Deeply De-Christian Doctrines

David Keen, David Ker and Doug Chaplin have been posting on “5 Deeply De-Christian Doctrines”, a meme for which they have been tagged. So far no-one has tagged me specifically on this one, as far as I know. Is that because my name doesn’t fit the meme’s alliteration by starting with “D”? But David Ker did write:

If you’re a reader of this blog consider yourself tagged.

So I will make my contribution. The challenge is to

List 5 doctrines that are taught within the Christian church that you believe to be deeply de-Christian.

Here is my list, taking up themes already discussed on this blog:

1. Original Sin: Doug in his list has a go at Augustine, but doesn’t mention this, perhaps the most fundamental of his doctrinal errors. The Church Father and former Manichaean seems to have introduced into the church aspects of his non-Christian Manichaean teaching. I am not sure if the Manichaeans taught original sin, but, as I wrote more than two years ago, Augustine did, and justified his teaching from a misunderstanding of one poorly translated Bible passage. Later scholars have recognised Augustine’s exegetical error, but have relied on his authority as a Father and so failed to reject the false teaching that came from his error. Now I do accept that humans are born with a tendency to sin, and that, apart from Christ, all are guilty before God because all have sinned. But I reject as “deeply de-Christian” Augustine’s doctrine that babies are born guilty and subject to condemnation, apart from anything they might have done, because of the sin of Adam.

2. Church leadership by a special caste of pastors or priests: Now I know Doug would disagree with me on this one, but I don’t think either David would. It seems clear to me that Jesus and his apostles entirely rejected the concept of a special priesthood and hierarchy of church leadership. Doug is of course right that these ideas are found in the church as early as the second century. That simply shows how quickly the church became de-Christianised by taking on the values of the world. But then many Protestant Christians who would reject this concept of priesthood have set up a new priesthood by another name consisting of their pastors, elders or whatever name they choose to give – a self-perpetuating small group of those considered qualified for church leadership, and to whom deference is due. This is also “deeply de-Christian”. Of course churches do need leadership, but not on this model.

3. Leadership is male: This is one I have discussed many times before on this blog, so I won’t go into the details again. Just let me say that I can find no basis in authentic biblical Christianity for this concept, which also seems to have been imported into the church from the surrounding culture.

4. War is an acceptable means for Christians to further their aims: As we come up yet again to Remembrance Sunday here in the UK, I want to mention this one again. I do want to honour those on all sides of each conflict who have chosen to fight for what they believe is right, or have been coerced into fighting, and especially those who have died or have been injured in horrific ways. Also I don’t want to take a doctrinaire position that war can never be right or just. But I consider “deeply de-Christian” the way in which professing Christians like Bush and Blair considered it acceptable to start wars of aggression when there was no real threat to their countries or to world peace.

5. Salvation by right doctrine: In his point 5 Doug touched on this one, the idea that one is justified or saved by assenting to the right doctrine. The idea is particularly prominent today among conservative evangelicals, especially the latest crop of younger Calvinists. But it has ancient origins, in the historic Creeds of the church, assent to which came to be seen as necessary for salvation. The biblical position, however, is that the only requirement for salvation is to repent and believe that Jesus is Lord – not as a propositional truth to be accepted in an intellectual sense, but in allowing Jesus to be the Lord of one’s own life.

Although I’m not officially part of this meme’s set of links, I will challenge Eddie Arthur, TC Robinson, John Richardson, Brian Fulthorp and Suzanne McCarthy.

0 thoughts on “Deeply De-Christian Doctrines

  1. Peter, on your point 1, Original Sin, Anglicans believe that, as the Baptism service says, “all men are conceived and born in sin”. Therefore they all stand in need of salvation – even the babies. You’ll notice also that Article IX is titled, “Of Original or Birth Sin.” This is explained as meaning that, “in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation”.

    On number 4, the Article XXXVII states that, “It is lawful for Christian men at the commandment of the Magistrate to wear weapons and serve in the wars.” This is not the same, though, as Christians using war “to further their aims”, if by this you mean ‘Christian aims’.

    On number 5, whilst right doctrine is important, I don’t think there would be many people, least of all Calvinists, who think we are saved by right doctrine. However, if we are worried about ‘deeply de-Christian doctrines’ are we not saying that there are wrong doctrines, held by Christians, which are counter to Christianity? We may believe that people are not thereby damned, but are we not saying by this we really do care and it really does matter?

