Pelagianism is a heresy founded by and named after a 4th-5th-century British monk, Pelagius. Pelagianism teaches that men are born essentially good and that the human will is free to choose to do good or evil. Pelagianism denies the doctrine of original sin–that man’s nature is corrupt at birth–and goes against the historic teaching of the church that man is unable to achieve righteousness on their own and is dependent solely upon God’s grace alone. The early church father, Augustine of Hippo staunchly opposed Pelagianism and the teaching was officially condemned by the early church in 431 AD at the council of Ephesus.
Key Tenets of Pelagianism
- Denial of original sin
- Sin is solely an act of the free will
- Sinless perfectionism/works righteousness
- Denial of consequences for Adam’s sin
According to Pelagius, repentance and sinlessness (an act of the will) are what is necessary to attain salvation. The cross was not a priority in Pelagius reasoning and, in his view, Christ did not come to atone for sin, but to model the perfection of men that was necessary to attain salvation. While they do not explicitly deny Jesus as savior, the understanding of salvation is to become like Jesus rather than be covered by Jesus.
You will realize that doctrines are inventions of the human mind, as it tried to penetrate the mystery of God. You will realize that Scripture itself is the work of human minds, recording the example and teaching of Jesus. Thus it is not what you believe that matters; it is how you respond with your heart and your actions. It is not believing in Christ that matters; it is becoming like him. –Pelagius
Sadly, many modern-day street preachers hold to this Pelagian heresy and should be condemned. One of the giveaways of these street-preachers is their obsession with bright, fluorescent clothing and signage that focuses on repentance with little to no focus on the cross or grace. Signs will often say things like “Stop Sinning” or “Turn or Burn” along with graphic pictures of hellfire or of other provocative nature. While not every one of these street preachers holds to every tenet of Pelagianism, it’s influence is largely seen in how their evangelism is carried out and to what their focus is upon.
Modern Day Proponents of Pelagianism
- Jesse Morrell
- Tony Evans, a Southern Baptist
- John Locke
- Charles Finney
- Ruben Israel
- Westboro Baptist Church
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