What I learned at the Christmas program (or Why we need another “Against Heresies”)

2d3b184e745ee8448ab7fa3c44c74359Thaddeus participated in the Christmas program at his grandmother’s church that was written by a member of that church and had been performed before. It involved adults in the more difficult parts and children for some cute and a few lines here and there.  He did incredibly well, delivered his lines with confidence (even the one he got wrong) and seemed to enjoy himself and have a good time. For that I am happy and thankful. Part of what I learned is that he is a pretty sharp young boy and has paid attention. The program said that the angels and shepherds had to follow the star to Bethlehem and Thaddeus was consistently confused over if he was a shepherd looking after his sheep or a wise man because they followed a star. He also mentioned that he thought the angels went back to heaven after talking to the shepherds and that there was nowhere in the story that angels guarded Jesus in the stables like their program said. I learned that the archangels Gabriel and Michael roam around during the season of Advent making sure that there are Christmas programs and that people hear the story. It appears that the archangels do not care for the details so much, or even big mistakes too, but more on that in a minute. The worst thing that I learned was that Arianism is alive and well and living near me. I also learned that for the first time in my adult life, I wish St. Nicholas would come visit Christmas Eve and drop of some boxing gloves.

From the program: “Even before God created the Word (in reference to Jesus), he knew that he would be the savior of the world.” There are many strains of Arianism in the world today, and I have no desire to delve into them, but a brief history of the heresy and the response of the church to it is necessary I feel so that it can be recognized for what it is, namely, a doctrine that is not at all supported by the scriptures, the church, or by Christianity itself. It damages our relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and because it does that, it has no place in the Christian church and no place in our individual lives unless that place is to speak out against it. On to the heresy.

Arianism was started by the priest Arius who died in 336 AD. It had a profound effect on the church by forcing her to actually define what she believed (orthodoxy) through creeds. Yes, I know the argument has perhaps begun in the minds of many that goes something like “who are you to tell someone what to believe?” Let me answer that before I go on. No one, in fact it is not me who said this is what the church believes, it is the church that has spoken, both through the creeds and continually throughout history to this present day. Don’t confuse the two. Should you not find Arianism (or other actual heresies) a problem or don’t like me saying that they are, it is not me, it is the church, the very Bride of Christ, who has said this, not I. All I have done was repeated her words. The teachings of Arius spread and become popular until he is opposed formally by Bishop Alexander and others. Alexander said that Jesus was of the same substance of the Father (this supports the trinitarian view of Christian denominations) while Arius argued that Jesus was of a similar substance to the Father (this supports the view of sects such as the Watch Tower society, Brothers of Christ, and others) which is to say that Jesus is not God. TO be perfectly clear, this denies the divinity of Christ. This caused such division that the councils became a necessity which led to what the church has maintained as belief for centuries. This is a very short history that lays out the basic ground work. There are numerous resources out there to find more, some with a web search, some on this blog as well as several books. The point is that this heresy tried to divide the church once, and is trying to do so again. I highly suggest we follow the early church in burning writings relating to Arianism. The struggle would continue for many years but eventually the truth, as it does, came to the surface. The history is fascinating, feel free to read it, in fact please do.

Why does it matter you ask? It was just a children’s program after all…well Arius did not learn in a vacuum, nor did he come up with his ideas there, he was taught by Lucian of Antioch who had some peculiar ideas of his own. Granted, Lucian was sainted for some reason, but it was not for his Christology. Had the poor theology been dealt with in the time of Lucian, it may not have become the disruptive force that it was. If dealt with when young, maybe it does not eventually contribute to (perhaps lead to) the Acacians who end up throwing the church into disorder, maybe we don’t end up with heretical sects like the Watch Tower Society, and others who deny the divinity of Christ. Maybe we don’t have to confront and denounce it again (and again, and again, and again) in the UMC as violating not only our standards of faith, but also the standards of faith of the Christian church.

What did I learn from the Christmas program? That the Christmas story, the actual Christmas story that changed everything, has become more important than ever, and that the heresies that are springing forward again and again, desperately needs a new generation of defenders who, even though they may not know the proper name, or exactly why it is wrong, still have the Spirit that leads them to recognize the truth and the lies. That leads them to say things like “Scott, I thought the Word always was no one made Him”.

This is where we have ended up. We allow for heresy under the disguise of theological diversity. There is a great deal of room for disagreement within the basics that the Christian church has defined through the creeds. If someone is telling you that there is no diversity there, they have either lied to you, or know not of what they speak. We allow for a big tent, but never seem to find the walls of that tent that separates us from the outside, and in so doing become the outside. Under the guise of allowing for discussion, we exchange the truth for a lie, not by intention, but because we have so diluted the identity of Christ so much, that we can no longer recognize The Truth.

