Over time, the Church began to splinter into different bodies.There is an argument today as to which Church may claim to be the orginal holder of the accepted truths of the Church. The two main claimants are the Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. We may explore that issue another day.
What, exactly, is heresy? First you need a body of agreed upon doctrine. Remember that throughout history there are always individuals and groups of Christians who develop alternate biblical understandings. Representatives from the larger Church gather in judgement. Then a decision needs to be reached. Is it an improvement on or an expanded insight into the current accepted doctrine, or is it in error?
What is agreed upon becomes the accepted understanding of the greater Church. Most often in history we call these sessions councils. They often are named for the place where the council takes place. When an issue is deemed in error, it becomes heresy. Anyone who still promotes the error is deemed a heretic.
The article below talks about the British monk and theologian Pelagius, circa A.D. 354 to circa A.D. 420-40. He offered three main understandings highlighted below. The Episcopal Church (TEC) was asked to decide if these understandings should be accepted or rejected.
This action is restricted entirely to TEC in the U.S.A. Pelagian theology would appear to reflect TEC teachings today. It also will furthur seperate The Episcopal Church from the rest of the historic Churches.
What happened is detailed below. If you wish the original source, click the link below.
Published in The Church of England Newspaper.
The Diocese of Atlanta has been asked to rehabilitate Pelagius.
Delegates to the diocesan convention will be asked to reverse the condemnation of the Council of Carthage upon Pelagius, and to explore whether the Fifth century heretic may inform the theology of the Episcopal Church.
Resolution R11-7 before the convention states in part:
“Whereas the historical record of Pelagius’s contribution to our theological tradition is shrouded in the political ambition of his theological antagonists who sought to discredit what they felt was a threat to the empire, and their ecclesiastical dominance, and whereas an understanding of his life and writings might bring more to bear on his good standing in our tradition;”
“And whereas his restitution as a viable theological voice within our tradition might encourage a deeper understanding of sin, grace, free will, and the goodness of God’s creation, and whereas in as much as the history of Pelagius represents to some the struggle for theological exploration that is our birthright as Anglicans, Be it resolved, that this 105th Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta appoint a committee of discernment overseen by our Bishop, to consider these matters as a means to honor the contributions of Pelagius and reclaim his voice in our tradition.”
A British monk, Pelagius rejected the doctrines of original sin, substitutionary atonement, and justification by faith. Mankind possessed an unconditioned free will and was able to obtain his own salvation through personal betterment rather than grace, he argued. In the Letter to Demetrias, Pelagius argued that Adam’s sin was not what caused us to sin. Humans were born good, but over time became wicked through voluntary acts. “Over the years our sin gradually corrupts us, building an addiction and then holding us bound with what seems like the force of nature itself.”
The Council of Carthage in 416 condemned Pelagius’ teaching. Augustine argued that the British monk’s teaching contradicted Paul’s words in Philippians 2:12-13 because Pelagius located the capacity “to will and to do” what pleases God in human nature rather than in God’s grace. (On the Grace of Christ, V.6 and VI.)
“We must realize that Pelagius believes that neither our will nor our action is helped by divine aid…he believes that God does not help us to will, that he does not help us to act, that he helps us only to be able to will and to act.”(On the Grace of Christ, V.6).
The proposed resolution has brought mixed responses from the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies chat room, with some ridiculing the notion that the Diocese of Atlanta believed itself capable of redefining church doctrine. However, other deputies have endorsed the resolution saying it gives a breath of Celtic Christianity to the Episcopal Church and enhances the church’s theological diversity.
The vote on Pelagius takes place on 4 Nov 2011.