‘One way to get a Nobel prize in something, you’ve got to break some new ground or discover something no one has ever seen. In the world, the making of a printing press or light bulb changes everything. People still try to invent a better mousetrap. It happens. The phone replaced the telegraph and now our mobile devices, the phone.
Everyone can learn something new from scripture. You might even change or tweak a doctrine you’ve always believed. On the whole, you don’t want to teach from the Bible what no one has ever heard before. The goal is the original intent and understanding of the Author.
From the left comes progressivism. The U. S. Constitution, just over two hundred years old, means something different than when it was written. Loosely constructed, it has a flexible interpretation into which new meanings arise. Hegelian dialectics say a new thesis comes from synthesis of antithesis and a former thesis. Everything can be improved.
Early after the inspiration and then propagation of the Bible, men found new things no one ever saw in scripture. Many of these “finds” started a new movement. People have their fathers, the father of this or that teaching, contradictory to the other, causing division and new factions and denominations. Some of these changes become quite significant, a majority supplanting the constituents of the original teaching.
At the time of the Reformation, it was as if the world first found sole fide and sole scriptura. Men often call justification the Reformation doctrine of justification. This opened a large, proverbial can of worms. Many could read their own Bible in their own language. Others now dug into their own copy of the original languages of scripture. Skepticism grew. “If we didn’t know this before, what else did they not tell us.” It became a time ripe for religious shysters and this practice hasn’t stopped since then.
The Italian, Laelius Socinus, was born in 1525 into a distinguished family of lawyers. Early his attention turned from law to scripture research. He doubted the teachings of Roman Catholicism. Socinus moved in 1548 to Zurich to study Greek and Hebrew. He still questioned established doctrine and challenged the Reformers. Laelius wrote his own confession of faith, which introduced different, conflicting beliefs. They took hold of his nephew, Faustus Socinus, born in 1539.
Faustus rejected orthodox Roman Catholic doctrines. The Inquisition denounced him in 1559, so he fled to Zurich in 1562. There he acquired his uncle’s writings. His doubt of Catholicism turned anti-Trinitarian. The Reformation did not go far enough for Socinus. His first published work in 1562 on the prologue of John rejected the essential deity of Jesus Christ.
Socinus’s journeys ended in Poland, where he became leader of the Minor Reformed Church, the Polish Brethren. His writings in the form of the Racovian Catechism survived through the press of the Racovian Academy of Rakow, Poland. His beliefs took the name, Socinianism, now also a catch-all for any type of dissenting doctrine.
Socinianism held that Jesus did not exist until his physical conception. God adopted Him as Son at His conception and became Son of God when the Holy Spirit conceived Him in Mary, a Gnostic view called “adoptionism.” It rejected the doctrine of original sin.
Socianism denied the omniscience of God. It introduced the first well developed concept of “open theism,” which said that man couldn’t have free will under a traditional (and scriptural) understanding of omniscience.
Socinianism also taught the moral example theory of atonement, teaching that Jesus sacrificed himself to motivate people to repent and believe. His death gave men the ability to be saved by their own works, who weren’t sinners by nature anyway.
The work of Socinus lived on in the belief of early English Unitarians, Henry Hedworth and John Biddle. Socinian belief was helped along also by its position of conscientious objection, a practice of refusing to perform military service. This principle was very popular with many and made Socinianism much more attractive to potential adherents. The First Unitarian Church, which followed Socianism as passed down through its leaders in England, was started in 1774 on Essex Street in London, where British Unitarian headquarters are still today.
As the Puritans of colonial America apostatized through various means, Unitarianism, a modern iteration of Socinianism took hold in the Congregational Church in America. After 1820, Congregationalists took Unitarianism as their established doctrine. The doctrine of Christ diminished to Jesus a good man and perhaps a prophet of God and in a sense the Son of God, but not God Himself.
Spirit of Skepticism
I write as an example of the diversity in the history of Christian doctrine and why it takes place. When you read the beliefs of Socinians, you easily see them in modern liberal Christianity. They influence on religious cults that deny the deity of Jesus Christ.
A limited amount of skepticism wards away the acceptance of false doctrine. Better is a Berean attitude (Acts 17:11), searching the scripture to see if these things are so, and what Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, proving all things, holding fast to that which is good.
As I grew up among fundamentalists and independent Baptists, I witnessed regular desire to find something new in the Bible. Many sermons espoused interpretations I had never heard and didn’t see in the text. A preacher often said, “God gave it to me.” You should know God used the man because no one had seen such insights into scripture.
The same spirit of doctrinal novelty continues today in many evangelical churches. The same practice led Joseph Smith in his founding of Mormonism. Many cults arose in 19th century America under the same spirit of skepticism of established historical doctrines.
The Temptation of Novel Teaching
The temptation of novel teaching preys on anyone. Faustus Socinus accepted many orthodox doctrines of his day. He rejected Christ as fully God and fully human because it was contrary to sound reason (ratio sana). This steered Socinians toward Enlightenment thinking, where human reason took the highest role as arbiter of truth.
Warren Wiersbe wrote that H.A. Ironside, longtime pastor of Chicago’s Moody Church, said, “If it’s new, it’s not true, and if it’s true, it’s not new.” Elsewhere I read that Spurgeon first said that. I don’t know. Clever new interpretations, teachings, and takes on and from scripture corrupt and overturn scriptural, saving doctrines in the hearts of men. They condemn them through all eternity.’https://kentbrandenburg.com/2021/11/22/the-regular-history-of-clever-new-interpretations-teachings-or-takes-on-and-from-scripture-socinianism/