On today’s podcast, Kurt speaks from the Defenders Conference about Christian Orthodoxy. Topics include discussions on various Christian doctrines, heresies countering Christian doctrine, historical accounts of Christian Orthodoxy, and more.
Kurt: Hello. Thank you for joining me this morning here at Christchurch Oak Brook at Love God With Your Mind, the Defenders Conference, and if you’re listening to us live on the internet, we’ve had a few technical difficulties but hopefully everything’s working at least on your end and I’m so glad to be with you this morning. We’ve got a stripped down studio at Christchurch. We’ve got my laptop and our Blue Yeti Pro microphone and a few people. Right? Alright. Well thanks for joining me so this morning we’re going to be talking about Christian orthodoxy and what exactly that is and there’s a famous fellow named Vincent of Lerins who gave us a formula for recognizing the standard of the rule of faith that we’ll be talking about as well.
If you do have questions throughout the time here, what I’m going to ask you to do is I’m gonna go turn on this microphone here and so you can just talk at any time, speak up at any time and we’ll have a nice little conversation. So that should be good to go.
Usually with Veracity Hill we take live callers and today however, we have got a more stripped down studio, we’re not going to be doing that, but in case you do want to call in, if you’re here in the audience or listening now, the number is 505-2STRIVE because here at Veracity Hill we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society so that number again is 505-2STRIVE and the numerical version is 505-278-7483, and you don’t have to call in when we’re live. You can leave us a message and we’ll take the call on the next episode or review any comments you may have and we’re happy to do that.
Christian orthodoxy. What is that about? Orthodoxy deals with right thinking, right beliefs, proper beliefs, and what is it that the church has believed and how is it that we come to these beliefs about what the Bible teaches. Well, I’m a Protestant and so in Protestantism there’s a large emphasis on Sola Scriptura, that is, Scripture alone as the authority on doctrinal matters. What should be nuanced is this isn’t Solo Scriptura. So Scripture is not the only source, it’s not the only authority, so there are other authorities of knowledge, for example, reason, or tradition, or experience. This is how you can know some things. So we really need to be careful when we say Scripture is the ultimate authority. That’s not saying it’s the only authority.
Here’s why. While the Bible doesn’t say that I, Kurt Jaros, exist. Therefore we can’t know if I exist. Well, that’s silly. Right? We know that I exist. We know that Abraham Lincoln was the president of the United States even though the Bible doesn’t talk about it. This is really important because a very core doctrinal belief of Christianity, the term Trinity, or Latin Trinitas, is not in the Bible. The word is not there, but the concept is there. It took a few decades, a couple centuries, for the Christian church to formulize what the Bible was talking about, the concepts therein, and then we came up with a word that signified or represented those concepts.
Also, let me say that with Scripture, the early church didn’t have all of the New Testament written so imagine you are a Christian living say, in the second century. What is your Sola Scriptura? What is your Scripture? It’s certainly not all of the documents. Perhaps you didn’t have some of the documents of the New Testament because it hadn’t been copied into your area yet, the church hadn’t made enough copies, so maybe you didn’t know about 1, 2, or 3 John, or Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and then of course there’s a whole other discussion that we probably won’t get into today about the canonization of the New Testament itself. Why should some letters and some books be in the New Testament and others not so that’s a whole other topic.
Christian orthodoxy. This is the tip of the tip of the iceberg, what we’re going to talk about today. I’ll bring up a few heresies and what not, but I really just want to lay the groundwork as best I can to help you understand how and why these views came to be. Vincent of Lerins, he’s one of the fellows that I’m studying in my doctrinal work, he wrote a work called Commonitorium and the purpose for his work was to help his weak memory, so he wrote these things so he could remember them, but interestingly enough, he wrote a first edition that was stolen and so he had to make a new second copy and we believe it’s stolen because the first historian that talks about it, it happened a few centuries later, so it’s sort of just through oral tradition. Maybe his memory was so bad he just lost it.
Tradition holds that it was a stolen document and so he had to rewrite it and so the belief that historical theologians had that this is actually just the second half of that original work and this is a big work as well. So I’m gonna read some excerpts from the Commonitorium so you can get a feel for how fervent he is for upholding orthodox belief so here he writes that within the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere always and by all. So that’s the standard. Those three rules. Everywhere. Always. By all.
