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By Beth, May 28 2018 10:50PM


Matthew 12:20 A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.


Matthew 12:21 And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.


A dear friend of mine asked me to write a blog post on these verses after we chatted about their meaning.


You see, I was thinking about the things that are happening in the Church right now…have you read or heard about them?


In a nutshell, many corrupt Church leaders are being called on the carpet. Their failures and injustices range from telling women to stay with abusive husbands to covering for sexual offenders to being stealth abusers and offenders themselves. There is even a #churchtoo movement, echoing the #metoo movement in the secular community.


1 Peter 4:17 says: “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God…”


Indeed, it has come. But why hasn’t it come earlier? Why has the abuse of power been allowed to continue for so long? Why have we “looked the other way” for such a long time and at the expense of so many victims of false teaching and injustices?


As Rachael Denhollander aptly put it: “As long as the culture is conducive to abuse there will be abusers.”


Sadly, the culture of the Church has been conducive to abuse.


But in its covering up of abuses within its ranks to preserve its reputation, was the Church actually demonstrating the character of God?


More succinctly: does God hold people – even Christians, and even leaders in the Church – accountable for their actions? Or does he sort of “grandfather” them into His good graces, and ultimately into Heaven “because of all the good they’ve done…”?


This is what Bill Hybels, former pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, thinks God will do for him…and, apparently, so does his congregation. They recently gave Hybels a standing ovation despite the fact that he is being accused by nine women (who have worked closely with him) of sexual harassment over the past 30 years. They seem to think that “all this talk of sex is merely a distraction from the many good things Bill has done and continues to do…”


And this happens so many times. And so many times, we are told to overlook people’s purposeful choices that reveal major character flaws “for the sake of their ministry,” or because we should be forgiving, we should let it go, “think of all the good they have done...”


Now here’s where those verses come in; let’s get God’s perspective on this:


“A bruised reed shall he not break…”


This is referring to the tenderness of God, his patience and gentleness. A reed becomes bruised by some outside source that has bumped it or injured it. It is not the fault of the reed, and God will not forsake it simply because it is bruised. He will protect it and patiently, tenderly, allow it to grow back to full strength and health. And it will! It may have some mark of its past damage upon it, but it can be a fully functional, effective, healthy plant with time and persistence.


In fact – this is pretty remarkable – but in 2012, researchers at the University of Illinois discovered that some plants, after they had been damaged or “nibbled” by critters, had the capability to grow back stronger than they were before!


The article at futurity.org reads, “Now, researchers may know the reason why, for they discovered what might be one mechanism behind these comeback plants. Remarkably, these plants increase their number of chromosomes after being damaged.” (https://www.futurity.org/nibbled-plants-grow-back-stronger/)


So the “bruised reed” could end up being the strongest reed of the bunch! And God knows that, so He will let time and perseverance have its work, and it may just yield an extraordinary harvest.


Now, to the second part of the verse:


“…and smoking flax shall he not quench…”


These are two contrasting thoughts within one line of Scripture.


It’s a literary technique in Hebrew poetry called “antithetic parallelism,” which simply means the second phrase contrasts with the first. The first part of the verse represents the mercy of God; the second part, His justice. (Mercy and Justice are just two sides of the same coin; Jesus Christ embodies them both.)


At the top of this post, I inserted a picture. It is a photo of flax that has been gathered for harvest and bundled up for use. Despite the fact that it’s been cut down, doesn’t it look nice and green and vibrant? Just imagine how it looks when it is still growing! It would be nearly impossible to light it and get it to burn while it still had roots and was that green, wouldn’t it?


But after that has been cut, detached from its roots for a bit…. well, I bet it would make some impressive smoke, wouldn’t it? And eventually, that smoldering flax would catch fire and burn impressively for quite a good bit, wouldn’t it?


Please understand -- green and growing flax would not be smoking. Dead flax would. The Bible is telling us an important truth here:


If you are dead at the roots and the stench and smoke of Hell is already rising to God’s nostrils from your body and soul, God is not going to put it out for you.


