This post is a companion to the Heretics podcast found on the Podcast tab at the top of this page; and a continuation in our series of looks at the ancient heresies of the church and a refutation of them using good theology and hermeneutics.
Time for a little Middle Eastern mysticism wrapped in a warm blanket of Christianese; it is time for Mani. And thanks to the discovery of the 5th century Codex Manichaicus Coloniesis (the Cologne Mani Codex); we actually have some information, although potentially hagiographic, about the man, the myth, the legend, the heretic.
Mani was born in modern Iran, ancient Babylonia, in 216; and died in prison under persecution in 274. His father was a member of Elcesaites, who we will not go into at all. The Elcesaites, were an offshoot of the Ebionite heresy and were strongly condemned by our boy, Hippolytus (Refutation of All Heresies, Book 9, chapters 8 – 13); as well as Eusebius and Epiphanius. This is not a good start, being raised in a Babylonian heterodox/heretical group does not good foundations make.
Apparently, Mani received visions from angelic beings at the ages of 12 and 24. These visions commissioned him as a prophet of the “true gospel of Jesus”. Always works like that, nobody in these sects is ever called to be Jeremiah, or John the Baptist. They are always called to be “the guy”; it is truly amazing how that always happens that way. And they are always called to restore the lost faith; never to confirm the Apostolic or prophetic witness: always to something new; weird. Mani took his calling, and traveled to India, where he studied both Hinduism and Buddhism. This study built up in Mani, a syncretistic religious system that borrowed from Christianity, Buddhism, and even Zoroastrianism.
His doctrinal rundown would include the heretical greatest hit’s list of: dualism, multiple creations, pantheistic and panentheistic “deities”, and a hierarchy of followers based upon how devout they were. Mani was dualistic in both the heavenly and worldly sense. In the heavenly sense, his dualism saw competing powers of light and dark. In the worldly sense, a Gnostic influence would elevate the spiritual over the physical/material as good and righteous. Thus Manichaean salvation would be a “release of light” and return to the “father of lights”. Good times.
Oh Manichaeism, what is heretical about thee; let me count the ways. The problem with this heresy is not the difficulty in finding the horrendous teaching because it is so cleverly hidden. The problem with this heresy is narrowing down which awful teaching to tear apart first. Therefore, our goal is to not lose the forest for the trees. We’ve done this before on Heretics, and probably will again: our goal is to see the overarching “big picture” doctrinal problem, which will then allow us to streamline our corrective by grounding us in the cardinal teachings of the faith.
For starters, for reasons we will get to shortly, Mani has the wrong definition of God. With his dualistic framework and multi-creation setup; the Manichaean understanding of God is off from the start. I say that because Manichaeism rejects the Biblical understanding of God. How do they do that?
Well, God is the creator as Genesis 1:1 makes obvious. Notice this about your Bible; Scripture spends less than no time proving God. The Bible simply and rightly assumes God, because to do otherwise would be foolish (Psalm 14:1 – 3), and the Bible is concerned with Godly wisdom and instruction (Proverbs). God is the obvious Creator, the One from whom all things owe their beginning and end (Psalm 24:1 – 2). More than that however, God is our sustainer.
He is the One to whom we owe, not just the beginning of our existence, but its continuation as well. God upholds all things (Colossians 1:15 – 17), and that is a good thing, because if He did not; we would be in big trouble. The eternal immutability (fancy theological word for unchanging) of God means that His upholding work is right and good; based upon His character, as revealed in Scripture. Therefore, we can trust His work (Malachi 3:5 – 6), and also trust the produce He is building in us as well (James 1:17, Romans 8:28).
And of course, all of this is possible because God is the solitary Almighty of everything. He is the one and only eternal power at work (Isaiah 45:5). This means, He alone is the One who will absolutely accomplish anything and everything in this universe (Isaiah 14:24). This solitary rule extends to the things of Earth (Psalm 2), as well as the heavenly spheres where sinful humans imagine other supposed gods to take their stand, and do their work.
That leads us to our second big picture idea: cosmology. All of this stuff comes from God, and God alone as we have already said; and this idea is constant in Scripture. As a case in point, even Job, when in the midst of his grumbling (9:5 – 10); acknowledged the singular power and might and rule of God over creation. Our universe is one of order, not chaos; control, not division; singular rule, not dualistic jockeying (1 Corinthians 14:33). God has not failed in His creation, nor has He started over. Even in His judgment (Genesis 6 – 8); God did not lose sight over His ultimate goal of restoration and redemption (Romans 8:19 – 22).
