Friday, August 07, 2009

Irenaeus: The Gnostics, Denial of the Virgin Birth, and Post Modern Pathologies

"A certain Cerinthus taught in Asia that the world was not made by the first God, but by some Power which was separated and distant from the Authority that is above all things. He proposes Jesus, not as having been born of a Virgin- for this seemed impossible to him- but as having been born the son of Joseph and Mary like all other men, and that he excelled over every other person in justice, prudence, and wisdom."
-Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book One, Chapter 26, 1 (p.90).

[It is interesting to read of this and consider its parallels with present times... Today as then there are those who deny the Virgin birth. What is the nature of their denial, the dynamic of it. Why do they deny this but accept say the resurrection and the creation of the world by God?

I can only remember talking to one person professing a kind of faith in Christ who denied the Virgin birth. Not that that means they don't abound. I really don't know. But the question I asked him was simply if he believed that God created the world on what basis did he not believe that God could bring about a Virgin birth or that even if He could, he did not? He had no answer. Perhaps others do?

Cerinthus thought he did. Obviously he went beyond what many today are comfortable with who might deny the Virgin birth. Their innovation is purely negative. They do not assert or posit multiple gods, including a flawed and wicked creator god.

The Virgin birth was one of the tenants rejected by Henry Emerson Fosdick. Gresham Machen and he had a famous debate in the 1920s in which Fosdick defended liberalism and Gresham defended orthodoxy. The time was very contentious. Machen's church defrocked him for his orthodoxy. Denial of the virgin birth and similar tenants have a long lineage in todays mainline churches.

There is an assertion of a kind of authority even in the mere denial of the doctrine. The implications are enormous for the nature of Christ, if one thinks about it. So those who do not think the denial of the virgin birth is important as a tenant of belief also, it would seem inescapably to follow, also are relinquishing a stance on the importance of Christ and Christology, or they are opening their Christology up to innovations such as the Gnostics felt at liberty to bring. It is absurd to say that denial of the virigin birth has no effect on Christology.

On the liberty of the Gnostics and their vieing for innovations, Irenaeus remarks a number of times. Here is an example:
"Already many offshoots of many heretical sects have been made from the ones we have mentioned, because many of these people, in fact all, wish to be teachers and to forsake the heresy in which they had been. They insist on teaching in a novel manner, composing from one teaching another tenet, and then another from that. They declare themselves inventors of any opinion which they may have patched together." -Irenaeus, Book 1, Chp, 28, 1 (p. 92-93).

Today the pathology (what the ancients called heresy) has not reached to that level in many of our circles, to be sure. Rather, at this stage, people want to be "nutured, not taught". People are feeling rather disaffected and disengaged from what is called "truth". They are not even sure she exists. It is only after refusal to love the truth repeatedly that strong delusion sets in. Churches are placating budding stages of pathological denial of the truth today and that is deadly.

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