In this verse, each plant has a distinct quality; one is injured, but alive; one is so dead it is already smoking.


ABUSERS AND PREDATORS ARE SMOKING FLAX. They are dead inside, completely detached from the roots of their Godly image, incapable of bearing fruit, already halfway to Hell...and they put off a powerful spiritual stench. Their path is marked, their choices made (time and again)...and God's not going to bail them out.


Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: those who have willfully, purposefully, unrepentantly abused their positions of power, whether in the home or in the Church or in any other institution or situation will find that it is, indeed, a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


And that’s the reason for the next verse: “And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.”


They trust Him because they know God lovingly protects the innocent and squarely holds the guilty accountable. He will not let them escape their fate or ride the coattails of their worldly successes into Heaven.


Anyone who teaches differently is deceived or has an agenda to create a “culture conducive to abuse.”


"For it is written, Vengeance is mine; I WILL repay, saith the Lord." Romans 12:19


Be encouraged, bruised reeds. God sees you trying, He’s sending you comfort and cheering you on toward victory…and you can trust Him to set ALL THINGS in order in the end.


Be afraid, smoking flax. You are about to meet the Lion of Judah.






By Beth, May 18 2018 06:48PM

This post was actually a response I gave on a discussion board at my seminary. The other student (I call him "Jack" on this post) had written a summary of some of the writings he had read by Cotton Mather. Mather was a American preacher and theologian who was heavily implicated in the Salem Witch trials.


Jack writes:


There were a couple of other points that were very interesting to me. First was the heavy reliance on Scripture. It is unfortunate the lack of actual Scripture in many sermons today. The heavy reliance on scripture in this sermon was refreshing and inspiring. The second was the heavy leaning into holiness theology with statements like, “There is No Life in the Faith, which is not Productive to an Holy Life[7]” and “This is that Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord[8]”.


Jack,


I went back and read some more about Cotton Mather's involvement in the Salem Witch Trials -- it seems it was extensive!


In hindsight, that period of time is a shameful blemish on American history. Mather seemed to be heavily involved in what we now know to be brutish and unjust condemnation and execution of many innocents.


Now, here's the tricky part -- and it raises the same question that the Church has struggled with since its inception and continues to struggle with today:


How can someone who preaches well, reasons well, knows Scripture well, seems to live a "holy" lifestyle, etc....be entrenched so squarely in evil doings?


How are we, as the Body of Christ, to accurately discern who truly is or isn't following God?


From where I stand, it seems that, though Mather wrote eloquently and defended Scripture and holy living adequately, the only accurate judgment of his faith can be his life and his works...his "fruits." And based on those, Jack, well...either he was grossly affected by that "little leaven" of self-righteousness and legalism that affects "the whole lump" -- or he was, himself, the source of the leaven. Either way, it's not looking good for him.


Here is a witness account I found repeatedly in my research:


Mather is haunted in history by the account given in Robert Calef's book More Wonders of the Invisible World (1700) of his conduct at the hanging of former Salem minister George Burroughs. Calef reported that Burroughs recited a perfect rendition of the Lord's Prayer while on the gallows, something Mather himself thought impossible for anyone guilty of an alliance with the devil. The crowd was so moved that some wanted to prevent the execution. Mather, mounted on his horse, proclaimed that Burroughs was no ordained minister, and that the "Devil has often been transformed into an Angel of Light." With those words, under the tearful gaze of an ambivalent crowd the George Burroughs was hanged.


The writer goes on to say:


Perry Miller describes Cotton's later years as a time of intense regret and remorse about the trials. He points out that Cotton's diary paints a picture of a man "panicky lest the Lord take revenge upon his family 'for [Mather's] not appearing with Vigor enough to stop the proceedings of the Judges'". Clearly Cotton could not see his outside of his own world of expectations, reputations, and contradictions.


http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/people/c_mather.html (Links to an external site.)


It seemed, even in the end, that it was all about Mather. His concern was for himself and his family...not for the persecuted victims and their families.


