Responding to False Teaching
This week on the No More Silos podcast, we are learning about St. Augustine’s response to heresy in the 5th century that applies to how the Church responds to false teaching today. We can learn how to respond to heresy and false teaching in the Western church today from Augustine’s method of teaching in community, relationship, love and soundly scriptural practice. Unfortunately, some of the same heresies Augustine fought against have been revisited upon the church today.
The fifth century church benefited from a long tradition of Christianity in Northern Africa. Traditional trade routes throughout the Mediterranean region along with the roads built by the Romans allowed for a natural evangelism to take place finding homes with the early church Fathers like Cyprian and Augustine in Africa. There were several major heresies in the early church that the church fathers had to work diligently to expose and address both internally and externally. In this context, a heresy is a “willful propagation of a position or perspective that runs against the grain of apostolic teaching and tradition.” In the fifth century, Augustine in his role as Bishop of Hippo participated in developing a theological practice to refute false claims in love and with clarity. He specifically addressed Manichaeism, Donatism and Pelagianism in his sermons, letters, writing and church councils. African church councils, pre-Nicea stood boldly against civic religious idolatry. Tertullian believed that heresy amounts to any teaching that is not supported in scripture. Cyprian developed the conciliar process based on scriptural study that eventually became the foundation of the ecumenical movement helping believers with cultural differences find unity based on scripture and not philosophy. Augustine benefited from and continued these new traditions as Bishop of Hippo. Commanding a knowledge of biblical languages, geography, philosophy, the sciences and building upon his years of training and success in rhetoric, Augustine was able to explain the scriptures in proper context to correct alternative narratives of the gospel message. It was his educated perspective that influenced his initial concern that orthodox Christianity was less sophisticated than other religions and thus he fell into this false belief system. Manichaeism rejected the Old Testament claiming that all religions work together to form a complete doctrine. “After his conversion to Nicene Christianity, in 386, however, Manichaeism was an enduring threat” in Augustine’s view. Responding to Manichaeism for him begins with his second conversion when he realizes that this version of the gospel is not only incomplete but incorrect and so he strives to fix his outlook. He shares his development and journey away from Manichaeism in his “Confessions” and some in “City of God.” The challenge with this particular heretical teaching was that not only had Augustine followed it initially, it did not follow the truth in apostolic tradition or scripture. The reasoning behind this teaching was that creations role was confused and treated equally with the Creator.
 Thomas C. Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2010), 21.
 Christopher A. Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 30.
 Christopher A. Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 29.
 Thomas C. Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2010), 49.
 Elmer L. Towns and Benjamin K. Forrest, A Legacy of Religious Educators: Historical and Theological Introductions (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2017), 24.
 Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 122.
 Johannes Van Oort, “Manichaeism in Augustine’s Sermons: The Case of Sermo 182,” Journal of Early Christian History 5, no. 1 (2015): 151, doi:10.1080/2222582x.2015.11877321.