I want to start this out with a recommendation. I’m sure many have heard of something called the cage stage. This is something many people go through after coming to a new ideological realization. Whether that’s becoming a new believer, recently adopting the doctrines of grace, or changing a political stance that was once long held. Shortly after that new view “clicks” in your head, there’s this desire to very zealously share it with everyone you know so that they can see this new truth, too! I remember when I first became reformed and it felt like this invigorating energy. I excitedly consumed as much theological content as I possibly could because I wanted to know everything. I’m still like that, too, but I am very glad that I was at a church that was very anti Calvinism when I became reformed because by the time I got to my first PCA, I was much much calmer after feeling very restricted in what I could say.
But normally, people embrace the doctrines of grace and then it’s full speed ahead. Everyone around you is now a heretic if they don’t agree with you and there’s this constant barrage of questions, “is this okay? What about that teacher? How do I know if this is a sin because the people I go to church say it is, but I’m not sure I trust them anymore.”
I know most here already hold to the doctrines of grace and I hope this week encourages you. If you come to adopt the doctrines of grace through this group or these posts, I want to say loud and clear that people who don’t believe the doctrines of grace, but do hold to other core doctrines of the faith as outlined in the creeds are saved. We have a great big cloud of witnesses that do not agree with us on everything and that is totally okay. You are not “converting to Calvinism,” you are not “coming to the reformed faith.” Reformed theology is part of Christianity and while it is an important doctrine that touches every aspect of our faith, it is not our faith.
All of this to say, I recently listened to a book on Audible by J. A. Medders called Humble Calvinism. This is a book that should be mandatory reading for all Calvinists, especially new Calvinists. It is a very encouraging overview of the doctrines of grace and shows how, in light of these truths, Calvinists should be the most humble of all Christians. I’ve got it linked below in case you’d like to listen on Audible, it is definitely worth the time.
Total depravity is both a difficult and easy pill to swallow. If you’ve ever been for a drive and have had someone cut you off, it’s easy to see the selfishness and corruption of man in that moment. In a way, it’s always easy to see that when you’re looking at someone else. But let’s look at scripture for a moment. In Psalm 51, King David was repenting of the sin of sleeping with Bathsheeba and killing Uriah, lying about it, and basically breaking almost every commandment. In that broken state, he says to the Lord, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And this was a man who is known to be a man after God’s own heart.
So, to give a more clear definition (rather than an illustration), total depravity is the doctrine that people who are dead in their sins are totally unable to make themselves alive in Christ. In other words, we cannot save ourselves. In the words of RC Sproul, “we are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.”
Pastor Jeff Godwin of Northside PCA in Melbourne, FL explained it in Northside’s new members class using the illustration of someone falling face down into a pool and drowning. If you’re face down, you can’t see, and you don’t know which way is up, you can’t get out of the water and to safety. But take heart, God himself is able to pull you out of the darkness and bring you to life. He takes our hearts of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh in an act that’s called regeneration.
But what about free will?
The Arminian Counterpoint is the doctrine of human free will. This is the belief that though man is fallen, he is not incapacitated by the sinful nature and can still freely choose God. Since the time of Jacobus Arminius, there has come a variety of beliefs that are accepted within Arminian circles, even further than that, the options are not just Calvinism and Arminianism, but there is a plethora of soteriological beliefs that I may discuss in the group later on, if there is enough interest.
On the other half of Pastor Jeff’s illustration, he explains free will as God reaching out to grab you in the water and you grab his arm back.
Reformed Christians don’t believe this because of the scriptural support, but also beckoning back to Saturday’s piece on Sola Gratia. If our salvation is because we are able to reach out to God while still dead, that means that we’re also able to maintain our salvation by continuing to hold on to God. Whereas, in reformed theology, we emphasize God’s sovereignty over all aspects of existence. This means that God is sufficient to start and complete a good work in us (Philippians 1:6). Does this mean we are without responsibility for our actions in life? No, but it does mean that the sins we do commit can be forgiven upon repentance and that God is still working in us so that we are truly saved by grace.
This creed is really important to help with understanding the error of Eternal Subordination of the Son. It is pronounced Cal-seh-don, not Chal-seh-don.
