New Apostles or Old Heresy? An Orthodox Perspective on the New Apostolic Reformation

wolf eye

by Robert Arakaki

I was recently asked to help organize a memorial service for a mutual friend.  When I was told that the “Apostle Johnson” would be doing the service, I didn’t know quite what to make of it.  I knew of the Apostle Paul who traveled around the Roman Empire planting churches and writing authoritative epistles that churches were obligated to follow.  The Apostle Peter was the fisherman who made the famous confession: “Thou art the Christ” and later founded the Church in Rome.  Was this modern day “apostle” like the original Apostles?  Can there be such a thing as a modern day Apostle?

Protestantism is known for its incredible variety of churches, doctrines, and worship styles.  It can be divided into several streams:

(1) mainstream churches that have some connection with historic Christianity,

(2) Evangelicalism which emphasizes the Bible and being born again,

(3) Pentecostalism which emphasizes the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and signs and wonders, and

(4) more recently, the New Apostolic Reformation.

C. Peter Wagner, a retired Fuller Seminary professor, wrote extensively about this new movement.  He coined the name “New Apostolic Reformation” to describe a trend taking place among African Independent churches, the house church movement in China, and Pentecostal churches in Latin America.  He sees all this as part of the ongoing development of new wineskins in church history. 

“Every time Jesus began building His Church in a new way throughout history, He provided new wineskins.”

Pentecostalism began in the early 1900s teaching the restoration of healing gifts, miracles, and the gift of tongues.  This created controversy among Protestants who believed that these gifts ceased with the passing of the original Apostles.  Also, where traditional Protestants put the emphasis on the Bible, Pentecostals place emphasis on the Holy Spirit.  More recently, there emerged a new teaching that God is restoring the lost offices of church governance, namely the offices of prophet and apostle.

The claim for the restoration of the offices of prophet and apostle is significant.  The office of pastor and teacher is based upon the careful study of the Bible.  There is a certain amount of equality and accountability with the Bible teacher.  If one disagrees with the teacher, both sides can study together what the Bible passage says.  But how does one respond to:

“The Lord told me to do this”


“Thus says the Lord….”? 

Unless one can claim a similar direct link to the Holy Spirit, how can one challenge this?  One runs the risk of defying the direct will of God or worse yet submitting to spiritual deception.  The risk in the restoration of the governing ministries is that church authority affects doctrine, worship, and ultimately our relationship with God.

Professor Wagner noticed that many of the New Apostolic Reformation churches are experiencing rapid growth.  They have lively worship services full of dedicated members and are engaged in a wide array of ministries.  Wagner views this new trend positively.  He believes that church history is a story of constant change in which God uses different wineskins (church structures) for different time periods.  He notes that where traditional churches are stuck in the past, these new churches are future oriented.  But in his description and analysis of the New Apostolic Reformation churches he neglected to say how these churches maintain moral accountability and how they would be able to maintain right doctrine and not go veering off into heresy.  What safeguards are in place to ensure that these new churches would not end up becoming bizarre cults under the thrall of an out of control leader?

Apostolic Tradition

The New Apostolic Reformation movement is essentially an offshoot of the Protestant Reformation and as such is based upon the errors of Protestantism.  Protestantism teaches that all we need for being a Christian is the Bible alone.  This teaching is erroneous.  There are passages that teach the divine inspiration of Scripture, the divine authority of Scripture, and inerrancy of Scripture, but nowhere does the Bible teach “the Bible alone.”  Another problem with the Protestant doctrine of “the Bible alone” is the question of how we understand and interpret the Bible.  Many times the “Bible alone” has resulted in churches and fellowships being built around the personal interpretation of a pastor.  So long as the minister up on stage has a Bible in his hand and swears that the Bible is the word of God then it is assumed that what he is teaching must be theologically sound even if it sounds new and different.

The Orthodox Church takes a more biblical approach.  It follows Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians:

Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.  (II Thessalonians 2:15, emphasis added)

Here we see two kinds of traditions: oral and written; both are important to the Christian faith.  Like the Thessalonians we are called to hold on to and take our stand on the apostolic tradition in both forms.  C. Peter Wagner says nothing about apostolic tradition.  For him tradition and being traditional means being stuck in the past.  It seems that Wagner is more concerned about moving on, moving ahead to something new.  But this is not what we find in the Apostle Paul.

