Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Gnostic Medusa Part Two

Sometimes, people can't see the forest for the trees. That's sort of how I view Gnostics in their tireless efforts to find hidden meanings alien to Scripture. Hence, the photo posted here..done to illustrate a point.

In this installment, I want to give a quick overview of Gnosticism for those who might not be versed in it. While you might not be familiar with the term, I am certain you have heard the ideas expressed and advocated. Even in what are supposed to be Christian churches.

The early Gnosticism battled in Scripture is a precursor to the more fully orbed form in the second century. The following are key beliefs:

1. Man’s body made up of matter is evil, contrasted with God who is spirit and therefore good.

2. Since the body is evil, it must be treated harshly. Ascetic, isn’t it?

3. Salvation is escape from the body, not by faith in the shed blood of Christ but rather by knowledge (gnosis).

4. Christ’s humanity is denied. Some Gnostics believed that Jesus Christ only seemed to have a body. This error is known as Docetism. Other Gnostics believed that the divine Christ (Logos) joined the man Jesus at His baptism and departed when Jesus died. This is called Cerinthianism.

5. Since matter is evil, breaking God’s law is not evil. You could engage in licentiousness because there was no moral consequence involved.

As you can see, these ideas are clearly unbiblical. Yet a substantial number of people in the early church were seduced by these teachings. It’s happening again today. The true Bride of Christ must stand against this deadly heresy now with the same vigor and faithfulness exhibited by the Apostles and church fathers such as Athanasius and Irenaeus. The consequences of not doing so will be eternal.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Gnostic Medusa

Most who are familiar with the history of the Christian church are familiar with the ideas inherent in gnosticism. Soundly refuted both in Scripture and by many early church fathers, the basic ideas inherent in it still resurface and cause no end of confusion. As with all heresies, the source is demonic.

The latest thing coming down the pike to resurrect intereest in erroneous gnostic ideas is the upcoming film "The DaVinci Codes" and its bogus tale of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Below, I offer an article by Dr. David Poe about Irenaeus, who wrote a strong refutation of gnosticism in the early days of the church. It is important to note that the writings of the early church fathers are not canonical Scripture, and some had theological concepts that were not in keeping with Scripture. Irenaeus was not without error. Be that as it may, when the early church fathers were spot on...they were spot on!

I will no doubt have more to say on this subject myself in days and weeks to come, but this will do for starters.


Cloud of Witnesses: Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, Part II
by Dr. David C. Noe, January 2005

Born around 125, Irenaeus was sent to Lyon in the south-central part of the province of Gallia, modern day France. There, though late in his career at the age of 55, he helped establish a beachhead for the growing Christian presence in Gaul, furthering the work of Pothinus and others who had gone before.

Irenaeus spoke Greek as his native tongue, and confessed that he learned the Celtic dialect of Gaul with difficulty. Though of little eloquence, this did not prevent him from preparing the most complete catholic account of the faith written to his time, providing not the vain and heady speculations of his Gnostic opponents Valentinus or Marcion, but a solid and nuanced approach to the doctrines of the faith.

His works remain only in tattered pieces. Most letters are lost, as well as his shorter treatises on Greek philosophy and narrative accounts of the persecutions afflicting the Gallic churches in his day. What has remained are his five books refuting Gnosticism, written between 177 and 190. Although a Greek copy, the language in which it was written, it attested as late as the sixteenth century, all we have now is a clumsy and literal Latin translation. Thankfully this is sufficient to give us a clear idea of his teachings and doctrines.