History of the Creed:
The Chalcedonian Creed was adopted at the council of Chalcedon, which met to fight against Monophysitism (the belief that Jesus only had one nature) in 451. Monophysitism became a theological issue because Eutyches, a presbyter/Bishop that was present at the council of Ephesus and who fought against Nestorianism (the belief that Jesus had two distinct natures that were joined by one will). Unfortunately, his passion against Nestorianism went so far that he went to the other extreme and taught that Jesus had one will and one divine nature.
There’s a few subsets within Monophysitism that have different nuances within the beliefs that I won’t be able to fully break down here, but I may try to revisit them later. There is a Trinitarian Glossary (http://bit.ly/tgtrinitygloss) with a brief overview of most of them. I do want to point out a couple of phrases in the Chalcedonian Creed that address specific heresies:
“Co-essential” is directed at Arianism
“Co-essential with us” is directed at Apollinarianism
“Two natures” refutes Eutychianism
“Without division, without separation” refutes Nestorianism
That said, it is important to recognize that Jesus had both a divine nature and a human nature and that each nature had its own will. I will also be discussing this a bit more in tomorrow’s post on the Athanasian Creed, but the CARM link below thoroughly outlines where we can support Jesus having both a human and divine nature through scripture.
Controversies Regarding the Creed:
The Chalcedonian Creed was not as readily accepted as the other creeds I’ve talked about. The Coptic Church dissented on the decision because they held more closely to a oneness view. The Oriental Orthodox Church also did not agree because they didn’t see the creed as being against Nestorianism enough. Churches that rejected the Chalcedonian creed formally separated from the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well. This schism resulted in a mass persecution of Coptic Christians by Eastern Orthodox Christians. This was sadly the first time in Christian history where Christians persecuted other Christians.
Reformed Liturgical Use and Confessional References:l
The creed is affirmed currently by Anglican churches and Dutch Reformed churches, but not as widely proliferated as other creeds. I think it’s largely put on the back burner in favor of the Athanasian Creed, which we will be discussing tomorrow.
Creed comes from a Latin word, credo, which means “I believe,” so creeds are a statement of belief, particularly about Christianity. These are things that the church has historically taught through the entirety of its existence to distinguish what makes Christianity different from other religions.
History of the Creed:
The Nicene Creed is the most thoroughly documented creed that I am addressing. It was originally adopted by the Council of Nicea (the first ecumenical council) in 325 AD to resolve the Arian controversy, which denied the divinity of Jesus. I’ll be addressing Arianism and other trinitarian heresies in December.
The creed was modified at the second ecumenical council (the council of Constantinople) in 381 to include the section on the Holy Spirit and affirm his divinity, in addition to Jesus’. The third ecumenical council (the council of Ephesus) affirmed the 325 version of the creed as a defense against Nestorianism in 431. The earliest written copy we have is from the council of Chalcedon in 451.
It is currently the only authoritative ecumenical statement accepted by Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Persian church, and most of Protestantism, including the Anglican communion.
Controversies Regarding the Creed:
The third ecumenical council affirmed the 325 version of the creed and explicitly banned the creation of any other creed or changing the Nicene creed. This ended up setting the stage for the Filioque controversy. Filioque is a Latin word meaning “from the Son.” That phrase was not originally in the 325 creed and was added in the 6th century by some Latin speaking churches in Spain.
The Eastern Orthodox Church does not say that clause because they argue that it violates Canon VII from the council of Ephesus banning changing the creed. The Filioque was formally adopted by Roman Catholicism in 1014, but this caused such a great conflict within Eastern Orthodoxy that the churches severed ties in 1054, known as the Great Schism. While there were other factors contributing to the Great Schism, it seems that the filioque is such a big component that it still proves as an obstacle to reunification efforts.
Reformed Liturgical Use and Confessional References:
The creed is mostly said before the Lord’s Supper and is also said as a confession of faith on major Sundays in the church calendar.
Most of the information on the creeds is coming from the fourth edition of A History of the Christian Church by Williston Walker and edited by Richard Norris, David Lotz, and Robert Handy. You can get it on Amazon (http://bit.ly/willistonhistory). It is fantastic for lay people in the church and written very clearly. It also starts with a little bit of pre Christian history to set the scene for how Greco Roman philosophy influenced Christian heresies, which I really appreciate.
