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The Great Schism: A precursor of the Protestants Reformation

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

It is important to note where the Eastern and Western Church came from. The foundations of these separate churches fell along political lines. In 284 AD the Roman Empire effectively split into two entities. The Western half run from Rome and the Eastern half fun from Constantinople, in modern day Turkey.  As the schism politically continued the ‘Roman Empire’ would slowly transform into the Holy Roman Empire (Western Half) and the Byzantine Empire or Byzantium (Eastern Half). Unfortunately, as is often the case when the government is tied to the church, especially when the government has the greater influence, the politics in the state spills over to the church. The strife and political posturing within the church affected the ministries of Cyril and Methodius and would lead to an ultimate schism of the church.

Only about 200 years after the condemnation of the methods and teaching of Cyril and Methodius occurred the unofficial start of Eastern/Western Church Schism occurred. Saturday afternoon July 16th, 1054 Western (or Roman Catholic) church legate – a Papal proxy- named Bishop Humbert walked into the primary church of the Eastern Church, Hagia Sophia, and dropped a papal bull on the pulpit. This papal bull excommunicated the patriarch of the church, Michael Cerularius.

This wasn’t considered a major event at the time but is often, if only anecdotally, considered the spark that aided in the cleaving of the church. As mentioned previously, during this the time of Cyril and Methodius there had been a significant tension between the church already. There were disagreements between the two halves based on political power, territory and (we would agree with this) doctrine.

Political posturing and-headed church leaders aside, there were significant doctrinal differences between the churches. One of the biggest contentions was a simple Latin word, Filioque. This would translate to ‘the Son’. This phrase was an addition to the Nicene Creed in 598 AD. The additions changed the creed to suggest that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son. The Western church focused on the unity of the Godhead, meanwhile the Eastern Church focused on the individuality of the members of the Trinity. Still this was 500 years old and the church was still unified, in part. So much so that in 1095, while under attack from Turks the Eastern Empire called for aid from Pope Urban II who called the first of the crusades.

Nevertheless, this doctrinal issue was festering under the skin for centuries. (It is, at least in some ways, still today. In 2010, as the Pope visited London, a protestor held a make shift sign saying drop the Filioque). Still there were other doctrinal disputes as well. For example, should the liturgy be in Greek or Latin? Rome thought it must be Latin, while Constantinople thought it must be Greek. Should the Eucharist use leavened or unleavened bread? Cerularius called a council and condemned the Pope and the Roman church for the use of leavened bread (amongst other items).

Tensions continued to build and by 1182 there were anti-Latin riots in the Byzantine Empire. And by the 4th Crusade (around 1204 AD), knights, on their way to the Holy Lands, stopped in Constantinople and razed the city, killing many. The differences were pretty clear and the separation pretty evident.

On occasions, councils were gathered in hopes of unification but it was a moot point. In 1234, there was an attempt to discuss these differences but little headway was gained. In the mid-1960s members of both churches met and ‘un-excommunicated’ each other. However, this was largely for show and still little headway was gained, aside from holding masses in each other’s churches. This schism has been so significant that for 962 years no pope had met with the head of the Russian Orthodox church, with Pope Francis meeting with Patriarch Krill meeting in 2016.

Doctrinal differences would play a crucial role in splits throughout the history of the church. And as we march towards the reformation we will see how doctrine will play such an important role in the sanctity of the church (consider Romans 16:17-20).

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Cyril and Methodius: God’s Word in Eastern Europe

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

As we progress through church history leading up to 1517, and beyond, we shouldn’t neglect two brothers born in Thessalonica in the first decades of the 800s. Constantine and Michael were born to an officer in the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire Army. They would both go on to successful careers in education and politics/ministry respectively. However, both felt called to serve the church. As such they would answer the call and serve in Moravia, present day Czech Republic, at the request of Prince Ratislav of Moravia.

Constantine, who would later be known as Cyril, and Michael, who would later be known as Methodius, would begin serving in 863 AD working with the people group that we would know as the Slavs. While the Prince had asked for people to teach the people of Moravia “Christian truths in our own language”, teaching and preaching outside of the Latin language was quite controversial.

Furthermore, we should note that though the great schism of the 1000s had not occurred yet, there was certainly a territorial tension between the Eastern and Western Church. Because of this territorial tension, any cause for dissension and strife was used to jockey for power in the church. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised, whenever the flesh supersedes the Spirit in us, that as the brothers ministered to the Slavic people that those in Western Church would cry foul. For example, the archbishop of Salzburg claimed that the brothers had crossed the invisible line that separated the Eastern and Western Church.

