Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.
Heresy in Modern Christians: Marcionism
October 16, 2011Posted by on
[Update: this post probably ought not to have been published when it was. In the comments section I explain why.]
Let’s do something, just for a few minutes. Let’s remember that Christianity existed between the death of the Apostles and the founding of the colonies of the United States of America. I know, I know, it’s hard. But bear with me: let’s remember that there are, in fact, roughly two thousand years of Christian history.
See, I exist in two worlds: that of North American Progressive Christians, and that of North American Evangelical Christians. Depending on whom you ask, those two worlds are one and the same. I tend to find, in my experience, that the Evangelical communities of which I am a part tend to think that the two worlds most certainly are not the same, so that’s why I differentiate. In the Evangelical community to which I belong, I find a widespread trend: we focus on, and possibly only believe in, specific times of God interacting with his people. We love and believe in everything from Adam right up through the Apostles. Then, somehow, nothing at all happens until the Pilgrims and such came to America. We don’t focus a whole lot of them, but at least we’re aware of their existence and we tend to believe that they were, in fact, Christians. We hit the highlights of various denominations over the next two hundred years, and we might know the history of our own congregations. We view Christian reality the same way that irresponsible students view educational reality.
By that I mean this: A student in a class is preparing for her final exam. She is intimately familiar with the material for chapters 1 – 21, and also with chapters 47 – 49. She does not, however, know much at all about anything that chapters 22 – 46 cover. But it’s not that big a deal, because hey, there couldn’t really have been anything all that important in those chapters anyway, right? Besides, she only was interested in the chapters that she studied.
She will fail her exam. Period. Reality, the test, is nothing like her reality: thinking that what was worth knowing was only what she chose to know.
All that to say this: there are things that happened with Christians from the years 100 AD – 1700 AD. Things that happened that are worth knowing. Things that happened, that are worth knowing, that could have a tremendous impact on our modern churches.
Today we focus on Marcion of Sinope. Who? That’s right. I thought so.
We have Marcion to thank, quite frankly, for the Bible as we know it.
Marcion is credited with being the one to suggest having a Biblical canon, which is to say, to choose books that we decided were actually God-inspired, put them together in a collection, and call it sacred. The Bible didn’t just fall out of the sky amidst lights and angelic voices, human beings sat down and voted on which letters and writings made the cut.
A popular thing to do in the ancient church was to write a gospel. There are tons of them surviving, and who knows how many that didn’t make it. Everyone and their brother had a gospel, it seemed, and it was clear that they couldn’t all exist together in harmony. So some that didn’t seem to fit with the orthodoxy of the day were purged, and others sanctified.
That was Marcion’s idea. Or at least that’s what we reasonably believe to be Marcion’s idea, though I know that some scholars contest that. [Full disclosure: Marcion put forth this idea hoping to get rid of the entirity of what we now call the Old Testament and most of what we now know as the New Testament. So, idea of canon his, yes, but that doesn’t mean they did with his idea what he wanted. So don’t lose faith and think your Bible is tainted. That’s not my intent by telling you this.]
Also an idea of Marcion of Sinope: viewing God as two different Gods: the god of the Old Testament and the god of the New Testament. The Old Testament God, of course, is one of wrath and anger and judgement. That’s the God we’re talking about when we use words like, “smite” and so many others. The New Testament God is the one of love, compassion, mercy, grace. You get the idea.
Now Marcion took this idea pretty far, even saying that he thought the Old Testament God was a lesser god from whom Jesus and the New Testament God were freeing us. There’s a lot more to this whole idea, but suffice to say that the Church didn’t really think that this idea held water. Marcion was excommunicated for heresy, and when scholars talk about Marcionism, they mean this idea of duality. This all went down roughly 1,867 years ago. Give or take. About 40 years after John died. You know, John of “The Gospel of John” and “the disciple that Jesus loved” fame. That John.
What’s the point of all this? Well the point is, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about ancient heresies lately. And I’ve been observing where I think that some version of that heresy is alive and well in the Church today. That’s right, I’m going there.
I think there are strains of Marcionism alive and well in the North American churches. And I think that’s bad.
Marcionism in modern churches looks like… people who say things like, “God isn’t like that anymore.”
I’ve said it before, and I say it again now: God is not who you think God is.
We attribute to God humanity, and as such we cannot fathom God being the same person in both Testaments. We don’t go so far as ol’ Marcion, but we’re thinking right along his lines. It’s too difficult to fathom the God of love that we focus on… killing untold numbers of people. Of women and children. Things like that. So we don’t talk much about it, and we don’t think much about it, and when we do, we offer up some half-baked explanation about God just not being like that anymore.
It’s okay to think about those things, and it’s okay to question them. God is big enough to handle it, and he’s faithful enough to walk you through it. I can’t help but think of the book Pride and Prejudice here. Elizabeth hates Mr. Darcy with a passion because she hears, “such differing accounts of [him] as puzzles her exceedingly.” She can’t reconcile the good with the bad, and thus her mental image of Darcy is poisoned from the get-go. The only way that that could be healed was by Elizabeth questioning and reviewing information and prejudices. If she hadn’t had the courage to do that, well, she could never have fallen in love and become Mrs. Darcy.
Again, what I really mean by that is this: Marcionism is dangerous in any form, because the very idea of having different accounts of God will poison you against him in your subconscious, and that’s bad.
There have got to be many, many ways to deconstruct why Marcionism is dangerous and how God can be both images painted of him. I’m not a real theologian, though, so I’d probably just botch them all. I’m a dabbling theologian, so I’ll offer up the thoughts that go through my head now.
God is not bound by time. God exists outside of time; he can stop time as the story with Joshua goes.
It is true that we get a glimpse of God working in his construct of time. Galations, for example, talks of God relating to humanity through the construct of time. Paul uses the example of children with guardians placed over them and now moving on to being full heirs with no need for a guardian. This, to me, makes perfect sense and mirrors the way God interacts with us all: differently over time, working within his construct of time with us.
But I don’t think that means that God is limited by time. We can’t really worship a God that small, I think.
A God that exists outside of time, then, can concievably be interacting with me right now in the 21st century at the same time he is faithfully parting the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites whilst keeping the Egyptians at bay. Not a God of the Old Testament and a God of the New Testament: one God. One God more holy and awesome and merciful and mighty than I can ever wrap my head around.
That’s a big God. That’s the God that Marcionism – among other things – takes away from us. Marcionism limits God to being powerless against the rules of time, and for this reason he has to resort to plans within plans, manipulation and trickery, to finally bring about his End Game. That’s why it’s possible for us to look at that God and cringe. But thanks to deconstructing Marcionism, we know that this God doesn’t exist.
Only our Heavenly Father, the same God of all time and outside of time.
I know I didn’t really nail Marcionism with the depth or thoroughness that a better person could, nor did I offer up perhaps the more important reasons why Marcionism cannot be. But I did it in a way that I currently understand, and in a way that seemed to make sense to me. And hopefully, one or two others.
Also, I’m very tired and fully intend to review this tomorrow or the next day to fix the disjointed parts and logic of this post. But still, for it being my thoughts on a blog that I’m pretty sure only I and a few of my friends read, I think it’ll do. For now.