Heresies

Or, hope for the church even when she stumbles.

April 22, 2019Filed under Theology#heresy#patristics#tweetstormsMarkdown source

Assumed Audience: People up for hearing a brief take on the history of the Christian confessions of faith—and why their long history gives me hope today.


I wrote this as a tweet storm originally—not something I do often, but something I’ve decided to do occasionally just to keep things interesting for my very weird mix of a Twitter audience. As usual, though, my blog is the “source of truth” for my internet presence, so here we are.

Most heresies, so far as I can see, are effectively elevating one Christian doctrine over another, rather than doing the hard work to see how they hold together. One of the things I appreciate about the ecumenical church is how hard they worked to confess all God’s truth.

The Trinitarian creeds are master-works in saying yes to things that at first blush don’t fit together, and saying no to things that at first blush seem necessary for one or another of those “yes”es to hold. My favorite of these is in the Chalcedonian Definition (the whole thing is 😍, but this set of affirmations and negations especially):

We, then, following the holy fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures; inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the Son, and only begotten, (5/6) God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

They worked for literally centuries to hammer that out—trying to avoid veering into first this ditch and then that, some of them getting it wrong one way and some another; but they kept coming back to the same deep well of truth and seeking to confess it rightly.

I find hope here not only in that they did eventually learn to confess these core elements of the Christian faith aright, but also in that they did eventually learn it. It took time and prayer, faithfulness in the faith, and by the grace of the God we confess, they got there. So when I see God’s people—me included—stumbling around in folly today, it’s a good reminder: so it has always been. But the same Spirit that—as the church has for two thousand years confessed—raised Jesus from the dead* is at work in the church still. And that’s good news.