This is eerily reminiscent of what I see in American Christendom today -- Church leaders who keep sexual abuse allegations under wraps, for instance, to "preserve the reputation of the church" or its leaders. Pastors who emphasize how great their past preaching was or the tremendous impact their ministry made when they are faced with those who accuse them of immorality and abuses of power. It is always about them. When caught, they cry for themselves, they complain about the pain this is causing their families -- not the lives and families of their victims.


I wonder, if Christians would make a more dedicated practice of honestly evaluating the actual "fruits" of their leaders and fellow believers -- and genuinely holding themselves and others accountable for their actions -- if we wouldn't have a much more solidly grounded Church today.


Actually...is there any room to wonder?


Matthew 7:16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?


Matthew 7:17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.


Matthew 7:18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.


Matthew 7:19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.


Matthew 7:20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.






By Beth, Feb 7 2018 04:51AM


I just sent this letter to Lifeway (who is sponsoring the Together 4 the Gospel event http://t4g.org/ in April at which CJ Mahaney is scheduled to speak.)


I will let you know what/if I hear back.


_____________________________________________________________

APRIL 10, 2018


Hi all, I did hear back from LifeWay, and they said they would forward my email to higher ups.


In any case, CJ Mahaney will no longer be speaking at the Together 4 the Gospel conference, as he has stepped down (thanks to the hard work of Rachael Denhollander and the Wartburg Watch website.)


This is a significant statement that Ms. Denhollander made last week at a speaking engagement at Harvard University:


When asked, "How can people trust the church and Christianity?" in the wake of sexual abuse, Denhollander simply said, "Don't."


"The church is made up of fallen people," she said. "I trust my Savior."


Denhollander said that while she is a "very conservative evangelical," she believes the Church has a long way to go when it comes to dealing with victims of sexual abuse.


"That's a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth," she said. "There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the Church."


(https://www.christianpost.com/news/larry-nassars-accuser-rachael-denhollander-few-victims-of-sexual-assault-find-true-help-from-church-222685/)


Trust Jesus Christ, and ask for the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit in reporting abuse in the church.


Report it to the police immediately and do NOT trust the church to simply handle an abusive situation and protect the victims. Tell the authorities. Stand up for justice and righteousness, as did our Lord. Be a voice for those who have been oppressed and offended by evil doings. Shine a light for truth!


******UPDATE #2 -- APRIL 14, 2018******


In the past 30 days:


1) Pastor CJ Mahaney, (co-founder and keynote speaker of the "T4G" (Together 4 the Gospel) conference in St. Louis, MO) withdrew from his speaking/hosting role in the wake of Rachel Denhollander's claim that his churches have been involved in a years-long major sexual abuse cover-up. http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/march/cj-mahaney-withdraws-t4g-conference-sgm-rachael-denhollande.html


2) Pastor Andy Savage of Highpoint Church in Memphis resigned after it was brought to light that, as a Youth Pastor, he had sexually abused a 17-yr old student in his youth group. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/03/20/memphis-megachurch-pastor-resigns-sex-abuse.


3) President Frank Page of the Southern Baptist Convention resigned from his office over what is being called a "morally inappropriate relationship" came to light. So far, further details have been withheld. https://baptistnews.com/article/southern-baptist-leader-steps-down-over-moral-indiscretion/


4) Mega church leader Bill Hybels has stepped down from Willow Creek Church in Chicago after allegations from multiple women alleging sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-hybels-willow-creek-resigns


5) Pope Francis issued a statement yesterday admitting that he had wrongly ignored the pleas of multiple Catholic church members who alleged sexual abuse by a powerful bishop in Chile. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/world/americas/pope-francis-sex-abuse-apology.html


It seems like a profoundly poor time for those of us who are leaders in the Church to attempt to bury our heads in the sand.


Ephesians 5:13 But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.


Ephesians 5:14 Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.


Ephesians 5:15 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,


Ephesians 5:16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.


Ephesians 5:17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.



