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Five Christian heresies that made the modern world

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God does not bodily descend into the world without changing it forever. Those who fear our culture is returning to paganism are wrong: Our culture is developing an uneasy mix of pagan worldview saturated with perversions of Christian teaching. For example:

Redistribution of wealth may have begun with Jesus’ words to the Rich Young Ruler, which the early church in Jerusalem took literally: “They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45). Though temporary, it’s the first documented instance of creedal, rather than tribal, redistribution, a principle later tried by countless utopian communes in Europe and America. Karl Marx’s version—“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”—sparked a revolution. It failed morally as well as practically because it violated the Christian principle of voluntary giving. Still, forced redistribution as a policy refuses to die. Until, perhaps, it drowns us in debt and entitlement.

Universal brotherhood. Wait—isn’t this true? Didn’t Paul preach that “[God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth”? And didn’t he go on to quote the poet Epictetus: “We are indeed his offspring” (Acts 17:26, 28)? Yes, and Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was not just a turning point in the Church but in all of world history. The truth that each person is created in the image of God, regardless of color or status, appeared first in the Judeo-Christian tradition and became the bedrock of all human rights crusades.

The modern world extrapolates from individual worth to insist that cultures are equally valid—except perhaps Western culture, where the idea took root. Multicultural outreach is a Christian idea; multiculturalism is an ideology.

Forced redistribution as a policy refuses to die. Until, perhaps, it drowns us in debt.

“Follow your heart.” There are over 600 Scriptural references to the heart, all of them relating to personal conviction, personal conscience, or the individual’s standing before God: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). In the ancient world, self-contemplation was for philosophers, while the masses were supposed to accept their lot in life and keep noses to grindstones. Augustine’s Confessions, a “heart biography,” was the first of a genre that defined Western contemplation and reflection, but Augustine was only expanding on Paul the soul searcher and David the psalm singer: “Test me, O God, and try my heart.”

From “try your heart” to “follow your heart” is a one-word change and an epoch-making leap, from self-examination to self-sovereignty. Among other vexations, it’s led to an obsession with personal identity and demands for backup from society in general.

“Just believe.” Faith is central to Judaism, even more so to Christianity: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). But aren’t all religions based on faith? Not so much—some measure of belief is assumed in all religions, but not “counted as righteousness.” Christianity’s emphasis on faith has devolved to faith in faith and living your truth. Religion in general is reduced to “faith traditions.” Though most local ministries are specifically Christian, the “faith-based” label washes out that distinction and implies all faiths are equally valid.

False humility. In the ancient world, humility was a virtue only for the humiliated—those who by birth or circumstance could never approach the social ladder. Shockingly, Christians worshipped a God who humbled Himself to a shameful death and commanded His followers to serve not rule. Ever since, it’s bad form to brag. But because true humility requires an encounter with the Holy Spirit, this Christian virtue is easily twisted into forms like humble-bragging, false modesty, and apologies that turn breast-beaters into the virtuous “woke.”

There’s more: Original sin morphs into systemic guilt; responsible stewardship becomes radical environmentalism; “gospel” can be any new thing that promises self-fulfillment. God descends; the world changes. And Christians must be ever watchful to guard true revelation from its many counterfeits.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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