In the last days of his life Paul wrote to Timothy several letters.  Timothy was his student, assistant, and his successor in ministry.  In II Timothy 1:13-14 Paul wrote:

Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.  (NKJV, emphasis added)

Paul is intent that his message be passed intact on to future generations.  We see this in II Timothy 2:2:

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.  (NKJV, emphasis added)

It is important that we understand what is going on here.  We are not reading about a typical ordination to the pastorate of a local church.  What Paul has in mind here is something akin to the continuing of the apostolic ministry.  This special ministry involves the planting of new churches and the supervision of a network of local churches.  Here Paul is laying the biblical basis for the office of the bishop.

Church government in the early church was episcopal — under the rule of the bishop, the successor to the apostles.  It was not congregational – where each local church was autonomous.  Nor was it presbyterian – where a local network of churches would come together to decide matters of faith and practice.  It was episcopal because this was the practice of the apostles and the early church.  Doctrine was not decided on by the local churches; it was received through a chain of apostolic tradition.  This way the Christians were assured that what they believed was the true teaching of Christ.

As the early church spread across the vast Roman Empire it remained unified in doctrine, worship, and leadership.  Irenaeus of Lyons, who lived in the second century, wrote:

Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house.  She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth. (Against Heresies, Book I)

One could not be a Christian apart from belonging to the Church.  In the early Church there was no such thing as an independent Christian.  Nor was there such a thing as a Protestant Christian who relied solely on the Bible for guidance in faith and practice.  This high view of the Church is rooted in Scripture.  Paul wrote:

…I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.  (II Timothy 3:15, NKJV, emphasis added)

For the past two thousand years the Orthodox Church has faithfully guarded the Apostolic Tradition that Paul passed on to Timothy.  For this reason the Orthodox Church today looks very much like the early Church described in the historical records.  But when Evangelicals and Protestants study the early Church they find themselves looking at a church so unlike theirs.

The Fall of the Church Theory

One fundamental premise for Protestantism is the belief that somewhere along the way the early Church left the apostolic teachings and became corrupt and worldly.  This is known as the “fall of the church” theory or the “Great Apostasy.”  The problem with this theory is that no one has been able to pinpoint the time and place of this crucial transition.  No serious church historian teaches this theory.  This view is largely held by those with limited theological education.

The early Church shared a common faith for the first millennium.  Then in 1054 the Church of Rome broke off ties with the Churches of the East.  This break came to be known as the Great Schism.  Following that tragic event, the Roman Church began to evolve in various ways while the Eastern Churches remained unchanged.  As the Roman Church moved further and further away from its historical roots, doctrinal innovations began to emerge that would trigger the Protestant Reformation.  Where Orthodoxy was deeply troubled by the innovations of the Roman Catholic Church, it was even more disturbed by Protestant innovations.  Despite the Protestant claims to be a reformed church and much like the early church, Orthodoxy would have none of that.  It has charitably labeled Protestants heterodox or more bluntly heretical.

Protestantism is based upon an ongoing quest for the true church.  There is the belief that the church must continually undergo reformation.  C. Peter Wagner understood church history to be very fluid and evolving, that God builds his in different ways using different kinds of wineskins for each period.  He sees the New Apostolic Reformation as the latest stage of church development.  But for the Orthodox there are features of the New Apostolic Reformation that resembles the old heresies that the Orthodox Church combated in her early days.

An Old Heresy?

One of the earliest heresies was the heresy of Gnosticism.  The Gnostics believed that physical matter was inferior to the spirit realm.  They did not outright reject the church or the bishops but believed that they possessed a secret superior knowledge (gnosis).  They believed that because the bishops’ teaching authority rested on the institutional authority it was inferior to theirs which was based on divine illumination by the Holy Spirit and by a secret esoteric theology.

One must be careful when comparing the New Apostolic Reformation movement with ancient Gnostic heresy.  From what I’ve read in C. Peter Wagner many of the New Apostolic Reformation church leaders have not gone to the extreme of denying the Incarnation.  But it appears to me that Gnostic ideas do influence the way they understand the church, church authority, worship, and doctrine.

One of the basic Gnostic beliefs is a dualism that makes the physical and institutional inferior to the spiritual.  This is especially evident in the way Protestants and the New Apostolic Reformation movement view the capital “C” Church.  Orthodoxy believes that the one true Church is a visible Church evidenced by the local church gathered around the Eucharist, the confession of the Creed, and the office of the bishop.  Protestants and the New Apostolic Reformation followers believe that all these are non-essential externals.  They believe that the capital “C” Church is the invisible church.  For them the outward form does not matter as much as the inward faith in Christ.

