PELAGIAN? An Allegation Which Makes Me a Little Angry..

You Can't Fire That Particular Barrel At Me!


Pelagius, who lived around 400 AD.

We can't, of course, be sure that Pelagius looked just like this but we can be pretty sure about his long-term affects on Christian theology. He greatly influenced the Liberal Protestantism of the 19th century and later.

Pelagius rejected the teaching of 'Original Sin,' believing that people had it within their own power to save themselves, Jesus just being a great example to all. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, strongly opposed Pelagius (quite rightly), yet Augustine himself ultimately introduced some questionable emphases to Scriptural study especially a certain gloominess, this was to effect western Catholicism and, a little later, Calvinism.

I t is obvious that not everybody will agree with everything they may read on a Christian website and, let us be honest, some just love to discredit others. Others, whilst certainly sincere, genuinely misunderstand, sometimes through a lack of learning or knowledge, despite their sincerity. Others, sadly, continue to misunderstand what 'theology' is, when it is simply a desire to better understand the teachings of the Holy Bible! Can that ever be bad? Another group (much smaller) like to 'nitpick' about some smallest feature of a verse. It's small - but important to them!

I have had several missiles fired in my direction during the fourteen years that we have been on the 'net,' but a recent one really surprised me. Most of the attacks on us have come from atheists, liberals and ardent evolutionists, another group of attackers come from the cults and sects, these are mostly a people continually baffled by their own lack of understanding and a refusal to move on in knowledge. It is especially hard to help these people since they have been taught by their leaders that they don't need any further knowledge.

However, a recent attacker surprised me. He accused me of being either 'Pelagian' or 'Semi-Pelagian.' Now, first of all, what are those things? Well, Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature at all and that men and women are still capable of choosing good or evil without any special divine aid. According to this distorted understanding, people are fully capable of saving themselves; Jesus is simply our great example - nothing more. In short, Christ - according to this belief - is not necessary for salvation. That is Pelagianism and it is a heresy which came from Pelagius, a British monk who lived somewhere around 400 AD. According to this unbiblical teaching, Original Sin does not even exist (Psalm 51:5 teaches otherwise). So, that is Pelagianism. It is well-noted as a Christian heresy but this did not deter liberal Christianity from embracing it.

Now, what of Semi-Pelagianism? Semi-pelagianism in its original form was developed as a compromise somewhere between Pelagianism and the teaching of Church Fathers; it is a 'halfway house' compromise which teaches that the sacrifice of Christ is indeed necessary, but that salvation, nevertheless, is still only realised by the combination of our own efforts with God's grace. Unfortunately, it still falls short biblically-speaking because the New Testament is very clear that the entire process of our salvation is in God's hands. Even if we react and respond in entirely the right way that is only because our God has facilitated that and allowed it, calling us, equipping us, granting us His Holy Spirit. Numerous Scriptures could be quoted here including John 6: 44, 65; John 10:2-15; 2 Peter 1:3; Hebrews 13:21; Ephesians 2:1-22;, pretty much the entirety of Romans 8 and so on, but there are so many such supporting Scriptures for this point that it would be hard to know where to begin if we wished to quote them all. To suggest that our salvation is a "partnership" is to over-stress our role because, actually, we could accomplish nothing at all without God. Yes, we respond but could not even do that if God chose to leave our eyes spiritually-closed for the present time (which He has obviously done with many).

Today both forms of Pelagianism are almost everywhere. Liberal Christian theology is fully and totally Pelagian, but some branches of evangelicalism are becoming very semi-Pelagian. Actually this whole ministry of UK Apologetics could be stated to be an anti-Pelagian ministry, root and branch, so I feel somewhat aggrieved to have received this particular accusation. What might have caused it?

Well, a few misunderstand my 'openess' on salvation. I have been determined to get back to the evangelical positivity of the 'church fathers.' Augustine of Hippo (who greatly opposed Pelagius) was a great theologian but he is responsible for introducing a much more pessimistic and gloomy approach to salvation which he seems to have received through his early influence of Manichaeism. Interestingly, Augustine can be considered to be the 'father' not only of western Catholicism but of Protestant evangelicalism too and the 'gloomy' approach may be witnessed in both of those (in contrast, Eastern Orthodox Catholicism, far less affected by Augustine, continues to be much more 'open' on salvation).

In the broader view of salvation which I insist on taking, there is, however, nothing in any way Pelagian, or semi-Pelagian. I continue to insist that Jesus Christ is the only door to salvation, there is salvation in no other name. He alone is the facilitator. We cannot save ourselves. However, the Scriptures seem clear that specific knowledge of the life of Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross is not necessary for salvation. God may set His hand to save wherever He wills, He is entirely free in this matter. How do we know this? Because salvation is not according to knowledge but according to God's free grace; this is evidenced by our knowledge of the saved of the Old Testament. We know that such people as David, Samson, Gideon, Daniel, Samuel and Rahab are saved yet they lived a very long time before Jesus was even born! They are saved in Christ despite having no knowledge of Christ during their lifetimes. So God can project the efficacy of the cross of Christ both backwards and forwards through time, He is entirely free in the matter.

Salvation is only possible through the blood of Christ. Nevertheless, the Old Testament demonstrates that God can have His people in many places, even surprising places; we may think of Rahab, or Jethro for example...they are saved in Christ despite having no knowledge of Christ during their lifetimes.

If I stated that God may well save many non-Christian people simply because they are 'good people,' that would be at least semi-Pelagian, but I don't say that. Only Christ's righteousness can save people; Salvation is only possible through the blood of Christ. Nevertheless, the Old Testament demonstrates that God can have His people in many places, even surprising places; we may think of Rahab, or Jethro for example. I can't help contrasting the 'open' approach which I take with certain hyper-Calvinistic people who seem to think that only "good reformed people" who attend church week in, week out, can ever be saved. Whilst I accept their sincerity, I do sometimes wonder if they are reading the same Bible as mine!

So I say it again, God may set His mighty hand to save wherever He wills. Who are we to attempt to tell Him whom He may save? Nevertheless all of those people must enter through the door of Jesus Christ!

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. (John 10:9).

Robin A. Brace. March 25th, 2015.