He continues “For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic which as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare comprehends all universality. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true which the whole church throughout the world confesses. Antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and finally, consent, if in antiquity itself, we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, Bishops and Doctors alike.
People had a way with words back then didn’t they? So there he gives the description of what he means. Right? Universality, Antiquity, and consent, or in more common language used today, everywhere, always, and by all. So the rule of faith here, what was to be orthodox Christian belief or this is what the church believes, has been believed generally, not necessarily universally, and that’s a careful nuance because sometimes bishops rose up with their beliefs and it wasn’t just one person. Sometimes they had whole groups of people that agreed with them. Athanasius was a church father who actually the entire church roughly against his view for a long time and he was excommunicated, he was exiled, but lo and behold, he proved through his robust defenses, no. This is what the church has held and eventually his view became the dominantly accepted position. Even still, a majority may not be ultimately, they may for a period, but when you look at the broad history, what’s been believed everywhere, that’s the rule of thumb. Always, there you get the time, and by all, all people, and again that’s a general all.
I want to read a couple passages here from his Commonitorium about those rabid dogs, Nestorious, Apollinaris, and Photinus, who bark against the Catholic faith. “Photinus, by denying the Trinity, Apollinaris, by teaching that the nature of the Word is mutable, it changes, and refusing to acknowledge that there are two substances in Christ, denying moreover that Christ had a soul at all or at all events that He had a rational soul, asserting that the Word of God supplied the place of the rational soul. Nestorious by affirming that there were always or at any rate, that once there were two Christs, but the Catholic Church, holding the right faith, both concerning God and concerning our savior, is guilty of blasphemy neither in the mystery of the Trinity nor in that of the incarnation of Christ.”
As such this whole work is a robust defense of Christian Orthodoxy, but I’ve already said a few terms that some of you are like “Huh?” So let’s take a step back. There are two branches of core Christian beliefs, the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, and interestingly enough, usually when I’ve been to apologetics conferences there aren’t usually breakouts on this. It’s more theology proper than apologetics proper, but certainly if we are to defend our faith we have to defend our core beliefs and if we don’t know what those beliefs are, we don’t know how to communicate them all that well, communicate those ideas to people, we may not be able to defend the faith all that well. So hopefully what we’ll speak on and discuss a little bit this morning here is just gonna give you a little bit that you can go off of and you can go home and perhaps look up more and research more. You’ll be like “Oh. What was Nestorianism again?” Well we’re going to go over a few of those terms.
There are two rules, there are two branches and I say that there’s two rules. One rule here. One rule here. That will really just help you get the basics.
Rule #1 for the Trinity. There is one essence of God, one divine essence, sometimes it’s called a substance. One divine essence, but there are three persons, three persons. One essence, three persons. Let me put it more simply and this will help you in the future to remember this. There is one “what”, but three “whos.” Okay? One “what”, but three “whos.” To our minds, that might be difficult to grasp, and some of the church fathers are not afraid to shy away from simply calling it a mystery. How there is one what but three whos. Those three whos being the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
However mysterious it may be, it is not properly speaking a contradiction. It’s not a logical contradiction. A logical contradiction is A or not-A. Right? So it’s I am sitting here right now at this very moment or I am not here right now at this very moment. Right? That’s a contradiction. It’s one of the other. One what, three whos, is not a contradiction, even though it may be very difficult to grasp and a divine mystery. So that’s the rule. Put very simply, one “what”, three “whos”, or to use the more theological language, one essence, three persons.
The rule about Christology or the study of Christ, Christology. That Jesus is one person with two natures. A fully human nature and a fully divine nature. Okay? Again, Jesus is one person with two natures, a fully human nature and a fully divine nature, and so we’re going to get a little bit into the heresies on both of these sides so I’ll mention a few of these terms and I’ll talk about how they have strayed away from these definitions here that the church has agreed upon, and usually what happens is the church develops the doctrine through controversy, through controversy. When it realized “Oh. People are presenting and teaching on different doctrines”, on say Christology. Some people would say “Oh. Jesus is one person,” and you have other people say “Oh no. Jesus is two persons. There’s one person for each of the natures.” There’s one who for each of the one whats. So for the fully human nature there is a human person and for the fully divine nature there is a divine person.