The New Apostolic Reformation churches claim to have restored the ministries of the prophets and apostles.  But it seems that their new apostles come out of nowhere.  They make no claim to being part of a historic chain of succession.  They claim to be apostles because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit and because of this anointing they have authority over churches.  However, it must be kept in mind that even in Paul’s time there was the danger of false apostles (see II Corinthians 10-12).  In the early Church one could not just say, ‘The Lord has called me to be an apostle.’  The apostolic ministry was a foundational ministry; it was based upon having been in Jesus’ company, hearing him teach, and being a witness to the risen Christ.  None of the new apostles can make this claim as Jesus’ earthly life and ministry took place two thousand years ago.

The Orthodox Church rests upon a chain of Apostolic Tradition received by the bishops from their predecessors.  Apostolic succession in Orthodoxy is not done in secret.  One of the clergy is selected and elevated to the office of the bishop.  The elevation of the priest to the office of bishop is a public event.  Irenaeus of Lyons wrote:

The tradition of the apostles, made clear in all the world, can be clearly seen in every church by those who wish to behold the truth.  We can enumerate those who were established by the apostles as bishops in the churches, and their successors down to our time, none of whom taught or thought of anything like their [the Gnostics] mad ideas (AH 3.3.1, Richardson 1970:371).

A modern person can laugh at the idea that the Orthodox Church keeps a list of bishops that goes back to the original Apostles, but why are they laughing?  Is it because they find the idea of lists and institutional order inferior to the exciting new apostle they just heard at a mass rally?  A rally full of lively music and stirring preaching may be emotionally fulfilling, but is this the truth?  Truth is not based on feelings but on fact.

There is a crisis of truth in contemporary Protestantism.  For many Christians a church or teaching is true because “I can feel it inside me” or “I feel the Holy Spirit speaking to me” or “I felt convicted by the Spirit.”  Orthodox Truth is based upon the historicity of the Incarnation.  The Orthodox Church is committed to keeping the Apostolic Tradition without change until the Second Coming of Christ.

So, if an Orthodox Christian were to meet one of the so-called new apostles, his response would be:

(1) that there is only one holy catholic and apostolic church and that church is the Orthodox Church,

(2) his bishop is a true successor to the original Apostles, and

(3) unless one is in communion with the Orthodox Church one is outside the true Church.  Outside of this chain of apostolic succession there can be no apostolic ministry. 

The original Apostles laid the foundations in the first century and the Orthodox Church has been faithfully building on that foundation for the past two millennia.  What the so-called New Apostles are attempting to do is to create another church, not return to the original church.  Because these so-called new apostles are false those who follow their teachings are susceptible to heresy and spiritual deception.

Another Old Heresy?

Another early heresy was the Montanist heresy.  This group was also known as the “New Prophecy.”   Montanus, a convert to Christianity in the second century, believed that he was a prophet of God.  He taught that the Second Coming was about to happen and that this was signaled by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  The Montanist movement practiced speaking in tongues and prophetic utterances.  In response to the growing formalization of the church Montanus and his followers sought to emphasize the spiritual aspects of Christianity.  They believed that they were the elite ‘spiritual’ Christians and would be part of the New Jerusalem.  Where the orthodox bishops interpreted Scripture based upon a tradition received from the Apostles, the Montanists relied on prophetic utterances from the Holy Spirit believing that these cleared up ambiguities in Scripture.  Thus, the Montanist prophets presented a teaching authority independent of the bishops.  It also threatened to move the early Church from a teaching authority based on apostolic tradition to one based on prophetic utterances and visions.

An Orthodox Response

It appears that the New Apostolic Reformation movement encourages new prophetic teachings independent of the historic Church.  Having no anchor in the history and tradition of the Church, they are at risk of drifting into false teachings.  Another weakness is that more emphasis is given to self-fulfillment than to holy living and denying the passions of the flesh.  One of the biggest draw of the New Apostolic Reformation church services is that they are packed with people, lively praise music, and stirring Bible teachings.  People leave these services on a spiritual high.  But is that the purpose of Christian worship?  Where is the call to repentance and holy living?