————————————————————————–

Feb. 6, 2018


Hello, Lifeway.


I am a practicing Christian and currently a candidate for a Master’s degree in Ministry.


I would like to know if, after US Gymnast Rachael Denhollander’s public challenge to Sovereign Grace Ministries to hire GRACE to do a comprehensive investigation of allegations of a large-scale cover up of sexual abuse, you are planning on removing CJ Mahaney from your “Together 4 the Gospel” event if SGM does not support sexual abuse victims by allowing this investigation.


In case you are not aware of these public events, here are some websites to bring you up to date:


https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/rachael-denhollander-the-church-isnt-safe-for-sexual-abuse-victims_us_5a73264ce4b06fa61b4e1574


https://www.facebook.com/OfficialDenhollander/posts/1694537600626553


https://www.washingtonian.com/2016/02/14/the-sex-abuse-scandal-that-devastated-a-suburban-megachurch-sovereign-grace-ministries/


http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/february/sovereign-grace-rachael-denhollander-sgm-abuse-ct-interview.html


http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2014/may/c-j-mahaney-joshua-harris-resign-from-gospel-coalition-sgm.html


Please advise.



By Beth, Jan 29 2018 09:17PM

(This is a homily (mini-sermon) I wrote for my ministry degree.)


In 1999, Christian author Chuck Colson published a book that asked Christians the ultimate profound and enduring question: “How now shall we live?” And indeed, that remains the fundamental question here on earth after our conversion. Today we are going to look at some verses in Exodus wherein God prepares Moses and the Hebrew people for how they should live and conduct themselves upon entering the Promise Land -- the land of their deliverance and redemption. This was the place where they were to begin a new life with a new outlook and leave a new legacy…and God had specific guidelines for how they could make that happen.


Exodus 19:3 & 4 says: And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.


Moses was to remind the Hebrew children of the LORD’s great deeds on their behalf. God’s wrath toward the Egyptians was a reminder of His justice for the oppressed. Later, in Judges 6:9, He again reminds them: “And I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land…” Psalms 146:7 describes the character of God as one “Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. The LORD looseth the prisoners…” And truly, He did all of those things for His children in the Exodus story. And, according to the Scripture, He “bare them on eagles’ wings…” This is a metaphor; metaphors communicate concepts that cannot be expressed in literal terms. The enormity of God’s intervention on behalf of His children defies literal description, and so God uses a metaphor to indicate His sweeping deliverance of the Hebrew people from their bondage.


He established His love for them, His willingness to go to extraordinary lengths to protect and preserve them. And isn’t this the picture of a parent’s authentic love for their children?


Then, He set forth what He would (reasonably) ask of them in verse 5: (Exodus 19:5) Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine…


God wanted them to obey His voice and keep His covenant – then they should be for Him a peculiar treasure above all others. Seems simple enough, right? But what bearing does it have on us?


First, let’s begin with this: are we expected to obey His voice today? John 10:27 says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…” Okay, are we supposed to keep His covenant today? Well, let’s begin with the question: what is His covenant? What is He referring to here? We can find the answer later in the Scripture (keeping in mind the importance of the framework of the whole counsel of God. )


Referring to Moses, Exodus 34:28 says: And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.


Leviticus 26:15 says: And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant…


Deuteronomy 4:13 states: And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.


And Deuteronomy 9:11 reiterates: And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the LORD gave me the two tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant.


We now have clearly defined the covenant. God was preparing His children that, when they entered the Promise Land, they needed to keep the basic commandments which He was about to give to them (they come, literally, in the very next chapter.)


They are basic because they are the foundation of human decency. They are, indeed, what makes us human rather than merely a higher form of mammal. Made in the image of the Divine. Loving the Divine, and loving our neighbor in such a way that we never do them intentional harm in our daily living, nor try to gain in such a way that facilitates their demise. Jesus Christ, being at the center of our Biblical understanding, reminded us of our obligation, saying: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”


But did Christ really mean the covenant, the Ten Commandments that were given to Israel? Considering that they were written by the very “finger of God,” and that Christ declared “I and my Father are one” in John 10:30, I would say resoundingly yes! He did mean –those-- commandments!