In 140, two persuasive teachers were gaining in popularity at Rome, Valentinus and Marcion whom I have mentioned. Though the two differed in some respects, they shared an emphasis on the importance of developing speculative knowledge and the denigration of the Scriptures as mere folklore and fable. These concerns eventuated in a complex series of doctines which taught that the material world was made not by God the Creator, but by a Demiurge (a notion misappropriated from Platonic philosophy) who could freely mingle with matter and not be contaminated. God himself, they said, must remain aloof from the crassness of all physical interaction. Gnostic doctrines breathed an air of scientific sophistication, and provided for a three-tiered system of human society through which one could move by acquiring special knowledge. The first level was that of the somatic, the state characterized only by a stupid and drone-like focus on physical needs. Those who had been enlightened by philosophy were the psychical men, having their reason refined and perfected. By employing the tenets of Gnostic learning, Valentinus taught, one may advance to the pneumatic man, the life of the spirit in which all bodily interactions are despised and almost unnoticed.

When a friend asked Irenaeus to write against these teachings, which were quickly infiltrating the churches of southern Gaul, the bishop realized both that these heady speculations served to flatter human vanity, and that they were opposed to the plain teachings of the Scriptures. The occasion of this heresy, in God's singular providence, called forth from Irenaeus a dazzling defense of orthodoxy.

Irenaeus recognized that the core of Gnosticism was not the work of God in Jesus Christ, but the acquisition of secret knowledge. Confession of sin, the inward work of regeneration, repentance and self-denial played little part in the Gnostic teaching. Instead Valentinus and his associates taught that one must learn the order of the heavens, the grossness of physical creation, and a quasi-magical set of formulas. In sharp contrast, Irenaeus wrote: "The true way to God is love. It is better to be willing to know nothing but Jesus Christ the crucified, than to fall into ungodliness through over-curious questions and paltry subtleties" (Schaff 2.13).

Though not averse to Greek learning (Irenaeus could quote Homer and Plato with ease), the father grounded his doctrines on Scripture, and a mature reading of them. As Schaff says, Irenaeus was the first writer we have who utilizes the New Testament canon in its fullness. Though the Apostles' immediate successors report oral traditions, and individuals like Justin Martyr quote the Old Testament, Irenaeus alone showed the close inter-reliance of the two testimonies. In his reading of the New Testament, we find not the pick-and-choose method of Marcion heresy, but a full selection from all four Gospels and nearly every Epistle.

Irenaeus also anticipates the important doctrine of organic inspiration. Writing in Book III of Refutation of Gnosticism, he shows that the Gnostics do not know how to read Paul in II Corinthians because they are ignorant of Paul's style and customary manner of speaking:

Paul does not say, "the God of this world," as if recognizing any other beyond Him; but he confessed God as indeed God. And he says, "the unbelievers of this world," because they shall not inherit the future age of incorruption. I shall show from Paul himself, how it is that God has blinded the minds of them that believe not, in the course of this work, that we may not just at present distract our mind from the matter in hand, [by wandering] at large. From many other instances also, we may discover that the apostle frequently uses a transposed order in his sentences, due to the rapidity of his discourses, and the impetus of the Spirit which is in him." (III.7.2)

The contributions of Irenaeus to catholic doctrine are too numerous to list, but we may also mention his focus on inner spirituality over the asceticism and legalism that was rising at the time in the Montanistic controversy, as well as his teaching on proper church structure and government. When heretics would dodge his attacks and change their opinions readily, Irenaeus would calmly return to the biblical teachings and show that indeed all true believers had always grounded their faith upon them.

If you wish to explore the writings of Irenaeus further, may I encourage you to consult the following resources online:

Monday, March 27, 2006

All the News Fit to Snooze

This morning's post deals with a subject I know rather well. Broadcast journalism.

I love Fox News for the most part. I enjoy Shepard Smith's "The Fox Report" in the evenings. However, there is one thing he does from time to time that drives me up the wall. Please, someone instruct me as to how a car chase out in Los Angeles qualifies as national news? At most, I can understand carrying a brief clip and perhaps the denouement, but to stay on it for a half hour to the neglect of other rather important stories?

What's next? Will we lead off the six o'clock news with a kitchen fire breaking out in an apartment in Watts?

Yeah, I'm grouchy. It's Monday.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Clintons Abuse Scripture..Again!!

