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Posts Tagged ‘Tertullian’

Fellow Heresy Hunters Beware The Example Of Tertullian

Posted by Job on March 28, 2009

One of the requirements of being an adherent to the Christian faith is that you oft contend for it. Let scripture bear witness that if you are not contending for the faith, then you are not in the faith. Of course, there are many ways to contend for the faith. Deep, intensive and devoted prayer in which we intercede for the lost and ask God to guide and strengthen the found (especially pastors and other leaders). Evangelism. Christian service. Personal piety and obedience. And yes, combating heresies.

Regarding the heresy hunting portion, I cannot help but remember one of church history’s most famous: Tertullian. It was through this brilliant fellow’s writings that we learned of many of the false doctrines plaguing the early church, and one cannot help but be amazed at the intelligence and fearlessness of this person as he took apart the doctrines and the people promulgating them.

However, all was not well with this Tertullian. It appears that this man was something of a rigorist. Rigorism can perhaps be contrasted with legalism, which claims that a person needs to keep certain religious rules and observances in order to be saved. However, it can also be contrasted with pietism, which advocates outward holiness (along with other things mind you!) while never losing sight of mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Experts who have studied Tertullian seem to agree that he simply could not abide the fact that people – including those professing to be Christian – were simply going to have flaws. Tertullian was seeking a sort of perfection that Romans 7, among other passages, states that will never exist in this life.

An example: Tertullian claimed that the “sin unto death”, the unforgivable sin, was adultery. Now when one considers the ideas from various competing – and often syncretizing – religious and philosophical groups circulating in that day, this position is not nearly so strange as it sounds; indeed it may have been a widely held position. But still, how convenient is it to take a sin that you haven’t committed and claim that God will not forgive the person who commits that sin? It is a lot easier to condemn the next guy to the lake of fire than yourself, isn’t it? So while this position was, when considering the context, understandable, it simply does not align with what the Bible says. 

Now of course, then as now, there were huge problems with the church and the refusal of people to abide sound doctrine and holy living, and it seems for people of Tertullian’s day, there were two options: withdraw to the desert and become a monk, or join the Montanists. Both movements were known for their centering their lives around rigor. Let it be known that the Bible clearly explicitly rejects both. Regarding monasticism, Christians are clearly to be in the world, performing good works, serving, fellowshiping, and evangelizing. As for the Montanists, more on them later. 

Tertullian chose the second option, divorcing his wife and choosing Montanism as an outlet for his refusal to acknowledge that “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” is part of the universal Christian experience, and that denying this fact using rigor has the potential to result in people that are twice the sons of hell that they were before. 

Now I have a lot of sympathy for the Montanists in some respects, especially when reading about how so many of them were brave in the face of martyrdom at the hands of the state. Still, one cannot get around that they were real pieces of work. The founder of their sect, this one Montanus, claimed to be the Paraclete that Jesus Christ stated would come after He ascended to heaven. Of course, the Paracle is God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity! The Montanists claimed to be heralds, prophets and apostles if you will, of a new dispensation, or age of grace. The wrath of God was going to fall upon the lukewarm church and wicked world, and a new people of God would be raised up to lead the world into greater spiritual heights. 

Speaking of grace, I am willing to extend a bit to the Montanist sect – or at least some of its members that were for a time sincerely deluded by it – as lest we forget these people were operating without such benefts that we have today as an authoritative canon,  nearly universal literacy (and inexpensive, freely available Bibles to take advantage of it), doctrines made standard by nearly 2000 years of systematic theology, and the unfolding of history. But what can be said of a brilliant learned man like Tertullian who claimed that adultery was the unpardonable sin divorcing his wife and joining a cult run by a man who claimed to be the personification of the Holy Spirit, thereby making him equal with Jesus Christ and God the Father?

Now it is true that Tertullian ultimately left the Montanists, and those who treasure his contributions to church history and doctrines use this fact to claim that he returned to orthodoxy. I myself wish and hope it to be so, but regrettably, the last reliable information that we have on Tertullian is that he left the Montanists not  because they were thoroughgoing purveyors of doctrines of devils, but rather because they were not rigorist enough, and that in response he founded his own sect, the even more rigorist Tertullianists! 