In 868, the brothers were summoned to Rome to defend themselves, successfully, before Pope Adrian II. However, while in Rome, Cyril died. Methodius would go back and continue serving the church and working in the Slavic tongue. Both brothers carried out the call of the Prince, preaching and teaching in the native language. They also worked on an alphabet so that the translation of the bible from Latin to Slavonic could occur. This was an adaptation of the Greek alphabet, at the time of known as Old Church Slavonic or Old Bulgarian. This would be modernized to Cyrillic (named after Cyril), the alphabet used today in countries like Bulgaria, Russia, Czech Republic, Ukraine and many others.

But, any iota that could be used to stir up strife and condemn them was used. The fact that the brothers were teaching in something other than Latin, and the fact that they translated the Bible, was used against them. To multiply the issues was the confluence of division in the church and the political power associated with the church. The brothers had the blessings of Prince Ratislav, but when politics changed so did their blessings. Methodius, he was the only one alive by this point, was jailed and treated poorly because of the “scandalous use of the Slavonic language”. He was only released because Pope John VIII stepped in.

Methodius continued teaching even after Pope Stephen V took power. However, upon Methodius’ death the new Pope condemned the use of the Slavonic language and liturgy, exiling their disciples. However, persecution can help the church grow and it did in this case as well. Their work would develop both the Bulgarian and Serbian Orthodox Churches and the Cyrillic alphabet, opening up literacy and biblical reading to Eastern Europe and Russia. They would also foreshadow other church leaders that we now know as reformers or pre-reformers such as Tyndale, Wycliffe, Waldo and Luther.


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Pelagius vs. Augustine

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

Throughout the history of the church there have been a number of debates between the work of humans towards righteousness and the work of God in granting grace, especially when related to our salvation. We might turn to Romans or Galatians and see Paul’s argument regarding the law vs grace. Outside of scripture we might think of the Council of Dort and their weighing of the arguments of Arminius and their standing with John Calvin (this debate we still seen significantly in the church today) or even Luther’s argument with the Dutch humanist Erasmus, of which Luther wrote ‘The Bondage of the Will’ as a response. However, as one might expect, this fight has been  going on throughout the church ever since Paul and the Judaizers. One of the most notable debates on the topic was between Augustine and the British monk Pelagius.

The catalyst for this 5th century debate arose from a published prayer from Augustine. In the text of the prayer was the phrase, “Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire.” Pelagius would take umbrage with the first half of this prayer. He argued that God would never command something that man did not have the ability to do. We can, perhaps, be sympathetic to Pelagius’ view on this give some background information.

Prior to this debate Pelagius had gone on a pilgrimage to Rome and instead of seeing a city on a hill, Pelagius saw a city of hypocrisy and debauchery. Instead of piety and adherence to the Word, those who were part of the church were living like pagans. Pelagius believed that this was because those living in Rome were living under a (according to him) ‘false’ doctrine of salvation through grace. We might see this as taking extreme liberties with Paul’s writings without considering what being a new creation means, or without considering the writings in the Gospels or James. However, Pelagius took to the other ditch and argued that man must work and live rightly according to the law, apart from the works of the Spirit.

As Pelagius contended with Augustine, debate on Baptism and Original Sin ensued. Pelagius argued that Adam’s Sin only effected Adam. Therefore, sin did not pass from Adam to his offspring or to us. We might want to point to Romans 5 as a counter to such a thought. Furthermore, Pelagius argued that grace only aided in obedience to the law and not making obedience possible. Augustine argued strongly on biblical ground. He argued, that while we do have the liberty to choose what to do, we are influenced by our sin nature. As such, our will is in bondage to sin (this concept would be expanded in depth by an Augustinian monk a millennia later).

Augustine argued that the only way for moral liberty, the ability for one to do as God commands wholeheartedly is through the saving Grace of God. After significant debate, Pelagius and his teachings were condemned as heretics.

Related to Pelagius’ teaching was, as it is termed, semi-Pelagianism. This was put forth by Cassian at Marseilles and, like Pelagius’ teachings, was condemned by the church in 529 at the Council of Orange in 529. Semi-Pelagianism affirms original sin, but argues that man has the ability to seek after God (this would be contrary to Romans 3), God’s Grace is a response to this seeking, and it denies predestination. However, as is the way with most heresies, Pelagianism and compromising semi-Pelagianism has reared its heads throughout church history.