The preaching of the forgiveness of sins detached from the call to repentance and to holy living is a serious distortion of the Good News of Christ.  At the heart of the Gospel and Christian discipleship is the Cross.  Jesus said:

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  (Matthew 16:24-25, NKJV)

True Christianity is about truth; it is not about what makes me feel good.  True Christianity is also about Christ dying on the Cross and our dying with him.  Only in dying with Christ will we become sharers in his resurrection.  The kingdom of God is based upon the true teachings of Christ.  It is open to investigation and study.  The Orthodox Church has a historic link that goes back to the original Apostles.  This is something that neither the Protestants, the Evangelicals, the Pentecostals, nor the New Apostolic Reformation can claim.  In response to the Gnostic heretics, Irenaeus presented the true Gnosis (Knowledge) that is in Christianity:

This is true Gnosis: the teaching of the apostles, and the ancient institution of the church, spread throughout the entire world, and the distinctive mark of the body of Christ in accordance with the succession of bishops, to whom the apostles entrusted each local church, and the unfeigned preservation, coming down to us, of the scriptures, with a complete collection allowing for neither addition nor subtraction, a reading without falsification and, in conformity with the scriptures, so interpretation that is legitimate, careful, without danger of blasphemy (AH 4.33.8, Grant 1997:161).

Conclusion: Broken Wineskins and Spiritual Drunkenness

There are two major problems with the New Apostolic Reformation. One is the problem ofbroken wineskins.  C. Peter Wagner’s description of church history as a story of different kinds of wineskins (church structures) for different periods describes the history of Western Christianity.  Roman Catholicism and Protestantism have undergone significant changes over time.  The history of Western Christianity can be viewed as a story of defective wineskins that have broken under pressure littering the Western world with broken churches, division, and doctrinal confusion.  The story is quite different in the East where Eastern Orthodoxy has kept the Apostolic Tradition faithfully.  Because Orthodoxy has never suffered a fall from Tradition it views movements like the New Apostolic Reformation with suspicion.  Orthodoxy believes that it is the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  For this reason Orthodox Christians cannot accept the claims of the so-called new apostles.  It is the Orthodox bishops who stand in true succession from the original Apostles.

The other problem is that of spiritual drunkenness.  Many people are drawn to the New Apostolic Reformation churches because they provide powerful worship experiences.  Oftentimes Pentecostals and charismatics describe worship in terms of getting high on God.  But there is a danger here of becoming dependent on spiritual highs.  What happens when one no longer gets a spiritual high in worship?  What happens when one enters into a spiritual desert?  In the story of the Prodigal Son the younger son left home and had a great time spending his inheritance money.  The good times lasted only so long then famine struck and he was reduced to extreme poverty.  When he hit rock bottom, he came to himself and realized that he needed to go back home.  Many people in the New Apostolic Reformation are having a great time right now and have no interest in Orthodoxy but when they get tired of the superficiality of charismatic worship or when they can’t get the spiritual highs like before the time may come for them to consider the Orthodox Church.

Many charismatics won’t enjoy Orthodox liturgy the first time; this ismuch like an alcoholic drinking clean water after drinking from the bottle for a long time.  Unlike charismatic worship which emphasizes spiritual high, Orthodox worship emphasizes spiritual sobriety.  The soberness of Orthodox worship brings clarity and stillness of spirit that leads to spiritual wisdom and transformation. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”




Unhealed Healers: The Cruelty of Heresy


The cruelty of heresy is the existence of healers who cannot heal themselves, or anyone else.

by Fr. George Metallinos

Heresy is not just an error of the reasoning faculty, nor are heretics simply misplaced in finding the truth. In their case something happens deeper and more substantial. They know the Bible to the letter, often in amazing ways. But they lack something essential, and this lack radically distinguishes them from the Fathers. They lack the experience of the Holy Spirit of the Fathers, the interior illumination of the Spirit. This is because they have not gone through the therapeutic process of the Church.

Externally they may be morally flawless. But they do not have within them the Spirit. Therefore, they do not see what the Fathers see in the Spirit. Though intellectually they may be amazingly developed.

Indeed it is a fact, that all the great heretics impressed with their vast knowledge and “wisdom”. Even today! But they don’t have a pure heart, nor have they been changed into temples of the Holy Spirit.

