Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2011 1:08 pm
The Messenger, February 24, 2011
The Council of Carthage and the menace of Pelagianism
By RB TOLAR
Special to The Messenger
In 419 A.D., a council of over 200 bishops condemned the British monk, Pelagius.
Extracts from his now lost work, “Contra traducem peccati” (“against the transmission of sins”), were introduced in evidence against him. Among Pelagius’s teachings were:
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 Mosaic 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.
These teachings were pronounced anathema (or accursed, see Gal. 1:8-9) by the council, and their findings were confirmed and published by Pope Zosimus in letters to all the bishops of the Church. Pelagius, having not recanted of his false teachings, was excommunicated. Just as the beginning of his life is shrouded in mystery, so is little known of his final years.
In all, Pelagius and his doctrines were condemned by two synods, pronounced heretical by one pope, pardoned and then condemned upon further examination by another and pronounced anathema by two councils of the church (Carthage in 419 and Ephesus in 431).
The notion that humanity is not dead and lost in sin and that we can, under our own power, seek God and salvation and live a sinless life thereafter is completely contrary to the teachings of Holy Scripture (Gen. 6:5, Isaiah 53:6, Psalm 14:3, Mark 10:18, Rom. 3:23, et. al.).
Pelagianism, though pronounced heresy, has continued to resurface in various guises throughout the history of the church. Charles G. Finney’s “Systematic Theology” is basically a rehash of Pelagian doctrine.
Though such doctrines might seem strange and distant to many, consider the following scene: A man, a seminary student who has pastored two churches, steps into the pulpit as a substitute for the local pastor. His text addresses sin in the life of the believer. He notes that, at times, the Christian’s own sin can produce hardships and troubles.
As he expounds this theme, he notices a disturbance among several of the congregation. Reluctant to believe that this is in response to his preaching, he repeats himself and the disturbance becomes louder, a sighing sibilance: “He said it again!”
As he launches into the conclusion of what has been a long sermon, one of the miscreants steps into the pulpit behind him and admonishes him: “We do not believe that we sin after salvation. To do so would be to dishonor the blood of Christ.” The visiting pastor agrees to the last point and notes that such sin should provoke prompt repentance in the sinner. He concludes the sermon, shakes the dust from his feet and leaves.
It may be that someone’s mistaken notion of sinlessness would lead them to assume the authority to stand before a congregation and upbraid the man of God in the midst of his delivery of God’s word. Though such extreme behavior might seem far-fetched and unlikely to most, the thoughtful Christian must ponder where the embrace of false doctrines might lead. Jeremiah rightly said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”
Editor’s note: RB Tolar, a member of Grace Community Church in Troy, is humbly grateful to be able to participate in this writing ministry.