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The Pelagian Controversy

The Pelagian Controversy took place during the early part of the 5th century and it placed at odds a man by the name of Pelagius against the Bishop of Hippo who we may know today as St. Augustine. The controversy came to a focal point at the Council of Carthage where the church declared Pelagius a heretic in 418 AD.

Now to understand this controversy, we need to look into the background of Pelagius.

Pelagius is known as a moral, earnest, and zealous monk who was born on the British Isles. Sometime later in life when he traveled to Rome, he became alarmed about the godlessness he saw in the clergy and other professing Christians. It was while in Rome that he earned a reputation for the calling of Christians to the ‘attaining of virtue and righteousness’. In this way he and his followers had much in common with the Puritans in that they loved the precepts and laws of God and who were also very concerned about the moral laxity they saw in their own day.

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The Pelagian Controversy

The Pelagian Controversy took place during the early part of the 5th century and it placed at odds a man by the name of Pelagius against the Bishop of Hippo who we may know today as St. Augustine. The controversy came to a focal point at the Council of Carthage where the church declared Pelagius a heretic in 418 AD.

Now to understand this controversy, we need to look into the background of Pelagius.

Pelagius is known as a moral, earnest, and zealous monk who was born on the British Isles. Sometime later in life when he traveled to Rome, he became alarmed about the godlessness he saw in the clergy and other professing Christians. It was while in Rome that he earned a reputation for the calling of Christians to the ‘attaining of virtue and righteousness’. In this way he and his followers had much in common with the Puritans in that they loved the precepts and laws of God and who were also very concerned about the moral laxity they saw in their own day.

The crisis point came, however, when Pelagius read a famous prayer written by St. Augustine and it was a statement in this prayer that troubled him greatly. The statement was, “Oh God, grant what thou dost command…” and it was this statement in that prayer which set into motion the controversy that was to ensue.

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HERESIES: THEN AND NOW
By Jason Barker

In 2 Peter 2:1–2, the apostle states, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.”

The apostle accurately observed the spread of heresy in the first–century church, and his warning that false teachers would continue to arise can easily be seen in the growth of cults and pseudo–Christian religions in our time. Interestingly, the heresies that are popular today are simply variations of the same heresies that have arisen throughout the history of the Church. This article will briefly examine some of the most influential of these heresies, will list scriptures that refute the heresy, and will list some of the modern groups that continue to promote the heresies.

Judaizers — 1st Century Judaizers, or the Judaizing movements, is not a condemnation of Judaism or ethnic Jews. Instead, it has historically been the label for those who attempt to make observing the Mosaic Law a requirement for Christianity and salvation. The book of Acts refers to such people as “they of the circumcision” (Acts 10:45; 11:2), and the council at Jerusalem decisively ruled against them (Acts 15:23–29).

Despite this biblical ruling, Judaizing movements continue to grow in our time. These movements require such things as strict observance of the Sabbath on Saturday, mandatory tithing, observance of the Jewish feasts, and other regulations in order for a Christian to earn salvation.

Scriptural Refutation: Romans 3:24–28.

Modern Groups: Seventh-Day Adventists; followers of Herbert W. Armstrong.

Gnosticism — 1st and 2nd Centuries The Gnostics promoted three basic teachings: 1) matter is evil, and thus Jesus only appeared to be a man; 2) because the Bible teaches that God created matter, the God of the Old Testament Jews is an evil deity who is distinct from the New Testament God, Jesus Christ; and 3) ultimate Truth is a mystery that is available only to those who are initiated into the secret teachings and practices of the Gnostic groups.

Gnosticism has become popular in the latter half of the 20th century with the 1945 Egyptian discovery of the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Gnostic writings. One of the most influential books in modern Gnosticism has been Elaine Pagel’s The Gnostic Gospels, an analysis of the Nag Hammadi documents. Modern Gnosticism is commonly found in syncretistic groups, which teach that Truth can be found by combining the beliefs and practices of numerous religions.

Scriptural Refutation: Genesis 1:4, 10, 18, 21, 25, 27; John 10:30; 2 Timothy 3:16–17; 1 John 1:1.

Modern Groups: Primarily found in the New Age Movement.