Heresy presupposes poor to non-existent therapeutic treatment. For this reason the theology of heretics is intellectual – a scientific hypothesis, logical, and a syllogistic game. The experience of theosis, which adorns the Fathers, is what they are missing. This is why heretics cannot distinguish at critical points truth from deceit. For they cannot see the truth within them, they do not know it in their heart. Without the vehicle of “noetic prayer” they cannot arrive at “glorification”, which is the revelation of “all truth” from the Holy Spirit.

Herein is also revealed the tragedy of all heretics, especially the heresiarchs. Unillumined themselves, they seek to illumine. Unhealed themselves, they seek to heal. Atheists themselves (being without the true God), they seek to theologize. We could liken heretics to quacks and charlatans, who scam. But they are worse: they are physicians who offer fatal therapeutic treatment, who kill people for eternity. They are pharmacists who market poisoned drugs, corrupted, that are hazardous to public health, not physically, but spiritually and eternally.



Tertullian’s Refutation of “The Fall of the Church” Heresy

by Robert Arakaki

I must say Robert is becoming one of my favorite authors. A lot of people love to skim and quote the fathers and early Church writings, few actually read them thoroughly. Enjoy another hit from Robert Arakaki.


The “fall of the church” heresy is widely held among Protestants but not unique to Protestants.  The “fall of the church” was something that early Christians had to contend with as well.  Tertullian answered it in “The Prescription Against Heretics.”

The “fall of the church” refers to the belief that after the Apostles died the early Christians strayed from the original Apostles’ teachings and practices.  This has been known as the great Apostasy, or the BOBO theory – the Blink Off/Blink On of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the life of the Church.

Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225) lived in Carthage, a North African Roman province.  He was a lawyer by training and one of the more influential Latin theologians in the early Church.  While he did fall into error towards the end of his life and is not considered by many Orthodox a “church father,” his early writings can nevertheless be helpful to understanding early Christianity. 

Prescription is one of the more important and highly regarded works of Tertullian for patristic studies.  Quasten wrote in his Patrology:

De praesciptione haereticorum is by far the most finished, the most characteristic, and the most valuable of Tertullian’s writings.  The main ideas of this treatise have won for it enduring timeliness and admiration.  Although it can be assigned no definite date, it was quite obviously written when the author was still on the best of terms with the Catholic Church, probably around the year 200 A.D.  (p. 272)

The “fall of the church” was one of several arguments used by early heretics to draw people away from the Church.  To understand these errors it is important to understand the way early Christians understood orthodoxy.  In the early Church orthodoxy (right doctrine) was based on apostolicity.  Apostolicity meant that a local church was able to trace its teachings back to the original Apostles via the traditioning process.Defining Orthodoxy 

Tertullian wrote:

It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have not given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. (Prescription 21; italics in original; bold added).

. . . and after first bearing witness to the faith in Jesus Christ throughout Judaea, and founding churches (there), they next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations. They then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches.  Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. (Prescription 20.4-6; emphasis added)

Here we see that the Great Commission is basically the transmission of Holy Tradition.  This may come as a surprise to many Evangelicals who assume that the Apostles went out to all the nations with a leather bound Bible under their arms.  But it needs to be kept in mind that all that the Apostles had were Christ’s teachings and deeds carefully memorized and stored in their hearts.  Similarly, when they planted churches the early converts had to learn by heart the Apostles’ teachings.  It would not be until decades later that the Gospels and the Epistles be written down on paper; and even then it would not be until centuries later that a formal collection known as the “New Testament” came to be recognized by the early Church.  The biblical canon came about as the early bishops individually and in councils carefully scrutinized which early writings were indeed divinely inspired and apostolic.

In Tertullian’s time there were churches planted by the Apostles and there were churches that learned the Gospel from the first churches; both could claim apostolicity in light of the fact that they shared the same Apostolic Faith.  Tertullian wrote:

Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, (founded) by the apostles, from which they all (spring).  In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, whilst they are all proved to be one, in (unbroken) unity, by their peaceful communion, and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality, —privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the selfsame mystery. (Prescription 20.7-8; emphasis added)

In Tertullian’s time Christianity did not have an elaborate set of institutions like seminaries, bookstores, bible camps, and TV stations.  Basically, early Christianity consisted of the local church under the leadership of the bishop, the successor to the Apostles.  For Tertullian one indicator of theological orthodoxy was being able to trace one’s bishop’s succession back to the original Apostles.

But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs ] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,— a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. (Prescription 32; emphasis added)

Just as significant is the importance Tertullian placed on the Eucharist as proof of orthodoxy: to be doctrinally orthodox was to be in communion with the apostolic churches. In the early church the claim was made that the teachings one heard at the weekly Eucharist were the same one as that taught by the original Twelve.

We hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs.  This is our witness to the truth.  (Prescription 21)

In summary, Tertullian’s description of early orthodoxy consisted of: (1) the traditioning process, (2) the local bishop as successor to the Apostles, and (3) the Eucharist as the sign of doctrinal unity.

Holy Tradition or Sola Scriptura?

Tertullian advanced a number of arguments that would make a Protestant’s hair stand.  In Prescription 19.1 he opens with: “Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures. . . .”  Unlike Protestants who view Scriptures as a level playing field that anyone can read and anyone can interpret according to their conscience, Tertullian viewed Scripture as part of the sacred deposit entrusted to Church, recognized by the Church, and safeguarded for future generations by that same Church.

For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions. (Prescription 19.3; italics in original)

There is no shred of evidence of Protestantism’s sola scriptura in Tertullian’s Prescription.  What we find is the oral Tradition supplemented by written Tradition, and the two complementing the other.

Now, what that was which they preached—in other words, what it was which Christ revealed to them—can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves, both viva voce, as the phrase is, and subsequently by their epistles (Prescription 21.3; italics in original; bold added)

The early Christians never separated the two but saw the oral and the written forms of Tradition as integral to each other.  Naturally, the oral form of the Apostolic teaching preceded the written form and continues to this day to inform the Church’s understanding of the New Testament text.  In other words, early biblical exegesis was rooted in oral Tradition and did not arise from an independent objective reading of the Scripture text.  It was a ecclesial activity, and not something carried out independently of the Church and its bishops.

Early Attacks on Orthodoxy

The early heretics used a variety of arguments designed to undermine the faith of the early Christians.  The heresies are all aimed at attacking the notion of apostolicity.  They make sense if orthodoxy is grounded in the traditioning process; but don’t make sense if early orthodoxy is based on sola scriptura.

Heresy # 1 – Christ had Other Apostles (Prescription 21)

Heresy #2 -– The Apostles Didn’t Know All There Was to Know (Prescription 22.2)

Heresy #3 – The Apostles Knew All There Was to Know But Chose to Hold Some Things Back (Prescription 22.2)

Heresy #4 – Peter’s Knowledge of the Gospel Inferior to Paul’s (Prescription 23 & 24)

Heresy #5 – Paul’s Knowledge of the Gospel Superior to Peter’s (Prescription 23 & 24)

Tertullian Refutes the “Fall of the Church” Heresy

Tertullian describes the “fall of the church” heresy:

. . .let us see whether, while the apostles proclaimed it perhaps, simply and fully, the churches, through their own fault, set it forth otherwise than the apostles had done. (Prescription 27.1)

The early heretics cited Paul’s letter to the Galatians in support of the fall of the church theory: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” and “Ye did run so well; who hath hindered you?”  They also pointed to Paul’s admonishment to the Corinthians about their being carnal and suited only for milk, not meat.  Tertullian points out that the heretics failed to take into account that the early churches likewise responded to Paul’s correction.  In addition, Tertullian pointed to Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church “into all truth” (John 14:26) as evidence against the fall theory.

Grant, then, that all have erred; that the apostle was mistaken in giving his testimony; that the Holy Ghost had no such respect to any one (church) as to lead it into truth, although sent with this view by Christ, and for this asked of the Father that He might be the teacher of truth; grant, also, that He, the Steward of God, the Vicar of Christ, neglected His office, permitting the churches for a time to understand differently, (and) to believe differently, what He Himself was preaching by the apostles,—is it likely that so many churches, and they so great, should have gone astray into one and the same faith? (Prescription 28.1; emphasis added)

In Chapter 28, Tertullian points out the implication of the fall of the church heresy.  It means a widespread apostasy among the early Christians and that even Paul was mistaken in his witness to the Gospel.  Furthermore, it means that John 14:26 was not fulfilled even though Christ promised that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church.  Furthermore, it implies that the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the “Vicar of Christ” failed to do his job and that Christ made a false promise!

Tertullian points out that if the “fall of the church” theory held true then the churches would have diverged significantly from the teachings of the Apostles and that in turn would have resulted in theological divergences among the churches.  But theological divergences were not to be found among the churches but with the heretics.

