blog about home


The Twelve Heresies of Christianity

Heretics move counter to the orthodoxy of the moment. Twenty centuries ago, Jesus challenged the mainstream of Judaism and the governing authority of the Roman Empire. At the dawn of the 21st century, Jesus continues to challenge and sometimes offend. This is the Jesus who says that he comes not to bring not peace, "but rather division."

So, step back in time to consider 12 individuals who dared to challenge the orthodoxy of their time. Some of these heretics – the gospel writers, Paul, James, Peter, Jesus himself – found their heresies absorbed into the mainstream of Christianity. Others such as Thomas and Mary did not. And a couple – namely Constantine and Martin Luther – may be considered as on the fence.

Read on for a synopsis about twelve untold but pivotal heresies of Christianity.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, Rome leveled Jerusalem - even throwing parts of the Temple Mount wall down where rubble is still visible today.

Heresy challenges orthodoxy. Some new ideas and leadership may lead to new orthodoxies, others yield added challenges not yet resolved.

Matthew – Prophecy Fulfilled
Unlike most New Testament writers, Matthew wrote to a primarily Jewish audience. Matthew focused on demonstrating that Jesus is not a blasphemer intent on overthrowing Judaism. Rather, Matthew’s Jesus represents the fulfillment of both the "law and the prophets."
  • But, did Matthew over-reach – bending and twisting passages of the Hebrew scriptures (or Old Testament) to fit the life of Jesus?

  • Did Matthew’s portrait of Jesus as the bridge between the old order and the new serve to reform Judaism from within or help drive Christianity out from the Judaic fold?

The answers to these questions are of profound importance – to Christians of today as well as yesteryear. And they speak volumes to two millenia of estrangement between Judaisim and Christianity.

Mark's Dimwitted Disciples
Mark’s heresy revolves around the tale of twelve fellow travelers with Jesus – who are repeatedly characterized by ineptitude, thoughtlessness and avarice:
  • Why does Mark’s gospel consistently skewer the twelve men who left family and homes, particularly Peter?

  • If early church leadership had remained in the hands of the eleven disciples remaining after Jesus’ death and resurrection, what might be different about the Christianity we know and practice today?

If there is an upside to Mark’s gospel, it may be that the body of believers is not to place full reliance on other earthly leaders – even those closest to Jesus. Does that message continue to hold true today at the dawn of the 21st century?

Luke - Social Conscience
Widely billed as the most beautiful book ever written, Luke’s gospel is unique in presenting Jesus as a man of social conscience and action. As the gospel of the Good Samaritan, Luke aims to address social evils – of poverty, redistribution of wealth, and improved status for women:
  • Does it make sense for this good news to be directed not only to the eternal but to the demands of day-to-day life?

  • Does a social gospel reinforce or undermine the need for personal accountability and the opportunity for personal intimacy with Jesus the crucified and risen Savior?

Matthew’s Jesus said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Luke’s Jesus simply says: "Blessed are the poor." Is one view more important than the other? Or can both co-exist side-by-side?

John - Personal Divinity
As a gospel writer, John tells a very different story of Jesus’ life and ministry than the three synopitics – Matthew, Mark and Luke:
  • Does John’s emphasis on personal intimacy with the divine support the writings of the synoptics, or are we hearing an entirely different message?

  • Why is John the only gospel writer to talk about judgement or condemnation, but not about a place called hell?

John’s Jesus is the eternal "I am", a man who reaches out to interact on a personal level with people of both genders, from all walks of life. Do the unique perspectives offered by this most intimate of gospels relegate John to a special or to a secondary role?

Paul - Salvation thru Faith
With Paul, we reach beyond the original circle of Jesus followers to the man who formulated Christian doctrines that have endured for two millenia.
  • How did an outsider come to wrest control of the Christian movement from the heir apparents – Peter and then James?

  • Paul’s heresy of "justification by faith" clearly paved the way to win the hearts and souls of an empire, but did it also represent an unnecessary final stroke severing Christianity from its Jewish roots?

Experience the life and times of a man of contradiction – who advocated both spiritual freedom and disciplined church doctrine. A man whose persistence and penchant for the written word built the church that Jesus the Christ foretold.

James - Salvation via Works
Paul’s ascendance was not uncontested. There is a counterpoint – represented by James the brother of Jesus. After all, it was James who wrote that "faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." But wait:
  • How is it that James vision of Christianity bested Peter but then lost out to Paul? And by the way, did James really lose?