Docetism — 1st – 4th Centuries The name is taken from the Greek word dokein = to seem. The docetics believed that the seeming humanity of Christ, particularly his suffering, were imaginary. They taught that the divine God cannot suffer, and thus, since Christ is divine, his suffering was an illusion to teach humans a valuable lesson about the illusion of matter. Docetism was an integral part of Gnosticism. The heresy was a major impetus for the Chalcedonian Definition of 451, which describes that Christ is one person with two natures: human and divine.

The heresy continues among modern groups that deny the reality of suffering.

Scriptural Refutation: John 1:1–3, 14; Philippians 2:6–8.

Modern Groups: Christian Science, Mind Sciences, the New Age Movement.

Origenism — 3rd Century The career of Origen is one of the more unusual in Christian history. He dedicated himself to defending attacks on Christianity from paganism, Judaism, and Christian heresies. His apologetic book, Against Celsus, remains a classic piece of Christian literature.

Despite his defense of orthodoxy, Origen developed several heretical doctrines that were eventually condemned in 553. His most notable deviant teachings involve the preexistence of human souls, the subordination of the Son to the Father, and universalism. Few groups currently adopt all of Origen’s teachings. Nonetheless, groups influenced by Joseph Smith believe in both the preexistence of souls and the essential subordination of the Son to the Father, and many other groups believe in both the preexistence of souls (usually in the form of reincarnation) and universalism.

Scriptural Refutation: Hebrews 9:27; John 10:30; Matthew 7:13–23; 8:11–12.

Modern Groups: Mormons, Liberal Christianity.

Dynamic Monarchianism / Sabellianism — 3rd Century Although the heresy was first taught in 190 by Theodotus of Byzantium, monarchianism was most notably promoted by Sabellius in the third century. Monarchianism denies the Trinity by teaching that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not separate persons. Instead, the monotheistic God (called a monad) progressively revealed Himself as the creator and lawgiver through the “office” of Father, as the redeemer through the office of Son, and as the source of grace through the office of Spirit.

Scriptural Refutation: John 3:16; 17:22–23; 1 John 5:7–14.

Modern Groups: Oneness Pentecostals.

Arianism — 4th Century Perhaps the most significant heresy faced by the Church, Arianism (named after Arius) taught that, as the Son of God, Christ was created by God the Father. Arius thus denied the Trinity by teaching that Jesus is less than fully divine. This heresy became extremely widespread, even being promoted by many bishops. It was condemned at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 (which proclaimed that Christ is fully divine), and at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 (which proclaimed that the Holy Spirit is divine). Arianism remains one of the most common heresies to afflict the Church. Almost all pseudo–Christian groups deny the full deity of Christ.

Scriptural Refutation: John 10:30; 1 John 5:7.

Modern Groups: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, the Unification Church.

Pelagianism — 5th Century Pelagius, a Welsh monk, taught that humanity does not inherit original sin, and that salvation is earned by following the example of Christ. Grace is not necessary; instead, humans overcome the sin they gradually develop by using God’s grace to assist them in perfecting themselves and thus earning salvation.

This heresy, along with Arianism, is endemic to almost all modern pseudo–Christian groups.

Scriptural Refutation: Romans 3:24–26; 5:11–21.

Modern Groups: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, followers of Herbert W. Armstrong.

Nestorianism and Mono-physitism — 5th Century Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, taught that Mary bore only Jesus’ human nature in her womb, thus implicitly teaching that Christ was not divine while on earth. In an overreaction to Nestorius, the Monophysites taught that Christ was one person with his humanity and divinity fused into a single nature (the Greek roots of the word monophysite are mono = one, and physis = nature), thus implicitly teaching that Christ was neither fully human nor fully divine.

Nestorianism is implicit in those groups who deny the reality of matter. One of the most common forms of the monophysite heresy can be found in the New Age Movement, where many believe that Jesus was a man who developed his “Christ consciousness” and thus fully achieved his divinity.

Scriptural Refutation: Colossians 2:9; Philippians 2:6–8.

Modern Groups: the New Age Movement, Christian Science.

Conclusion

Heresy is not new to the Church. The book of Colossians is Paul’s response to the syncretistic heresies present in the 1st century church in Colossae. Colossians 1:15–20, known as the “Christ Hymn,” is one of the best responses to the heresies that attack the deity and work of Christ.