I'll never forget it. Watching Bill Clinton at the Democratic Convention some years ago quoting the Apostle Paul..."Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man what we can build together..."

Huh? What version of Scripture is that out of? The New World Mistranslation of the Jehovah's Witnesses? I knew then that we'd be in for a bumpy ride. Yet how many gullible people swallowed that miscue as if it were Gospel?

Today, Hillary's at it. A very transparent (and I'd say contemptible) attempt at appearing more spiritual than the Republicans (these days not hard to do). She said the Good Samaritan, and even the Lord Jesus Himself, would be victimized by the proposed new immigration bill. Hoo boy.

First, the Good Samaritan dealt with a societal outcast (a Samaritan - the Jews couldn't stand them) being beaten up on the side of the road. Yes, he was from Samaria but his immigration status had nothing to do with the point of the parable. And need I say it..(yeah, I guess I do need to say it)...Jesus was not an illegal immigrant in Israel.

A classic attempt at twisting Scripture for political ends. Note to the Clintons and to any other politician of either party. If you're going to mess with the Bible, mess with it accurately. You'll be held accountable by its Author if you don't. Big time.
A Brief Thought on Bird Flu

At the outset, let me say that I am no epidemiologist. However, I am familiar to some extent with several historic epidemics or pandemics (the bubonic plague comes to mind).

We've been hearing a lot about bird flu and the horrible dangers of it. If it mutates to human beings from the aviaries, we're in a real pickle. People are dying in Asia and its spreading. Now, it is heading for the United States.

In a world of how many billion people, a total of 100 or so have died from bird flu. One hundred. Out of billions.

What's wrong with that picture?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Revisiting the Five Fundamentals

Fundamentalists! The horrors! Perhaps no word in the lexicon raises more hackles and conjures up images of crazy nuts out to slit everyone's throats and establish a harsh theocracy where all who disagree are gleefully beheaded or stoned to death. Islamic radicalism of late hasn't helped any, but the word has had a very negative connotation for a long time. Not so in its origin, for Christian fundamentalism at least.

After a time, the word "fundamentalist" began to carry a stigma. One reason was that those who adhered to fundamental doctrines basically became Pharisaical in adding to the list. Along with the core, non-negotiable matters of Christ's virgin birth, atonement became a test of fellowship if women in the church dared wear a bit of rouge or if men didn't use the right amount of pomade or VO-5. (Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get the idea) So, the word "evangelical" came into prominence for those who adhered to core doctrinal truth but didn't engage in extreme separatism or legalism in non-essentials. Now, the word "evangelical" has broadened to the point where today's evangelicals (or neo-evangelicals) are liberalizing to the point where they are nearly indistinguishable from the majority of mainline denominations. Some biblical conservatives are even beginning to distance themselves from the evangelical world because of the mush theology in vogue these days.

Modern Christian fundamentalism can basically trace back to 1895 and a conference of Presbyterians at Niagara Falls. They initially had a list of 14 areas they considered non-negotiable. These areas closely resemble the doctrinal statements of most Bible-believing, conservative churches. This list was later refined to five areas. Here they are:

1. The inerrancy of the autographs (or original writings) of Scripture.
2. The virgin birth and deity of Christ.
3. The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross.
4. The bodily resurrection of Christ.
5. The imminent return of Christ.

As I review this list, I find it both sad and amazing that anyone claiming to be a Christian could deny any of these areas. They truly are non-negotiable. When anyone departs from these areas, they are not orthodox. They are heterodox. Does that mean I want to stone those who reject these areas? Of course not. However, I am not willing to engage in endless "conversation" and "dialogue" with theologians who pooh-pooh these doctrines. I can hear the protests already about being "close-minded." However, I take my cue from Scripture, most notably the Apostle Paul. In his letter to the church at Galatia, he describes the intense conflict at the council of Jerusalem where the Judaizers had stirred the pot and tried to compromise the Gospel:

"But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the Gospel would remain with you." (Galatians 2:4-5)

In the days of Paul and the other apostles, they had early gnosticism, Judaizing, and a host of other challenges. Today, we have the postmoderns, seeker-sensitives, contemplatives and the mish-mash of unbiblical doctrines that are involved in each of these areas. (Many errors are the same, just repackaged and gussied up for a new generation) We are urged to dialogue, converse, negotiate, overlook, tolerate, accept and even compromise in the spirit of "unity."

