Revelation 2:20 and Tolerating Heresy

It always amazes me how many Christians will tolerate heresy within their churches and denominations. Sure, there can be differences of opinions on many different aspects of the faith which are not heretical, but there are denominations that have people in leadership who deny the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, and other central aspects of God.

The letter to Thyatira, contained within Revelation 2, deals with this issue. Jesus dictates seven letters to seven different churches, and this one has issues like this. Jesus praises the church in Thyatira, and then he follows it up with this:

20 But I have this against you: you put up with that woman, Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. You allow her to teach and to mislead my servants into committing sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols.

Jesus counts it as a sin for righteous and faithful people to tolerate heresy being taught within the Church.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the Incarnation of the Living God, we would do well to remember that differences of opinion are one thing, heresy is something completely different. A good starting point to tell the difference would be a few questions:

  • Does this opinion contradict who the Church proclaims God is? Does it deny the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit? Does it try to blend the identity of our God with other gods through teachings, rituals, or other corporate events?
  • Does this opinion lead people to behavior or condone behavior that the Church has taught is immoral?

If any of these questions can be answered yes, then you may want to take Jesus’ warning to Thyatira seriously for yourself.

Jolly old St. Nicholas did not tolerate heresy. He is famous today for giving gifts to children, but he was also famous during his lifetime in the 300s for punching Arius at the Council in Nicaea in 325 when he heard Arius’ position that Jesus was not God but was created.

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Hebrews 6:1-3 and Deepening Faith and Growing in Christ

Have you ever met someone who was a Christian, or at least claimed to be one, and never really changed? They never grew in their faith. They never seemed to have more love of God or neighbor in their hearts. And they always seem to talk about the same subjects when it comes to religion?

This is not what Christianity is supposed to be about. Christianity is about being recreated in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ one step at a time. It is about changing from the inside out, through the power of God, into the person we know we ought to be. It is about allowing God to live in us so that his love can be shed abroad in our lives and the world around us.

Interestingly, the Bible knows it can be difficult for people to get past the initial stages of the faith and grow in Christ. Hebrews encourages Christians:

So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God, of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. We’re going to press on, if God allows it.

Faith. Not trying to earn our salvation. Arguments over baptism. Arguments over ordination. What the resurrection is. The end of the world. This is like a laundry list of topics most churches and denominations argue over and discuss. Frequently. As a matter of fact, if the majority of Christians stopped preaching, teaching, and discussing these topics, I do believe most pastors would be silent and most congregations could hear a pin drop in them.

Perhaps the reason we do not have so many more people living out the Christian faith in such obvious ways as to be considered salt of the earth people or living saints is because they are not moving past the basics about Christ’s word. Perhaps if we spent more time trying to grow deeper in our faith and less time talking or arguing about these topics, we would see more changed lives. Perhaps if we tried to seriously become disciples of Jesus and less time trying to prove why other groups of Christians are wrong, we would see the Kingdom of God come with power.

Just a thought.

Romans 14:1-6 and Judging Others

This is a re-post from earlier this year. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

Having been in a few different Christian traditions over the course of my life, I am amazed how strongly traditions cling to certain practices to the point of disparaging other traditions that do not have those same practices.  In Romans, Paul tries to delicately navigate between Jewish believers and Gentile believers and the one, new community they have created in Christ in that city.  Jewish believers still keep the kosher food laws

and the Gentiles do not keep them (among other differences).  Then Paul gets to this passage:

Welcome the person who is weak in faith—but not in order to argue about differences of opinion.  One person believes in eating everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.   Those who eat must not look down on the ones who don’t, and the ones who don’t eat must not judge the ones who do, because God has accepted them.  Who are you to judge someone else’s servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand).   One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own

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convictions.   Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don’t eat, don’t eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too.

This is a fabulous passage for the situation today.  We have traditions that have a strong practice of fasting during certain times of the year, traditions that advocate abstaining from alcohol, and traditions that have none of those practices.  We have traditions that have numerous holy days throughout the year they celebrate, and we have traditions that may or may not even celebrate Easter as a special day.

What I love about this passage is that Paul does not say which side has the people who have the weaker faith.  The implication is that we assume whoever has a different practice than us has the weaker faith.

You don’t celebrate all the wonderful feasts and festivals commemorating the mighty workings of God throughout history?  You must have a very weak faith and understanding of God.  You don’t understand that God is always at work and no day is different than any other because all days together show God’s redemption?  You must have a very weak faith and understanding of God.

