Its usually a Saturday morning or afternoon. You hear the knock on the front door. With an uncanny, sixth-sense you know who it is. At least, you know it is either the A team or the B team. The A team? That means attache cases, arrogance, arguments, apostasy and acrobatics (mental). The B team are those with bicycles, backpacks, blond hair and blue eyes, and a little book. Yes, a little book that they say contains revelations given to their leader. Their little book is just as important as our “big book.” Both are the Word of God. Of course, it doesnt matter that they have had to back pedal on some of the things they once said were in the little book. These and others who come to our doors or who meet us when we are presenting the gospel all claim to have “new” light and to have discovered truth which was hitherto not known. But is their truth really “truth?” And is their “truth” really something new?
Many of you who read Truth and Tidings may not have a great interest in history. Dates, names, places, and events may provoke little interest or excitement in you. Memories flash back to painful courses in high school when you had to cram into your memory all those details – details which were quickly forgotten once the exam was over. History seems to many to have little relevance to the present and to the need of the moment.
Yet, history has a lot to tell us. Someone has said that “Those who refuse to learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.” What can history teach us which would help us in dealing with many of the false teachings of the sects around us? Are there lessons or at least insights?
Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned is that there really is “nothing new under the sun.” The Wise Preacher of Ecclesiastes was right! Virtually all the teachings of the groups around us were heresies which arose in the first few centuries and were addressed at that time. Sadly, many of them continued to live on and reappear at different times during the history of the first two millennia.
In the months ahead, we will consider together names and teachings such as Gnosticism, Arianism, Marcion, Athanasius, Pelagianism, Nestorius, and others. Obviously, these are not typical household words. Yet the history of the development of doctrine is inextricably bound up in the lives and teachings of these and others. While we do not look to men to define our doctrines, it is of great value to mark the strategy of the enemy in sowing the seeds of heresy; it is also of value to note how God raised up men to defend the truth of God against great opposition. Ultimately, it is not a church, committee, or counsel who have given us doctrine but the Word of God itself. However, we would be remiss if we did not appreciate the efforts of men who have sought to preserve truth for future generations.
Are there additional relevant lessons which a study such as this affords? I think that perhaps one of the most vital lessons which comes from it concerns the origin of error. Not all heresy was introduced by blatantly ungodly men. At times, false teaching came from sincere men who professed the name of Christ. But their false teaching arose because they sought to reconcile and explain what transcends human experience or intelligence. Truths such as the trinity, the uniqueness of the incarnation, the eternal Sonship of Christ, and the hypostatic union all are accepted by faith even though they stagger the intellect. We have no earthly analogies or experiences by which to understand these. Men, in an attempt to explain them, frequently fell into heresy. God, being God, must of necessity be greater than our intellects. There will always be that about God and His ways which is “beyond us.” So be it! We strive with out intellects to understand all that we can; when truth is far greater than we can grasp, we do not doubt or despair – we worship.
In the will of the Lord, these historic vignettes will conclude with a look at the history of our Bibles. The reliability and accuracy of the Bible we hold in our hands is something we take for granted. But with challenges facing our young believers in universities and elsewhere, it is important to place into their hands facts which will enable them to have absolute confidence in their Bibles.
One last word. If these writings should come into the hands of those who are learned in “church history,” we beg your indulgence. At best, these are superficial and simple papers on subjects which have filled volumes by scholars. Our goal is not to review all the arguments and events surrounding particular heresies, but to give the reader an overview of how doctrine has developed through the centuries. For those who have a greater interest in the details, exhaustive (and exhausting) works are available in book form as well as on the Web. For those who are satisfied with this cursory, yet hopefully, enlightening, review, please read on.