On Tuesday we considered the teaching of Edward Irving. I asked the question, Heresy, Error, or Truth? Here is Irving’s statement followed by the key question that we are considering:
The point at issue is simply this: whether Christ’s flesh had the grace of sinlessness and incorruption from its proper nature, or from the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. I say the latter. I assert, that in its proper nature it was as the flesh of His Mother, but, by virtue of the Holy Ghost’s quickening and inhabiting of it, it was preserved sinless and incorruptible.
The key question then would be:
Is Christ born with a sinless nature or is he sinless because of the power of the Holy Spirit?
So, is this teaching heretical, error, or truth? I would not be so quick to call it heresy, though I believe it is an error. The problem, in my opinion, is that Irving made something an “either/or” when it would have been much safer to have made it a “both/and”. I think that his intention was to preserve the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ. But by emphasizing this key doctrine he ended up neglecting (perhaps even denying) another key doctrine.
As is often the case, this discussion has another doctrinal issue hanging on its belt: original sin. If you deny original sin, then you can probably hold to Irving’s theology without much of a hitch. But if you believe in original sin then Irving’s statement will be hard to swallow. How could Christ have the “flesh of His Mother”, if she is sinful and yet still be without original sin?
I do not desire to go into a lengthy discussion of whether or not original sin is a biblical doctrine. The point of this follow up is to give a couple of principles we can learn from the trouble Irving got himself into. There are two points of application:
1) Beware of overemphasizing one doctrine to the neglect of another.
We all have our pet theologies. Because of our own upbringing, spiritual journey, community of faith, etc. we all have different aspects of the Christian faith that we like to emphasize. We have to be aware of this tendency. Consider all of the things that you like to put an emphasis on and consider that which may be equally true but neglected by that which you tend to put more weight on. Humility calls us to consider that what another person stresses might be just as significant.
But be careful not to overemphasize this as well. It is obvious from the emphasis that Scripture places that the work of Christ is far more significant than whether or not Adam had a belly button. Wisdom demands that we hold in higher significance that which the Bible esteems highly.
2) Do not make something an “either/or” if it is possible to be a “both/and”
This tendency is connected with our tendency to overemphasize certain doctrines. I think much of our arguments could be easily settled if we all had the humility to say, “you know what I think it is possible that both of these things can be true and held in tension”. Certainly this is not talking about making truth relative. There are some thing that are either/or. Either you are “in Christ” or you are not.
As Jonathan Edwards wisely stated, “Do not limit God more than He has limited Himself.”