An Ancient Theologian explains Tradition

“The heretics did not just offer a different worldview. They were using Scriptures to uphold their ideas…”

Interesting!

We don’t often re-blog other posts, but this was such a thought provoking and stimulating article that we just had to! Mike discusses the framework we should use to interpret opposing views of what Scripture says and how we should use the early church Fathers to aid us in that. Be challenged!

We also wanted to introduce you to Mikes blog, so take a few minutes to check it out. You will probably hit the “Follow” button like we did.

Dead Heroes Don't Save

Irenaeus, a 2nd century theologian, defended Christianity from the Gnostic philosophies that were popular at the time. His 5 volume work, Against Heresies, dedicates the first two volumes to describing the Gnostic views and then precedes to dismantle them in the remaining volumes.

saint_irenaeus_oflyonsThroughout the work we are invited to explore the fundamental beliefs of the early church as they are contrasted with the opposing system.

Underlying Irenaeus’ defense lies the questions: how do we know what the truth is? and how do we decide between different interpretations of Scripture?

The heretics did not just offer a different worldview. They were using Scriptures to uphold their ideas – which centered on two gods – a good one and an evil one. It was the evil god who created the physical world that we must rid ourselves of.

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About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on January 31, 2015, in Christianity and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. Hi Jim,
    There is the scriptures, tradition and I believe what is missing in this article by Ireneaus is the point that we have the Spirit of God to interpret scripture, to judge tradition, and really to judge whatever else we may have in our day to know what the ‘Truth’ is.
    Jesus says that ‘ his sheep know his voice’ and that they will not follow another.

    The apostle Paul says that he spent much time after his conversion and received revelation from God through the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures in order to confirm that Jesus was the Messiah. He did not use tradition to do this interpretation because tradition was saying in his time that Jesus was not the Christ. Paul also interpreted and taught what has become a large part of our New Testament scriptures today. We all know this as Christians.

    If we use tradition alone to interpret scripture we would have to say that Paul got it wrong. Paul was not able to discover truth until ‘he had an experience with God that moved him off the trusting of tradition’, ‘he became saved’, and ‘he was baptized in the Holy Spirit’. Paul already had an extremely strong knowledge of scripture as a whole. He had been a devoted student of scripture and tradition.

    I think what we have today is correct scripture. Interpretation of scripture is varied in our day. Tradition is not reliable after the death of the apostles. Even during their lifetime there were those going around to the same churches as the apostles teaching a different interpretation or understanding of scripture. Paul calls them ‘accursed’.

    We are going to have to judge what we hear today by the Spirit of God that resides in us. For me, I limit what I expose myself to on Christian teaching. This is the marvel of the Holy Spirit. He has no restrictions of location, time, space, etc. He can teach anytime, anywhere. Even in the most remote places on earth can be up to date with God through the teaching of the Holy Spirit. And he teaches the ‘Truth’.

    Like

    • “There is the scriptures, tradition and I believe what is missing in this article by Ireneaus is the point that we have the Spirit of God to interpret scripture, to judge tradition, and really to judge whatever else we may have in our day to know what the ‘Truth’ is.”

      Nobody denies that. The challenge for you and I is that the Gospel was not invented by us, was not given in our time, nor are we the first people to attempt to understand it. Should we negate what other followers of Christ have heard the Spirit of God say down through the ages, as if we are the first ones? Surely you are not saying that. That would be the one of the highest forms of arrogance one could have. “God talks to me and explains everything to me and nobody else ever has gotten it right.”

      “He did not use tradition to do this interpretation because tradition was saying in his time that Jesus was not the Christ.”

      Paul used the Old Testament, not tradition. Those who rejected that Jesus was the Messiah were contemporaries of Paul. So tradition in the sense the Fathers use it, doesn’t really come into play here.

      “If we use tradition alone to interpret scripture we would have to say that Paul got it wrong”

      In what way?

      “Tradition is not reliable after the death of the apostles”

      Be careful here. If the writings of those who were disciples of the Apostles themselves is not reliable, your own interpretations would have much less to stand on. You can’t have it both ways. Why would we think that your interpretation is more reliable than all of Sacred Tradition? Simply because the Spirit of God speaks to you? Why must we assume that He did not speak to them?

      “For me, I limit what I expose myself to on Christian teaching.”

      I am surprised that you expose yourself to any Christian teaching. Why would you, since the Spirit of God resides in you? The truth of the matter is that even you turn to others to help you understand what the Scriptures teach.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Surely you are not saying that.”
        No, I am not saying that.