Christians are commanded by God to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). One of the most effective ways to contend for the faith is to know the various ways in which the faith is attacked, and to know the biblical response to these attacks.

http://www.watchman.org/reltop/heresiesthenandnow.htm

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In the last two years, I have met about 10 Church of Christ Members and exchanged dialogue with them. I have found that about half of them deny the Trinity by saying the Holy Spirit is not God. They justify this by personifying the bible as the Holy Spirit. They turn a person into a thing. And they call an imperfect thing, the Holy Sprit. But only God is Holy. And the Holy Spirit is said to be Holy because he is God. There is no translation of the bible that is 100% correct from start to finish. I believe the KJV is very very close to inerrant. But I no longer believe it to be totally inerrant.

Lets look at an illustration that points out how these Church of Christ members (later called COC) put God in a box

1. If there are tribes in the remote jungles of the Amazon region, that still have not been discovered (and I heard it said by the pros that it is most probable) then according to the COC conclusion that it is the bible that saves and not the Holy Spirit (called the HS hereafter) it would be an impossibility for them to be saved if they have not a bible in their hand. I heard it said that there are still some languages that still have yet no bible translation in those languages.

2. Lets say that I charter a deep sea boat to go fishing with just me and a captain. We had a fire and had to abandon ship, but I did not have time to get my bible before I jumped ship. Then while the captain and I was in the raft awaiting possible rescue, he informed that that he had never read the bible but sensing the seriousness of the situation, wanted to know the bible truth and to do what it said to be saved.

According to the COC member that personifies the bible as the HS, this man could not be saved. Because it is the bible that saves, not God. And in this very matter, you see the Palagianism of the COC smack ya right in the face. According to their beliefs about the bible and the HS, they would conclude that this man cannot be saved by my witness, or any other means that God could employ to reach the man. But if he just had a bible, he could read it and grasp it under his own will to be saved. The COC believes just like Pelagius in that they do not think that it is God that saves by drawing men unto himself and authoring and finishing our salvation.

Back in the good old days before pelagianism made a comeback in the restoration movement and the restorationist religions that it created, God used to do it all in salvation. From point 1 to infinity and he got all the glory.

BEFORE GOD WAS IN A BOX.

God didn’t used to have to have a bible to reach men. He reached Abraham, Noah and Moses all without any written scripture. He spoke to them through miracles, dreams and visions. He spoke to their hearts and wrote his law on their heats. He drew them to himself very easily without any written revelation. The NT says that we can have the “mind of Christ” And there is no verse that says that you cannot get the mind of Christ only by reading the written word. Why do you think we are told to go into the world and testify, and not,, go into the world and pass out scripture.

It is no surprise that the COC puts God in a box. I think the JW’s do the same thing with the personification of the bible (their version) as the HS. If you do a study on legalism (in particular legalism in the COC) you will see that it is so common among legalist to adhere to the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law, that you have to conclude that it is pandemic among them. They also put more emphasis on the written word than they do the God that wrote it.

WHY DO THEY PUT GOD IN A BOX???

This work is licensed (for your free use) under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. Please visit How2BecomeaChristian.info

HERE IS A RELVANT BLOG POST Falsely viewing the Holy Spirit as a poetic device known as personification!

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Once again, there are various positions on this issue within the CHOCD, but this is probably their most grievous error. Because it goes way beyond just rejecting the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, as recorded in I Corinthians chapters 12-14. It also includes the rejection of His “enduement of power.” Jesus said in Acts 1:4-8 that He would “baptize them in the Holy Spirit” and they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” And we see the fulfillment of this promise on the day of Pentecost. Peter said in Acts 2:39, that the promise of receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit was for every believer, for “as many as the Lord our God shall call!” In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had also promised that the miraculous would follow those that believed, in Chapter 16, verse 17. Jesus promised in John 14:16, that the Holy Spirit “would be with us FOREVER!” Paul said in Romans 11:29 that, “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”

The only verse that they can even attempt to take out of context to uphold their dispensational outlook is I Corinthians 13:10, that states at some point in time (“when that which is perfect comes”) the miraculous will be done away with. They believe “that which is perfect” was the canonization of the Scriptures. But when you read this statement in context, you see that it couldn’t be what or when they say it is. First of all, the Apostle Paul virtually tells us when it would happen, in verse 12, by telling us what would transpire at the arrival of “that which is perfect.” He says, “For NOW we see in a mirror dimly, but THEN we will see face to face; NOW I know in part, but THEN I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known”.

