Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Burn the heretics?

First the meat, now the veg. Be warned about the sprouts. What's your vision for your Hall, your street, your course, the University? Do you want to see days like those of the New Testament church? Do you want to see great growth and wonders they saw, the word spreading and many added frequently? If so expect trouble. Expect false teaching. Wake up and see it's already here. The big question is how do you deal with it? Help is at hand because most of the NT is written to correct error. Watch for the sprouts.

First let's just check what he was facing. v17. The gangrenous teachings of Hymenaeus [see also 1 Timothy] and Philetus. People who have wandered away from the truth. How? v18, they say the resurrection has already taken place. Not the resurrection of Jesus – Paul himself said in 2v8 that that has happened. More likely they were saying we have all of the future now. Not 'now and not yet'. All now.

Paul wrote to Ephesus and said we're raised and seated with Christ – that much is true. We are alive! But there is more to come. Matthew Henry observed: Whatever takes away the doctrine of the future state overthrows the faith of Christians. Or as Paul said: if only for this life we have hope we are pitiful fools. They said – this is as good as it gets. And Paul replies – gangrene! Toxic! And never creative. Always just good teaching put it in front of a carnival mirror which to skew and distort it horribly. Such errors are obvious in the cults, but they also crop up in the church – maybe not in full-blown form but nonetheless gangrenously eating away at the glory of God's grace.

How does heresy work? G.K. Chesterton noted: Heresy always affects morality if it's heretical enough. Heresy is about beliefs. But it's cause is often moral behaviour. We believe wrong things to permit wrong behaviour – v16-18 indulging, ungodly, wandering away, gangrenous. Belief and behaviour go together. Where are the threats to us? Easy to undercook or overcook food. Too easy to twist the word. And we're all blind to our own errors. We look in the mirror and see exactly what we want to see. None of us thinks we believe wrong things, else we'd stop believing them... How can we deal with it today? How can we deal with trends towards error among us? How could Tim respond in the first century? Two classic approaches...

The first is clinical. Get in there. Short and sharp and cut the problem out. It's bold, it's brash. It's quick. Burn the heretics. Remove the problem.

The second is cosy. Get alongside people. Offer some tea and sympathy and make it all go away. 
What's at stake is how change happens...
What are the dynamics of change for the people of God?

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