Thursday, October 04, 2007

Being against heresies is not enough

In Revelation 2 Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for their willingness to act in the face of error. They have shown discernment over the difference between true and false apostles, and having tested them they have actively rejected the false. Because of this they receive approving words from the glorified Son of God.

Whether or not churches today think this kind of discernment is a good thing is besides the point. Doubtless there is far too much confusion about the godliness, or not, of discernment, and far too much latitude when it comes to tolerating malevolent theologies. It is possible to find ourselves clashing with Jesus because we weakly accept what he wants to be tested and rejected by churches. And of course the fact ought not to be lost on us that there are no false teachings, that are a clear and present danger to the churches, without there also being false teachers promoting them. Therefore there can be no exercise of discernment by churches without actively opposing those in error.

It is worth bearing in mind that there will be those who accept false teaching because they are sincerely ignorant, or guilty of sincere misinterpretation of what Scripture actually teaches. Damage is still inflicted on the church's health when this happens. The treatment for this is the persuasive power of the Word of God rightly understood. After all, isn't one of the functions of Scripture to correct as well as to teach?

Nonetheless not everyone proves responsive. Which is why Scripture specifies a fair hearing, a fair warning, and a fair rejection of a man who embraces error as spiritually aberrant in his message and his character. By testing, the church at Ephesus had found those who were rejects in the eyes of Jesus because they were "false apostles." This surely is good orthopraxy.

Whatever impression we have of these things among ourselves, which at times is as unsettling as watching the wind and the waves, we are called here to look upward to the assessment of Jesus. There may not be a place in our contemporary church culture and publications for the "top 50 discerning churches," but these things do matter to the Son of God. We may not have peer approval, we may be frowned upon for an unloving stance, what does it matter though if He approves of us?

Jesus commends discernment. That is of great worth to churches seeking to honour his truth. If you find yourself in this situation it will put strength and heart into you to know that you have his approval. As Bonar put it:
Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not;
The Master praises: what are men?
Not only is this so, but the church at Ephesus is also found to be persevering, hard working, willing to endure for Christ's name, and all without weariness. In a culture of ease and compromise here are dimensions of church life the very existence of which we ought to be deeply thankful for.

But it is not enough. Being discerning is not enough. Being against heresies is not enough. Being hardworking, persevering, and enduring is not enough. Even such commendable churches can be doomed. Even they can find that Jesus is going to bring them to an end. Such churches can have lost their first love.

Don Carson summarises this so well:
If this church does not repent, it is doomed. The destruction might take two or three generations; it might take longer. But sooner or later the candlestick is removed; sooner or later the church that church no longer finds obedience to the first and second great commandments a delight is sinking into the mire of idolatry and self-love--regardless of how orthodox, active, and zealous it is.
Here is our first duty, our fundamental privilege, our basic worship: to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves. In the midst of suffering, persecution, disability, disappointment, infirmity, tiredness, duty, discipline, work, witness, discernment--in short in the midst of everything--that love remains our first duty, our fundamental privilege, our basic worship still.
When we grow old and calamitously weak, we must love God still; when we look after the chronically ill and think that our horizons are shriveling up, we must love God still; when we are bereaved, we must love God still; when we study and work and build and witness, we must love God still; when we exercise theological discernment, we must love God still. And still, too, must we love our neighbour as ourselves.
So we have returned to love in hard places, the first of the hard places--the hard places of our own hearts, our own souls.
D. A. Carson, Love in Hard Places, p. 185-6

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