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Tuesday
Jul292014

Theological Term of the Week

Pelagianism
A kind of theism that claims to be Christian but has been condemned as heretical throughout Christian history. In this view, human beings are not born sinful, but are able to live good moral lives and thus receive eternal life as a reward.

  • Scripture disproving Pelagianism: 
    And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)
    …as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV)
  • From the Belgic Confession: 
    Article 15: The Doctrine of Original Sin 

    We believe that by the disobedience of Adam original sin has been spread through the whole human race. 

    It is a corruption of all nature—an inherited depravity which even infects small infants in their mother’s womb, and the root which produces in man every sort of sin. It is therefore so vile and enormous in God’s sight that it is enough to condemn the human race, and it is not abolished or wholly uprooted even by baptism, seeing that sin constantly boils forth as though from a contaminated spring.

    Nevertheless, it is not imputed to God’s children for their condemnation but is forgiven by his grace and mercy—not to put them to sleep but so that the awareness of this corruption might often make believers groan as they long to be set free from the “body of this death.”

    Therefore we reject the error of the Pelagians who say that this sin is nothing else than a matter of imitation.

    Unpopular though the idea may be today, the Bible teaches the polar opposite of Pelagianism: we are born in a sinful and spiritually dead state, unable to live good moral lives apart from divine grace. Indeed, Jesus himself preached the shocking idea that heaven is for immoral people who admit that they’re bad and cry out for God’s mercy and forgiveness rather than for moral people who think they’re good enough to deserve it.

    …[T]here are many people today who consider themselves Christians but are actually closer to Pelagius when it comes to their beliefs about who gets to heaven and on what basis. Pelagianism says that we’re all born good, and if we stay good enough we’ll receive eternal life as our reward. In stark contrast, Christianity says that we’re all born bad, but bad people can still obtain eternal life—not because we deserve it in the least, but because out of his great love and mercy God offers it as a gift to those who put their trust in Jesus Christ. [pages 83-84]

  • From Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem:
  • Pelagius, a popular Christian teacher, active in Rome about A.D. 383-410 and then later (until 424) in Palestine, taught that God holds man responsible only for those things that man is able to do. Since God warns us to do good, therefore, we must have the ability to do the good that God commands. The Pelagian position rejects the doctrine of “inherited sin” (or “original sin”) and maintains that sin consists only in separate sinful acts.

    However, the idea that we are responsible before God only for what we are able to do is contary to the testimony of Scripture, which affirms both that we “were dead through the trespasses and sins” in which we once walked (Eph. 2:1), and thus unable to do any spiritual good, and also that we are all guilty before God.  … 

    The true measure of our responsibility and guilt is not our own ability to obey God, but rather the absolute prefection of God’s moral law and his own holiness (which is reflected in that law). “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). [page 599]

Learn more:

  1. GotQuestions.org: What are Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism?
  2. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry: Pelagianism
  3. Theopedia: Pelagianism
  4. R. C. Sproul: The Pelagian Controversy
  5. Michael Horton: Pelagianism: The Religion of the Natural Man
  6. R. Scott Clark: Pelagianism

Related terms:

Filed under Worldviews

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