Error of doctrine in the churches must necessarily have produced various issues.  When, however, that which is deposited among many is found to be one and the same, it is not the result of error, but of tradition.  Can anyone, then, be reckless enough to say that they were in error who handed on the tradition? (Prescription 28.2-4)

Where diversity of doctrine is found, there, then, must the corruption both of the Scriptures and the expositions thereof be regarded as existing.  On those whose purpose it was to teach differently, lay the necessity of differently arranging the instruments of doctrine. (Prescription 38.1-2)

Tertullian notes that where error results in fragmentation, orthodoxy results in doctrinal uniformity (unity) among the early Christians.  Doctrinal unity flows from fidelity to the traditioning process used by the Apostles in transmitting the Gospel.

Tertullian sketches out what the “fall of the church” would have looked like if it did in fact happen:

During the interval the gospel was wrongly preached; men wrongly believed; so many thousands were wrongly baptized; so many works of faith were wrongly wrought; so many miraculous gifts, so many spiritual endowments, were wrongly set in operation; so many priestly functions, so many ministries, were wrongly executed; and, to sum up the whole, so many martyrs wrongly received their crowns! (Prescription 29.3)

In other words (at least in Tertullian’s mind) it is unthinkable and ludicrous to suppose that all the good things done by the early Christians were in fact bad things.  Also, Tertullian points out that if such a massive defection had occurred then one logical consequence would be doctrinal pluralism.  To put it another way, it does not make sense that so many Christians would have gone wrong all in the same direction at the same time!

Tertullian Compared With Irenaeus of Lyons

Where Tertullian’s standing as a church father is in question, the same cannot be said of Irenaeus of Lyons who is considered to be the greatest theologian of the second century.  Tertullian and Irenaeus were contemporaries having lived in the latter half of the second century.

While Tertullian’s apologetics strategy In Prescription Against Heretics may strike Protestants as somewhat odd, it bears strong resemblance to Irenaeus’ Against Heresies.  A comparison between the two shows strong similarities in the way they understood early orthodoxy:

(1) both assumed doctrinal orthodoxy to rest on Apostolic Tradition (Prescription 20.4-6; Against Heresies 3.1.1),

(2) both understood Apostolic Tradition to exist first in oral then in written form (Prescription 21.3; Against Heresies 3.4.2),

(3) both taught that orthodox churches were those who could trace their bishop’s succession back to the original Apostles (Prescription 32.1; Against Heresies 3.3.1), and

(4) both asserted that a key sign of doctrinal orthodoxy is the unity of faith among Christians (Prescription 20.7-8; Against Heresies 1.10.1).

Tertullian taken together with Irenaeus gives us valuable insight into the theological method of the early Church.  Their theological method bears a striking resemblance to the Orthodox Church but also striking disparity with the theological method(s) of Protestantism.


The “fall of the church” heresy was not unique to Protestants but something that the early Church had to contend with as well. Protestants have used the “fall” as a way of justifying their breaking away from the Church of Rome, and the early heretics used it as a way creating an opening so they could present their alternative gospel to their listeners.

Tertullian refuted the “fall of the church” theory on four grounds:

(1) biblical – it implied the failure of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church “into all truth” which in turn implied the failure of Christ’s promise in John 14:26,

(2) theological – it implied the denial of divine sovereignty,

(3) sociological – if true the fall of the church would have resulted into doctrinal fragmentation which flies in the face of the doctrinal unity shared by early Christians, and

(4) historical –there was no evidence of a massive defection among early Christians.

Tertullian’s refutation of the “fall of the church” heresy is instructive for Orthodox-Reformed dialogue.  It sheds light on how orthodoxy was understood in the early Church.  In early Christianity orthodoxy was premised on apostolic succession and fidelity to the traditioning process resulting from a continuing Pentecost via the Holy Spirit.  Capital “O” Orthodoxy today claims this same basis for its claim to be the true Church founded by Christ and his Apostles.

Protestants have an understanding of apostolicity different from Tertullian’s.  The Protestant principle of sola scriptura assumes that apostolicity resides in the apostolic authorship of the New Testament and that Scripture is sufficient in itself to guarantee right doctrine.  With the exception of the Anglicans, the vast majority of Protestants reject apostolic succession as a marker of orthodoxy.

