are common in every era of church history. This should not surprise us, since the Bible warns that we are on war footing in this world, and that Satan is on full-out offensive against God and his people. And sure enough, history shows that whenever the gospel advances, error follows in its wake. When and where there are teachers of truth, there will necessarily be teachers of error. Perhaps the most surprising thing about false teachers is that we continue to be surprised by them.

False Teachers Are Deceptive

False teachers are deceptive. They do not announce themselves as false teachers, but proclaim themselves angels of light, people who have access to wisdom others have missed or misplaced. As Denny Burk says, “False teachers typically won’t show up to your church wearing a sandwich board saying, ‘I am a false teacher’.” Instead they begin within the bounds of orthodoxy and announce themselves only slowly and through their subtly-twisted doctrine. They turn away from orthodoxy one step at a time rather than all at once.

False Teachers Are Dangerous

False teachers are dangerous, and part of what makes them so dangerous is that they will affirm so much that is good and true. They will not deny all of the doctrines upon which the Christian faith stands or falls, but only select parts of it. They draw in the unsuspecting with all they affirm and only later destroy them with all they deny. There is an important lesson: We only know a person when he understand both what he affirms and what he denies.

False Teachers Are Divisive

False teachers cause division within the church and often cause division even among true Christians. Because false teachers tend to remain within the church, and because they claim to be honoring the Bible, they confuse true believers and drive wedges between them. Amazingly, it is often those who stand fast against falsehood who get labeled as divisive. The church often trusts a smiling false teacher ahead of a frowning defender.

False Teachers Give People What They Want

As Paul wrote his final letter to Timothy he warned that the time was coming when people would not endure sound teaching (and hence, sound teachers) but instead they would have itching ears and demand teachers who would satisfy this itch. False teachers do this very thing. Their concern is not for what people truly need, but for what people want. The concern of the Christian is the exact opposite—the gospel does not address what we want, but what we need!

False Teachers Are Not Innocent

False teachers know they are false teachers. This may not be true all the time, and perhaps some false teachers deceive themselves before they deceive others. But I believe most know who and what they are; in fact, I believe most know and delight in who and what they are. They are not naive people who have taken a wrong turn in their theology, but evil people who are out to destroy others. Their attack on truth is far more brazen than we may like to think.

False Teachers Cannot Tolerate the Gospel

False teachers simply cannot tolerate the gospel. At some level and in some way, they will always add to or subtract from the pure and sweet gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. They may affirm the Trinity or inerrancy or the deity of Jesus Christ, but they will never fully affirm the gospel of the Bible.

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The gross compromise coming out of Liberty University as outspoken Mormon and media political personality Glenn Beck delivers an address to the seemingly great glee of LU faculty brings up two important questions? Is Liberty a Christian School any longer, and is Glenn Beck the most effective false teacher in America since he continues to do what seemingly no other cult leader and false teacher has been able to do so frequently until now namely, speak at “evangelical” venues without being opposed by anyone?  In fact, Liberty even went so far as to punish the faithful who would not sit and listen to Beck’s talk knowing that he is a man who worships a false god.  Glenn Beck has also recently spoken at major “evangelical” churches like Gateway Church in Southlake Texas where he recently shared his “testimony.” Evangelicals everywhere are capitulating on the Beck issue thinking as Dave Barton has also stated, that in many ways Glenn Beck is one of the most “christlike” people he knows and that Mormonism was just a “label” that Beck wears. This is why the Evangelical identity is quickly vanishing away into total meaninglessness. When we see Glenn Beck and all that he is doing, we need great discernment to know that his personal influence among evangelicals is hurting the church by blurring the lines between Mormonism and Biblical Christianity.  Glenn Beck does a lot of weeping to get the crowd sentimentally involved before assuring people that he has the same “faith” as ours. This is standard LDS protocol, making it seem that they are of the same basic religious faith as Christians are. The truly sad thing is that the leaders of Liberty could not see through this standard LDS tactic of using the power of emotions to blur the precision of our exclusive gospel. There lies the heresy and the gross theological compromise of Liberty who at this stage can no longer be regarded as a Christian organization since it has opened up the doors to false teachers and allowed for doctrines of demons to influence the souls of their students.  Here are the words of Paul for both Liberty University, Glenn Beck and the LDS:

Galatians 1:6–9 6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

In conclusion, we should not engage in any unnecessary ministry and religious affiliation with cults in any way whatsoever (cf. 1 Cor. 10.19-22).  I don’t think we should even join with LDS or Islam or anyone else for that matter on anything knowing that they could change their position at any time and on anything.  The leadership at Liberty should be sternly rebuked by their actions, Christian leaders should steer away from ever speaking with LDS leaders, speaking in their houses of paganism, or ever giving the hint that our differences can be tabled for any number of social controversies, “narrow is the way.”

Solus Christus

 

The post Is Glenn Beck the Biggest False Teacher in America, the Compromise of Liberty University? appeared first on RedGraceMedia.

The False Teachers

A few weeks ago I set out on a series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notable false teachers. Along the way we have visited such figures as Arius, Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White and Norman Vincent Peale. Today we will look at a man who commands more followers than perhaps any other person in the world: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, known also as Pope Francis.

Pope Francis

Pope FrancisJorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 17, 1936, the first child of Italian immigrants Mario and Regina. He graduated from college as a chemical technician and pursued that career for a short time before entering seminary at the Diocesan Seminary of Villa Devoto. On March 11, 1958 he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus and over the next decade studied and taught in a variety of disciplines. He was ordained a priest in December 1969 and made his final profession with the Jesuits in April 1973.

In July of that year he was appointed Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina and held that position for several years before resuming his work as a priest and a teacher and, later, as spiritual director and confessor to the Jesuits in Cordoba. As a priest he was loved and admired for his kindness and willingness to engage in patient dialog with his students and parishoners. However, he also walked into a political quagmire as the military sought to assert its dominance over the nation. He was accused of complicity with the military forces in the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests, though he has strenuously denied the charges which have not been satisfactorily proven.

In 1992 Pope John Paul II appointed Bergoglio titular Bishop of Auca and Auxiliary of Buenos Aires. He became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, and was quickly elevated to Cardinal in 2001. After Pope John Paul II died in 2005, some reports indicated that Bergoglio received the second-most votes in that papal election, though Joseph Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI) was eventually elected to succeed John Paul. As a cardinal Bergoglio gained a reputation for his low-key lifestyle, his commitment to social justice, and his doctrinal conservatism, proving himself an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage and public efforts to introduce free contraception. One of his friends says, “He’s as uncompromising as Pope John Paul II, in terms of the principles of the Church – everything it has defended regarding euthanasia, the death penalty, abortion, the right to life, human rights, celibacy of priests.”

When Pope Benedict XVI voluntarily resigned as pope on February 28, 2013, the papal conclave elected the 76-year-old Bergoglio as his successor. He chose Francis as his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi and his lifestyle of simplicity. He is the first Jesuit to be pope, the first pope from the Americas and the southern hemisphere, and the first non-European pope in almost 1,300 years.

As pope, Francis immediately made his mark by maintaining his relatively austere lifestyle and eschewing much of the formality that has marked previous pontiffs. He chose not to live in the Apostolic Palace but instead to reside in the Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse. He wears simpler vestments than his predecessors and insists that he wants the Roman Catholic Church to be a church for the poor. He immediately began planning reforms to the Vatican’s expansive bureaucracy, emphasizing efficiency and transparency.

Francis has given hope to both conservatives and to progressives within the Roman Catholic Church, sometimes by apparently contradicting himself. While insisting that the Church’s view on sexuality will not be the subject of negotiation, he has also said “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” He has also hinted toward a kind of universalism saying, “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying—and this is the fundamental thing—that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience. Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

In the year since he became pope, he has received wide acclaim both from within the Roman Catholic Church and from far outside it. In 2013 he was named Person of the Year by TIME magazine as well as LGBT-interest magazine The Advocate. Esquire noted his simpler dress and named him The Best Dressed Man of 2013. Fortune magazine ranked him at the top of their list of the top-50 leaders while Rolling Stone featured him on the cover of a recent issue.