So there would be these doctrinal rifts in the church and it was only through these massive councils, first it would start locally, meet at local councils, regional councils, but then you would have scenarios where the whole church would come together in what’s called the ecumenical councils, and so that’s where we get our core Christian beliefs, at our ecumenical councils. Right? Because it’s everyone. It’s representative of the whole church.
Now that reminds me, so here when I’ve read Vincent he’s used the term Catholic. I don’t want you to be confused here. He does not mean here Roman Catholic in the sense that we understand it today. He lived back in the 400’s and so this was before the great schism which separated the East from the West and so when he is using this term Catholic here, he just means the universal church because there wasn’t a split yet, so whereas we use the term Catholic as a shorthand for Roman Catholic, for the Roman Catholic Church and their beliefs and what not. So that’s all he means so I don’t want you to be confused on that.
So why don’t we go through a few heresies together? Yea!
We begin with some labels here and you can learn to identify, you’ll see here that there’s nothing new under the sun, so we’re going to talk about Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and you will see, oh, wait. That’s this view or that’s that view so you can see that the church has already dealt with these beliefs so if you want to learn how to engage with or against cults today, just study church history. Study those beliefs because you’ll see “Oh, well this is this and the church has already dealt with that and here are the arguments for that.” They apply just the same.
What do you want to start with first? Trinitarian or Christological heresies?
Christological? Good. I’ve studied Christological heresies a bit more so I’m glad you decided that so we’ll spend maybe a little bit less time on the Trinitarian ones. Okay. So we heard this fellow Nestorius? Right. Okay. So Nestorius believed that the divine person, the Logos, the Word, right? When the Word was incarnated in the flesh, that it was, here you go, God in a bod. Alright? Nestorianism is God in a bod. It’s God, the divine nature, in a human flesh. So the divine soul and the divine mind were the main forces here. Sorry. Did I say Nestorian or Apollinaris? Oh. I’m sorry. I’m already skipping out. I’m screwing up here.
Sorry. Nestorianism is two persons, so the one I just described, God in a bod, that’s Apollinarianism, I’m sorry. So let’s start with Nestorianism and that’s two person, so you’ve got the fully human nature, right? And the fully divine nature and yet there’s one person for each nature. So Nestorius posited that there are two people in Jesus. So when we read the New Testament, when you read the Gospel of Matthew and you read the early church, the apostles, what they believed, they only worship one person. It is God Himself. God in the flesh. It’s not “Oh you just worship a divine person and you’re not worshipping the human person. There’s more than one person there.” And I’d be happy to get into Biblical passages that support this is wrong, but remember, I’m just trying to do the tip of the iceberg today so if you want any of this information I’d be happy to send you some research your way so just go ahead and shoot me a message or give me a call at 505-2STRIVE. That’s Veracity Hill’s number there, or you can leave a comment at our web site as well.
So that’s essentially Nestorianism. Apollinarianism. God in a bod. So here you have that God just took upon human flesh, okay, but not a human mind and not a human soul. Okay? In essence, Christ is not fully man. Jesus is not fully man. One of the concerns that the early church had here was that if Jesus was not fully man, how could He heal and save us, because what has not been assumed cannot be healed? Right. That’s according to a church father. Jesus needs to be fully man in order for atonement to be successful and since we think atonement is fully successful, well He must be fully man, and of course the Scripture attests of this, that Jesus was like us in every way except without sin. Right? That comes from Hebrews.
In terms of His full deity, Paul writes that the fullness of deity dwells in Him. Right? The Scripture is quite clear on these matters, on the fullness of His humanity, fullness of His divinity. Now of course maybe some of you thought “Well we’ve gotta nuance this in some ways.” And remember now while we may, in retrospect call these individuals heretics, they were church leaders. They were trying to think through these things and so sometimes these leaders would have their ideas and might be rebuked, they might be corrected, and sometimes, this happens, they would change their mind, they would realize the error of their ways, and often times they would write to each other, communicate with one another through letters, because sometimes they didn’t always have these letters or books that the early church had, the early church fathers wrote. I mean just imagine the world that they lived in. It was much different than our own. Today we just send emails. They had to go months or years before they discovered or heard about some doctrine that explains certain doctrine like Athanasius’s On The Incarnation.