One of the biggest challenges that Tertullian’s Prescription poses to Protestantism is his claim that heresy results in doctrinal diversity.  This is especially daunting in light of the multitude of Protestant denominations.  There are some Protestants who might point out differences even among some of the Apostolic Fathers, as if this disproves Tertullian’s claim to unity. What do we say to this? Was Tertullian’s sense of broad unity among the early churches wrong?  Was there, as these Protestants must establish, a doctrinal free-for-all among the early churches? No, the early Christians’ unity in the Pentecost promise of the Holy Spirit was real and Tertullian was right. What differences that existed were largely minor for the Church as a whole and did not disrupt the Eucharistic unity among the early Christians.  If there was no “fall of the church” in early Christianity then Protestants will need to reconsider their insistence on the need for the reform of the Church.  Orthodoxy claims that in light of the fact that it has faithfully kept the Apostolic Tradition Protestants need look no further for the primitive apostolic Church described by Tertullian.




Tertullian.  1980.  “The Prescription Against the Heretics.”  In The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, pp. 243-265.  Reprinted 1980.  Translators: Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson.  Wm. B. Eerdmans Press: Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Irenaeus of Lyons.  1985.  “Against Heresies.”  In The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, pp. 315-567.  Reprinted 1985.  Translators: A. Cleveland Coxe.  Wm. B. Eerdmans Press: Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Quasten, Johannes.  1986.  Patrology.  Volume II.  The Ante-Nicene Literature After Irenaeus.  Christian Classics, Inc.: Westminster, Maryland.


Why the Filioque is a Heresy

by Fr. John Romanides

Apart from the specific teaching of our Lord regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit (as recorded in John 15:26), the understanding of this Mystery is been seriously muddled by at attempt to defend the Credal addition (and the Son) which is unscriptural, as legitimate over many centuries.  Though this addition has become the theological patrimony of western Christian theology, it is by no means a complicated issue, nor an insurmountable barrier in Christian unity. Return to the Scriptures, and start there – don’t end there attempting to proof-text novel theological concepts.

The Filioque is a heresy, because it confuses the hypostatic properties of the Father, i.e. His being cause, with those of the Son and, as a result, introduces a kind of Semi-Sabellianism. This is the case if the notion of being cause belongs both to the Father’s and to the Son’s hypostasis, but not to the Spirit’s. If the Father and the Son as hypostases are the cause of the existence of the Holy Spirit, then, according to Photios, we have two principles in the Godhead, or, if they think of the Father and the Son as one cause, then, as we said above, we have Semi-Sabellianism, i.e. the identification of the incommunicable, hypostatic properties of the Father and the Son. If the cause is identified with the essence and not with the hypostaseis, then the Holy Spirit is a creature, because the doctrine that the essence is the cause of another person is the doctrine of the Eunomians, since they identified the cause of the existence of the Son with the essence of the Father and attempted on this basis to demonstrate that the Son is a creature.

Consequently, if the Father’s and the Son’s essence is the cause of the existence of the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit is a creature. Again, He is a creature, if the cause of the Spirit’s existence, or His procession, is a common energy of the Father and the Son, of which the Spirit is lacking. This is the case, because, as Orthodox and Pneumatomachians argue, the lack of even one energy common to the Father and to the Son from the Spirit would demonstrate the created nature of the Spirit. The one doctrine leads to Semi-Sabellianism and the other to Eunomianism, or to the heresy of the Pneumatomachoi where the Spirit becomes a creature.

Today, the Latins (i.e., Roman Catholic theologians) are obliged, if they wish to revise the foundation of their theology, not only to take seriously the theology of the Fathers, which constituted the basis of the decisions of the First and Second Ecumenical Councils, but also to revise the Trinitarian terminology, which is based on Augustine’s doctrine.

HT: Mystagogy

Source: An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics, pp. 33-35.

The Rapture – Indisputable Christian Heresy

By Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris

In this brief article, Fr. Anthony expresses with clarity the truth of the false teaching known as the “Rapture” and how much it distorts the teachings of the Lord in the Holy Scriptures.

As I was driving one day I encountered a bumper sticker admonishing me:

“WARNING! In the event of Rapture, this car will be driverless.”

The strange belief in the Rapture teaches that some day (sooner rather than later), without warning, born-again Christians will begin to float up from the freeway, abandoned vehicles careening wildly. There will be airliners in the sky suddenly with no one at the controls! Presumably, God is removing these favored ones from earth to spare them the tribulation of the Anti-Christ which the rest of us will have to endure. Continue reading The Rapture – Indisputable Christian Heresy