Sunday, October 23, 2016

Know the Heretics by Justin S. Holcomb Part 2

Each chapter of Know the Heretics is broken up into five parts: the historical background to the heresy, the specifics of the heretical teaching, the orthodox response, the contemporary relevance (or resonance), and discussion questions and further reading. Some of the chapters look at heresies that are associated with specific people or groups (eg. Marcion, Judaizers, Manichaenism), whilst others look at theological tendencies (eg. Gnosticism and Docetism). In the first section of the book (Chapters 1-5), the heresies tended to be an incorrect understanding of the following issues: the Old and New Testaments and their relationship to each other; that salvation is by grace alone, and not by our works; that God has revealed himself completely through his son; and that Jesus is fully human (and not just God).

In thinking through the orthodox position on each of these topics, I was reminded how important they are to my faith. For instance, in the chapter on the earliest heretical group, the Judaziers, I was reminded that as a church (and I mean both generally and the church I attend specifically) we can exclude people on the basis of their behaviour, only welcoming those who practice our particular brand of Christianity. We can also open ourselves up to the sin of pride if our focus is on how we demonstrate our obedience to Christ: “In fact, since obedience can become a point of pride, doing good can even be detrimental- we must sometimes repent of our virtues as well as our vices.” (p. 30)

The chapter on Docetism looked at a general heretical theology that “taught that Jesus Christ was totally divine and that his humanity was merely an appearance. Although he seemed to have a human body, he was not subject to any kind of human experiences. This included being immune to human ‘birth, fatigue, thirst, hunger, suffering [and] death.’” (p. 56) As Holcomb points out, a lot of popular liberal theology, particularly of the 19th and 20th Centuries had a similar spirit, wanting to remove the miraculous and supernatural elements of Christ’s life and ministry, going so far as to deny the bodily resurrection. The danger of Docetism for us is found in its motivations, as we look for ways to communicate the Gospel to seemingly ever-widening cultural divides: “The root of Docetism was the desire to make Christ more palatable to a world that sees the cross as foolishness. But the more they tried to please the world, the farther they strayed from the truth contained in Scripture.” (pg. 59-60)

In reading these chapters, they affirmed for me what Holcomb established in his introduction: that heresies, in the end, lead people away from Christ, not towards him. The danger for us, as Holcomb touches on at the end of each chapter in the section on ‘contemporary relevance’, is that in our efforts to engage with the (various) cultures we find ourselves in, we will be selective. We might downplay certain parts of the Bible (maybe we don’t preach very often from the Old Testament, or avoid a Bible Study series on it), or aspects of Jesus Christ, or we may start to believe that it is what we do as Christians that makes our salvation secure. In the end, we are never very far from heresy in our lives as Christians. We should continue to pray Paul’s words to the elders of the Church at Ephesus “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:28-31)

About this month's contributor, Sian Lim
Si├ón enjoys reading, talking about literature, writing and helping people to do these things. She is delighted that she can earn an income doing this as a high school English teacher, whilst continuing to develop herself professionally by attending theatrical performances with her husband, and reading by herself and with her three boys. She is thankful to God for words: that he created by His word, that Jesus came as the Word incarnate, and that by the Spirit she can say “Jesus is Lord”.