"History does not repeat itself. The historians repeat one another." Max Beerbohm
We are continuing in our Thursday series on church history and hope to make it relevant to current issues in the church. We are also in the midst of revamping our blog so this is a reminder that we post Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
(In this post, I have also used the Third Edition of Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church by Earle E. Cairns, Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.)
As we discussed initially, the early Christians were misunderstood by the outside culture, often being accused of such things as participating in cannibalism (Lord’s Supper) and orgies (they stressed they loved on another). These accusations were believed at the highest levels of government. At the same time, heresies such as Gnosticism, were gaining ground within the faith. A two pronged response was necessary.
The first apologists arrived on the scene. The persecution of Christians were continuing.Their writings were rational appeals to the pagan authorities and leaders to implement civil tolerance for the Christian faith. They stressed that Christianity was part of the ancient faith of Judaism, and as such, was the oldest religion in the world. They emphasized the ministry of Christ, tying Him to the prophecies of the Old Testament.
Many of these apologists were converts and well trained in Greek philosophy. Two of the most famous of the early apologists were Justin Martyr ( @100-165) and Tertullian (@160-225).
Justin Martyr wrote The First Apology to Emperor Antonius Pius. Besides attempting to convince the Emperor that accusations such as cannibalism, were incorrect, he also laid out the rationale of the faith with an emphasis on Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. He pled for the abolishment of the persecutions. In his Dialogue With Trypho he targeted the Jews with arguments that Jesus was the Messiah.
Tertullian had been a respected lawyer in Rome when he converted to the faith. His famous work, Apology, was addressed to the Roman governor of his province. Although utilizing similar arguments as Martyr’s First Apology, he also argued that the persecutions of the Christians were based on shaky legal grounds since the Christians led a morally superior life to many of the pagans in Rome. However, Tertullian may be most famous for being the first to clearly state the doctrine of the Trinity in his book, Against Praxeas.
Many of the leaders in this group came from within the nascent Christian community. They were concerned with a variety of heresies that were entering the church and utilized the New Testament writings as a basis for their arguments. It is important to note that the New Testament books were largely agreed upon by this time period. However, the history of the canon will be discussed at a later time.
Irenaeus (@130-@202) wrote the Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies) in 185. It was his attempt to refute the Gnostic doctrines. Although his work had some factual errors, it is considered one of the best sources for understanding what the Gnostics believed.
Gnoticism espoused a belief in the separation between the material and spiritual worlds. The material world was thought to be evil while the spiritual world was good. The gap between these two worlds were bridged by a demiurge who had spirit in him that allowed him to create and enough matter in him in order to create the evil material world. The God of the Old Testament was this demiurge. Jesus, on the other hand, was totally good and thus was a spirit that only appeared to have material form.
Origen (@185-254) was the author of 6000 scrolls. One of his greatest accomplishments was compiling the Hexapla, a massive book in which he placed several translations of the Bible in parallel columns. From this, he developed commentaries that helped many early Christians to study the Bible.
His best-known book, copies of which still survive, is De Principiis or On First Principles. It was the one of the first attempts write a systematic presentation of the Christian faith. He utilized word pictures to help Christians to conceptualize members of the Godhead. For example, he asked the reader to imagine a massive statue that filled the whole world. That statue represents God. However, because of its immense size, the statue was too difficult for a person to fully see it all. But if a small statue could be made in the exact likeness of the large one, people could study the small one and learn details about the large one. So, If we think of the large statue as representing God, and the small one as representing Jesus, we know we could look at the small one and see the likeness of God.
But, Origen added, using statues to describe God and Jesus should be done, not to speak of God or Jesus in such a material way, but only to show that Jesus is the exact replica of God. Jesus himself said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father also.”
The Beginning of the ESS Doctrine
For those of you who have followed this blog for awhile, you are aware that we have been quite concerned about a doctrine which has come out of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Bruce Ware is “credited” for it’s development) which is called the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS). Here is a link to the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood which is quite excited about this doctrine because it can be extended to women. They claim that women are submitted to men in all eternity just as Jesus is submitted to the Father. We wrote on this controversy at this link.
Sadly, we have Origen to thank for starting this debacle that continues to haunt the church. In Earle Cairns excellent book, Christianity Through the Centuries, he says (p110) “Unfortunately, though he (Origen) thought of Christ as eternally generated by the Father, he thought of Him as subordinate to the Father."
Origen also espoused the preexistence of the soul which is a belief common to Mormonism. So I wonder if Bruce Ware, while he is on a roll, might also borrow and legitimize Origen’s belief in the preexistence of the soul. Just imagine how much it would slow declining Baptist numbers if Mormons could be incorporated into the SBC.
One thing is for sure, there really is nothing new under the sun.