Early Christian Heresies

TABLETALK SPROUL

Acts 20:28–31 “After my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things” (vv. 29–30).

W e could easily apply Ecclesiastes 1:9 (“there is nothing new under the sun”) to the topic of heresy. All of the theological controversies and false teachings we face in our own day have already occurred in one form or another in church history. Certain christological errors pop up again and again, and a look at past heresies will help us develop a sound Christology today.

Particularly important for our purposes are those heresies in the period leading up to the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Today and tomorrow we will look briefly at these heresies and the orthodox response given at the council. Three false teachings will occupy our study today:

1. The Ebionite Heresy was one of the first challenges the church faced, although it basically died out by the end of the fifth century. This heresy arose in Jewish-Christian circles and denied the deity of Christ altogether. Jesus, the Ebionites said, was a unique man, equipped in a special way by the Spirit of God to be the Messiah; however, He was in no sense God Himself.

2. Dynamic Monarchianism was a greater threat to biblical orthodoxy in the early church. This christological heresy rejected the deity of Christ as well, believing that Jesus was a mere man who was later adopted by the Father as the Son of God at His baptism. In this adoption Jesus did not share in the being or essence of God; rather, the unity they shared was moral and ethical. This heresy is sometimes termed adoptionism.

3. Modalistic Monarchianism affirmed Christ’s deity, but it did not see any distinction between the Father, the Son, or the Spirit. This error conceives of one God who wears three masks: in ancient days He was the Father; two thousand years ago, He walked the earth as the Son; and since the time of Pentecost, He is the Spirit. Instead of being one essence with three distinct persons, God is one essence and one person. Historically this heresy has also been called Sabellianism, named after Sabellius, a man considered to be its chief promoter. There is some debate as to whether Sabellius actually held this specific view or some other heresy, but either way, he lacked a biblical understanding of God.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

In our day, Oneness Pentecostals embrace Modalistic Monarchianism. The Jehovah’s Witnesses subscribe to Arianism, a movement that is a later development of Dynamic Monarchianism. It is important to have a good understanding of church history so that we might not be caught off guard by old errors. Make it your aim this month to learn about one century of church history that you might be better equipped to defend the truth.

For further study:

Jeremiah 27

The Bible in a year:

Daniel 5–6

Does God Hear Us?

Dallas Willard

Do Jesus and his Father hear Buddhists when they call upon them? They hear

Anyone who calls upon them. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). There is no distinction between “Jew and Greek,” between those who have “it”—however humans may define “it”—and those who do not, “for the same one is Lord of all, abounding in riches to all who call upon him” (Rom. 10:12).

You cannot call upon Jesus Christ or upon God and not be heard. You live in their house, their ecos (Heb. 3:4). We usually call it simply “the universe.” But they fully occupy it. It is their place, their “kingdom,” where through their kindness and sacrificial love we can make our present life an eternal life. Only as we understand this, is the way open for a true ecology of human existence, for only then are we dealing with what the human habitation truly is.

And the God who hears is also one who speaks. He has spoken and is still speaking. Humanity remains his project, not its own, and his initiatives are always at work among us. He certainly “gives us space,” as we say, and this is essential. But he continues to speak in ways that serious inquirers can hear if they will. We need not, as earlier described, stagger onward in darkness concerning what is truly good and really right. We need not fly upside down. There is a right-side up, and we can find it.—But we don’t have to. We are free. For now.

From The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. Copyright © 1997 by Dallas Willard. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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TODAY’S NEW TESTAMENT READING

New Testament studyView today’s reading at Bible Gateway

1 John 4

On Denying the Incarnation

4 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

God’s Love and Ours

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

New International Version (NIV)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Unsinkable YouVersion Devotional

True, But . . .
By Pastor Dan Hickling
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”—John 8:32 (NKJV)

Christ’s statement here is one of the more popular passages in the Bible. Even those who barely understand or rarely read the Bible have a passing familiarity with this verse. And it’s easy to see why. It sends a hopeful message of liberation, a value we champion highly in our day and age. If something sets you free, then spread the word . . . and if that thing is truth, then let’s be all about the truth!

In a general sense, there’s an undeniable reality here. Recognizing the reality about something typically leads to a necessary resolution than denying or ignoring it. We are better off living in the light than the dark, and there’s a lot of wisdom in the proverb, “We need to fall in love with reality.” 

However, when it comes to this particular passage, we should understand what Jesus is referring to when He says “truth.” Is He describing a general concept concerning truth as alluded to above or something else? We don’t have to guess on this because Jesus defines everything for us in the previous verse: “Then Jesus said . . ., ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed’” (John 8:31 NKJV).

Jesus is stating here that the liberating truth in view is His Word. That changes everything, doesn’t it? The truth that frees a person isn’t “truth” in the general or generic sense, but the words that Christ has spoken; specifically, the words He has spoken concerning spiritual realities such as sin, repentance, mercy, forgiveness, love, restoration, etc. His teachings on these spiritual issues, and abiding (or continuing) in them, is what sets someone free, spiritually.

It’s important that we understand this. Although truth often is liberating in a general sense, the spiritual realities Jesus has given to us will always free us from spiritual bondage when we receive and continue in them! This means a person cannot truly know spiritual freedom apart from Christ. 

Liberation can only be experienced through Him, His words, His truth. And once we understand this, our hearts should be moved with compassion to lovingly share this truth with those who need to be set free. 

DIG: How is this passage often misunderstood?

DISCOVER: What has the power to free a person, spiritually?

DO: Who has God placed in your life who needs to know this truth? Pray about how He wants you to share it with them.