And if Israel would have truly established her civilization on those laws governing morality, governing basic truth and goodness, in Exodus 19:6, God proclaimed: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. Israel had the potential to be religious leaders for the entire planet, and if she would only follow God’s commandments – to be “a kingdom of priests.” She could demonstrate to all other cultures the abundance of blessings bestowed upon a people who treat others as they themselves want to be treated and who show gratitude and honor to their Just, Merciful, Compassionate, Powerful, Holy Creator. A holy nation. A nation lifted high above all others to be a shining light. A “treasured possession” which God has “set His heart on.” These are the words that Moses was to speak to Israel. And these are the very words that we are to speak to the Body of Christ today.


If only the Israelites had obeyed! If only they had not insisted on making an idol of continual sacrifice, but rather had set their focus on overcoming sin! If only they had truly valued and regarded these words above their flesh – what a radiant, luminescent light they could have been!


We live in a culture that values acquisition over generosity; fame over humility; brutality over gentleness; lust over sacrificial love; and violence over peace. But how now shall we live after our deliverance, forgiveness and redemption from our past in bondage to sin? We should lead our own homes to be a shining light, a rare precious gem in the midst of an ever-darkening landscape; we should heed the words of the LORD in Exodus 19:“If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people.” (“Peculiar” here means a people expressly possessed by God and particularly prized by Him.)


Jesus said it most succinctly:


Matthew 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.


Matthew 22:39 And Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.


All of the Bible hangs on these simple commandments. This is the central message of Christ. This is the message repeated over and over throughout Scripture, both Old Testament and New. Live by these commandments…and experience life as a shining star in God’s kingdom: holy, peculiar, a kingdom of priests who shed God’s light in all that they do.


Thank you, God, for your Holy Commandments as guidance for our lives. Let us live to honor you in all we do. Help us to set an example by our humility and our obedience to your voice. Help those around us to truly know we are Christians by our Godly and neighborly love. Help us to shine the light of your goodness to all who encounter us, that they may see our good works and glorify you…and eventually, truly come to know you. Amen.



By Beth, Jan 8 2018 10:52PM


(This is a paper that I wrote for my graduate degree in Christian Ministry.)


Who was Pelagius?


Pelagius was an ascetic Christian from the British Isles who withstood Augustine of Hippo’s doctrines on free will, human nature, and salvation, causing a firestorm of persecution toward Pelagius by prominent Roman Catholic bishops and leaders of the time. Pelagius was eventually labeled a heretic and excommunicated from the Church.


Born circa 354 AD, Pelagius, in his twenties, “became a highly regarded spiritual director for both clergy and laymen” in Rome. The moral permissiveness he saw demonstrated by the Roman Christians around him offended his moral sensibilities, and his scrupulous standards for Christian behavior and virtue became a thorn in the side of many Roman Christians. Pelagius attributed the moral negligence he saw to doctrines propagated by Augustine at the time, including the notion that continence (or self-control) came only from the grace that was allotted to humanity by God at any given time. Pelagius believed that this way of thinking afforded humanity a means of escaping accountability for their own lack of temperance (by attributing it a grace that could be given or not given at random by God.) He “feared that people influenced by such teaching tend to dismiss any responsibility for their own actions.” Though he “agreed with Augustine that God has made us free, and that the source of evil is in the will,” he believed that “this meant human beings always have the ability to overcome their sin.”

Pelagius’ objections to Augustine’s teaching “on the grounds that it imperilled the entire moral law” attracted enough attention to gain a foothold in the city of Rome (and a follower who was an attorney named Celestius). As Pelagius’ influence grew, so, too, did his circle of critics. His most vocal and prolific opponent became Augustine of Hippo, whose own doctrinal power and sway with the Church had the potential of being undercut by Pelagius’ teachings. Jerome also had a negative opinion of Pelagius’ teachings and wrote against him in 415.


