What are Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism?


Clarify Share Report Asked July 01 2013 Mini Anonymous (via GotQuestions)

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Shea S. Michael Houdmann Supporter Got Questions Ministries
Pelagius was a monk who lived in the late 300s and early 400s A.D. Pelagius taught that human beings were born innocent, without the stain of original or inherited sin. He believed that God created...

July 01 2013 5 responses Vote Up Share Report

Closeup Jennifer Rothnie Supporter Housewife, Artist, Perpetually Curious
Pelagianism is short hand for an ancient heresy of works-based salvation. It doesn't reflect what the monk Pelagius actually believed.

Pelagius was an ascetic monk whose didn't agree with many practices and beliefs of the Catholic church - namely, he did not believe the system of Catholic priests and the Catholic church were necessary for salvation, nor hold to Augustine's doctrine that man could only gain salvation through the church and its sacraments. He also believed unbelievers could choose to do good acts, and believers could choose to sin.

Augustine & others claimed he taught man was basically good and had the ability to achieve salvation through works and the law. [This characterization doesn't fit with Pelagius's own writings: https://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/pelagius_letter_and_confession_to_innocent.htm]

So 'Pelagianism' is more a phrase for what opponents accused him of believing, such as:

1) Adam was created liable to death, and would have died, whether he had sinned or not. [While Adam's sin led to spiritual death, not immediate physical death, scripture heavily implies that if Adam had not sinned he could have ate of the tree of life as God had allowed, and lived forever (Gen 3:22). As such, the idea that he 'would have died' is speculation at best.]

2) The sin of Adam hurt himself only and not the human race. [The entire human race was punished for the sin of Adam, as well as the Earth itself (Gen 3:17-19).]

3) Infants at their birth are in the same state as Adam before the fall. [Infants and the unborn do not escape the death Adam brought into the world, 
though true they don't know good from evil yet.]

4) Neither by the death nor fall of Adam does the whole race of man die, nor by the resurrection of Christ the whole of men rise again. [This is perhaps the most blatantly heretical of Pelagian's alleged beliefs. Scripture states that "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive". Basically, Pelagian was accused of believing that man, potentially, could be perfectly righteous and thus achieve salvation. Yet scripture says that -no man- could achieve perfection via the law (Rom 8:3, Rom 4:13-15), and hence Christ was necessary. Only Christ was perfectly sinless and righteous. While God often called people who devoutly followed Him righteous ((Luke 1:5-6), this is not the same thing as saying that those people had achieved salvation via their own merit. Furthermore, while it is true not all men will be saved, all who have faith in Christ (or faith in the promise, such as the OT saints), will rise again.]

5) The Law introduces men into the kingdom of heaven, just in the same way as the Gospel does. [While the law did act as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, it has no ability to save us (Gal 1:6).] 

6) Even before the coming of Christ there were some men sinless. [Only Christ was completely sinless. Men cannot be perfect via the law (Gal 3:10-14)]

Semi-Pelagianism is a term coined in the 16th century, and refers to an alleged heresy started in the 5th century as an attempted compromise between the views of Augustine and Pelagian. It may also not be an accurate representation of the 3-4 men often pinned as teachers of it.

The basics of semi-pelagianism are: 

1) The sanctifying grace that man receives from God can be merited by human effort, unaided by grace [Contrary to the whole of the gospel, wherein salvation itself is by grace through faith]. 
2) The beginning of faith can be accomplished by human will alone [Contrary to scripture, wherein faith comes by hearing the gospel and by the sacrifice of Christ, not by the works or intellect of man]. 
3) One a man has been justified, grace is no longer needed [Contrary to scripture, as God is always at work in us, disciplining us, blessing us, strengthening us, and countless other graces. The seal of the Holy Spirit as a down-payment of our future inheritance is also an act of grace.]

June 24 2015 9 responses Vote Up Share Report

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