When Marcions Attack
While the prospect of hostile alien encounter has long been removed from popular interest, there remains a much more hostile force working against us: the Heretic! One such deceptor of the Christian faith was Marcion. I would like to consider the premise of his teaching and the relevance it has to our culture. These doctrinal tests throughout history have helped to shape what is Orthodox today and help us consider how to refute heresies of our time.
Marcion had no hostile intention for the church. Characteritic of the times were Roman rule, Greek philosophic thought, Christian rejection and moderate persecution from the pagan and the Jew. To the devout Christian, the world, hostile to the church, must have been considered evil. Marcion needed more clarity than Gnostic Docetism provided. To do this he had to reject and rewrite the Scriptures, claim the existence of two gods, and deny the humanity of Christ.1 His skillful language and “sheep's clothing” (cf. Matt. 7:15) were not enough to avoid the scorn of Irenaeus, as he called Marcion out among the heretics.2 Yet, we may give thanks to this heresy that demanded the systematic formulation of the Apostles' Creed. It serves us still, affirming the canon of Scripture, upholding Trinitarian belief, affirming the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ, declaring Apostolic succession, and testing the faith of converts.3 But might we ask, “Did the heresy survive?”
No one is touting the title, Marcionite, though no one did then either. Still, we ought to be on guard similarly. There remains some intrinsic understanding of a spiritual element to the lives we lead. Perhaps this stems from early Platonic thought, still often revered in our day.4 Our struggle is one that relates as we continually see our individual philosophies getting in the way of sound doctrine. Just doing church our own way works to corrode the authority Scripture puts in place.5 Exceeding the redefining work of Marcion, our culture works in an opposite direction against morality as it edges what Mohler calls a comprehensive revolution.6 There are some that share Marcion's initial dilemma against the physical evils in the world as they withdraw into Monasticism7 or even the Amish.
Heresy comes subtly. Our task must be to continue preaching, teaching, and reading scripture publicly (1 Tim. 4:13). Today, the Marcion heresy may be present no more than Marvin the Martian but we must combat heresy no less. Holistic proclamation of the Bible and its doctrine as continually taught from the time of the Apostles remain our endeavor. So as the saying goes “Keep on keepin' on.”
1 Justo Gonzalez. The Story of Christianity, vol. 1, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. (New York: HarperCollins, 2010). 70-74.
2 Irenaeus. Against Heresies: The Refutation and Overthrow of the Knowledge Falsely So Called. Book 1 The Heretics.
3 Gonzalez, 75-77.
4 Gonzalez, 63-65.
5R. Stanton Norman. The Baptist Way. (Nashville: B&H, 2005). 78-79.
6Albert Mohler. We Cannot Be Silent. (Nashville: Nelson, 2015). 2-4.
7Gonzalez, “The Monastic Reaction,” in The Story of Christianity, vol. 1, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. (New York: HarperCollins, 2010). 157-172.