Every use of the word catholic for this series will mean “universal,” unless specified as Roman Catholic.
History of the Creed:
The Apostles’ Creed was among the earliest formal confessional statements that the church universally held (although it wasn’t completely universally used, as I’ll explain in a bit). The affirmations it outlined are what we consider core doctrines of the church.
The earliest known mention of the expression “Apostles’ Creed” is in a letter from a Synod of Milan in 390. According to Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, the twelve apostles got together and each contributed to one article of the creed. This was widely circulated in the Latin speaking parts of the church, but we have no evidence as to whether or not that’s actually true, I just think it’s an interesting idea. (http://bit.ly/rogerscreeds)
A simpler form of the creed (known as the Roman Symbol) did exist in 180 AD and many similar statements can be found in the writings of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novatian, Ambrose, Augustine, Nicetas, and Jerome (some of the early church fathers, 3 on this list we will cover this month). The earliest fully written copy came from De Singulis Libris Canonicis Scarapus (“Excerpt From Individual Canonical Books” in Latin) by St. Pirminius and the creed likely came out of France or Spain and then shared throughout Rome some time after 450 AD. The creed as we know it was most likely completed some time between 710 and 714.
Controversies Regarding the Creed:
The biggest controversies were debates over the trinity (which I will also cover more over the next 3 days), over the apostolic authorship, and on the line “descended into hell.” I personally don’t believe there is enough evidence to the apostolic authorship beyond a second or third generation Christian quoting scripture. According to A. A. Hodges, the reformers had their doubts on this too:
“This Creed was appended to the Shorter Catechism, together with the Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments, in the first edition published by order of Parliament, “not as though it were composed by the apostles, or ought to be esteemed canonical Scripture, . . . but because it is a brief sum of Christian faith, agreeable to the Word of God, and anciently received in the churches of Christ.” It was retained by the framers of our Constitution as part of the Catechism.”
The phrase “descended into hell” (or “to the dead”) was present in one of the versions in 390, but did not appear in any other version until 650 AD. Because of that, some churches today still don’t say it. That said, the text seems to be quoting Ephesians 4:9-10:
“(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth*? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)”
* [an alternate translation for that phrase is “the lower regions of the earth”]
Reformed Liturgical Use and Confessional References:
The creed is affirmed by parents when an infant is baptized at Presbyterian, continental reformed, Anglican/Episcopal, and Lutheran churches. It is also affirmed at many reformed churches across denominations when congregants take their membership vows as new members. Some churches recite it before communion, as well. It is also part of the daily readings in the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican) for both the morning and the evening.
The Heidelberg Catechism exegetes the creed from questions 23 to 65. Calvin’s Institutes was also formatted to match the Apostles Creed, with Book I being on God the Creator (Father), Book II on God the Redeemer (Christ), Book III on the mode of obtaining grace (through the Holy Spirit), and Book IV on the means of grace (through the holy catholic church). The Belgic, Westminster, Savoy Declaration, and 1689 London Baptist Confession all follow a similar formatting. Along with, the Second Helvetic Confession, which also notably affirms the Apostles Creed in Ch 3 saying that it “delivers us true faith.”
If you are a mother, then my guess is at some point you have heard of MOPS International. The acronym stands for Mothers of Preschoolers and the organization has been partnering with churches around the world for more than four decades. MOPS claims to create an environment where women can come to socialize, receive childcare, support one another, and be equipped to grow in their faith. According to their website:
MOPS International is committed to telling the truth of the saving work of Jesus Christ, of God’s grace to mankind, of the reality of the Trinity and the role of the Church in God’s plan for the world.
These are some of the reasons why I decided to join a group myself. My husband and I had just moved to a new city and the church we were attending was hosting a MOPS group, so for this mother of two it seemed to be the perfect fit. Since attending MOPS, I met a wonderful group of women who greatly blessed me by providing meals for my family after the birth of our second child, and who encouraged me in the many issues surrounding motherhood. I can say that I love the women who were in my group, and even if we have never met before, I feel the same affection for the countless other women all around the world that are part of this community.
