St. Peter’s Second Epistle and Heresy

The email daily devotions from Dynamis have been interesting this week. Here’s a couple from Monday and yesterday.

The Struggle for Orthodoxy on 2 Peter 1:20-2:9:

Sin is the common denominator of all heresy, and the chief sin of every heretic is pride. Any study of heresies during the last two thousand years reveals that arrogant confidence in one’s own ideas invariably draws one away from the “grace and truth” which the Lord “declared” (Jn. 1:17,18).

As the Apostle Peter says: “private interpretation” of the Scriptures with its roots in the “will of man” underlies heretical teaching (2 Pet.1:20,21). For example, in the early fourth century, the Priest Arius, a pastor in Alexandria and a skillful preacher, would not accept the counsel of his Bishop. Instead, he persisted in explaining the nature and Person of the Lord Jesus his own way. He declared that the Lord was a creature, and not God. His Bishop said, “Now when Arius and his fellows made these assertions, and shamelessly avowed them, we being assembled with the Bishops of Egypt and Libya, nearly a hundred in number, anathematized both them and their followers.” Arius remained unbending and forced the famous First Council to be convened at Nicaea in AD 325 to repudiate the false teachings he was promoting so aggressively.

The case of Arius also illustrates the Apostle Peter’s second point about heresy: that, without fail, error will deny the nature and essence of the Lord (2:1). St. Athanasios, in striking back at the Arian heresy, said, “But the Fathers…were forced to express more distinctly the sense of the words, ‘from God.’ Accordingly, they wrote ‘from the essence of God…that all others might be acknowledged as creatures and the Word alone as from the Father.'”

The proceedings of various local councils prior to Nicaea, the First General Council, and of several subsequent Councils reveal that it was prerogative, status, and political advantage that fueled Arianism’s advance far beyond the appeal of the heresy itself. St. Peter’s point was affirmed: “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words…” (2:3). Greed for power and position follow naturally in the footsteps of arrogant self-will and pride.

The Allure of Heresy on 2 Peter 2:9-22:

In yesterday’s Epistle (2 Pet. 1:20-2:9), St. Peter revealed that heresy originates in the sins of pride and greed for power and position. False teachers prefer their own ideas and ways of presenting what they believe to be truth. Worse, when they are able to attract others to their beliefs, they become even more deluded by the admiration and recognition of followers. As St. Peter notes: while they think they are free, in fact, they are “…slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage” (vs.19). Such is the tragic state of those who teach heresy: “it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (vs. 21).

Having spoken about the sins and desires that motivate heretics, St. Peter continues in the present portion from his Second Epistle to teach what attracts followers to heretics and their ideas. From the Apostle’s insights, we may consider the steps we should follow to maintain the struggle for Orthodoxy; for no one, while in this life, is wholly free from sin, nor has entirely “…escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (vs. 20). May we ever be alert not to be “entangled in them and [be] overcome” (vs. 20)! In verses 10-18, St. Peter speaks of people who “walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness,” who “count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime,” who have “eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin,” and who are captivated “through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness.” This is the common association between wrong theology and corrupt living. . . .

Such inverted teaching has arisen again in the present, with a host of rationalizations for the same lewdness, perversity, and indulgence plainly condemned in Scripture. The attraction of this approach for the unwary is a permissiveness that makes no demands for purity, holiness, or struggle. Orthodoxy teaches otherwise, as St. Thalassios describes: “the keeping of God’s commandments generates dispassion. The soul’s dispassion preserves spiritual knowledge.”

In addition to blatant self-indulgence which attracts some into heresy, there is the further appeal of “self-will” and “freedom” which is promised by “despising authority” (vs. 10). If one chooses to be “free” of direction and authority, then the spiritual, moral, and reasonable safety provided by Holy Tradition and the Fathers is removed. Recall the current bumper stickers that call one to “Question Authority.” Beloved Orthodox Christians, let us affirm and seek the godly protection and shelter of wise pastoral authority, following in the footsteps of the Holy Fathers.

Finally, St. Peter speaks to persons “who are barely escaping from those living in error” (vs. 18). He is referring to neophytes in the Faith – whether new converts or “cradle” Orthodox – those who have not assimilated the basics of the Faith and are not struggling to “put off the old man and put on the new man” (Eph. 4:22). These are vulnerable to being drawn into heresy.