False Teaching

For all we can commend about Pope Francis, the fact remains that he, as a son of the Roman Catholic Church and as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, remains committed to a false gospel that insists upon good works as a necessary condition for justification. He is the head of a false church that is opposed to the true gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The core doctrinal issues that divided Protestantism from Catholicism at the time of the Reformation remain today. The core doctrinal issues that compelled Rome to issue her anathemas against Protestantism are unchanged. Rome remains fully committed to a gospel that cannot and will not save a single soul, and officially damns those who believe anything else: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining [of] the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

Roman Catholic doctrine states that justification is infused into a person through the sacrament of baptism. The Catholic Catechism explains: “Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us.” However, this justification is not a judicial declaration by God, but the beginning of a lifelong process of conformity. It is insufficient to save a person without the addition of good works. This infusion of righteousness enables a person to do the good works that complete justification. However, this justification can be diminished or even lost through sinful acts and in such cases it must be renewed and regained through confession, through the Eucharist, and through good works. Those who have been granted justification eventually merit heaven on the basis of the good works enabled by that justification. Again, according to the Catechism, “We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ.” This is another gospel, a false gospel, that adds human merit as a necessary addition to the work of Christ.

Francis also holds that Mary is mediatrix and co-redemptrix with her son Jesus, that Scripture is insufficient and must have the tradition of the church added to it, that even Christians who die may have to endure Purgatory, that Christ is sacrificed anew each time the Mass is celebrated, and so on. But no false teaching is more scandalous than his denial of justification by grace through faith alone.

Those within the Roman Catholic Church who have experienced salvation (and I sincerely believe there are those who have) have done so despite the church’s official teaching, not through it. Even while Francis washes the feet of prisoners and kisses the faces of the deformed, he does so out of and toward this false gospel that leads not toward Christ, but directly away from him. Good deeds done to promote a false gospel are the most despicable deeds of all.

Followers and Modern Adherents

Pope Francis is the head of a church that spans the globe and may well be the most powerful organization in the world. Fully 17% of the global population—over 1.2 billion people—profess to be Roman Catholic and that number continues to increase. With his efforts to reach out to adherents of other faiths, Francis has a voice that extends to perhaps a third or a half of the world’s population. This makes him by far one of the most influential people in the world.

What the Bible Says

From the time of the Reformation Protestants have insisted that Roman Catholicism is a false church that promotes a false gospel. The Bible insists that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and apart from all human effort. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). While we can agree with Rome on the necessity of good works, we must insist along with the New Testament writers that such works are the fruit of justification, and have no part in the root of our justification.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:4-8)

The gospel of Rome is not the gospel of the Bible and, therefore, must be resisted and rejected.

FalseTeachers-0214From Challies.Com, June 20, 2013 …

No one enriches hell more than false teachers. No one finds greater joy in drawing people away from truth and leading them into error. False teachers have been present in every era of human history, they have always been a plague and have always been in the business of providing counterfeit truth. While their circumstances may change, their methods remain consistent.

Here are seven marks of false teachers.

