Christmas and Heresy
December 9, 2020 · C.E. Carter
Christmas, from the late Old English Cristes mæsse, is what it sounds like: “Christ mass”, a celebration of the incarnate advent of Christ. The word “mass”, by the way, is a jab at the Docetics. The term Docetism comes from the Koine Greek dokein, which means “to seem”, thus Docetics are people who teach that Jesus was not really a human being with a human body, but that he only appeared to be. The most well-known Docetics are the Gnostics (the guys who invented the Enneagram), who believe that the physical realm is evil and the spirit realm is good, and thus deny a literal incarnation of Christ. Other Docetics separate the person of Christ from the person of Jesus, and say that Christ was a spirit who possessed Jesus. These heretics, of either flavor, have a hard time dealing with passages like 1 John 4:2-3, which says,
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and not it is already in the world. (1 John 4:2-3)
In this, John covers both the pale ale and the oatmeal stout Docetics by referring to one person (“Jesus Christ”) and not two (“Jesus” and “Christ”), and affirming the damnation that rests upon the one who denies that he came into the world in the flesh. Apparently, John had a particular interest in confronting Christological errors, because he opens his account of the life of Jesus with a similar affirmation of the incarnation of Christ, which says,
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
I’m sure the Docetics also would have consoled the virgin Mary in her labor pains that she was not really giving birth, but only appeared to be.
Docetism isn’t all that fashionable today. What is particularly fashionable among cultists like Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and others, is a pleasant little heresy known as Arianism, popularized by the 3rd century heretic Arius. Arians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, distinct from the Father, but also God the Son without being co-eternal with God the Father. In short, Arians believe that Jesus Christ is a created being, and thus deny the doctrine of the Trinity. The Arian position can be refuted in a short proof by contradiction:
Assume for the sake of contradiction that Jesus was created by God the Father. By definition, God is dependent on no one. Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus Christ was created by God the Father and is thus eternally dependent on Him, so He is both God and not God; a contradiction.
Arians would either have to affirm that God is dependent on other things (which places them well outside of Christian orthodoxy), or deny that Jesus is God (which also would place them outside of orthodoxy, and most of them don’t do this anyway). We know that Jesus Christ is God because the Bible tells us so; Mormons and other Arians tend to squirm when you quote the Christological apologist Himself, the Apostle John, who says,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (John 1:1-3)
The crucial part of that passage is the fact that all things were made through Christ, and without Him nothing was made. An Arian might be able to wave their hands and say that Christ was the first thing to be created, and then the rest of the created things were made through Him, but they wouldn’t be able to get around the fact that without Him nothing that was created would have been created. A logically consistent Arian would have to conclude that nothing was created at all, since without Christ, God the Father could not have created Christ, and would therefore not have a Christ through which to create all the other stuff.
Of course, heretics have a habit of chopping out the parts of the Bible they don’t like, anyway. So, if a savvy heretic of either the Docetic or the Arianistic variety comes your way and refuses to believe our friend St. John, he or she still has to deal with the prophet Isaiah, who foretold of the coming incarnate God-man Jesus Christ,
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
In a single verse, both the Arians and the Docetics have their faces eaten by the Triune God. “A child will be born to us” is an offense to Docetics, and a son who is called “Eternal Father” and “Mighty God” is unthinkable to Arians.
Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation of the God-man Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man yet without sin, who came to establish an eternal kingdom of which there would be no limit to the increase of its government. This is our blessed hope. With this in view, we must answer defend the doctrine of Christ tooth and nail; a Christ who is anything less than truly God and truly man falls short of the Savior-King described by Isaiah.