“Subordinationism”- what is “heresy”?

First, the basic definition of "heresy", since this is a word that has been used in connection with "subordinationism".


From merriam-webster:

  • a: adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma
  • b: denial of a revealed truth by a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church
  • c: an opinion or doctrine contrary to church dogma
  • a: dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice
  • b: an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs or standards

I think it is important to understand that in order to have a "heresy", you have to have an authority to proclaim it OR to have an absolute, definitive theory, opinion, practice or doctrine to which to adhere (and be contrary to).

POINT: If you choose to level an accusation of "heresy", you should have an authoritative church body that represents "the Church" as a whole. If you cannot do this, you are choosing, either as a single person or small body, to proclaim orthodoxy and/or heresy outside of the "body" as a whole.

Accusations of heresy are serious business. False accusations are more serious yet. We should be very cautious when using such words as "heresy" or "blasphemy", lest we bear false witness against brothers and sisters in Christ.

I have little trouble examining doctrine against "historical proclamations" of heresy.  There was a time that was much closer to the cross and the apostles then we are now.  There was a time when the church was united; before the church in Rome and the Eastern Church separated.  Before that time, the young church had several councils that gathered together, examined Scripture and proclaimed "orthodoxy".

So...who decides?

A Church Council is an official ad hoc gathering of representatives to settle Church business. Such Councils are called rarely and are not the same as the regular gatherings of church leaders (synods, etc). An ecumenical council is one at which the whole Church is represented. The three major branches of the Church (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant) recognize seven ecumenical councils: Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680), Nicea II (787). Further ecumenical councils were rendered impossible by the widening split between Eastern (Orthodox, Greek-speaking) and Western (Catholic, Latin-speaking) Churches, a split that was rendered official in 1054 and has not yet been healed. (from PBCC.org)

I'll let folks do their own search for the "seven ecumenical councils" - because which of the three major branches will cite different sources, yet all three branches recognize a group of seven councils on which all agree.

In short...if these seven councils agree that a doctrine is "heresy", all three major branches of Christianity today (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant) will agree.

The Seven Ecumenical Councils:

  • The Council of Nicea, 325
  • The Council of Constantinople, 381
  • The Council of Ephesus, 431
  • The Council of Chalcedon, 451
  • The Council of Constantinople II, 553
  • The Council of Constantinople III, 680
  • The Council of Nicea II, 787

To wrap it up, these seven ecumenical councils of the early church met to BOTH unite the church on essential doctrine and to separate those who teach heresy from those who teach truth.

I believe that if a teaching is not found (or condemned) in these seven councils, it becomes more difficult to level an accusation of "heresy". Again, we should be very careful when doing so.

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14 thoughts on ““Subordinationism”- what is “heresy”?

  1. There was a time when the church was united;

    I feel as if I'm barging in the middle of some on-going conversation, so I hesitate and apologize in advance, and I haven't read White's book (perhaps I should), but ...

    Looking back at the great church councils from this side of 1054 (and 1517, etc.), colors our perspective: we see the church splintered now and imagine it united then, but the very occasion of the councils should convince us otherwise! YOU read up on their history for yourself to see that disunity and division.

    If the church as a whole represents an authoritative church body, able to proclaim orthodoxy, then not only doesn't it exist now, but it's never existed.

  2. Actually...this is the very FIRST post! You got in right at the beginning... 😉

    I totally agree that there was disunity and division - as early as the time that Paul was writing Scripture! but there were not the huge chasms that we see now. Christians from everywhere could still come together to debate and decide whether a doctrine measured up to Scripture.

    The difference between then and now is that the councils could come together and come to at least a majority agreement. It is significant that all three branches sees the seven ecumenical councils as authoritative. Those may be the last times all of Christendom come together on a major doctrinal issue.

    Honestly, if there were a time for "ecumenical councils", today is the time. But there are too many differences, too much change in doctrine over time.

    But if there were such a thing, if all three major branches sent a committee to a council, all three would still want to cling to their own doctrine.

    If the pope came out and said "(name your Word-of-Faith TV preacher here) is a nut case, don't listen to him," there might be some pull. But even Protestants can't get together on that.

    (Honestly, I'm drinking butterscotch schnapps on ice so I might have to rethink some of what I'm saying... 😉 )

    On unity: unity doesn't mean "lockstep" - it doesn't mean that they all agree on everything.

    Think of our United States. We have "unity", yet we also have "states rights". We are ruled by the Constitution (theoretically) yet each state also has its own constitution. Each state has its representatives and senators that it sends to the "union" to come to an agreement (dirty politics and all).