  1. False teachers are man pleasers. What they teach is meant to please the ear more than profit the heart. They tickle the ears of their followers with flattery and all the while they treat holy things with wit and carelessness rather than reverence and awe. This contrasts sharply with a true teacher of the Word who knows that he is answerable to God and who is therefore far more eager to please God than men. As Paul would say, “But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (1 Thes. 2:4).
  2. False teachers save their harshest criticism for God’s most faithful servants. False teachers criticize those who teach the truth, and save their sharpest criticism for those who hold most steadfastly to what is true. We see this in many places in the Bible, such as when Korah and his friends rose up against Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:3) and when Paul’s ministry was threatened and undermined by those critics who said that while his words were strong, he himself was weak and unimportant (2 Cor. 10:10). We see it most notably in the vicious attacks of the religious authorities against Jesus. False teachers continue to rebuke and belittle God’s faithful servants today. Yet, as Augustine declared, “He that willingly takes from my good name, unwillingly adds to my reward.”
  3. False teachers teach their own wisdom and vision. This was certainly true in the days of Jeremiah when God would say, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds” (Jer. 14:14). And today, too, false teachers teach the foolishness of mere men instead of teaching the deeper, richer wisdom of God. Paul knew, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3).
  4. False teachers miss what is of central importance and focus instead on the small details. Jesus diagnosed this very tendency in the false teachers of his day, warning them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matt. 23:23). False teachers place great emphasis on their adherence to the smaller commands even as they ignore the greater ones. Paul warned Timothy of the one who “is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:4-5).
  5. False teachers obscure their false doctrine behind eloquent speech and what appears to be impressive logic. Just as a prostitute paints and perfumes herself to appear more attractive and more alluring, the false teacher hides his blasphemies and dangerous doctrine behind powerful arguments and eloquent use of language. He offers to his listeners the spiritual equivalent of a poisonous pill coated in gold; though it may appear beautiful and valuable, it is still deadly.
  6. False teachers are more concerned with winning others to their opinions than in helping and bettering them. This was another of Jesus’ diagnoses as he considered the religious rulers of his day. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matt 23:15). False teachers are ultimately not in the business of bettering lives and saving souls, but of convincing minds and winning followers.
  7. False teachers exploit their followers. Peter would warn of this danger, saying: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. … And in their greed they will exploit you with false words” (1 Peter 2:1-3). The false teachers exploit those who follow them because they are greedy and desire the riches of this world. This being true, will always teach principles that indulge the flesh. False teachers are concerned with your goods, not your good; they want to serve themselves more than save the lost; they are content for Satan to have your soul as long as they can have your stuff.

Inspired by Shai Linne and Appendix II of Thomas Brook’s Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.

The False Teachers

A few weeks ago I set out on a new series of articles through which I intend to scan the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we will visit such figures as Arius, Servetus, Fosdick, and even a few you might find on television today. We continue this morning with a false teacher who has at least 15 million followers in the world today, many of whom have undoubtedly knocked on your front door. His name is Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith

Joseph SmithJoseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Vermont. When he was a child his family moved to Palmyra in western New York where there was a lot of revivalism and religious fervor due to the Second Great Awakening. The wild enthusiasm and the many denominations present confused Smith and he was uncertain of what to believe and how to worship. As he writes in The Pearl of Great Price: “In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.”

In 1820, in this time of confusion, Smith read James 1:5 which instructs those who lack wisdom to request it from God. He immediately withdrew to a wooded area near his home to pray for wisdom and it was at this point that he recalls having a vision of a pillar of light coming down from heaven and God the Father and Jesus his Son standing above him in the air. Smith asked them which of the denominations or sects were right and which he should join. He was told that all of the denominations were evil and corrupt.

It was at the time of this experience that Smith became convinced he had been called as God’s prophet. On September 21, 1823, while praying in his room, he received an angelic visitation. This angel, named Moroni, told him that he had been chosen by God for a great work. He told Smith about a book written upon gold plates that had been buried alongside the Urim and the Thummin of the Old Testament. Smith immediately found this book, and, using the Urim and Thummin, translated it, and published it in 1830 as The Book of Mormon. This was the same year that he formally organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A commanding and gregarious figure, Smith began to amass followers. As the movement grew, it migrated west, in large part because their teaching was not welcome in most places and was often opposed with threats of violence. Smith moved first to Ohio, then to Missouri, then to Illinois. As the movement grew, it required more and more revelations, and Smith received them as need arose. These revelations continued until his death and were compiled into a book referred to as the Doctrine and Covenants.

There was strife within the Mormon church, and in the spring of 1844 it led to threats of violence between Smith and others in the town of Nauvoo, Illinois. The governor intervened and imprisoned Smith until he could stand trial. Before this could happen, though, an armed mob stormed the jailhouse where he was being kept, and Smith was shot and killed while trying to escape through a window.