  2. I appreciate rethinking Augustine in light of Scripture. I think, however, it would serve to change your label “orginal sin” to “original guilt” or perhaps something that focuses on some notion of “infant righteousness.” Original Sin encompasses the consequence of the Fall as it impacts humanity as a corporate unity. The vision of humanity as revealed in Gen. 1:27 is not a cluster of individuals but rather a harmony, mirroring the Trinity (in light of the New Testament). Gen. 11 details the consequence of the Fall in our dramatic disunity and John 17 expresses our restoration in union with the Godhead.

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    John, as you know from elsewhere, even while remaining an Anglican I am happy to express my disagreement with some Anglican doctrines. Yes, I will go as far as saying that some aspects of them are “deeply de-Christian”. Anyway you are wrong to write “Anglicans believe …”, concerning original sin or indeed almost any other doctrine. Maybe many Anglicans believe this. Maybe all should do, if they are to have a genuinely Anglican theology. But it is beyond doubt that very many do not. Indeed, I don’t suppose there is a single Anglican anywhere, even you I suspect if pushed on some points, who would agree with every point in the Thirty-Nine Articles. So why do you think you can persuade me to agree with one extra-biblical authority, Augustine, on the basis of another, the Articles? The only arguments which might persuade me are based on the Bible. And if what I believe is judged to be inconsistent with Anglicanism by someone with more authority in the denomination than a single priest like yourself, then I will leave the Church of England rather than recant.

    Kyle, indeed “Original Sin” is a somewhat misleading label for a variety of linked doctrines, some of which I would accept and others I would not. Perhaps I did not explain this as fully as I should have done, but I did explain the form of the doctrine that I cannot accept. I can accept the concept you outline of Original Sin as affecting humanity as a whole.

  4. Peter, you mentioned that Augustine “justified his teaching from a misunderstanding of one poorly translated Bible passage.” (I’m guessing it’s somewhere in Romans 4, but not sure.) What I am interested in these days is in taking St. Paul as a commentator on Genesis, rather than an originator of doctrines not taught elsewhere. Or if he is originating them, it is by reading Christ into what is written in the text. I do hold to some form of Original Sin teaching, but this approach flavors it very differently.

  5. Here’s my five: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints. Apologies to Rev Calvin and his followers!

  6. Rick, follow the link under point 1 above for more details on how Augustine misunderstood Romans 5:12. Your approach to Paul’s writings would probably lead to very different conclusions.

    Anastasis, while I wouldn’t go as far as you in labelling each of these five TULIP leaves as “deeply de-Christian”, I would say that of putting them together as a systematic theology (a de-Christian concept in itself), and all the more of implying that those who don’t accept the whole package are in serious error, not to be accepted as brothers and sisters in Christ, and unlikely to be saved.

  7. Peter, my comment was only half-serious. But I agree with your response, which relates to your 5th topic, and in fact you could have gone further. I have seen reformed churches state that “arminianism is a different gospel”, which to my mind is saying non-calvinists are definitely not saved. Very sad.

  8. To pick up on Anastasis comment, even the dedicated Calvinist Charles Spurgeon recognised that he would meet Arminians in heaven. In the sermon of his I read he suggested they may be relieved rather than assured they are there. I cannot recall where I found the sermon – buried in a website somewhere – so cannot check whether he thought some or all would be there. So while he clearly considered Arminianism as defective, he did not suggest that it could never result in a saving faith.

    I too have come across blogs and sites which suggest that Arminianism might as well be a mortal sin. In any case we should not imagine that TULIP is the totality of Calvin’s contribution to the church.

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  10. Well, Paul, I wouldn’t want to name names. But I would think of the crowds who hero worship John Piper, Mark Driscoll etc – while recognising that John and probably Mark are themselves careful to avoid this error. It doesn’t take much searching to find bloggers who appear to take this kind of position.