Of course, as one who believes in the doctrines of grace, which includes predestination, election, limited atonement, and perseverance of the saints, my stance is that if Tertullian never returned to the faith, then he was never truly in it to begin with. Still, for current and future heresy hunters, his example is instructive, as we must acknowledge what Tertullian refused to do, which is that Romans 7 applies to all members of the Body of Christ, and we should be ever mindful of this fact when we speak and act. Maranatha!


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The Early Church Fathers: Amillennialism and Universalism

Posted by Job on October 15, 2008

According to William J. La Due, who can hardly be considered fundamentalist (he has been a professor at St. Francis Seminary and Catholic University of America) in The Trinity Guide To Eschatology (which I do not recommend) Irenaeus of Lyons, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Hippolytus were millennialists. It was those who came later, such as Origen, Jerome, and Augustine who rejected it, and Origen and Augustine in particular for amillennialism.

What happened? Simple: the influence of Greek paganism. From La Due’s writings, it is easy to connect the dots and come to the conclusion that 1) amillennialism was required for universalism and 2) universalism was needed to resolve the conflict between Christianity and Hellenism. Despite the claims of universalists that their interpretations are more consistent with the overall body of scripture, the truth is that Origen and the rest simply used a grotesquely out of context interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:28 (When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all) to justify their refusal to reject Greek pagan religion.

La Due further stated that the first prominent theologian to try to merge Christianity and Hellenism was Clementine of Alexandria, who died in the early 3rd century. This Clementine was the first Christian advocate of purgatory. By this Clementine imported the Greek mythological concept of purgatory into Christianity as a key component of universalism. (The Vatican II returned to Clementine’s doctrine by using purgatory to facilitate “all religions and good people who follow them lead to heaven” pluralism as opposed to “everyone whether religious or not and good or evil goes to heaven” universalism.)

Augustine incidentally rejected universalism. Further the Roman church did not get around to officially condemning Origenism in 543 and 553. (Augustine’s view of purgatory, by the way, were much closer to Jesus Christ’s parable of Lazarus and the rich man than they were to contemporary or historic Roman Catholic doctrine on the matter.) However, only Origen was so condemned, not Gregory of Nyssa, Clement of Alexandria, or the many others that played with this doctrine, including Ambrose of Milan. La Due suggests that the real reason why Origen was condemned while the many other universalists were not was Origen’s proto – Mormon doctrine of pre – existence, not universalism. Perhaps condemning universalism would have meant condemning purgatory as well?

In any event, it certainly looks like Origen and his fellow travelers rejected the endtimes views of the early church because millennialism (and ultimately eternal punishment) made doctrines that conformed to the worldviews of the Greeks unworkable. We see the same thing going on today, with not only so many leading evangelicals following the lead of Vatican II Roman Catholics and theological liberals in adopting pluralism to please the current philosophical mindset, but many also adopting annhiliationism (the belief that sinners will simply cease to exist based on the notion that the worth of man is so great that God cannot judge mankind as He sees fit without being considered cruel and tyrannical). By contrast, Augustine taught that the reason why sinners would be resurrected and receive new incorruptible bodies on judgment day would be so that the flames of the lake of fire would never consume them!

Alas, it is regrettable that so many Reformed evangelicals either believe in the pre – tribulation rapture (i.e. John MacArthur or Albert Pendarvis) or amillennialism (e.g. R.C. Sproul). It is even more regrettable that many Reformed amillennialists insist that amillennialism was the mainstream position of the early church. On the other hand, it does appear that my oft – proposed theory that the Constantism (the Roman imperial church and the Roman Catholic Church) adopted and promoted amillennialism to justify its goals of co – opting Christianity for political and military ambitions – dominionism or official theology – is problematic, as amillennialism has to go with the practice of worshiping saints and Mary and the doctrine of purgatory as yet another thing that cannot be blamed on Constantinism because it predated his takeover of Christianity by at least 100 years. Amillennialism is not evidence of how the Roman Empire took Christianity off its path, but rather how the Roman Empire adopted a faith that had already long veered from its apostolic foundations.

So instead, amillennialism, purgatory, saint and angel worship, and the heresies concerning Mary were simply attempts to make the faith acceptable, conformed with, and relevant with the world. Am I exaggerating, then, to say that Clement and Origen of those days are the emergent leaders like Rick Warren, Erwin McManus, Rob Bell, and Dan Kimball or political Christians like James Dobson, Barry Lynn and Bill Moyers today? Not a whole lot, and probably not at all. Whether it is Hellenism or enlightenment rationalism or postmodernist consumerism, James 4:4 and Romans 12:1-2 still applies.

