An interesting characteristic of the Church of Christ is that they definitely know what they don't believe and love to point out where other denominations have gone wrong, in their opinion, but ask them what exactly they believe, and it's not always so clear.
While discussing Church history with some CoC members recently, the topic of Pelagianism arose and I decided to check it out. I'm still in the process of learning about all the various heresies, so it was interesting to learn that the CoC is very Pelagian in their beliefs!
Check this out, from Catholic Answers:
Much of its appeal lay in Pelagius's zeal: "[H]e set to work preaching against the lukewarm morality that had entered so many Christian circles. Soon the stricter Christians were flocking to his sermons."..(Here we see a foreshadowing of the appeal of present-day Fundamentalism, which may be weak theologically, but is strong morally--and therefore attractive.)
"Pelagianism was based on a very respectable moral rigorism, but its anxiety to champion man's free will and to urge him on to sanctity resulted in its denying original sin and the necessity of divine grace: For the Pelagian, access to the Kingdom is made possible by baptism, and since perfect sanctity is an obligation and a possibility for everyone, it rests with each individual Christian to merit eternal life by his conduct, modeled on the precepts and example of Christ."
Bingo! No wonder I grew up with a kind of vague idea of what grace was and why we needed it, or if we did at all. Underneath it all we believed we could simply avoid sin and be "good enough" all on our own. It sounds easy enough in theory...we have free will, we can choose right or wrong, all we have to do is choose right. Who needs grace to do that, right?
Since Adam's sin was personal, argued Pelagius, everyone is born sinless, there being no such thing as original sin. (In modern parlance, we are all immaculately conceived.) This makes infant baptism useless; a child, being incapable of sin, needs no washing away of sin, and an infant who dies goes immediately to heaven. Baptism should be reserved for adults.
This is certainly right on track with CoC beliefs!
Then why, one might ask, is sin so prevalent? Pelagius speculated that, from childhood, we contract the habit of sinning and this habit become second nature. The newborn child is as pure as Adam and Eve at their creation, but, as he advances in age, the child learns to sin from those around him. Specifically, he learns from the bad examples of his elders, and then he becomes a bad example himself. If he were isolated from the "contagion," he could grow into a sinless adult, but no one grows up in complete isolation. Pelagius's problem, wrote a historian of dogmas, is that "[h]e saw only guilty individuals, not a whole sinful human race."
Again, since the CoC is often kind of vague on their beliefs, I can't say with certainty, but I think they would agree with the above. (I especially think the part in bold is relevant, more on that later.) However, I don't think they would go quite this far:
Since the human race does not labor under original sin or any other consequences of the Fall (since the Fall affected only Adam and Eve), there was no need for a redemption as such--there was nothing to be redeemed from. Why did Christ come then? To give us an example, to be a role model. Adam was the bad role model, Christ the good.
I know the CoC sees Christ as their savior, and would say they could not be saved without Christ...although, I'm not sure if they've thought through their theology here, because if they think they can be good enough on their own (even theoretically) I'm not sure why Christ's sacrifice would be necessary.
Now, hold onto your hats, look at this next part:
"As spiritual director, [Pelagius] became tired of hearing men excuse themselves for sin and tepidity on the plea of human frailty. To such alibis he gradually developed the retort that these were but excuses for indolence [and that] every man is quite capable of perfection by his own efforts provided that he only apply them to action."
How often do we hear of the pressure CoC members feel to be perfect? And of the judgemental attitudes and condemnation when someone fails to live up to perfection? THIS IS WHY!!! Because they don't believe grace is really all that necessary, they believe you really can do it all on your own if you just try hard enough. Remember that "guilty individual" thing mentioned previously? When people are having a hard time, there is a sternness of attitude that basically implies that it shouldn't be all that hard...just do it! Just choose not to sin! Why can't you do that? You have free will, it's simple enough, just don't sin! And then we sat around wondering why we were so weak that we couldn't make a simple choice not to sin. I mean, they made it sound like picking out which color socks to wear...just pick them! What's so hard about that?
Aaahhh...the pickles we get ourselves into when we miss crucial aspects of human nature, and in this case especially our *fallen* human nature. We set ourselves up for failure time and time again because we rejected, or simply didn't realize the necessity of grace. We cannot do good without it! It seems pretty clear from scripture that this is, indeed, the case:
Phil. 2:13 - For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.
John 15:5 - I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.
Another quote on Pelagianism from the Catholic Encyclopedia made an interesting assertion:
[Pelagianism] laid down the proud assertion that the sovereign will may ultimately raise itself to complete holiness and impeccability (impeccantia, anamartesia) through the persevering observance of all the precepts, even the most difficult, and through the infallible triumph over every temptation, even the most vehement. This was an unmistakable reproduction of the ancient Stoic ideal of virtue. For the self-confident Pelagian, the petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation", served, properly speaking, no purpose: it was at most a proof of his humility, not a profession of the truth. (emphasis mine)
The proud assertion...self-confidence...pride...what was that post I had a while back on arrogance? It all makes sense when one looks at the Pelagian beliefs, the boostrap theology. If we are all depending upon ourselves to be "good enough," we'll end up being self-centered instead of Christ centered. And that's why it's so important to recognize the necessity of God's grace.
It was interesting to see the similarities between Pelagianism and the CoC, there is truly nothing new under the sun!