I will not yield in subjection to them, even for an hour. Neither should anyone else who loves the Lord and reveres His Word. True biblical unity is around truth. Just because a whole host of arrogant, smug men in clerical collars or academic robes insist that truth can't be known and that the Bible shouldn't be taken any more seriously than Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" will not change the fact that truth revealed by God CAN be known, and that God's Word stands forever.

Should the Lord tarry in His coming, it is more than likely that "A Generous Orthodoxy" will be remembered about as much as a Barbara Cartland novel. However, the Bible will always find a home. If he could speak to you from hell, Nietzsche would be the first to tell you that.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Tone and "Feelin' the Luv!"

Debates regarding theology in the church have always tended to be a bit rough. With the stakes so high, it is easy to see why. While most of us favor irenic discussions of issues for the most part, there are times when a sharper tone is needed. However, in the ongoing battleroyale over postmodernism and the Emergent Church movement, a sharp tone is guaranteed to provoke howls of protest (or whining depending on the person). That's unloving! Hate speech! Even unbiblical! Even unchristlike! Oh, the humanity!

Of course, those who really know their Bibles and believe there is really such a thing as context know better. But we're dealing with people who love to cherrypick and bunny trail. We are not told to mollycoddle false teachers. Quite the contrary. I know this will give some in the ECM fits comparable to the Gaderene demoniac, but I suggest a good reading of the Apostle Paul for starters. The letter to the church at Galatia is especially informative. I might even recommend a good reading of what Jesus had to say to false teachers. It was really rude of the Lord to call people whitewashed tombs filled with dead men's bones, wasn't it? Remind me to have a little chat with the Apostle John about his bad tude toward Diotrephes. He actually insinuated that Diotrephes had an ego problem. Shame on John for writing such unkind things!

Here's a real eye opener. Hell is not a popular subject with postmoderns and neither is the concept of sin. Never mind that Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else in the New Testament. I tend to think the concept many pomos have of Jesus is similar to that of Robert Schuller, who once famously said that the Lord went to the cross to "sanctify our ego trip." This kind of ludicrous statement goes down well with an unbelievably narcissistic generation. Sort of like Mary Poppins' spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down, except in this case it's not medicine - it's poison. Anyone care to join me for a nice cup of hemlock? Or is belladonna more to your taste?

You will find me dealing very gently with the untaught, ignorant and wayward. But to false teachers out there peddling doctrines of demons, I will not mince words. The Lord and His apostles didn't. In fact, Paul ordered Titus to reprove false teachers severely. The reason it ends up going to that level - severe - is because false teachers are notorious for not listening. Check out how Paul told Timothy to rebuke the recalcitrant in the presence of all so that others might be fearful of sinning. Fear? Oh, no! The mush god we worship would never countenance such a thing! After all, someone's self esteem might be bruised and we couldn't have that. Might make them leave the church and we won't be able to pay the bills for our espresso bar!

As I've said before, the ECM loves to criticize the evangelical church in rather scathing terms. They shouldn't wonder at the blowback. Didn't their parents ever teach them that relieving themselves on an electric fence isn't a good idea?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Storm on the Horizon

Entering this weekend has me in a bit of a glum mood. The country is overtaken with the Dubai Ports Scandal, a nuclear showdown pending with Iran, Hamas governing the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis justifiably concerned, Bird Flu, and a host of other worries. Oh, did I forget the moral and economic climate? How could I have left that out?

Battles over theology in the church (nothing new, but still depressing). Making ends meet. Watching yourself slowly age. "Auntie Em, Auntie Em...the hourglass is almost empty!"