False Teaching

The heart of Joseph Smith’s false teaching was that he put his own authority over the authority of Scripture. He added his own revelation to the Bible’s revelation and took it upon himself to identify and correct what he claimed were errors in Scripture.

Smith believed that the Bible was corrupt and insufficient and for that reason both took away from, and added to, God’s written revelation. Regarding the Bible’s corruption he said, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” These errors were both typographical and doctrinal. To address the Bible’s shortcomings, Smith produced his own translation of the Bible, making many corrections and additions to a variety of Old Testament and New Testament books.

He also claimed that his own revelations from God were the only access point to the true gospel that had apparently been lost. Mormon historian Richard Bushman says the “signal feature” of Smith’s life was “his sense of being guided by revelation.” He placed himself above all previous revelations and interpretations of the Bible—even those of Christ himself.

Followers and Modern Adherents

Joseph Smith gained many devoted followers during his lifetime. Immediately after his death, his followers split into two main groups: those who followed Brigham Young to Utah to become the modern “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” and those who coalesced under Smith’s eldest son, Joseph Smith III to become the modern “Community of Christ” (formerly known as the “Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”).

These are the two main groups who follow Joseph Smith today. They continue to adhere to his false teachings about the Bible and countless doctrines contained within it. They continue to deny the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture while elevating personal experience above the authority of the Bible. In total they number approximately 15 million and their ranks continue to grow through constant and systematic proselytization.

What the Bible Says

The Bible claims that it is the authoritative, infallible, inerrant, sufficient revelation of God. “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6). It offers this dire warning: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).

There is no historical evidence that the Bible was missing information or that it had been corrupted before it was compiled into the Old and New Testaments. The fact that Jesus quotes the Old Testament with such confidence and without any hint that it is lacking or misrepresentative is reason enough to accept it as the pure and true word of God (John 17:17). The New Testament has also been repeatedly proven as unchanged and undefiled since it was first given by God.

The diversity of interpretations and sects among those who claim to follow the Bible, the very context which so confused Smith and led him to create an entirely new religion, does not provide warrant to say that the Bible itself is ambiguous or lacking in any way. We are told to expect divisions and factions among the body, “in order that those who are genuine … may be recognized” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19). Mormonism itself has been cut by endless in-fights and divisions, showing that the problem when the fractured church is not corrupted Scriptures but corrupted hearts.

The False Teachers

Last week I set out on a new series of articles through which I intend to scan the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we will visit such figures as Arius, Servetus, Fosdick, and even a few you might find on television today. We continue this morning with a false teacher whose teaching can still be found today, though most often in a reduced form. His name is Pelagius.

Pelagius

Historians believe that Pelagius was born in Britain around the year 354. We know little about his early years, but do know that at some point he became a monk and in that capacity journeyed to Rome. While in Rome, Pelagius began to write theological works, though, except for a few fragments, these have been lost and are known to us only through quotes in the writings of those who refuted him. He began to promote a rigorous asceticism, apparently out of concern for the moral laxity he saw among many Roman Christians. This austere lifestyle made him attractive to many Romans and he soon gained a considerable following. One person in particular, a lawyer named Celestius, became a devoted follower and promoter of Pelagius’ teachings.

It is said that at one time Pelagius heard a quote from Augustine’s Confessions—“Command what you will, and give what you command”—and blamed such teaching for the lack of morality in the church. He believed that Augustine was teaching doctrine contrary to a biblical understanding of both grace and free will and believed such teaching turned man into a mere automaton. Contrary to Augustine, “Pelagius taught that human beings have a natural capacity to reject evil and seek God, that Christ’s admonition, “Be ye perfect,” presupposes this capacity, and that grace is the natural ability given by God to seek and to serve God” (Theopedia).

