“Be on your guard.” That is a message found constantly in the New Testament. There is much to be alert about. For example, Jesus solemnly warned about false teachers who would come in and deceive his followers. He could speak about “false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15).
He also warned that “false prophets and false Christs shall arise with signs and wonders to seduce even the elect” (Mark 13:22). The Apostle Paul warned of the very same thing. In Acts 20:28-31 we read his words of warning: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!”
He later told Timothy that “in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim 4:1). And Jude also gives warning: “But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.’ These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit” (vv. 17-19).
Plenty of similar warnings are found throughout the NT. So it should come as no surprise when we do in fact find wolves in sheep’s clothing seeking to destroy the church of Jesus Christ. And there is never a shortage of such wolves.
I have recently written up the case of Uniting Church minister Francis Macnab in Melbourne and his particular form of apostasy and heresy. Now we have a story from NSW involving a Catholic priest who is also happy to peddle false doctrine. Here is how one press account puts it:
“The controversy surrounding one of Australia’s most radical Catholic churches, St Mary’s South Brisbane, has escalated into a wider debate over bedrock Christian beliefs. On the line for parishioners of St Mary’s and several other parishes in Queensland and NSW are fundamental church doctrines such as who can celebrate Mass, whether Jesus Christ was God …. In a booklet being sold for $20, a NSW priest, Peter Dresser of Coonamble in the Diocese of Bathurst, insists Jesus was not God and did not think he was God. The booklet is on sale at two Brisbane parishes: St Mary’s and the Wooloowin/Windsor/Kalinga Parish of outspoken Brisbane priest Richard Pascoe. In ‘God is Big. Real Big!’ Father Dresser – who prefers to be known as Peter – says: ‘This whole matter regarding Jesus being God … not only does violence to my own intelligence, but must be a sticking point for millions of people trying to make some kind of sense of the Christian religion … No human being can ever be God, and Jesus was a human being. It is as simple as that’.”
So there you have it. Jesus is a mere man, just like any other. Oh well, I guess for 2000 years the Christian church simply got it wrong. So very nice of the good Priest to sort out the matter for us. We can all just get on with our lives now, knowing that the Christian religion has simply been one big sham.
It is of course hoped that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church will act quickly to deal with this most fundamental form of heresy. The Christian church since the time of Christ has always affirmed the full deity of Christ, along with his full humanity.
This is how the Nicene Creed of 325 puts it: we believe “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made.”
The Council of Chalcedon (451) strongly affirmed the divine/human Christ: “Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man.”
It went on to affirm “one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.”
These affirmations of course are based on how the early church viewed the matter. Both Jesus and his earliest followers were united in their understanding of the deity of Jesus Christ. This is not the place to enter into a detailed examination of all the relevant biblical texts. Indeed, key concepts and terms such as messiah, son of man, son of God, Lord, and so on would need to be examined to present a full picture.
Thus I simply offer here the briefest of outlines as to what the New Testament teaches concerning this topic. Jesus himself spoke of his divine nature quite often:
Mark 14:61-64 – But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death.
John 8:58 – “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”
John 10:30 – I and my Father are one.
Others also attest to his deity:
John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:18 – No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
John 20:28 – Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Titus 2:13 – while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
Heb 1:3 – The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,
2 Pet 1:1 – Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:
1 John 5:20 – We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Of course simply offering passages does not alone make the full case for Christ’s deity. But surely the case is based on what we find in Scripture, and the whole of Scripture must be taken into consideration as we develop such doctrines.
For those wanting a fuller treatment, there are numerous places to turn. Perhaps I can mention just one: the monumental 6-volume work by New Testament scholar N.T. Wright of the UK. His Christian Origins and the Question of God is a mammoth undertaking, looking in thorough detail at the whole discussion. The first three volumes are now available, and take up some 2100 pages.
Suffice it to say that the very heart of the Christian faith is the claim that Jesus Christ is “very God of very God”. Those who deny the deity of Christ strike at the very heart and soul of biblical Christianity. Those who want to present a merely human Jesus have effectively declared themselves to no longer be followers of Jesus Christ, but the very false apostles that Jesus warned about.