Luther debated this topic with Erasmus, a Dutch-Humanistic Catholic who argued for a semi-Pelagian position. The Council of Dort affirmed Calvin’s teaching over Ariminius’ teaching. And we see it today in churches across the globe.

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Augustine: The Doctor of Grace

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

We might think that the concept of total depravity due to original sin and salvation by grace were concepts that arose from the reformation in the 16th century. While the terminology, largely, is associated with the Reformation, the idea (which is wholly biblical) was fought for in the 5th century by a Bishop in Africa, Augustine. Augustine, known as Augustine of Hippo, Bishop Augustine, or the Doctor of Grace, lived from 354 – 430 AD and resided, for the most part in Hippo, Africa in modern day Algeria.

His early life was certainly filled with by lewdness and scandal as a pagan, until he was converted to Christianity in 386 AD. Sometime afterwards, Augustine would pen his autobiography about his conversion and his praise to God in his, notable work Confessions (it can be found here in English: Augustine was bright and a great rhetorician, at one point, prior to his conversion, he taught rhetoric in Milan, Italy. This skill would be used greatly to stand for biblical truth and lead him to be one of the most influential theologians throughout church history.

Two occasions, specifically, would try his skill and intellect and to this day make him a hero of both the Catholic and Protestant Church. The two controversies he faced was against Donatists and Pelagius. The first is held in high regard by the Catholic Church, while the latter in high regard by Protestants.

Donantism, named after an African churchman, Donatus, claimed that the effectiveness of the sacraments administered by priests only had effect if the priests themselves were pure. Specifically, if a priest were to have committed a serious enough sin, any baptism they performed would have been to no benefit. And according to doctrine at the time their salvation could be on the line. Donatus and those that followed him applied this to priests that, under persecution of the Roman Empire, temporarily ‘denied’ Christ. Augustine fought against this position claiming that the purity of the church is made up of the church not the individual. His doctrine of the church or magisterium makes him as a hero of the Catholic church.

Later, Augustine would stand strong against the English Priest, Pelagius. Pelagius believed, and taught, that there was no such thing at original sin and that people started sin free and had the capacity on their own of living and may not need Christ. Augustine stood strong against this and argued for Grace, what we would say now, grace alone. It is a beautiful doctrine and one that would be revived due to Augustinian monk 1100 years later, Martin Luther. This debate is an important one to consider and so we will consider this in more depth next week.

Augustine would die, at the age of 75 in Hippo, Africa during the siege of the town by Vandals. Vandals, while holding a different connotation today, were a group of barbarians that were known for their destructive force, hence the name.


If you are interested in reading more check out these:


Athanasius: Standing for Orthodoxy against the World

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

Arianism is an ancient heresy put forth by Arius, a priest from Libya in the early part of the 4th century. Arianism proclaimed that Jesus was not divine but was the first created being of God. Because of his first creation Jesus should have a greater standing than we but was not eternal nor God. His basis for this was, amongst others, Colossians 1:15, He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

While we today, in true Christianity, would reject this argumentation it became the orthodox Christology of the church during the time. Aside from standing contrary to the biblical teaching John 1, Hebrews 1, the next verse of Colossians 1 and elsewhere, it also has impact on our soteriology or understanding of salvation. Furthermore, the theology of Arius can be directly linked to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam and, to some extent, Mormonism. Jehovah’s Witnesses suggest that Christ was actually a created being; more so, he was the Archangel Michael incarnate. In fact, if you were to read their translation of John 1:1 you might pick up this theology expressed. Instead of reading: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God; the New World Translation reads: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a god. It is a subtle difference but one that again has great implication in our salvation. Likewise, Muslims will argue that Jesus was a created being and the greatest Prophet (aside from Muhammad), even reserving the designation of Peace Be Upon Him every time his name is mentioned. He will also come back and judge us. However, he was a created being by a Unitarian (not Trinitarian) God. Along this line, Mormons believe that Jesus, who was divine, was the spirit child of God the Father and a spirit wife and the brother of Lucifer.

Had Athanasius not fought steadfastly we may have stood with them in heresy. He too, was concerned with soteriology. To him if Jesus was not divine, he might be able to atone for his sins, but not ours and certainly not be able to save us. He is quoted as saying ‘Those who maintain, ‘There was a time when the Son was not’ rob God of His Word, like plunderers.’ As a creature Christ would not be God’s Word, he also would not have truly Divine attributes and could change not be the pure lamb to be sent.