  11. You are doubtless right Peter, though it does seem rather ironic that anyone calling himself a Calvinists would be making salvation dependent on right belief rather than on God’s work in them. I would say however that salvation depends on Jesus making himself Lord of my life rather than on me making him Lord of my life. As Josiah Conder put it:

    Lord, ’tis not that I did choose Thee;
    That, I know, could never be;
    For this heart would still refuse Thee
    Had Thy grace not chosen me.
    Thou hast from the sin that stained me
    Washed and cleansed and set me free
    And unto this end ordained me,
    That I ever live to Thee.

  12. Paul, while I don’t entirely agree with you and the hymn, I certainly agree that Jesus took the initiative in our salvation. Yes, it is ironic that some Calvinists seem to make salvation dependent on mental assent to doctrines rather than on God’s grace. Of course I know that they teach that faith is not a work but a gift of God, but that is even harder to accept if “faith” is seen as one’s personal intellectual position.

    I was just remembering our road trip to France more than 20 years ago, because I am planning a new road trip there and beyond, to Italy and my new wife’s home there.

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  14. To change the subject, I’ve often thought that the idea of writing down a “statement of faith” has no biblical basis whatsoever. Whilst it’s not a doctrine, perhaps it should also be regarded as a deeply de-christian concept.

  15. And here’s another one (related to Peter’s original point 2): the view that communion has to be celebrated by an ordained person.

  16. Another thing that lacks any biblical foundation is the “sinner’s prayer”. But to prove that I’m not just protestant-bashing, I’ll also add papal infallibility to the list.

  17. “Another thing that lacks any biblical foundation is the ”sinner’s prayer”. ”

    The Publican’s prayer in the temple “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner”?

    Though if I have missed or misunderstood the point, I do apologise.

  18. Colin, I was more referring to the idea that to become a Christian, you have to say a prayer (typically found in the back of a tract like Journey Into Life), which goes far beyond “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner”. This concept is prevalent in many evangelical churches, but you’ll never find Jesus or any of the disciples and apostles leading someone in a prayer like that. So whilst the content may be good and proper, the process is totally without Biblical foundation. Yes, such a prayer may help some people to express their desire to repent of their sins and follow Jesus, the church often focuses on it to an unhealthy extent. A Christian is a disciple of Christ, not someone who recited a prayer once upon a time.

    Has anyone ever read Steve Chalke’s “He Never Said”? This discusses many ideas that have permeated the church but could be regarded as “deeply de-christian”.

  19. Anastasis

    Ah, I see. Thanks for clarifying that. Yes if we are not careful “the prayer” can become as much “works” as some of the other things we evangelicals hold to.

  20. Good stuff, Peter! Thanks for posting. Admittedly, I disagree on the number that will not be addressed, and… OK no just that one. On number two, I don’t know what to think. I agree there should be no formal “caste,” but as an American of Protestant background from the Bible Belt, I will tell you that having no clear authority structure (like a caste) has its drawbacks and frustrations.

    On Augustine: what was his rationale? Romans was mistranslated as “through whom” into Latin, if memory serves, but did he give any imagery to help picture original sin?

    And thank goodness for point number 4. My latest post is along those lines, as well.

  21. Thanks, Gary. I suspect Augustine’s rationale was that he had not fully rejected the Manichaean thinking of his youth, but I don’t have proof of that, or any other material immediately to hand.

  22. One teaching that I think is deeply ‘de-christian’ but which I have heard is the notion that Christians remain ‘wicked’ after justification. Paul said that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God. Thus when we talk about the continuing battle with sin that Christians have I think we need to ensure that we do not imply that our state after conversion re sin and sinfulness is exactly the same as before. There is mileage in thinking through how and why we still sin but the notion of our wickedness post conversion needs to be resisted.

  23. Thanks, TC. Yes, I agree that there is something deeply de-Christian about this idea that we Christians should continue to view ourselves as wicked and miserable sinners in danger of hell and constantly needing to beg for God’s mercy. I say this is deeply de-Christian despite its deep roots in the liturgies and other practices of traditional churches (e.g. Roman Catholic personal confession, Anglican general confession, Orthodox repetition of “Lord have mercy” prayers). The true biblical Christian position, while certainly not minimising the serious of Christians’ continuing sin, is that everyone in Christ is forgiven, righteous and holy in God’s sight.

  24. I think you have slightly misunderstood the position I was criticising. This position does NOT view ourselves as wicked and in danger of hell but as wicked but safe from hell. One tendency is to antinomianism and the other is to pessimism about the possibility of real behavioural change.