        “I am surprised that you expose yourself to any Christian teaching. Why would you, since the Spirit of God resides in you? The truth of the matter is that even you turn to others to help you understand what the Scriptures teach.”

        This is true. However, supposedly (according to scripture) all believers have the Spirit of God residing in them. The Bible does also talk about not needing teachers but that all know God. I am not saying that we do not need teachers in our day. But we have so many in our day saying different things and interpreting God’s word differently. Many teachings in our day (I believe) are cunning and very deceptive slippery slides to venture out on.

        Can we not read God’s word today and make sense of it? God says do not sin. That’s pretty straight forward. God says love one another (love other believers). Is this hard to understand and interpret? The problems in our day are the believers or perhaps (impostors) who want to negate God’s word and explain it away. Most of scripture is forthcoming and understandable. There are some parts of scripture that are difficult to interpret and understand in our day and time. But generally, if we take these scriptures at face value they are not so difficult to read, but they are difficult to apply in our culture. For example, the question of divorce for a believer.

        But perhaps even the question of divorce is not that hard to understand. Don’t divorce unless you are being physically, mentally, emotionally abused, or your partner has broken the marriage covenant by adultery. Even in these cases it is the conscience of the believer to guide him or her as to whether they should ever remarry. A believer may want to take that chance and remarry but there may be consequences later for them. No teacher or pastor would be able to say with certainty that a believer who is divorced is free to remarry. Unless their mate is dead. This decision is between the believer and the Spirit of God.

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        • I understand what you are saying. Isn’t the challenge for all of us this: How do we come to know, for certain, what the scriptures teach?

          We must not rely on only ourselves and what we think the Spirit of God has said or is saying, because we can be easily misled, or be wrong. There is a lot of heretical and false doctrine coming out of the Charismatic / Pentecostal camp. The “Baptism in the Spirit”, as understood and taught by our generation of leaders, in no way guarantees purity of doctrinal truth. I think that is obvious.

          If the faith was once for all delivered to the saints as Jude so eloquently wrote, why would we think that those believers, in that day, did not understand what that faith was? Why would we assume that when they wrote it down and explained it, that the Holy Spirit did not speak to them?

          The beauty of the early church writings is that Godly men who knew and loved Jesus, have written about our faith. Many of them gave their lives and were brutally executed for this faith. They lived for Christ and they died for him. I want to know what they learned about Jesus and what it meant to follow him. I think we all would do well to learn how the Spirit of God spoke and guided them. I don’t want to be left to my own to figure it all out. Thankfully, God doesn’t think I should be left alone to figure it out either.

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      • The beauty of the early church writings is that Godly men who knew and loved Jesus, have written about our faith.

        And just who would these writers who ”knew (and loved) Jesus” be, Jim?

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        • Ark, I believe we have established that if we have to use contemporary, independent and verifiable evidence to prove these people existed, then they never existed.

          But, one of the things I like about reading the ECF, especially the ones who were alive while some Apostles were still alive, or who were alive right after that era, is that we get a glimpse into what the church was like outside of the New Testament. It was very, very different than the messed up modern church. I know this means little to nothing to you, but I find it instructive.

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        • Sadly, Jim you have evidence the apostles ever lived or these supposed early church fathers to support your position.

          Yes, you get to read what someone with a good imagination wrote and then filled it out, fluffed it up and retrofitted.

          The Church was messed up back then.
          In fact when you look at its godawful record it has been a litany of lies filth and brutality since day one.

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        • You always have to get that last jab in, don’t you? 🙂 I appreciate your honesty though. I am also amazed that you found this old blog.

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        • Jim, if you are going to swallow all that apologetic puff pastry you have been salivating over all these years then don’t blame me for giving you a wake up call when everyone else in your sphere will just say ”Amen brother” .
          If you don’t truly know for sure what you are swallowing then don’t start complaining when you get indigestion.
          You’re a big boy.
          Faith has no part in reality.

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        • I don’t blame you, I know you are only trying to save me from my faith! 🙂 Your intentions are good.

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        • Save you? RFLMAO.
          No, Jim, that you have to do all by little ol’ self, I’m afraid.
          There will be no gen-you-wine evangelizing from the big bad atheist, I’m afraid.

          And as I have mentioned before (maybe not to you?) the best people to speak to are Christian deconverts who have experience of both sides of the fence and can relate to your ”faith” and discuss such stuff on a level you would appreciate.

          Me? Ha! All I’ll do is tell you how bloody stupid praying it is to Yahweh-in-his-Jesus- disguise to help your granny’s lumbago, or to ensure you remember what a diminished chord is so you don’t screw up playing at the church fete next weekend.

