The Canons of the Council of Orange – 529 AD – A MUST READ.

The Council of Orange played a very prominent role in the defining of doctrine and theology within the church to defend against heresy. But what was the heresy they condemned? Pelagianism. But how is this relevant at all today? Because elements of this heresy are holding us, the church, captive in our thinking. But how? As R.C. Sproul says in his article entitled Augustine and Pelagius,

Humanism, in all its subtle forms, recapitulates the unvarnished Pelagianism against which Augustine struggled. Though Pelagius was condemned as a heretic by Rome, and its modified form, Semi-Pelagianism was likewise condemned by the Council of Orange in 529, the basic assumptions of this view persisted throughout church history to reappear in Medieval Catholicism, Renaissance Humanism, Socinianism, Arminianism, and modern Liberalism.”

Both the Council of Orange and the Roman Catholic Church condemned pure Pelagianism as heresy, but the Council of Orange went a step further (rightfully so) and condemned semi-pelagianism as heresy as well. Full blown Pelagianism, as described by Adolph Harnack, is this:

“Nature, free-will, virtue and law, these strictly defined and made independent of the notion of God – were the catch-words of Pelagianism: self-acquired virtue is the supreme good which is followed by reward. Religion and morality lie in the sphere of the free spirit; they are at any moment by man’s own effort.”

Pelagianism essentially denies original sin (that man has inherited sin from Adam), and states that man is born in a true natural state of innocence (i.e. without a sin nature at all), and that he can be good enough to attain perfection of his own works and deeds. This essentially is a revisiting of the same error man is naturally inclined to follow: moralism, that man can attain to perfection independent of a work of God in the life of the individual, based upon his own works. The notion that man is saved by grace at all infuriated Pelagius. The theological ramifications of this heretical error are alive and well today in the church; and even if the church as a whole doesn’t buy into full blown pelagianism (which many liberal churches are already embracing in their theology), the church is definitely biting on the bait of semi-pelagianism.

What’s the difference between Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, and Calvinism? Pelagianism states man can attain perfection on his own without God at all; Semi-Pelagianism states man takes the first steps toward God for salvation (that faith is produced by the unregenerate human nature – JWH); Arminianism states that God takes the first steps in salvation and that man then adds a response of faith (that faith is produced by an “island of righteousness” within the unregenerate man – JWH); and Calvinism states that it is every man’s duty to believe in Christ, but man is dead in sin, unwilling and unable (because of sin) to turn to God for salvation, his entire being is bound in the chains of sin (including his will), that God must first come and undo the chains of sin on every facet of his existence on His own time, and then effectually regenerate the unregenerate man in order that his spiritual eyes are opened, his ears unclogged, and he then, of his own will, is able and willing to believe in Christ.

I ask you to look at the cross of Christ, see our Savior hanging on the tree for sinners, and tell me which is more Biblical. I’m not asking you to exalt a system of theology above the Scriptures. But I am asking you to look at these options, look at the cross of Christ, see what the cross says about man’s nature, that man would nail God to a cross, what it says about God’s freedom and sovereignty in the midst of the cross, as well as His love, and tell me which is more accurate to the words of Scripture.

Pelagianism is an error that desperately needs to be readdressed within the church because there is a greater and greater resurgence of this error that is flattening the pure message of the Gospel, that God sovereignly saves sinners by grace alone through faith alone in Christ’s blood. The Council of Orange in 529 AD condemned Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism as heresy and we as a church would do well to recondemn it.

Scriptures Pertaining to This, The Infallibly Authoritative Word of God:

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” [Man will not and cannot submit to God apart from the work of the Holy Spirit alone to change his disposition and ability] – Romans 8:7

“And you [believing Ephesians] were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:1-5

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” [Faith is clearly shown here to be the grace and gift of God] – Ephesians 2:8

“And I am sure of this, that he [God] who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6 [Notice who Paul references as beginning his salvation. Take note of Paul’s conversion experience in Acts as well; he was on his way to Damascus with letters to throw believer’s in prison when God stunned him with his glory. How much clearer can that be?]

Summing up man in his natural state: “As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’ ‘Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.’ ‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’ ‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’ ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.'” – Romans 3:10-18

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born [a prerequisite to believing], not of blood [bloodlines don’t determine salvation] nor of the will of the flesh [man cannot morally work hard enough to born again] nor of the will of man [this couldn’t be clearer! man cannot force his will contrary to its natural state in sin], but of God.” [God alone effects regeneration in an unregenerate people He’s chosen for Himself in order that they cannot help but believe, being stunned by the glory and beauty of God.] – John 1:12-13

Quoting Jesus: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:44

“We love him, because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19 [Notice that God loving us is the very reason we love Him, i.e. He initiates the love at the cross which changes us and gives us a new nature that wills to love Him.]

“Whoever believes in him [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out [or wrought] in God.” [In other words, the fact that anyone believes proves God already worked in their hearts to draw them to Himself, that it’s a work of God alone.] – John 3:18-21

“So then it [meaning the granting of God’s mercy] depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” – Romans 9:16 [We must understand here that contextually, Paul is explaining why not all of Israel is saved and is cut off from Christ, but that rather only a remnant is saved. Why else would Paul be willing to cut Himself off from Christ for the sake of His kinsmen unless he was referring to their betrayal of the Messiah at the official level of Israel, that as a whole Israel is eternally lost? And if Israel as a whole is lost, what are we as Gentiles to make of the promises iterated in chapter 8? Will God’s word fail us? But Paul, in Romans 9:7 – 11:36, substantiates his argument in verse 6 that the word of God indeed does not fail, mainly because God never promised He would save every single Israelite, but His mercy towards individual people depends solely on His will and timing, not in any way on man’s willing or running. This could not be clearer in verse 16.]

David attests: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” – Psalm 51:5

Isaiah states: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” – Isaiah 64:6

(Insertions and emphases mine)

Other articles and resources pertaining to this:

The Canons of the Council of Orange – 529 AD – A MUST READ.
Augustine and Pelagius – R.C. Sproul EXCELLENT!
Pelagianism – R. Scott Clark
The Pelagian Captivity of the Church (PDF) – Dr. R.C. Sproul