“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet."--Matthew 5:13

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Pelagianism: A Common Heresy

Among the varied heretical views of Christ that have existed since His death, perhaps none has been more prevalent--and dangerous--than that of Pelagianism. Pelagianism denies original sin, assumes man’s free will to choose good, and advocates salvation by good works.     
Not much is known about the life of Pelagius. What we mainly know of him is derived from his few writings and those of his followers. However he is also mentioned in writings by Augustine and St. Jerome among others.
            Pelagius taught that since the human will was created by God, humans have the ability to live a sinless life. He believed that man could achieve moral perfection, aside from God’s grace, through his own free will. Pelagius wrote, “God wished to bestow on the rational creature the gift of doing good of his own free will and the capacity to exercise free choice, by implanting in man the possibility of choosing either alternative”. He did assert, however, that it is God’s grace which assists in man’s good works.
Regarding sin, Pelagius did not believe that Adam’s sin brought guilt to all mankind, but that it was Adam’s example of sinfulness that had condemned mankind. Christ’s redeeming work on the cross was therefore merely a metaphor for Christian living, serving as a further example for His people.
The Council of Diospolis, finding Pelagius’ teachings to be contrary to the authors of the biblical texts, condemned Pelagianism at the Council of Carthage in 418 AD.
The denial of original sin in humanity is clearly not biblical. The Psalmist-King David wrote in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me”. David believed that sin begins at conception. The Apostle Paul is the most notable New Testament author to argue for original sin. Particularly in his letter to the Romans, Paul lays out the framework for the doctrine. Throughout Romans chapter 3, Paul quotes numerous Old Testament passages to point out the sinfulness of all men, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). Skipping forward to chapter 5, Paul attributes guilt to Adam, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). A denial of original sin could have implications in which a person could live their life without sinning, a theory which John says is antithetical to a belief in the Christ of Scripture: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (I John 1:8-10).
Pelagianism assumes that since man is inherently good, man can choose to do good in regards to salvation. But since the Bible states that all men are sinners, they are incapable of choosing to do good (Romans 3:10-12). Man does, in fact, have a will. But that will has been corrupted by sin. Therefore man can only choose evil. Man will never choose the path of righteousness. This is why Christ died for those who would never choose Him.
Salvation by good works is a further example of how the teachings of Pelagianism is contrary to those of the Bible. Paul wrote many times in his epistles that salvation comes only from faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross (Romans 3:28, 4:5, Galatians 2:16). This is what makes man at peace with God (Romans 5:1). God’s people have always been justified by their faith (Genesis 15:16). The Reformers, combatting the heretical teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, which is essentially an extension of modern Pelagianism, affirmed the justification by faith alone and adopted sola fide as one of the five solas of the Reformation.
            In conclusion, Pelagianism is a doctrine that exalts man over the work of Christ. Many modern churches have elements of Pelagian doctrine in their teachings. Christians must beware of the powerfully negative effect that Pelagianism has on the soul. Pelagianism is popular because it exalts man over the Creator. It comes in many forms and is especially prevalent in Humanist and Roman Catholic theologies. Like Adam, we are seeking any theology that will make us “like God”. We must firmly grasp the reality that man is totally sinful, not just a sick patient in need of treatment. We must realize that we have no power to choose good over evil. We must recognize that salvation can come only through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone to the Glory of God alone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Hilary of Poitiers: Boldness for the Truth

Hilarius (Hilary) was the Bishop of the church in Poitiers, France. He was born around 310 AD to wealthy pagan parents and was educated in Greek philosophy. After studying the Old and New Testaments, he abandoned paganism and converted to Christianity. He professed faith in Christ as his Lord and Savior and was baptized and confirmed into the church.

Hilary was appointed as the Bishop of Poitiers around 350. The church needed a strong and courageous leader during this time as Arianism was gaining ground among apostates. Hilary stood strong against the spiritual and physical attacks of the Arians, a heretical sect of Christianity which denied the divinity of Christ. Hilary wrote, “They who deny that Christ is the Son of God must have Antichrist for their Christ” (Hilary, De Trinitate, book 6, chap. 46, in NPNF, 2d series, vol. 9). Hilary also attacked Emperor Constantius, who stood with the Arians, as Antichrist and persecutor of Christianity. Hilary accused the Emperor as being “a tyrant whose sole object had been to make a gift to the devil of that world for which Christ had suffered.”
"Hilary of Poitiers" by Richard de Montbaston et collaborateurs.

At the synod of Biterrae, Hilary was banished into exile. He spent nearly four exilic years in Phrygia (modern Turkey). However, Hilary kept himself busy while in exile. He continued to govern his church from afar and wrote several very important works on theology, a Latin commentary on Matthew, and expositions of the Psalms.

Hilary is a very highly regarded writer from the early-church period. Augustine called him “the illustrious doctor of the churches” and his works have been very influential to the shaping of the church in the centuries following his death. Theologians and church historians also highly respect the works of Hilary. He was a man who was not afraid to stand up for the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture alone. He was willing to defy the popular and heretical religious views of his time as well as to stand against the governmental authorities, even the Emperor himself. We as Christians need to be reminded often of our early fathers. These were men who stood for the truth of the gospel despite religious and governmental persecution. May we, with God’s help, endeavor to do the same.