Though most of Pelagius’ writings are now strangely non-extant (whereas we have volumes of Augustine’s work,) much has been asserted about what Pelagius believed and taught. Indeed, it seems Augustine constructed an entire doctrinal empire simply out of his refutations of Pelagius’ teachings. Some scholars have even suggested that, were it not for Pelagius, Augustine may never have solidified his doctrine of Original Sin.


However, since there exists at least one document attributed to Pelagius’ “own hand,” let us examine Pelagius’ beliefs in his own words (from his “Letter to Demetrias in 413”.)


On Free Will


Pelagius addresses the free will of the “rational creature” to do good:


It was because God wished to bestow on the rational creature the gift of doing good of his own free will and the capacity to exercise free choice, by implanting in man the possibility of choosing either alternative, that he made it his peculiar right to be what he wanted to be, so that with his capacity for good and evil he could do either quite naturally and then bend his will in the other direction too. He could not claim to possess the good of his own volition, unless he were the kind of creature that could also have possessed evil. Our most excellent creator wished us to be able to do either but actually to do only one, that is, good, which he also commanded, giving us the capacity to do evil only so that we might do his will by exercising our own.


In this passage, Pelagius asserts that, in order for God to give humanity credit for doing good, humanity must also be capable of doing evil. Later, he will go on to argue that God would not have asked humans to do righteously if they were not capable of doing so.


Moreover, the Lord of Justice wished man to be free to act and not under compulsion; it was for this reason that he left him free to make his own decisions and set before him life and death, good and evil, and he shall be given whatever pleases him. Hence, we read in the Book Deuteronomy also: I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you may live (Dt.30.19).


Here, Pelagius addresses the true nature of choice: if humanity was not given free choice of the will by God, they would be acting “under compulsion” to do good. To this day, we do not “give credit” or assign accountability to a soldier who “was only following orders.” Therefore, no reward, nor any consequence, would be properly assigned to a human race that was acting under a compulsion to do either good or (as Augustine will later assert,) evil. Pelagius affirmed that “men had been endowed by God with free will, so that they should follow His law and live perfect lives” in Christ.


On Human Nature


Augustine taught that human nature was already fallen, or defiled, by the Fall of Adam and Eve. Here, Pelagius very plainly refutes that teaching:


First, then, you ought to measure the good of human nature by reference to its Creator, I mean God, of course: if it is he who, as report goes, has made all the works of and within the world good, exceeding good, how much more excellent do you suppose that he has made man himself, on whose account he has clearly made everything else? And before actually making man, he determines to fashion him in his own image and likeness and shows what kind of creature he intends to make him.


Pelagius argues that if everything else God made was good (and he emphasizes that all of it was distinctly made for humanity’s sake,) how much more would God ensure that humanity was made “excellent?”


Furthermore, he contends that even the pagans are capable of showing Godly behavior and attributes:


For how many of the pagan philosophers have we heard and read and even seen for ourselves to be chaste, tolerant, temperate, generous, abstinent and kindly, rejecters of the world's honours as well as its delights, lovers of justice no less than knowledge? Whence, I ask you, do these good qualities pleasing to God come to men who are strangers to him? Whence can these good qualities come to them, unless it be from the good of nature? …But if even men without God can show what kind of creatures they were made by God, consider what Christians are able to do whose nature and life have been instructed for the better by Christ and who are assisted by the aid of divine grace as well.


Indeed, Pelagius’ contention is supported by the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 2:14-15:


For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness…


Pelagius also recalls Old Testament individuals who were described in the Scriptures as righteous, blameless, or perfect. Noah (Genesis 6:9 These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God,) Enoch, Job (Job 1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil,) Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are all mentioned by Pelagius as saints who kept the Commandments of God (pre-incarnate Christ) and upheld His righteousness out of their own volition and knowledge of the good.