          Or you could read the testimonies of people who are part of the Clergy Project?
          These are the serious ones who know their theology inside out and practiced it lied for a living.

          But I would be warry of any recommendation from me … one of Branyan’s ”groupies” once said that my father was Satan.
          True!
          My mother, who is a devout Christian, ( she doesn’t know any better either, bless her) admitted that, while my old man can be a bit of a devil at times, she did laugh out loud when I told her what Wally said.

          Dominos, Spirits, and Sanctions … or whatever it is the Catholics say.

          Liked by 1 person

        • For the record, I don’t play guitar at Church and that should count for something don’t you think?

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        • Your church wouldn’t appreciate Star Spangled Banner a la Hendrix then?

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        • Sure they would…during the offering.

          Being a full time musician, I just don’t have the time, nor the patience to play on worship teams any longer. Besides, being a heterosexual male, I can’t stand the “Jesus is my Boyfriend and I just want him to hold me” crappy songs the church sings.

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        • Yes, having Jesus inside you might be a tad off putting in any circumstance.

          Liked by 1 person

        • “There will be no gen-you-wine evangelizing from the big bad atheist, I’m afraid.”

          You can’t be serious!

          You are the biggest non-famous evangelist for atheism I know! You are so passionate about rescuing others from the trap of religion. You don’t see that? I don’t think it is something to run away from. You should put a “donate” tab on your blog. Seriously! 🙂

          “the best people to speak to are Christian deconverts”

          Why do you think the best people to talk to about the christian faith are those who have left it? In what sense are they the best?

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        • No, I just challenge erroneous arguments and show them for what they are – as is the case with your little book recommendation of the Church Fathers.
          Surely you do not want to gush all over the show about claimed historical characters that are, for all intent and purpose, simply narrative constructs?

          You wouldn’t willingly lie to your kid so why do you accept it from your church/religion?

          Why do you think the best people to talk to about the christian faith are those who have left it? In what sense are they the best?

          As I said, they have been on both sides of the fence and can relate and are more thoroughly schooled, have suffered their crisis of faith and went hell for leather to prove the bible etc to be true.
          Ehrman, for example, was determined to be a good Christian and look how that turned out?

          Archaeologist William Dever wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father who was an evangelical minister and so, like the late archaeologist William Albright, set out to prove the bible to be true.
          And look how THAT turned out as well.

          You see, Jim, once you begin to really search for the truth of the bible and the Christian religion you quickly discover it is not at all what you have been brought up to believe.

          Adam and Eve, Noah and his ark Moses … all nonsense.

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        • I don’t think I have ever seen you comment about this, but you said your mom is a devout christian, does that mean you yourself are a de-convert?

          Liked by 1 person

        • No. Was raised C of E as the majority of folks in the UK were at one point. (or Catholic) Cultural rather than practicing, but I simply grew out of it.
          My mother got heavily into it again after we lost one of my brothers in a car accident – was a long time ago.
          The rest of the family are not in the least religious or believers.

          Liked by 1 person

        • “As I said, they have been on both sides of the fence and can relate and are more thoroughly schooled, have suffered their crisis of faith and went hell for leather to prove the bible etc to be true.”

          I see how that could be helpful, especially for a person who has doubts about their faith. Would you also hold that the best people to talk to about atheism are those who have left it and became theists of some kind? I think that would go both ways.

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        • Sure! Talk to all the those who have converted from atheism. In fact I implore you to do just this. And really get to the bottom of their conversion.
          It is crucial you have all the available information.
          And while you are at it I recommend the following:

          1) Establish that they were indeed atheist and not simply lapsed Christians who had ”turned their back on God”)
          I have encountered several such people.
          And also try to establish there is no emotional trauma at the root of them becoming Christian.
          Sex, drugs and ”rock n roll” seem to pop up so frequently in religious conversion it is almost cliche
          Ravi Zacharias had similar problems, so too Francis Collins, and in fact every conversion I have encountered to date.
          Yours may be the exception to the rule of course but so far you are hiding it in a brown paper bag.

          2) Establish a concrete foundation why they did not convert to Islam or Hinduism. And also try to establish exactly why the version of Christianity they have adopted is the correct one.
          Catholic, Protestant etc.

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    • I don’t have much to add to Jim’s reply. But allow me to share a few observations.

      I think what we have today is correct scripture.

      I would agree. When we open our Bibles we have the correct books. And textual criticism has shown that we have the correct words. I don’t think anyone is suggesting anything different.