    That's the way that I think of the ecumenical councils: At that time there were fewer schisms. Rome sent people and the Greek church sent people. I think that the Copts from Northern Africa sent people.

    I could easily long for a circumstance where that could occur today. Each Roman Catholic that is converted to Protestantism is hailed as a victory and vice versa.

    WHAT IF...Roman Catholics could send a few and the Orthodox could send a few and Protestants could send a few (Benny Hinn need not apply), although I think we could divide those into Reformed and not...and let each keep their own "constitution" and at least settle on the "essential" (but we don't have to burn the dissenters at the stake).

    What if these groups dropped the "if you're not with us you're not "real"". (And I'm including the Pentacostals with their "full gospel" attitude in there).

    I'd better stop my rant...

    Yes. There was disunity and division. But there was a more efficient way of dealing with it then there is now.

  3. come to at least a majority agreement.

    But, you understand Athanasius contra mundum: the majority was Arian. Doctrine isn't a democracy but men moved by the Holy Spirit.

    Christians from everywhere could still come together

    You probably know that "seventeen Orthodox Churches and Protestant denominations sent observers [to the Second Vatican Council]. More than three dozen representatives of other Christian communities were present at the opening session, and the number grew to nearly 100 by the end of the 4th Council Session." Wiki I understand that the observers were encouraged by what they say.

    I've long taken Isaiah 19:23-24 as a picture of that: people don't give up their allegiances but they still manage to worship God together.

    It sounds like you're drinking ... I appreciate your friendly response.

  4. I had a couple before the Super Bowl (but I stopped - I just can't even follow the game when I'm stone cold sober...) So one drink is all 😉

    Vatican II - I understand the encouragement that is present in Vatican II...but

    Trent still stands. the concept of "real" or "total" Christians still stands (not the proper words, I know...) We see that in Pentecostalism in those who teach that there is a "full gospel" and if you are not in a church that speaks in tongues...you don't have the "full gospel". Closed communion. One Christian denying others the meal that Christ gave us all.

    I could be Lutheran in most doctrine, but will not be in a church that practices closed communion.

    At any rate, the gist of the post was that we need to be very careful when labeling brothers or sisters in Christ as "heretics".

  5. The Super Bowl is the apex of the United States pro football season. This year is #42.

    The New England Patriots are playing the New York Giants.

    If the Patriots win, they will be the first team since 1972 to have a perfect no-loss season, capped by winning the super bowl.

    They were ahead, but the Giants just had a really nice run and a touchdown. Score is NYG - 10, NEP - 7.

    3 minutes to go in the game (that translates to about an hour of TV time).

    This is a matter of "dying to self" (LOL) I'm learning to like football...he's learning to like playing card games with family. If each person gives a little, gets a little, neither one is the same as when they started...

  6. I don't know about that, Ellen. Nicea II put to rest the iconoclast heresy (the one that says that praying before images is idolatry). I have yet to meet a protestant who doesn't subscribe to iconoclasty.

    So you might have to go back at least one council. 😉

  7. If I remember my history (my professor spent way too much time on the iconoclastic controversy) the Second Council of Nicea put to an end the doctrine that all images (in and of themselves) was idolatry. At the front end of all those years was the belief that the images of Christ put an emphasis on his humanity and separated His two natures: human and divine. (we saw glimmers of this in the hyper-reformed problems with the film "the Passion of the Christ") That spread to a belief that ALL religious images were idolatry.

    I don't have a problem with images (I have many photos of stained glass, etc.). I really don't have a problem with praying before images.

    I do have a problem with praying to saints and to images.

    Nicea II (basically) put to rest the idea that all images were idols and put to an end destroying religious artwork and killing over it. Most Christians would not have a problem with that judgment. 😉

  8. that's why I'm doing my own research. What IF what is being labeled as "heresy" (and the "heresy hunter" has labeled complementarians blasphemers and idolaters as well)...what if the heresy that was described at the councils is NOT the same as what is being called "heresy" today?

    that's what I want to find out.

  9. "I really don’t have a problem with praying before images."

    Yup, that's Catholic practice right there!
    we don't pray to an image of statue. They are inert, dead. That would be idolatry. But we do pray (old english=ask) for the person the image represents to intercede for us to Jesus. Catholics don't believe the body of Christ is divided by physical death. Nothing can separate us. If we are all one body, then those who have gone on before can intercede for us. They are not dead, nor are we "calling them up." That scripture in Deuteronomy refers to occult practices soothsaying etc and if read in context, would not apply to the Catholics definition of the Communion of Saints which of course is in the Coucils you mentioned.
    But pray to them as in worship them? Naaah. I've been catholic for almost 4 years now and haven't seen or heard of it. Just my two cents.

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