  25. TC Keene, I wonder what is the difference between your ‘de Christian’ doctrine and Luther’s simul iustus et peccator – simultaneously justified and a sinner. That was, of course, fundamental to his reformation breakthrough and continues to distinguish Protestant from Roman theology in the understanding of the application of grace and the ‘qualification’ for eternal life.

    As I read this whole thread, though, I wonder if we are doing anything like enough ‘historical theology’. Some of our ‘deeply de-Christian’ doctrines are actually historical doctrines – or (perhaps as per TC Keene) derivatives of historical doctrines. We seem to be in danger of ‘privileging the present’ without appreciating our own age’s relative lack of theological depth.

  26. As I am a pygmy in this debate it would be far better to debate the difference between the peccator of Luther who is justified and the wicked of Paul who is not. I would not flatter myself that I know better than Luther but a claim that we remain wicked after justification undoubtedly needs careful qualification. Perhaps John Richardson can help here.

  27. John, I appreciate that there is a historical dimension here which cannot be explored in detail in blog posts, let alone in comments. But I have tried to point out that several of the de-Christian doctrines mentioned have in fact been widely held in the church through the ages. In my book, and I think in yours too (certainly if you accept the Thirty-Nine Articles, especially the one about councils erring), that does not imply that these doctrines are authentically Christian.

    To return to TC’s point, sorry for any misunderstanding. I agree with John that Luther’s simul iustus et peccator was a great step forward relative to mediaeval theology emphasising human sinfulness. I am not sure whether this is in itself “de-Christian” or whether it is only the way that some Reformed Protestants have used it in which the “de-Christian” emphasis on sinfulness has remained. But I would hold that it is wrong to describe Christians as peccator, sinner, and more biblical and genuinely Christian to describe us as holy men and women of God who occasionally sin. Unbelievers are in some way totally depraved, but it is wrong to say the same of Christians.

  28. Let me add another one: the idea that God has finished with the Jewish people and that they have been “replaced” by the church. This doctrine, technically known as supercessionism, has been responsible for untold atrocities over the years and is deeply de-Christian.

  29. Anastasis, I agree, although I also see an opposite error in continuing to apply prophecies too literally to the modern state of Israel. Some people have over-reacted to the extent of becoming “de-Christian” by lapsing into a kind of baptised Judaism. The whole area is a very difficult one to get a proper balance on.

  30. Does John have some wisdom relating to the distinction between the peccator of Luther and the wicked of Paul? As he made clear and Peter has acclaimed, Luther’s simul iustus et peccator is a striking contribution to theology from Luther (not of course his only one but that should not mean we denigrate this one). But translating peccator as wicked creates serious tensions with Pauline theology which I think need resolving.
    For my part, the Luther formulation rightly defends the distinction between justification and other aspects of salvation, between what is imputed and what is imparted. The formulation sucks however when justification is separated from the other aspects of salvation so that justification is not deemed as accompanied by new life, transformation etc. It sucks because it radically undermines Christian discipleship. Such an undermining can be seen in the churches down the ages and so is more than just a theoretical danger.

  31. While I disagree with most of the dogmas of Christianity, I find that there are two that make the whole Catholic-Protestant debacle nonredeemable…

    * Trinity, which to me is the 666 mark, the man of sin and the god of this world;

    * the idea that 1 Cor 14:26-33 was only applicable to the early church, but is not to be practiced today;

    If the latter were corrected, the former would soon go away, so the latter is really the most damning.

    As to “original sin”:

    * when Adam and Eve sinned, all mankind sinned, because at that time, they *were* all of mankind. All of mankind was denied access to the fruit of the trees of life, and hence, all die.

    David spoke of his own conception when he said “my mama sinned by giving me birth” – he was “cursing his [birth]day” as Job did:

    Job 3:
    1 ¶ After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day. 2 And Job spake, and said, 3 Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived. 4 Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it. 5 Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. 6 As for that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year, let it not come into the number of the months. 7 Lo, let that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein. 8 Let them curse it that curse the day, who are ready to raise up their mourning. 9 Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; let it look for light, but have none; neither let it see the dawning of the day: 10 Because it shut not up the doors of my mother’s womb, nor hid sorrow from mine eyes.
    11 ¶ Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? 12 Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck? 13 For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest, 14 With kings and counsellors of the earth, which built desolate places for themselves; 15 Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver: 16 Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light. 17 There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest. 18 There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. 19 The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.
    20 ¶ Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul; 21 Which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures; 22 Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find the grave? 23 Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in? 24 For my sighing cometh before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like the waters. 25 For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. 26 I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.