      Interpretation of scripture is varied in our day.

      And that is our challenge. Even with the Spirit to guide us, we still have many conflicting interpretations of the Scriptures. I think the early church writings can be part of the solution to help us discern which interpretation is the most probable when we apply the “that which was believed everywhere, always, and by all” principle.

      This is the marvel of the Holy Spirit. He has no restrictions of location, time, space, etc. He can teach anytime, anywhere. Even in the most remote places on earth can be up to date with God through the teaching of the Holy Spirit. And he teaches the ‘Truth’.

      Praise God this is true. However, I would say that the primary ministry of the Holy Spirit is convicting (John 16:7-11) and enabling us to respond to the Gospel (ie prevenient grace) not correcting us on the finer points of doctrine. We are responsible for the task of preserving and passing on doctrine. That is why we are told to contend for the faith (Jude 3), and why God gave some but not all to be teachers (1 Cor 12:27-29; Rom 12:7), and why we are exhorted to pass on what we have learned to the faithful who will teach others (Matt 28:19-20; 2 Tim 2:2).

      However if the Spirit is correctly giving us the correct interpretations of Scripture (what I assume you mean by teaching the truth) then why do you think there are varied interpretations in our day? And how do we go about discerning which of the varied interpretations are correct?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Mike B,

        “However if the Spirit is correctly giving us the correct interpretations of Scripture (what I assume you mean by teaching the truth) then why do you think there are varied interpretations in our day? And how do we go about discerning which of the varied interpretations are correct?”

        I am thinking that the problem is a lack of the baptism in the Holy Spirit among believers. The earnest of the Spirit of God given at our salvation is not enough to get us to the end of days (so to speak). We need something more, and God has provided this in the Holy Spirit. As mature believers we need to ask God for this power, for this baptism.

        Maturity should allow the believer to humble themselves and request from God what he has provided. No matter what is required. Naaman had to dip in the dirty Jordan river for his healing from leprosy. He was offended. That I think is the believers’ problem today. They will not accept what God provides because of pride.

        We can also use the Old Testament to interpret scripture. Which is what Paul did. We can get principles from the Old Testament. Believers today do not want to accept or believe these principles set out for us in scripture. Teachers and pastors in our day accommodate their congregations’ desires and wishes. Because if they don’t believers can find the teaching they want elsewhere and they will leave. To me, this is not a problem. Let them leave. So much the better for those who stay. But, church leadership is scared and will do anything to keep as many people as possible attending ‘their’ church.

        For theologians, I think too much education, and too much reliance on their ‘higher thinking’ abilities leads them to falsehood or distortion of scripture. Everyone wants to find the new great thing in interpretation of what the Bible says, right down to every single word being dissected and experimented with. Wars start, opposition occurs, people believe different things about what a word is saying, what a portion of scripture is saying. It’s the arm of flesh trying to interpret spiritual things.

        I’m not against education, but when education trumps all, when the power of man supersedes all, this is a very serious problem for God’s people. We can be educated and godly. We can be educated and humble. We can be educated and down to earth, so to speak. In fact, this is what Paul was. He let go of all his prominent past. He counted it as dung. Even believers testified that Paul had weaknesses that were unbecoming to many. He sweated and cried and wept. He entreated and begged believers to do as God said to do. He shook with fear when he presented the gospel.

        Sorry for such a long comment.

        Liked by 1 person

        • If two Christians offer different interpretations of a passage of Scripture in the NT, both cite OT passages, both claim to have been baptized in the Spirit, and both claim to be mature then how do I discern who is correct?

          In your view what is the difference between the “earnest of the Spirit of God given at our salvation” and the “baptism of the Spirit”?

          Liked by 1 person

        • If two Christians offer different interpretations of a passage of Scripture in the NT, both cite OT passages, both claim to have been baptized in the Spirit, and both claim to be mature then how do I discern who is correct?

          Bring in a third person who believes the way I do and it is settled! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim:

    Thanks for the shout out. Appreciate it. And thanks to everyone that stopped by this weekend.

    Mike

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Jim,

    I believe the way that you do.

    On marriage I recently found out that no one even infidels and new believers are permitted to remarry even under grace unless the other partner dies. Adultery is a serious sin. It is stricter in NT than OT. Many who divorce and remarry will be condemned of adultery by God in HIS day of judgement.
    Even if a wife default in adultery and her husband divorce her. Both are not permitted to remarry. For many, this is very hard to accept and obey.

    Like

  1. Pingback: Were Gnostics the original Christians? | Stepping Toes

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