On Salvation


Pelagius continues on with this theme in this section:


Even before the law was given to us, as we have said, and long before the arrival of our Lord and Saviour some are reported to have lived holy and righteous lives; how much more possible must we believe that to be after the light of his coming, now that we have been instructed by the grace of Christ and reborn as better men: purified and cleansed by his blood, encouraged by his example to pursue perfect righteousness, we ought surely to be better than those who lived before the time of the law, better even than those who lived under the law, since the apostle says: For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Rom.6.14).


This again echoes Paul’s sentiments in Chapter 2 of Hebrews:


Hebrews 2:2-4: For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?


Perhaps this next section is the most brilliant and effective refutation of Augustine’s assertion of man’s natural inability to incline toward good (and hence, keep the Commandments of God):


Nothing impossible has been commanded by the God of justice and majesty…. Why do we indulge in pointless evasions, advancing the frailty of our own nature as an objection to the one who commands us? No one knows better the true measure of our strength than he who has given it to us nor does anyone understand better how much we are able to do than he who has given us this very capacity of ours to be able; nor has he who is just wished to command anything impossible or he who is good intended to condemn a man for doing what he could not avoid doing.


Clearly, God would not have given us commandments we couldn’t possibly keep; otherwise, Jesus, who was given all things under his feet to judge, would never have taught that “if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”


Echoing James’ exhortation (James 1:22: But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves,) Pelagius charges his reader to:


Read the holy scriptures in such a way that you never forget that they are the words of God, who commands us that we should not only know his law but also fulfil it; for it is of no advantage to have learned what has to be done, if we then fail to do it.


Pelagianism


At the heart of Pelagianism is the belief that humanity can “avoid sinning, and can freely choose to obey God's commandments.”


Diane Leclerc, Ph.D. writes: “From Augustine, we get the idea that we are born depraved; we inherit a carnal nature that is completely incapable of God. Pelagius believed that the only effect of the original sin of Adam and Eve was mortality. In this, Pelagius is not saying anything different than what was understood prior to Augustine’s invention.” Author Michael Lodahl argues that:

"Pelagius did not do justice to the reality of our solidarity…the world into which we come is already a history filled with sin, manifested in war, bloodshed, slavery, abuse, torture, fear, and a thousand other nightmares. It is this reality, already there before us and into which we are thrown at birth, that Pelagius apparently failed to appreciate.”


However, in his letter, Pelagius deals with this very topic when he writes:


Noah is said to have been 'a righteous man, blameless in his generation' (Gen.6.9), and his holiness is all the more to be admired in that he alone was found to be righteous, when literally the whole world was declining from righteousness, nor did he seek a model of holiness from another but supplied it himself. And for that reason, when the destruction of the whole world was imminent, he alone of all men was found worthy to hear the words: Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation (Gen.7.1).


(One has to wonder how much worse of a world a child could be born into than the one into which Noah was born – which necessitated the flooding of the entire earth to eradicate such an entrenched evil! And yet, somehow Noah managed to maintain his righteousness before God.)


In 411, Pelagius’ friend and follower Celestius was bidden to appear in Carthage to answer for six theses attributed to his writings which were deemed heretical by the bishop Aurelius (and later condemned by the Church.) According to New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, though they were penned and defended by Celestius alone, these theses “clearly contain the quintessence of Pelagianism.” The theses are as follows:


1) Even if Adam had not sinned, he would have died.

2) Adam's sin harmed only himself, not the human race.

3) Children just born are in the same state as Adam before his fall.

4) The whole human race neither dies through Adam's sin or death, nor rises again through the resurrection of Christ.

5) The Law is as good a guide to heaven as the Gospel.

6) Even before the advent of Christ there were men who were without sin.


When Pelagius was confronted with these doctrines, he denied originating them and even refuted them in testimony at a synod of fourteen bishops held in Diospolis in December, 415: “Of other doctrines with which he had been charged, he said that, formulated as they were in the complaint, they did not originate from him, but from Caelestius, and that he also repudiated them.” He was exonerated of the charges of heresy brought against him by Orosius and others, and, at this point, “the Orient had now spoken twice and had found nothing to blame in Pelagius.”