When the Visigoths attacked Rome in 410, Pelagius and Celestius fled together to Carthage in North Africa. Pelagius’ influence began to spread there as well, causing concern for Augustine who responded by publishing several works that refuted and counteracted Pelagius. After a couple of years in Africa, Pelagius moved to Palestine and Augustine promptly warned Jerome that Pelagius was spreading a seditious heresy. Jerome, too, labored to prevent this false teaching from spreading in the East.

In 416 the church in North Africa held two separate synods to examine Pelagius’ teachings and both of them condemned him. Their results were sent to pope Innocent I for his decision, and upon receiving them he excommunicated Pelagius and Celestius. However, less than two months later, pope Innocent died and he was succeeded by Zosimus. Pelagius and Celestius asked Zosimus to reconsider the previous pope’s decision. When he did so there was alarm in North Africa and yet another synod was immediately convened to beg him not to repeal the prior pope’s sentence until it could be proven that the two men had clearly denounced their false beliefs.

Zosimus listened to these pleas and commanded that another council be convened to consider and decide the matter. In May of 418, the Council of Carthage once again branded Pelagianism as a heresy and Pelagius was expelled from Jerusalem. He settled in Egypt, and was never heard from again. In 431, at the Council of Ephesus, Pelagius and Celestius were officially declared heretics by the entire church.

False Teaching

Pelagius believed that man had not been entirely corrupted by Adam’s fall and that he could, by his own free will, do works that pleased God, and thus be saved. This led Pelagius to deny the doctrines of original sin and predestination, and to deny the need for special grace to be saved. Essentially, he believed that man is basically good and moral and that even pagans can enter heaven through their virtuous moral actions.

Monergism summarizes in this way: “Jesus Christ, was a good example. Salvation is a matter chiefly of following Christ instead of Adam, rather than being transferred from the condemnation and corruption of Adam’s race and placed ‘in Christ,’ clothed in his righteousness and made alive by his gracious gift. What men and women need is moral direction, not a new birth; therefore, Pelagius saw salvation in purely naturalistic terms—the progress of human nature from sinful behavior to holy behavior, by following the example of Christ.”

Followers and Modern Adherents

Though church councils condemned Pelagianism as heresy, this did not immediately crush the teaching. In the early church, Pelagianism was carried on by Julian, Bishop of Eclanum, one of eighteen Italian bishops who refused to sign the papal decree and who were consequently exiled. To advocate Pelagianism was to battle Augustine, and Julian did this until Augustine’s death, though he was never able to gain as great a following as Pelagius. Over the next century or so, Pelagianism broke out a handful of times, but the councils condemned it so consistently and strongly that by the sixth century it had been nearly eradicated.

Pure Pelagianism has not resurfaced in a major way during the past fifteen hundred years, but a modified form took root in the sixteenth century through the teachings of Jacob Arminius whose beliefs are often described as semi-Pelagian. Semi-Pelagianism teaches that while humanity is tainted by sin, we are not so tainted that we cannot cooperate with God’s free offer of grace. Calvinists tend to describe Arminianism as a form of semi-Pelagianism, though Arminians tend to consider the label unfair.

Perhaps the closest modern-day successor to Pelagius was Charles Finney. Like Pelagius, he denied original sin saying “Moral depravity is sin itself, and not the cause of sin.” He believed the whole notion of a sinful nature is “anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma” and taught that we are all born in a state of moral neutrality, able to choose between good and evil—to choose between being good or being sinful.

What the Bible says

The Bible teaches that we were created to be good, but because of Adam’s Fall we are all born in a state of total depravity—spiritually dead in our sin—and that we are wholly dependent upon God’s supernatural grace for salvation and new life. Our wills are not free to do what is righteous or even to desire to do what is righteous. We need to be born again by God before we can begin to do even the least deed that is pleasing to God. (See, for example, Ephesians 2:1-9, Titus 3:3-8; Romans 6:17-18.)

Today, Orthodox Christians confidently proclaim because of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, all of creation is fallen; we are all born in sin and guilt, corrupt in our nature and unable to keep God’s law (New City Catechism, Answer 14).