Charles Dickens wrote a book called "Bleak House," and the house of the United States is looking particularly bleak, not to mention Planet Earth from any vantage point. From an eternal perspective of course, I am optimistic, believing that a sovereign God has His hand firmly in control no matter how it might look to the faithless, jaundiced eye. Yet as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego could tell you, the righteous and the unrighteous both often have to wade through the same deep, choppy water.

I am afraid that this country that I love so much is in for a really bumpy ride. Bumpy? No, I can't understate things this time. America may well be in for the most troubled period in her relatively brief history. And it all has its origins in this - the nation as a whole has forgotten God. Even His bride - the church - is having a corker of a time playing the harlot. Well, not ALL of the church, but a pretty good chunk of it. Jesus asked the question once, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" If judgment begins with the house of God, what might rain down on the unregenerate country as a whole? God has always historically judged nations. If He is anything, He is consistent.

I really wonder how much sand is left in the hourglass?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Men and Responsibility

Well, did you all hear about the lawsuit filed by a man who thinks he ought not to have any responsibility for the child he fathered against his will? Seems he wants a male version of Roe vs. Wade.

Sorry, pal. If you have enough responsibility to engage in flagrante delicto (which has been known to result in pregnancy for the female partner), you will have to belly up to the bassinette and support your children. While I sympathize with many men who WANT to be fathers when they learn that a woman can abort the child without his permission, I don't like the idea of a man insisting on an abortion either. It's all about responsibility..and BOTH are responsible for the new life created.

I've got a better idea for this fellow. Maybe he ought to consider sterilization if he's not able to control his libido.

Just when you think it can't possibly get any worse . . .

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Praying on Cue?

In the March 11, 2006, edition of World Magazine, check out the article "Born Again," which purports to document the efforts of the Democratic Party to win back the votes of Southern Evangelicals and Northern Catholics. One of the photos made me a bit uncomfortable (Solameanie says with typical Celtic understatement). There is a photo of U.S. Senator, former First Lady and potential presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton standing praying (with hands clasped) at the Western Wall in Israel. Nothing out of the ordinary there for pilgrims to Israel. However, this photo is striking because of the wall (no pun intended) of photographers busily snapping Hillary's picture as she implored Heaven to do who knows what. All they needed to do was airbrush in a halo and the tableau would have been complete.

While one expects to have a relatively high profile person get photographed, I would think that even dim-bulb PR hacks would realize that such a photo would come across as horribly self-serving and cynical. Why not arrange a time to go to the Wailing Wall in private for what ought to be an intimate moment between an individual and their Maker? It is possible to avoid the media. I know...I was one of them at one time.

I suppose we should give Hillary the benefit of the doubt. Or should we?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Denominational Distinctives and Doctrine

My comments occasionally provoke a kerfuffle. That's okay - I expect it from time to time especially on a sensitive theme such as theology. Recent discussion regarding my view of a proposed change in the doctrinal statement of my fellowship has been intense at times both on and off my blog, but not quite to the kerfuffle level. At least not yet. So let me try again to get feathers flapping.

Just this morning, the newspaper greeted me with the story of Episcopalian churches pulling out from under the authority of U.S. bishops because of their liberal theology. They desire to place themselves under the authority of Anglican bishops in Africa who reflect more conservative doctrine especially in terms of sexual morality. The U.S. bishops resent that (funny, as they're the ones who provoked it) and are making moves to take the church property and defrock the local priests who oppose their pro-gay views. Other denominations are haggling over this issue, which really ought to be a no-brainer given you still think the Bible holds any authority. Oh, yeah. I forgot. That's another battle.

I also noted with interest a story from the Associated Press talking about the Gospel of Judas, an ancient document in Egypt. Extra biblical with gnostic origins, I am sure this will eventually make the rounds of those who think the early church conspired to keep gnostic texts out of the canon.