Eventually, however, Pelagius would be ex-communicated from the Church and his doctrines condemned by the Council of Carthage (which was sanctioned by the Council of Ephesus in 431.)


The Council of Orange


Pelagianism, having already been condemned at the Council of Carthage in 418, nonetheless continued on in a form labelled as “semi-pelaginanism,” which rejected Augustine’s doctrine of predestination. “An outgrowth of the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius,” the Council of Orange convened in 529 (long after the deaths of both of its original subjects.) They argued over the degree of responsibility a person had for their own salvation and the degree to which the catalyst was the grace of God. Because the Pelagians rejected the doctrine of Original Sin, they believed that “children have no sin until they, on their own free will, decide to sin.” This belief (along with an Old Testament laden with examples of those walking uprightly according to God,) led them to conclude that sinless perfection was attainable in this life. “The Council of Orange dealt with the Semi-Pelagian doctrine that the human race, though fallen and possessed of a sinful nature, is still ‘good’ enough to able to lay hold of the grace of God through an act of unredeemed human will.” Rejecting this premise, the Council held to Augustine's view, renounced Pelagius, and was well on their way to the formation of the doctrine of Total Depravity.


Wesley on Pelagius


Through his doctrine of “entire sanctification,” Wesley echoed some Pelagian-esque sentiments of man’s ability to achieve sinless perfection. However, Wesley did hold to Augustine’s doctrine of the fallen state of humankind. Addressing this, he pioneered a doctrine of “prevenient grace,” which teaches that “it is only God’s holy, loving presence in human life that enables us to choose against the chains of sin.”


In Wesley’s own words:


I verily believe, the real heresy of Pelagius was neither more nor less than this: The holding that Christians may, by the grace of God, (not without it; that I take to be a mere slander,) ‘go on to perfection;’ or, in other words, ‘fulfill the law of Christ.'


Conclusion


Though he was persecuted, condemned, and excommunicated, clearly Pelagius had a very good sense of the “whole counsel of God” and offered Scriptural interpretations that are valuable to consider even to this day. After reading his actual letter to Demetrias, I feel certain Pelagius was unfairly maligned by the Church and its Councils. Of course, he is not the first to be persecuted and condemned by the religious leaders of his day. Perhaps -- as he charged us to do – Pelagius was just walking in the very footsteps of Christ. In his words:


You will realise that doctrines are the invention of the human mind, as it tries to penetrate the mystery of God. You will realise that scripture itself is the work of human recording the example and teaching of Jesus. Thus it is not what you believe (in your head) that matters; it is how you respond with your heart and your actions. It is not believing in Christ that matters, but becoming like him.


Indeed, from James 2:19:

Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.



BIBLIOGRAPHY


Brown, Peter. The Body & Society. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.


Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics. “About the Council of Orange.”

Available at http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/canons_of_orange.html. Accessed December 20, 2017.


Eds. of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Pelagius: CHRISTIAN THEOLOGIAN.” Available

from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pelagius-Christian-theologian. Accessed December 19, 2017.


Epistolae: Medieval Women’s Latin Letters. “A Letter from Pelagius (413).” Available

from https://epistolae.ctl.columbia.edu/letter/1296.html. Accessed December 20, 2017.


González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. New York: HarperOne, 2010.


Leclerc, Diane. "Lecture 6: Moving West..." Lecture, CHIS 6560: History of Christianity

1, Northwest Nazarene University, December 5, 2017.


Lodahl, Michael. The Story of God. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City,

1994.


New World Encyclopedia. “Pelagius.” Available from

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Pelagius. Accessed December 19, 2017.


Rees, B.R. “The Letters of Pelagius and his Followers.” Suffolk, UK: The Boydell Press,

2004.


The Holy Bible. King James Version. Nelson Bibles, 2014.


Wesley, John. "The Wisdom of God's Counsels." Sermon #68. Available at The Wesley

Center Online: http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-68-the-wisdom-of-gods-counsels. Accessed December 20, 2017.



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