Early Christian Heresies

My Bible study group on Sundays has been going through Second Peter for the past several weeks. In chapter two we get a pretty good description of the false teachers that crept into the church (2 Peter 2:1). I believe that people are easily led astray by persuasive arguments when they fail to develop a first hand faith (Colossians 2:4, 5, Acts 18:4, 19:8, 26:28, 28:24, 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, Galatians 5:7-9). Faith that is built upon convictions will not be moved, whereas a second hand faith can be tossed around by the waves (James 1:6).

Second hand faith looks like this: I believe that Jesus is the Savior because my preacher says so. My parents taught me that the Bible is the Word of God. My Sunday School teacher told me to stay away from this sin or that belief.

First hand faith develops a conviction that will not be persuaded when we get a knock on the door and are told that there is another testament of Jesus Christ in North America. First hand faith will not fall when someone reads books from authors like Richard Dawkins, who teach that God is only a delusion.

So, let’s take a look at some of the heresies that threatened the early church:

Most of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry had died by the time John composed this letter. Some of the second- or third-generation Christians began to have doubts about what they had been taught about Jesus. Some Christians with a Greek background had a hard time believing that Jesus was human as well as divine, because in Platonic thought the spirit was all-important. The body was only a prison from which one desired to escape. Heresies developed from a uniting of this kind of Platonic thought and Christianity.

A particularly widespread false teaching, later called Docetism (from a Greek work meaning “to seem”) held that Jesus was actually a spirit who only appeared to have a body. In reality he cast no shadow and left no footprints; he was God, but not man.

Another heretical teaching, related to Gnosticism (from a Greek word meaning “knowledge”) held that all physical matter was evil, the spirit was good, and only the intellectually enlightened could enjoy the benefits of religion. Both groups found it hard to believe in a Savior who was fully human.

John answers these false teachers as an eyewitness to Jesus’ life on earth. He saw Jesus, talked with him, touched him, he knew that Jesus was more than a mere spirit (1 John 1:1, 2, 3). In the very first sentence of his gospel, John establishes that Jesus had been alive before the world began (John 1:1) and also that he lived as a man among men and women (John 1:14). In other words, he was both divine and human. That’s the incarnation; that’s what Christmas is all about.

Through the centuries, many heretics have denied that Jesus was both God and man. In John’s day people had trouble believing he was human; today more people have problems seeing him as God. But Jesus’ divine-human nature is the pivotal issue of Christianity; 100 percent God, 100 percent man, not half and half. Before you accept what religious teachers say about any topic listen carefully to what they believe about Jesus. To deny either his divinity or his humanity is to consider him less than Christ, the Savior (1 John 4:2, 2 John 1:7).

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