Now based on what I’ve said so far, it may come as a shock to you that I am calling for every professing Christian who is a part of MOPS to stop associating with the organization, bring this to your pastor and elders, and remove it from your church.
I write those words with great sadness, as it brings me no joy to share what is outlined below. However, I do it out of love and concern as it has become painfully obvious that MOPS is openly promoting false teachings, teachers, and worst of all, failing to give the thousands of women who join MOPS each year what they need most — the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
To understand why I am making such a bold claim, let’s focus on the core issue: the distortion of the gospel.
So, what does MOPS say the good news is? On an all leader call, June 22, 2016, the MOPS CEO Mandy Arioto explained the good news in the following way:
“Here’s the thing, we live amongst a generation of people of women of families who are famished physically and spiritually, families who are looking for something. But here’s the thing, people are so interested in finding hope that they have no idea what the good news is, and they haven’t found it amongst the followers of Jesus until now. We are people who are reclaiming the good news, who are walking out among the way of the one we follow, a man named Jesus, and bringing good news to hurting people. 8 million people are leaving the church every year and so we are taking serious responsibility for the fact that we need to be people who come bearing the good news, reclaiming the good news. And what is good news? Good news is friends when you are lonely, it is food when you are hungry, it is kindness with no strings attached, it is food when your baby is sick. Good news is Jesus. And it is the embarrassingly extravagant love of God.” (Minute 7:28)
That statement certainly is not the good news according to Scripture. So, what is the good news then? Let’s rewind for a moment and start with the bad news. The bad news is that we are all sinners in desperate need of a Savior. Our sin makes us enemies of God, as He is perfectly holy and perfectly just. These two characteristics require that His wrath be poured out against us and justice be served.
The true gospel, the actual good news is this: The life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. In God’s redemption plan, with Him being perfectly loving and full of mercy, He entered into His own creation by sending His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to take on human flesh, being fully man and fully God, and live the sinless life we could not live. As a substitution for us, Jesus willingly went to the cross, took on the wrath of God, died, and was buried. Three days later He rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of God, having conquered both sin and death.
If you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and put your trust in Him, you will be saved. Not by works or anything you can do; but only by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. When God looks at you, He will no longer see your sin; for you will be clothed in the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25, ESV)
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:1-5, ESV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world… and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved… For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2: 1-2, 3-5, 8-9, ESV)
Now you may be wondering, was Mandy’s explanation of the gospel taken out of context? Did she misspeak? My answer is a resounding no.
Her inaccurate explanation of the gospel is not limited to a single statement made on a conference call. The twisting of Scripture and the gospel message is a consistent theme throughout her books as well. One example of this comes from Mandy’s most recent book Have More Fun, where she quotes from Luke 2:10-11, and then summarizes it as “Good news, great joy, for all people. That is Jesus.” (Page 151) Although she mentions the birth of Jesus and the love of God, she withholds any of the foundational truths of the gospel itself, leaving you with a hollow human-centered message that is unable to save.
As the head of an organization that claims to promote and believe in the saving work of Jesus Christ, between her two books, a combined 378 pages, she never once delivers the true gospel.
Here is what she did take time to deliver.
MOPS encourages participants to buy Mandy’s books and includes them in the leader curriculum. In both Starry-Eyed and Have More Fun, her two books that have been published since her time as the MOPS CEO, she cites and endorses the work of false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing. For brevity sake I am going to focus on three.
Let’s start with a direct quote by Mandy in Starry-Eyed:
“One of my favorite books is The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings by Celtic mystic John Philip Newell.” (Page 93)
Since she claims that this is one of her favorite books, I think it is reasonable to assume that she agrees with and supports the ideas in this book, including the following: the denial of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the denial that Jesus died as a substitute for our sin.
“…the cross has been so strongly linked with a particular doctrine of salvation. They [talking about Christians] have either been explicitly taught or given the impression that a price needed to be paid for God’s forgiveness, and that price was the death of Jesus. The teaching is often referred to as the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. Although a payment needed to be made, says the doctrine, we are not worthy to make the payment ourselves, so a substitute sacrifice was needed. Jesus died on our behalf to propitiate the anger of God.