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11 Replies to “What I learned at the Christmas program (or Why we need another “Against Heresies”)”

  1. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if (a) god – being perfect and all-knowing – would have made sure things were recorded properly so that mere mortals wouldn’t HAVE to argue about what is ‘truth’. As it is, just how many ‘branches’ of Christianity (alone) are there? I believe it’s around 35,000? Come to think of it, which god do you suppose knows THE truth?

      1. Reads like shades of the Jester God sowing discord among humans.

        African mythology relates the tale of one such tale of a god walking down a road between two farmers in their respective gardens. One farmer sees a man wearing a red hat. The other sees a man wearing a white hat.

        Later, the farmers argue of the color of the man’s hat. Eventually, they fight.

        Meanwhile, wearing a hat that is red on one side and white on the other, the god looks on amusingly!

          1. Tell me about your god(s) and I will tell the world about you.

            The god of the warrior is seldom a pacifist. Likewise, the god of the cannibal is rarely a vegetarian. The god of the chauvinist is probably not a female.

            More to the point, once the world finds out the real history of your religion, I need not tell the world anything!

    1. Despite what you may think, there are certain core doctrines that Christianity recognizes, and has recognized, for centuries. Those are expressed in the Nicene creed. I actually recognized in the piece the wide amount of diversity within that. As with any group however, there must by necessity be boundaries or the distinction of the group is no longer maintained.

  2. While Paul exhorted Christians in I Corinthians 1:10, “[To] speak the same thing, [have] no divisions among you; but [be of] the same mind….,” he also acknowledged in I Corinthians 11:19, “[T]here must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”

    More interestingly, in his play Almansor (a tale of Christians in Inquisition era Spain burning the Quran), Heinrich Heine wrote, “Wherever they burn books, in the end will also burn human beings.” (Also translated: “Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people.”)

    Beginning with Oliver Cromwell’s famous remark before the Battle of Dunbar, Judge Learned Hand observed, “‘I beseech ye . . . , think that ye may be mistaken.’ I should like to have that written over the portals of every church, every school, and every courthouse, and, may I say, of every legislative body in the United States. I should like to have every court begin, ‘I beseech ye . . . , think that we may be mistaken.'”

    The fact is, no two humans think alike of every issue. Furthermore, some people are more comfortable than others with diversity of thought.

    On the other and, those convinced only they are right, who demand everyone think like them, are particularly dangerous when they acquire power over others. This level self-deception is often dangerous and deadly.

    As Barry M. Goldwater noted, “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

    The inabilty to see another’s point of view has destroyed by politics and religion in American life! Given time, this philosophical rigidity will bring the whole country to its knees. Only, when it does, it won’t be for prayer!

    1. First, while Paul recognized that there would indeed be heresies among the church, it was for the purpose of showing who was upright, not for the sake of allowing varying opinion. Paul also never would have allowed for, or endorsed the teaching of, heresy.
      As I pointed out above, and in the piece, there is room for a wide diversity in orthodox thought, but, just like any other organization or belief system, there simply must be boundaries or the organization loses all distinctiveness. If the church can teach and endorse whatever it wishes, then why bother with going after all. There is a world of difference between the belief that a person holds, and the beliefs that the church allows to be taught.

      1. The problem is less what orthodox churches believe, or don’t believe for that matter. Real difficulties began when sect thinks their way is the only way and try to impose that belief system on others.

        So, why bother going to going to church, or following the creed of any religion or philosophy? The most relevant answer is self-improvement.

        One of the grander secrets of life is to not compete with others, or dictate to others how they should live their lives, so much as to be a better person today than you were yesterday. If more people set examples on how life should be lived, there would be far less strife.

        Among the surest bets in this life is any religion or philosophy that tries to force other to conform really has very little to offer. There really nothing very attractive about it. If there were, people would be beating down the doors trying to get in!

  3. Ok. My irrelevant comment.
    Potato, potato. Tomato, tomato.
    God. Jesus. Holy Spirit. All the same? All different. A mystery. I can buy into the creed. But I don’t think I can explain the Trinity, since it makes absolutely no sense. Monotheism. But three separate, but one? Not polytheism?

    From the 300 AD perspective, I can see why some people hopped onto the Arian bandwagon. Let’s see. Jesus is tortured and killed. But he is God? He ate fish when dead, which means he must also poop. But a God poops?

    I’d say I believe it, but I don’t think I would criticize anyone why says, “What?”.

    Holy Trinity is like one person’s potato, another person’s potato. Some want it mashed, some want it fried, some want it German potato salad (Luther).

    http://youtu.be/q7uyKYeGPdE

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