As the deacon assistant to the, then, Bishop of Alexandria (aptly named Alexander), Athanasius traveled to Nicea to discuss this teaching. It was there condemned, the initial Nicene Creed was written and Arius was exiled. However, it wouldn’t be long before Arius was reinstituted into the church. In fact, Emperor Constantine, who called for the council to be formed, ordered Athanasius (by now he had succeeded Alexander as the bishop) to restore Arius. Which he refused and with this refusal, along with a number of lies against him, caused Athanasius to be exiled to an area in western Europe not far from the modern city of Luxembourg.

Shortly thereafter, Constantine died and with the exile of Athanasius, Arianism spread. Even though Athanasius was later restored, Arius’ teaching was so influential that over the course of 20 years Athanasius would be exiled three more times. At one point, a colleague of his remarked that the World was against him. To which Athanasius replied, ‘Athanasius contra mondum’, or ‘then it is Athanasius against the World’.

However, Athanasius would continue to fight for the trinity and would eventually win ‘against the world’, restoring biblical orthodoxy on the Trinity to the world and giving us an incredible church father to look up to as well as a predecessor to the Reformers of the 16th century who would again be forced to stand against the world.


A creed on the trinity is named after him, which you can read here:

The Nicene Creed, of which he worked on, can be read here (it has been revised since Athanasius time):

For more reading on Athanasius and Arianism see the links below:


A Short Background on the Papacy

Posted under: Reformation — Tags: , , — by Leroy Demarest

Roman Catholic tradition can trace their leadership all the way back to the New Testament Period and the Apostle Peter. Based off of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16 and Christ’s response to him, namely that Christ would build his church on ‘this rock’ (Peter means rock) and that he would be given the keys of the kingdom. This, in Catholic tradition, gave Peter primacy over all other Apostles and church leaders. His position would then, according to tradition, be passed on from bishop to bishop all who have the rule of the church and in 1870 (during Vatican Council I) would be given the designation of infallible when prescribing church doctrine.

As one might imagine, the first few ‘Popes’ or leaders of the Roman church did not live very long under Roman persecution. Tradition teaches that Peter was crucified, upside down, in 67 AD. This would be just before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, which at the time was largely considered, for obvious reasons, as the center of Christianity. After Peter died, Linus, Anacletus and Clement, who died in 97 AD, served as popes. This is of course according to Catholic tradition. Clement, an early church father, did serve as the Bishop of the Roman Church, much like Timothy served in his Church or Cyprian or Tertullian served in theirs. His letter to the Corinthian Church, years after Paul’s epistles, can still be read ( This is often considered, in Catholic tradition, as an Apostolic Epistle to a subordinate church. However, this letter is better read as a letter from one church pastor to another admonishing them to repent and turn back to the Lord. Apparently, the Corinthian church learned little from Paul’s exhortations.

Things would change significantly, as the Roman rule began to soften towards Christianity, the most notably event being the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 312 AD. While there is debate about his true conversion, this certainly changed the State’s view towards Christianity.  It shouldn’t be surprising that those in the church closest to Rome and specifically the emperor saw their power began to conglomerate in Rome.

Power would continue to grow in Rome and would make great strides after 410 AD with the sacking of Rome. The empire was slowly losing power and influence in the world as was the emperor, especially as he was now no longer considered semi-divine. Debate still remains as to the what, how and when Rome fell, but this certainly was a significant milestone in the descent. Meanwhile, the church in Rome was strengthening its role in the state.  By this time, the 40th pope sat on the seat of Peter. However, most of these popes were very short-lived and in some cases, they had overcome those that the Catholic church now deems as antipopes (but at the time certainly confusion about who was the true pope abounded).

Great strides in the papacy occurred in 440 AD with the appointment of Leo I or Leo the Great. Sometimes, he is considered the behind the scenes emperor of Rome as well during the chaos that was Rome at the time. He is credited, accurately or not, with talking down Attila and Gaiseric the Vandal from utterly destroying the city of Rome during their rampage in 452 and 455 respectively. Ruling for 21 years as ‘pope’ allowed Leo to concentrate power in a number of ways. These included defining Catholic doctrine (early doctrine that is, things like Apocryphal book canonization, Papal infallibility and the immaculate conception would come much later), supremacy of the Bishop of Rome over all other Bishops and he makes strides in the power of the Pope over the state as well, which Pope Gregory the Great would capitalize on 150 years later.

As we continue to think about the Reformation, the build-up of power in Rome and the movement away from biblical truth (and in some cases their return) will be explored. While the reformation occurred 1000 years after these events, this sets the backdrop for the need for reformation.


Resources for further reading:

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