  • Does the message of James suggest a path for rapprochement to bridge two millenia of conflict between Jew and Aryan, between a social and personal gospel?

James has suffered through obscurity, indifference and even charges of heresy – by sources no less than the reformationist Martin Luther. James may yet have the last word.

Peter - Compromised Christianity
More is written in the New Testament about Peter than any other disciple, yet he remains an enigma – a unique combination of cowardice and bluster:
  • How is it that Peter becomes the person always caught in the middle – the whipping boy for Jesus, then James and Paul?

  • How was this heir apparent to the ministry of Christ, this leader of the church at Pentecost, so easily shoved aside?

In life and death, Peter exemplifies the personal struggles that many followers of the Way also experience – then and now. However, neither his intemperate actions nor his more gentle message of conciliation carry the day.

Thomas - Mystery & Wisdom
In 1945, a copy of a lost manuscript known as the Gsopel of Thomas was found in the desert of Egypt. This non-canonical gospel likely was composed contemporaneously and the discovered manuscript actually predates any known, complete and authenticated manuscript from the more familiar gospel writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John:

In this gospel of puported heresy, Jesus goes beyond what is stated in the canonical gospels, declaring: "Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will rule over all."

Mary - Life & Resurrection
There are so many Marys in the New Testament that it is sometimes difficult to keep them straight. Among these are Mary the virgin mother, Mary the sister, and Mary the Magdalene. Each of these had a unique connection to the god-man; one is reputedly the author of a non-canonical gospel:
  • What was it that these tough, purposeful women dared to understand that others could not see and to speak what others could not know?

  • How did one Mary – the Magdalene – serve as the bridge between the dead and the resurrected Christ, keeping the flame of Christianity alive during its earliest and darkest hour?

Get close to the Marys who shared some of the most intimate moments with the Savior. Discover how the mutual web of life and resurrection heresies they have spun live on – animating the Christian church to faith in the goodness of the present and the confidence of life beyond the human realm.

Constantine - Monolithic Christianity
In 313 AD, a warrior became emperor of the western Roman Empire after seeing a vision – the initialed symbols of the name of Christ with the words "By this sign you will conquer." During the ensuing reign of Constantine, the status of Christianity changed from enemy of the state to religion of the state:

Nearly 17 centuries removed from this ruler of a since fallen empire, the hierarchical church lives on in the image of its creator. What then, after the heresy of the church-empire outlives its usefulness?

Martin Luther - Reformation Undone
In 1517, an Augustinian monk declared an end to a 1,200 year ear of Roman Catholic hegemony over Christian belief and practice – by posting 95 theses on the door of the castle church at Germany’s Wittenburg University. In so doing, Martin Luther unleashed winds of change for church and state:
  • How was it that a religious reformation heralded a secular revolution – the end of feudalism, the triumph of capitalism, the resurgence of education and, eventually, the swelling tide of democracy?

  • By failing to throw off the shackles of Nicaea, to accept and celebrate diverse interpretations of Jesus message, did monk Luther fail to complete the reformation he started?

In short, is the fulfillment of Christian reformation yet to come?

Jesus - Conflicted Christianity
From the apostle Matthew to the monk Luther, the Christian legacy has been on of dissension and conflict. To understand why, travel back to the source – back to the very person, the mission, the legacy of Jesus:

As this Savior lived in and through conflict, maybe he asks as much of those who follow behind. So that, like the pagan Canaanite woman who was rebuked by Jesus, we persist until the master relents, saying: "Let it be done for you as you wish."

Epilogue - Which Way Christianity?
We have lived with two millenia of Christian heresy – centered on people willing to step out and advocate in opposition to the mainstream orthodoxy of their time:

At the dawn of a new millenium, reinvigorating Christianity once again may require a return to our spiritual roots. We continue to seek a Jesus who consistently demonstrates that, just when we think we have the answers, there are new questions. When we feel we’ve already run the race, we find we’ve really just begun.

Intrigued? Want to read the entire 360+ page book? Payment is secure through PayPal.
You can purchase the entire book either as a pdf download or as hardcopy.
Click here to order from our catalog.

back to top

Not ready to take the plunge and buy The Twelve Heresies of Christianity?
Click here to download and review a free synopsis of this book.
Copyright © 2002
All rights reserved.