  32. WondedEgo, thanks for this. I agree with you on 1 Corinthians 14:26-33, as well as on original sin. But I don’t see why that passage has implications for the doctrine of the Trinity – unless of course you expect the church to allow “prophets” to teach doctrine without biblical support, which was clearly not Paul’s approach.

  33. >>>…But I don’t see why that passage has implications for the doctrine of the Trinity – unless of course you expect the church to allow “prophets” to teach doctrine without biblical support, which was clearly not Paul’s approach.

    1 Corinthians was, as I read it, written largely because of their carnal approach to handling differences. Their approach was to establish sects, each bearing a name. Paul said that a HAIRETIKON (sectarian) was “self condemned” and should only be given one or two warnings, then rejected. Paul wrote to Corinth to prescribe what he called his “Better Approach” (“more excellent way”), which he spells out in 1 Cor 14.

    For Paul, error was not the problem. He said we all see in part. We see through a reflector, in enigmas. We make mistakes. So, he talks about how love is patient, and kind, and then, based on that, gives a method for dealing with differences that involves… drum roll please… “taking turns.”

    He did not expect that everything that everyone said would be correct. So the others need to weigh what is said. The cream will rise to the top.

    Not so Christendom. With the sword of Constantine, the worship of Jesus was mandated by dogma. Even when hundreds of bishops at a subsequent council avowed no credence in a worshiped Jesus, the damage had been done.

    Soon dissenters were burning like marshmallows at a Scout Jamboree.

    Forums like this one are the closest thing to “the Better Approach” but still, there hangs the threat over everyone connected with Christendom and its named sects that if they step over the line of Trinity dogma, they will not be welcome to “buy or sell” in their domain.

    So, the emancipation of the believer from the shackles of dogma is the prerequisite for any recovery of scriptural christianity. Perhaps the Internet will be the key?

  34. WoundedEgo, like you I have serious reservations about the methods by which the organised church formally adopted the doctrine of the Trinity. My points 2, 4 and 5 above are all related to that issue: hierarchical church leaders used the threat of war to convince others, and taught that those who disagreed with their teaching would not be saved. That is a matter quite independent of the truth or otherwise of that doctrine.

  35. >>>…That is a matter quite independent of the truth or otherwise of that doctrine.

    It is not a “doctrine” but a “dogma.” There is not a single verse in all of the scriptures that asserts that God is a “Trinity.” No, not one.

    Paul’s brilliant “better approach” is pronounced “too risky” by the sect leaders, because people might lose their mooring to Church Dogma. So they insist on top-down control.

    Once that structure is broken though, and people can read the scriptures for themselves without limits, a completely different, “new” Christianity emerges.

  36. WoundedEgo, you can use the word “dogma” rather than “doctrine” if you like, but that also tells us nothing about its truth value. People have been reading the Scriptures for themselves for centuries, at least since the Reformation, and most but not all of us have concluded that the Bible does support the “dogma” of the Trinity.

  37. “supports” is not the same as “teaches.”

    I know. I chose my word carefully. I do not claim that the Bible explicitly teaches the doctrine of the Trinity. I do suggest that it is a doctrine which many people have found to be implicit in the Bible and which finds some support, and no contradiction, in the Bible. I realise that for some that is insufficient evidence. Part of the problem is that the whole concept of a dogma of this kind conflicts with New Testament Christianity – which is perhaps part of your point.

    I would also point out that the most common non-Trinitarian teachings around today are more or less explicitly contradicted in the Bible. So don’t take my slightly weak endorsement of the Trinity to imply any kind of acceptance of those common non-Trinitarian positions.

  38. Science (observation) supported a geocentric universe to a point, though it could not bear scrutiny.

    The scriptural definition of God is “God is one” not “God is three in one.” Once the mind is freed from the psychological pegging, it becomes as clear as the nose on one’s face that there is but one God, and that is the father:

    1 Corinthians 8:6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

    Ephesians 4:6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

    1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

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