How does this lead into my main musing here on denominational distinctives and doctrine? Let me ask a few questions. What is worth fighting for? Suppose your denomination is known for its stance on eschatology. What if your pastor or some in your membership deny the Second Coming? What if they don't deny the Second Coming, but merely think it happened in 70 A.D? Is that worth a row?

What if your denomination is known for a male-only pastorate? Suppose some push to allow ordination of women. Is that worth a theological Code Duello?

What if your denomination is historically opposed to paedo-baptism and a few renegade pastors want to introduce it. What if your denomination historically approves of paedo-baptism and a few renegade pastors want to stop it? Is that worth selling tickets to Thestlemania III?

Ideally, all of us should strive for Semper Reformanda. All of us ought to seek a CLOSER walk with the Lord and CLOSER adherence to His Word. Any changes in our positions on things ought to reflect getting nearer to Scriptural faithfulness, not further away. Jesus does indeed want His children to be one in Him. However...

Scripture also makes it plain (in Corinthians) that sometimes divisions are necessary so that those who are approved will stand out. Denominations have doctrinal positions and distinctives for a reason. I am not suggesting that really frivolous things should cause ruptures (although they do). But some things are worth holding on to and fighting for. And yes, we will probably differ on what those things are. Some make the case that battling for a doctrinal statement or doctrinal distinctives causes disunity. Unity is supposed to be around truth. While there can be real disunity, sometimes I think it is exaggerated.

Many believers I have known through the years attend different churches and denominations. We don't agree on everything but the real essentials necessary for salvation. On the surface it looks like disunity, but we enjoy sweet fellowship with one another when we are together. We unite when necessary on common causes. We regard one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, there are points of doctrine and practice in which we differ, and that causes us to seek out like-minded people for our main worship, teaching and fellowship. This is a far cry from being hyper-fundamentalists and separatists who don't consider other believers even saved. Jesus wants us to be one, and we are in our hearts for the most part. We'll be one in toto at His return when we come to the clear understanding that His presence will bring. Until then, we will have differences and sometimes that will mean a fight. Sometimes they will be minor enough to overlook. Other times, the differences are such that you must put your hand over your mouth and walk out the door.

One thing I hope for myself and for others is that we walk in integrity. If I can no longer in good conscience believe my fellowship's doctrinal statement, it is time to move on. For example, let's say I come to the belief that Jesus is not God the Son. Do I murmur and work behind the scenes to whittle away at the belief so my fellowship accommodates my belief? Or is the right thing to move on and join the Unitarians?

See what I mean?

**** - Sola's note for the record...I do believe in the deity of Christ. Totally. I know I shouldn't have had to say that, but I can well imagine some mischievious individual going around..."hey, Solameanie denies the deity of Christ." No, dimwit...I did not. It was a rhetorical point for discussion's sake. If you don't know what a rhetorical point is, look it up..provided you can read a dictionary or an encyclopedia.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Another "Go Figure" Moment in Culture

In the "Life" section of the March 2 USA Today, look on the left side of the main page at an item called "Pimp Won't Cuss." The item is about an upcoming performance of the hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia (Yeah. 666 Mafia. That ought to tell you something) at the Oscars. They're going to perform a supposedly sanitized version of their nominated (I hate to call it a song) "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." Member Jordan "Juicy J" Houston is quoted as saying, "We took out all the cuss words, dotted some i's and crossed some t's. It's going to be a clean show. You can let your kids watch it and they don't have to wear earmuffs."

Yeah, right. "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." That's real family fare, isn't it? Just what I'd want to watch with a six-year-old.

And people wonder what's wrong with society, much less what's wrong with today's kids. Go figure.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

They Blinded Me With Philosophy

This will be short, sweet and to the point. I have read/heard about premodernity, modernity and postmodernity ad nauseum. Some in the church have become so obsessed with the philosophies of men that they've forgotten about the philosophy of God.

The Word of God is not premodern, modern or postmodern. The Word of God is timeless. And so is the Christian faith we proclaim.