To prove that the miraculous didn’t cease at the canonization of the Scriptures, all you have to do is plug their theory into verse 12, every time Paul says the word THEN. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but THEN, at the canonization of scripture (300 AD), we will see face to face; now I know in part, but THEN, at the canonization of scripture, I shall know fully as I also have been fully known.” The term “face to face” was used in Paul’s day (as it is in our day) as a very literal term. At the canonization of scripture, who or what did Paul see “face to face?” At the canonization of scripture, how did the Apostle Paul grow in knowledge? He had been in Heaven for over 200 years! The fact of the matter is that when Paul referred to “that which is perfect” he was simply referring to the second coming of Christ, or when we would go home to glory, whichever came first. Will you gain knowledge when you get to heaven? Absolutely! Will you see anyone (Jesus, for example) “face to face?” Undoubtedly! So this verse is obviously a very precarious place to hang one’s hat in an attempt to prove that the miraculous workings of God, through the power of His Holy Spirit, have ceased!

But some (not all) of the members of the CHOCD go even further in their defiance of the Holy Spirit, and say that he is not even a person of the Trinity. The Bible is very clear in attributing personhood to the Holy Spirit by stating that the Holy Spirit has a will (I Corinthians 12:11); that He can be grieved (Eph 4:30); that He would be our Teacher (John 14:26) and more. Many of the CHOCDs even come dangerously close to committing blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31) by saying that any manifestation of the miraculous in this day and age are all 100% demonic! Take it from me, I am living proof that God still performs miracles today. Because in 1979, while a member of the CHOCD… I committed suicide. My family was falling apart, and thanks to the erroneous teachings of the CHOCD, all I had to fall back on was a “religion,” not a living, personal relationship with the living Lord of the Universe. So faced with a future of hopelessness and despair, I took an overdose (130+) of sleeping pills, and laid down to die. But because of the mercy and grace of our loving Creator, a minister friend of mine from the Christian Church came by (after the pills had been in my system for nearly six hours!) As he struggled to help me get dressed to go to the hospital (with the rescue squad on its way), I lapsed into a coma. I went stiff as a board and my eyes rolled back in my head and I keeled over. But on the way to the hospital, as my friend prayed for me, I came to! I had no adverse side effects, other than being thirsty and feeling like I hadn’t slept in days. The doctors didn’t have a clue. My minister friend didn’t even know what to think either. My own earthly Father went to the grave suspecting that the whole thing was an effort to get attention. Hey, you don’t take over 100 sleeping pills to get anyone’s attention but a mortician!

So now maybe you can see why I feel so strongly about reaching the poor souls that have fallen prey to the dead theology of the CHOCD. Legalism robs a believer of their Joy! And since the Joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10), then legalism is a parasite that will sap you of your ability to stand when the storms of life come your way. If the CHOCD wants to be a TRUE representation of the New Testament Church, then they must embrace that which the original church embraced. I am grateful for the basic biblical foundation that I received while in the CHOCD, but even more grateful that Jesus has shown me a “more excellent way!”

http://www.chocd.org/holyspirit.html

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Some in the “Church of Christ” believe they are the only Christians. As one who was previously trained to preach for the Church of Christ, I think that this teaching is harmful. My aim in this video and in my paper is to help members of the Church of Christ and others understand better how we can deal with differences and cultivate a more genuine walk with God. Please visit my website at http://www.geocities.com/thesufficiencyoffaith to download my paper in which I thoroughly discuss these issues. My paper attempts to examine the root of the issue, and in doing so it also addresses many other questions, such as how God deals with people who we might think have not been able to hear the gospel and the relationship between faith and works. Although it was written primarily with the Church of Christ doctrines in mind, the principles God showed me involve questions that have been asked by people all over the world for ages.

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The Pelagian Controversy

The Pelagian Controversy took place during the early part of the 5th century and it placed at odds a man by the name of Pelagius against the Bishop of Hippo who we may know today as St. Augustine. The controversy came to a focal point at the Council of Carthage where the church declared Pelagius a heretic in 418 AD.

Now to understand this controversy, we need to look into the background of Pelagius.