Okay. So Nestorianism, Apollinarianism, okay. How about Eutychianism. This fellow, Eutyches was the name, he believed that the human nature of Jesus was absorbed by the Logos. Absorbed, so that it went into, and so the concern here that the church had was that the different natures were no longer becoming distinct. Okay? And so we believe that there is a union of the two natures, not that it was absorbed into it if that makes sense so the human nature is not lost because it’s absorbed. It’s still distinct.
Monophysitism, there were a couple of people, and there are some people still today that hold to monophysitism and interestingly enough a number of Protestants, a number of them…church history. This is the idea that Christ only has one nature, one nature. So they might not be aware of their view, essentially, so they’re not aware of the logical consequences of what happens and then what is more popular is that Christ only had one will. That’s calls Monothelitism. So that there’s only one will. Actually the orthodox position is that Jesus had two wills, the divine will and a human will. That’s the orthodox belief. You would think that one person, a person has a will. Perhaps the nature has the will. Right? A will associated with a nature.
How are we doing on time here? Okay. We’re doing alright.
I wanted to look up something interestingly enough before we get to the Trinitarian heresies. There was a study done a couple of years ago surveying evangelicals and their knowledge of Christian orthodoxy and the results were quite surprising. Christianity Today 2014 a couple of years ago. New poll finds evangelicals favorite heresies. The survey finds many evangelicals hold unorthodox views on the Trinity, salvation, and other doctrines. A quarter of evangelicals that were polled said that God the Father is more divine than Jesus. More divine. 9% weren’t sure. 16% say that Jesus was the first creature created by God while 11% were unsure. So how do we make sense of certain phrases that Christ is the only begotten Son or the firstborn of all creation?
Firstborn? Oh that must mean creation. Right? Well, not necessarily when you understand what the firstborn is about. When you understand the Old Testament, what the firstborn was, the best of the best. So let’s move on a little bit into Trinitarian heresies.
Here we have Dynamic Monarchianism. Theodotus, a learned leather merchant from Byzantium brought to Roman teaching that Jesus was a mere man who was endowed with the Spirit at His baptism. This is very similar to the concept of adoptionism, that Christ was just a man but was adopted as deity, but was not eternally divine. Many of you have heard the term Arianism. This is one of the most famous heresies. Raise your hand if you’ve heard that term Arianism before.
Yes. And here we get the views that seeking to defend the views of one indivisible and eternal God, Arius denied that the Son is co-eternal, divine in person, insisting that Christ was a created being. That’s not necessarily to mean that He was adopted, so that it doesn’t say He was a human and then became divine. It’s to say that He’s a divine creation. Right? So He’s still before the creation of the world, but He was created. He is not eternally generated by the Father. So that’s Arianism.
Of today’s cults you might think of, want to know which one holds to Arianism? You could certainly couple it with Jehovah’s Witnesses who think that Jesus, well their view might fit closer to adoptionism, but you could certainly think of Mormonism as well. In Mormonism, God the Father, there’s a spirit divine being, a spirit Father who makes spirit babies and they are the gods of planets so Jesus is an exalted man, He’s a creation. He hasn’t existed for all eternity and so He rules our planet.
Interestingly enough you will have Mormons say certain different things because Mormons don’t always know what they believe either, in the same way that Christians may say things and they may not know what the orthodoxy is. So you might not know exactly what you’ll get from an understanding of Mormons. So for example, Mormons will say “I agree with what you believe. There’s one God.” Well no. They don’t actually believe that. They believe there is an infinite number of gods. They’re polytheists. Even though you may not know it but you go to their doctrinal beliefs.
Quite eye-opening. Let’s go through a couple of others here. Modalism. This is a good one. Sabellius of Smyrna writes a book erroneously maintaining a view that says there was one God, the Father, who had suffered and sustained all of Christ’s human experiences. For this heresy the alterantive name of Patripassianism. I’m not pronouncing it real accurately though, but essentially it’s that the Father suffered in Christ, and that is heretical.