This idea leads us to the next “big thing”: the exclusivity of Christ. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere; does the Bible or Christian theology remotely allow for any redeemer or worker to come anywhere near the same standing or footing as Christ in regards to anything: but certainly not in regards to His salvific work.
Jesus’ own testimony in the Upper Room discourse (John 14 – 17, although some theologians like to add chapter 13 as well); shows this exclusivity. Jesus is: the way, the truth, and the life: no one (not someone) NO ONE(!!!!) comes to the Father, save for through the work of Jesus (John 14:6). Peter’s sermon at Pentecost concludes with an appeal exclusively to the work of redemption in Christ (Acts 2:37 – 42). Another Petrine sermon in Acts 4:12, contains the admonition that no other name saves or redeems people; only under the banner of Jesus can salvation be brought to men. Jude likewise in his epistle (v. 3) proclaims and defends the one faith handed down. There is Christ as Savior, and He shares this work and the glory for this work (Philippians 2:5 – 11) with no other entity.
Not multiples, not dualisms: a singular salvation, wrought by a singular Savior, applied to singular people across the ages and continents. No other system or religion concocted by men brings this; not a one. This is why Paul was so angry with the Galatians (1:6 – 9); they abandoned the faith for a lie, and were in danger of making shipwreck of their souls (1 Timothy 1:18 – 19). Mani, through his syncretistic dualism; peddles the same lie. The Gospel has only one message (Ephesians 4:4 – 6), and the believer would do well to proclaim and cling to it (Romans 1:16 – 17).
Now if you have not noticed yet, all of our big ideas can be summed up in one other big idea: the twisting of Scripture. Mani and his followers borrowed and stole from various worldviews (many of which were based in what we would term Eastern Mysticism) in an effort to synthesize human worship. This is a great way to build a following, tell everyone they are partially correct and fill in the gaps with each other’s worldview. This is the post-modern world in a nutshell; proving once again, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
This means en masse, they, and those who do the same today, engaged in the lie of the Garden (Genesis 3:1); and that is no surprise as Satan has no new tricks up his sleeve. Instead, he attempts to lead people astray by the same obfuscation and delusion he has always used (2 Corinthians 11:12 – 15). That is the warning of Scripture (Jude 17 – 19), and God’s people would do well to pay heed to it and gird themselves for the spiritual battle we all must face (Ephesians 6:10 – 17).
So how do we, as God’s people, stay safe from this heresy? This is the question, as Manichaeism held on in some parts of Asia into the 14th century; and its offspring and cousins are still infecting the world today. That is a long time to lead people astray and we should give credit where it is due; Mani, and by extension Satan, came up with a good one.
For starters we must build rightly. This is the first mistake of Mani, and perhaps the most tragic of all as it is not really even his fault, based on his upbringing. We must remember our starting point is never us and our brilliance; we do not have any. 1 Corinthians 1:26 – 31 makes it clear, our boasting and praise is in God. This is true, because the knowledge of my sin crushes my pride and boasting. My further inability to cure my sin or overcome my separation from the blessing of God should ultimately also destroy my self-reliance.
That is why, God in His mercy (Ephesians 2:4 – 7), receives the praise. He is my Savior (Romans 3:21 – 26). He is my all-in-all (Colossians 1:18). He is the Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 1:8). He is the sinless sacrifice (John 1:29). He is the fulfillment of the ages (John 5:39 – 47). He is the great King (Daniel 4:34 – 35). He is the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15). He is God, and I am not. Therefore, He is my standard (Hebrews 12:1 – 2); the One to whom I look to explain the unexplainable (John 1:14 – 18). When I recognize this, I am rightly brought low (James 4:10), and rightly pointed to God as my wisdom and strength (Proverbs 3:5 – 7).
This is why we must be grounded in Scripture. Our faith is not based in philosophy, even when we like the philosophy and her conclusions. Our faith is based in God: both His nature and His work; and we learn of those things in His revealed word. God has graciously provided for us the defeat of our fierce enemies (1 Peter 5:6 – 11). In that provision He has: equipped, prepared, strengthened, guided, and comforted us (Psalm 23).
We are now called to work diligently. We must know the Word and proclaim her truths rightly (2 Timothy 2:15). Only then are we doing the work of a disciple: being transformed, by growing in our knowledge and faith (Romans 12:1 – 2). Then we are capable of doing the work God has called us to; fulfilling our gifts and being a blessing to the body and to the world (Ephesians 4:11 – 16).