One of the problems with this doctrine is that it runs counter to our deepest experiences of love. Who are the people who have most loved us in our lives amid our failures and betrayals? Could we imagine them ever requiring payment to forgive us? True love is free. Perhaps so much wrong has been done by this doctrine that the cross has become an irredeemable symbol for many, both within the Christian household and beyond. But I hope not. I hope it can be redeemed because, essentially, it is a symbol of the mystery at the heart of Christianity’s great gift to the world – the belief that love can reconcile all things.” (The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings, Page 107)
“What if we had realized long ago that the important thing is not getting the world to believe what we believe, getting others to subscribe to particular beliefs about Jesus? The important thing is inviting the world to believe with Jesus, to believe in the way of love… What matters is whether they believe in love. What matters is whether, with Jesus, we are following the way of love, for this is all we need. Love is all we need.”
(The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings, Page 116)
“The great offering of Christ to humanity was not about salvation from the world. It was about salvation of the world. Jesus showed a way of transformation from the injustices and violence that dominate the world of international relations and domestic affairs.” (The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings, Page 78)
Mandy also quotes from Rob Bell who is a well-known apostate. He rejects that the Bible is the inerrant, authoritative, only true Word of God, and similar to Newell, he does not believe that Jesus needed to die as an atonement for our sins.
“Did Jesus Have to Die? No. He didn’t. He was killed.” (What is the Bible?, Page 241)
“God didn’t need to kill someone to be ‘happy’ with humanity. What kind of God would that be? Awful. Horrific.” (What is the Bible?, Page 245)
“That’s what the Bible is. It wasn’t written by a third party somewhere in the sky who passively and objectively tells you what the plan is. It was written by real people in real places at real times doing their best to make sense of it all.” (What is the Bible?, Page 244)
“So one of the main points of the library of books [the Bible] that some refer to as the word of God is that there are lots of words of God and you can and should listen to them all? Exactly.” (What is the Bible?, Page 267)
In Have More Fun, Mandy quotes from Richard Rohr, who describes himself on his website as “a globally recognized ecumenical teacher bearing witness to the universal awakening within Christian mysticism and the Perennial Tradition.” Rohr is a false teacher who has a completely heretical view on the gospel, sin, salvation, and Jesus Christ himself.
“The gospel for me, is Jesus’ announcement of the shape of reality, and the effect that it has is that it re-aligns you inside of the universe, not in the false-self but in the true-self.” (https://youtu.be/nVonW-cX-j0 Time Stamp 0:25)
“Sin and salvation are correlative terms. Salvation is not sin perfectly avoided, as the ego would prefer; but in fact, salvation is sin turned on its head and used in our favor. That is how transformative divine love is. If this is not the pattern, what hope is there for 99.9 percent of the world? We eventually discover that the same passion which leads us away from God can also lead us back to God and to our true selves.” (Falling Upward, Page 60)
Are you shocked? I was too, but it is impossible to deny the weight of the evidence. There is no way that an organization that is actually committed to telling the truth of the saving work of Jesus Christ can promote blatant falsehoods like these. The MOPS logo sits at the end of each one of Mandy’s books. As the CEO she speaks for the entire organization. Therefore, the only conclusion we can reach is that Mandy Arioto and MOPS are knowingly promoting a false gospel to mothers around the world.
Call to Action
The Bible has many warnings and commands concerning false teachers and false gospels, providing us with answers on what we are to do when faced with a situation such as this.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (Ephesians 5:11, ESV)
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. (2 John 1:9-11, ESV)
Now I am not a theologian; I am a mother of two. I don’t have a PhD and I can’t deliver an eloquent speech. But do you know what I can do? I can tell what is and what is not truth, because I know the Word of God, and therefore can recognize when someone is distorting it. And what does the Bible tell us to do when we encounter a gospel that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Writing to the Galatians Paul answered this exact question…
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:8-10, ESV)
In closing, my sincere hope is that the church (and you, believer) will turn away from MOPS International and start sharing with these moms the thing they need more than anything else – the only good news that we have – the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.