You can say God suffered in Christ, that’s something some of us don’t like to hear. You can say God suffered on the cross, but you would say that it was Jesus specifically, you wouldn’t say the Father, it’s Jesus, and He suffered with respect to His human nature, so you’ve just got to be careful with those nuances. What you are attributing to which nature.
Sabellius refined his view in the third century and so now it’s also called Sabellianism so there are sub-heresies of broader heresies if that makes sense. Sub-categories. So Sabellius believed that the Godhead operates in three modes so the Father is God kind of, but then He appears as Jesus. There aren’t really two or three persons. It’s one person that just operated on different modes, so some people will say they put on different hats. You’ve got your work hat. You’ve got your dad hat. You’ve got your hat that you wear. That’s modalism. Right? That’s not, right? And we try to come up with analogies to understand the Trinity.
If you’ve heard of water as appears as a liquid, a solid, and a gas, right. Or the egg, you’ve got the shell, the white, the yolk. Some of these are simply put heretical when you push them to their logical points. Often times when we’re teaching little kids using these analogies we’re not purposefully trying to teach them heresies. We’re trying to get them to realize that, Well these things don’t contradict, right. So it just might be easier to teach them its’ one what but three whos. One what. Three whos. Oh that’s hard to understand Mom and Dad. Yeah. It’s hard, and that’s okay. But it’s not a contradiction. Right?
I’m happy to take any questions from the audience. Again at any time I will try my best. We could get into the Bible passages and the way these guys understood those if you’d like. I’m just trying to give you the tip of the iceberg here though. Because I don’t want to go super over your heads that maybe for some of you who have never heard these terms. So it looks like we are going to have a question for the audience. Very nice. Mr Carr. Yes. How are you doing today?
Carr: Yes. Very blessed to be here. The most three, four, five, modalists use today, by the first century.
Kurt: Three to five modalist views? Wow. That’s an interesting question. Let’s see here. I may have to ask you if you’ve got something in mind. Three, four, five. In terms of the cults, Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, they wouldn’t say that those are modes. Yeah. That’s a very good question. There might be something out there. Modalism doesn’t tend to be as popular, at least I think as other Trinitarian heresies today, but certainly Modalism does appear in the analogies that we have. But yeah, go ahead. Feel free to elaborate on maybe what you might have in mind.
Carr: Let me put the question to you. Is it not so that the Eastern Orthodox church are substantially modalists and the second part is we can have these home Bible studies, three persons who had been faithful weekly participants, this is Greek, after two to three years he left because he said you still think there is one God in three persons. This is more widespread than I quite realized.
Kurt: That’s interesting because in my study of Eastern Orthodoxy I haven’t come across that. In fact, some of the ways I’ve learned best about Christian Orthodoxy is by studying the Greek church fathers. Maybe it could be, now let me say that there are other branches of Eastern Christianity that aren’t part of the Orthodox Church so there are say the Ethiopian Church or the Armenian Church, and so there are other smaller churches that do hold to heretical views. Let me just double check here. I wanna make sure I’m being accurate. For the Ethiopian Church. Yeah. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church supports the teachings of, so yeah, they’re monophysites. Right. So other members, Coptic Church, Armenian, Syrian, and Indian churches affirm monothelitism, right, and monophysitism, so that’s their position they will hold to. That’s Chirstology though. That is interesting that maybe it could be even commoner to have that. Perhaps misunderstandings themselves because in what I have read from the Eastern Orthodox, they hold to a very robust sense of one essence but three persons.
Now I should say there are divisions between the East and West, the relations between the persons. Okay? So in the East you do get a more hierarchical relational structure and in the West you have more of an equal relational structure so there might be a large emphasis on the Father in the East, then the Son, and then the Holy Spirit whereas in the West it might be more triangular scripture if that makes sense in terms of their relations.
Sorry I couldn’t answer the question all that well, but yeah, modalism you don’t have to define all that much because the two most popular cults, Christian cults, rather Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, you could find multiple heresies in their doctrines but there wouldn’t be modalism. Question?
Girl: In your studies of the Christological and the Trinitarian heresies do you see any clues as to why these developed or why you think people developed these unorthodoxy views and why do they stick? Any reason on that?