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How The Oneness Pentecostal Jesus Only Doctrine Was Originally Justified

Posted by Job on December 1, 2007

Background information: my wife reports that while driving recently she was listening to a local religious call – in show on a gospel radio station. A caller, a recently saved fellow, told the pastor answering questions that he had just started attending a church whose pastor told him that he needed to be baptized in the name of Jesus only. He said that he related that information to his wife, who told him that he had to be baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The call – in show pastor told the fellow that he should not listen to his wife, but rather the pastor, that he should be baptized in the name of Jesus only. This pastor then asserted “the Name Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has no power.”

First off, the claims by the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus only folks, etc. that the original apostolic doctrines were discarded and that their group is the true church restoring the true faith … well they have been around for awhile. The first known group to make this claim were the “adoptionists”, who claimed that Jesus Christ was born a mere man (though supremely virtuous), received God’s “anointing” at baptism, and did not reach divine status until His resurrection. This doctrine originated in 190 AD, and within a few decades  its followers started claiming that their doctrine was the original doctrine first given to universally accepted by the church until it was changed when the church was led by Zephyrinus, the bishop of Rome from 198 AD to 217 AD. Fortunately there were still people around that were alive before Zephyrinus became bishop of Rome to refute their lies, and further Hippolytus was easily able to trace documents, doctrines, and teachers into the first century, which was the apostolic era itself. So the same lies that Charles Taze Russell, Joseph Smith, and the neo – gnostics like Elaine Pagels and Dan Brown are currently pushing

Second, the notion that Jesus Christ and Michael the archangel were one and the same did not originate with Ellen G. White of the Seventh Day Adventist denomination. Instead, it was first proposed in a crude form by second century figure Hermas. The source of Hermas’ confusion on this matter seems to be that put the Holy Spirit in the place of Jesus Christ in his Similitudes writings. Also in those writings he described a council of six angels, with Michael as the lead, who were called most venerable, holy, and glorious, and were also were given supreme power over the people of God, to pronounce judgment, etc.

Third, the original Jesus only oneness pentecostal, a late second – early third century figure named Noetus, who along with his followers justified their doctrines by rejecting John 1:1-18 by refusing to interpret it literally. In those days, it was a common practice to resort to an “allegorical” or “spiritual” interpretation of scripture whenever one encountered something that they did not want to believe or obey. It was most commonly used to A) discard things in scripture that did not conform to the Hellenistic mindset and B) bash Jews, which appears to have been a beloved pasttime of the early church after the Jewish Christian – Gentile Christian schism. But of course allegorizing and outright taking things out of context was also broadly used by heretics, as it was in this case. Please keep in mind that the views of Noetus actually predated the Council of Nicea by 100 years and the Council of Constantinople, where the full Trinity doctrine was adopted, by over 150 years. Despite what the oneness crowd claims, “Jesus only” and similar was not the doctrine being debated at Nicea and Constantinople, but rather Arianism, which rejected both Christianity and oneness by claiming that Jesus Christ was a created being that was not divine. The Trinity doctrine, then, was fully articulated as a response to Jehovah’s Witness – ism, not modalism, which had been rejected over 100 years earlier. Please consider that it was in response to the teachings of Noetus that Tertullian became the first to refer God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as “Persons”, and the document in which he did so was produced in 213 AD. Not that Tertullian was an innovator, but rather built on the writings of Irenaeus, and he on other church leaders.

Oh yes, and as to the claim that the early church baptized in the name of Jesus only, the Didache (the Teachings of The Twelve Apostles), which was written as early as 140 AD, says otherwise. So do the writings of Theophilus, who was born around 115 AD and became bishop of Antioch in 169 AD.  Not coincidentally, this same Theophilus is considered the first person to use the word “Trinity.”

Source: Early Christian Doctrines by J.N.D. Kelly.

Posted in Christianity, jehovah's witness, Jehovah's witnesses, Jesus Christ, Jesus Only, modalism, oneness pentecostal, oneness pentecostalism, watchtower tract | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 53 Comments »

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