Pelagius is known as a moral, earnest, and zealous monk who was born on the British Isles. Sometime later in life when he traveled to Rome, he became alarmed about the godlessness he saw in the clergy and other professing Christians. It was while in Rome that he earned a reputation for the calling of Christians to the ‘attaining of virtue and righteousness’. In this way he and his followers had much in common with the Puritans in that they loved the precepts and laws of God and who were also very concerned about the moral laxity they saw in their own day.

The crisis point came, however, when Pelagius read a famous prayer written by St. Augustine and it was a statement in this prayer that troubled him greatly. The statement was, “Oh God, grant what thou dost command…” and it was this statement in that prayer which set into motion the controversy that was to ensue.

The question on Pelagius’ mind was -why would anyone need to pray such a prayer? For what Augustine was asking was ‘God help us. God grant unto us the moral ability to do the things you have commanded.’ Because Augustine believed that, unless God grants the necessary Grace, man is inherently unable to live in obedience to God and in our fallen humanity we lack the moral power and ability in our own selves to always do the things God commands.

This teaching deeply concerned Pelagius. How can it be that a Just and Holy God would render a law or command that in our own humanity we do not have the moral power and ability to obey? For God to be just and at the same time issue a law or command that we can not possibly obey…( and then punish us? )…would not only be unthinkable but monstrous.

It was here that Pelagius rejected this teaching that man requires grace or some kind of divine assistance outside of himself in order to live in obedience to God. No, Pelagius argued, God does indeed save us by providing us with His laws and commands, by giving us the excellent moral examples of Christ and the Saints, by the cleansing waters of baptism and by the redeeming blood of Christ.

For according to Pelagius, our salvation can be obtained by our obedience to the moral and religious commands of God as found in the pages of the New Testament.

St. Augustine’s Response

Augustine’s response, however, was that Pelagius’ doctrine was a spiritual impossibility. In light of Adam’s fall, the idea that man can somehow decide to live and be saved by being obedient to the moral and religious commands and laws of God is simply an ability we do not have. Adam had it, but when he sinned he lost it, not only for himself but for all of his descendants as well.

It would be like an illustration of a long column of paper cups where, should a pin or needle be run completely through, not only would the integrity of the first cup be compromised but also the character of all the succeeding cups would be ruined as well. So it is with all of humanity in that we also, because of Adam’s sin, have a flawed character or ‘sinful nature.’ And it is this sinful nature we have that makes us ever inclined to sin and thus makes it impossible for us to continually live in perfect obedience to God.

In Romans Chapter 5:10-21, the Apostle Paul contrasts how that through Adam we were made sinners but through Jesus Christ we can now be made righteous. In verse 19 he says, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus Christ) the many will be made righteous.”

In struggling with his own sinful nature Paul continues this thought in Romans Chapter 7 and says, ‘I agree that God’s law is good. But I see another law at work within the members of my body. For the very things I want to do -I do not do. And the things I do not want to do are the very things that I do.’ Concluding his own sinful moral condition he laments in verse24, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Here you can roughly translate this as ” Who will save me from me ?!

Historically Christianity has said ‘We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are (inherently) sinners.’ In other words, we sin and fall short of God’s standard of perfection because that is what sinners and people who fall short do.

Church of Christ theology compared

For anyone familiar with the Stone/ Campbell movement, the similarities between it and Pelagian theology are rather striking. I would suggest this primarily because both believe that humanity is basically good or morally neutral, that man has within himself the moral power and ability to live and worship in obedience to God’s commands and laws, and that by doing so we can in this way be saved by God’s “provided means of salvation.”

In other words, they directly or indirectly deny the effects of the fall or that Adam’s sin adversely affected man’s moral and religious abilities to keep commands and laws in order to be saved.

For, according to the Churches of Christ, if the believer will just obey the “five steps of salvation” (hear, believe, repent, confess, and be “water” baptized), live and worship in accordance to the pattern given to us in the New Testament, we can in this way be saved.

By contrast, evangelical Christianity starts from the understanding that, because of the fall of Adam, man’s heart is inclined towards evil, that humanity has an inherit inability to keep the commands and laws of God perfectly, and that humanity is completely lost and has no power or ability through “N.T. law keeping” to be declared just or holy in the sight of God.

But if evangelical Christianity believes that we cannot be saved through our own moral and religious abilities of keeping the commands and laws of God, how then do they believe we can be saved?