Kurt: Yeah. Good. So it’s not these fellows had evil intentions. Right? They weren’t trying to come into the church and to corrupt it. I would say many of them had good intentions, but sometimes good intentions isn’t good enough. Right? You have to have good results. If a plane was flying and the pilot had a heart attack or something and I said “Oh. I wanna save the plane”, but you don’t want me flying the plane. Right? I have no idea how to fly that plane so good intentions, they might be good, but you want good results, and so sometimes you would see the good results with these fellows and often they were regional church leaders, bishops, and so they would just have these disagreements and then alternately they had to call councils together to figure it out and we kind of do this a little bit today, even we Protestants. We try to bring church leaders together to form a statement of faith, the Manhattan Declaration strikes me as a contemporary example of Christian leaders coming together to talk about a lot of views on faith and society and views that Christians should have. So that’s what happened. They often came together and they sparred it out, sparred, thought, intellectually. They discussed. They surveyed the Scriptures. They surveyed the church teaching. Right? Because if you consider Vincent’s rule or canon you will, what is orthodox is what has been believed for everywhere, always, and by everyone, and so you tried to get back to what did the church believe? What did the church believe? And even Protestants today try to do this. Right? We still uphold tradition even if we don’t talk about it as much or as thoroughly as Scripture, but we want to, part of the Reformation, was to go back. It was the rebirth, to go back to the Scriptures, let’s start over in essence. So there is that attempt there and then even today the study of the church fathers is growing within Protestantism. I’m just interested in learning more about the church fathers because if you ask me, well which church fathers did you agree with? So we’ve got church fathers and we’ve even got a crazy uncle. We’ve got a church crazy uncle. That’s Origen. The church father Origen. He held to some good views and he held to some good doctrinal matters, but he also held to some unorthodox views on philosophy. One interesting concept that we don’t believe today that a couple church fathers did because of the Platonic influences was the pre-existence of the soul. Even Augustine believed that too in his Confessions, that souls pre-exist. Origen I believe held to universalism.
We’ve got our core branches, Trinitarianism and Christology. There are some doctrinal beliefs that are non-essential to the core Christian beliefs, the core Christian faith, so I have in here not, I’m interested in the Calvinism/Arminianism debate, I like talking about that, there are some theologians however that go too far I think and say Arminianism is heresy or Calvinism is heresy. It’s not heresy properly speaking, because there hasn’t been an ecumenical council that has surveyed the whole church tradition and said “Oh. This is just what we’ve always believed.” So there are non-essential doctrines, say, different views on the doctrine of hell, so whether there is eternal conscious torment or judgment vs annihiliationsm, that God destroys the souls of non-believers, so that’s an interesting topic, the doctrine of hell and so there’s debate at that. And you can’t say one way or the other that a view is heresy. What you should try and argue instead of saying these are heresies is heterodox. It’s just untraditional. That’s a good more polite way of perhaps of saying you don’t think this is what the early church believed. It doesn’t fit with Vincent’s rule, the canon. And interestingly enough, Augustine is one of the most famous church fathers in all of Christianity and Vincent’s Commonitorium, the traditional view and interpretation of Vincent’s Commonitorium is that he wrote it as a response against Augustine’s view on predestination and the grace of God so that’s quite interesting that you have because they’re essentially contemporaries so the Commonitorium is written about 433 A.D. We know this because it says that the Council of Ephesus occurred two years ago so that’s how we can date the document and so, and Augustine passed away in the 430’s and so they were essentially contemporaries and may have read their works and Vincent lived in southern France and Augustine of Hippo lived across the Mediterranean Sea.
Okay. I haven’t gone super in-depth all that much with this talk, but that wasn’t the point. I know with some of these other session you go super deep, but I’m hoping just to keep it broad for you, maybe get you a interested to learn just a little more about Christian orthodoxy, maybe if you listen to Veracity Hill we’ll have some episodes just devoted to some of these heresies. But I will do a little more research Mr. Carr there in that question about modalism, if I can think of modalists today, where do they appear? I’ll give it some thought. That’s a very good question. If you don’t have other questions then that’ll do it and for those of you listening online we will be back with you next week.