You don’t eat meat?  You must have a very weak faith because God has called all things clean.  You eat meat?  You must have a very weak faith because eating meat was a concession after the flood and God intended us to be vegetarians.

You drink alcohol?  You must have a weak faith because alcohol impedes the growth in grace we are to have in order to be sanctified.  You don’t drink alcohol?  You must have a weak faith because only drunkenness is condemned in the Bible.

Paul writes in 14:13, “So stop judging each other.”  If we have certain practices such as these, and we sincerely follow them out of love for Christ, then we are fine in his eyes.  And it is perfectly fine for others to have opposite practices such as these and sincerely follow them out of love for Christ.  It is not our role to judge Christ’s servants.  We have not been given that authority.

Let us all live in love for Christ.  If we do this, then that love ought to spill over into love for each other–irrespective of our individual tradition’s expectations on issues such as these.

Acts 19:29-31 and Christians Using Common Sense

Christians are supposed to use common sense. It is that simple. We are not called to be doormats or to turn off our brains as we deal with other people and the world at large. In Ephesus, as Paul was preaching and teaching, a riot broke out. Look at what happened next:

29 The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theatre, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travelling-companions. 30 Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; 31 even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theatre.

Paul was prevented from confronting the crowd because the crowd would have pulled him apart. This also falls in line with what Jesus said in Matthew 10:23, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next.”

There are Christians who oppose using common sense. Some simply do not want to think. Others want to take one aspect of the Gospel message and apply it to every single situation in the entire world. Life is more complicated than that. This is why Jesus also said, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

If you are a Christian, THINK. Use your God-given brain. Use common sense.

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John 3:17-21 and Christians Should Not Judge

nicodmeusOne of the biggest criticisms against Christians by those who are not Christians is that they are very judgmental. Unfortunately, this criticism is not without reason. We, in the Church, have become very good at thinking we are proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ by telling everyone else why they do not measure up to what God desires for life. We have decided along the way that one of the best ways of appealing to people is to make them understand just how far away from God they are by pointing out all of the sinful actions and attitudes in which they participate.

Look closely at this passage of John’s Gospel, a part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus:

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

The world is already in the dark, and thus condemned. The Good News does not need us to condemn or judge people. First of all, that is not our job. If Jesus Christ was not sent into the world to condemn, neither were we. Second, this is Good News! It ought to be presented as Good!

One way to think of it is that the whole world is drowning and Jesus is the life preserver. What we do not need to do is berate people over why they are in the water having a hard time staying afloat without the life preserver. We do not need to point out that they should have been on a different boat or shouldn’t have gone in the water in the first place. Why? Because according to this passage, we all start out in the water. We do not suffer in sin because we chose to enter that world. The world is already condemned. What we have to offer people is the way out. We have the rescue. We have the salvation. We have Jesus Christ.

If we, as Christians, spent less time trying to make people feel guilty for their actions (which is the Holy Spirit’s role anyway) and point out how bad they are (because we are all born into a world that is condemned), then we can proclaim a message of Good News to all people. In Jesus Christ the evil and degradation of this world is undone. In Jesus Christ our guilt is cleansed. In Jesus Christ we have the ability to live in the grace and power of God to overcome temptation and sin in the future. In Jesus Christ we inherit everlasting life.

This is all Good News. We do not have to package it in a way that requires people to feel completely miserable with themselves and their lives before they can accept it. If we present the reality of new life in Jesus Christ to people, the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

Finally, remember these words from Jesus to his followers:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get (Matthew 7:1-2).

Matthew 18:23-35 and The Absolute Necessity of Forgiveness

PD-Gold-Bars-and-Coins17-300x199Most people who are at least a little familiar with Christianity will know that forgiveness is a necessity for us. We have all fallen short of who we were created to be, and therefore we all need forgiveness from God. This is a staple of Christian preaching, from the most gracious and positive preachers to the hellfire and brimstone preachers.

Jesus talks about our need for forgiveness, but he also places an equal emphasis on our need to forgive others. In fact, Jesus goes so far as to link the two together. Look at this parable:

23 ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” 29 Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt.31 When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

In this parable, Jesus uses money to illustrate how we are to forgive. We have an unpayable debt to God. In the parable Jesus uses theSilver-Morgan-Dollars-and-Walking-Liberty-Half-Dollars-300x208 amount of ten thousand talents. This amount, in today’s prices, would be $22,012,560,000. Twenty-two billion dollars! This is almost unimaginable to us today. In a world where most people lived on $1.68 per day this was an astronomical amount. Yet this is what God forgives us. Then, the one forgiven turns around and finds someone who owes him $168 and has him thrown into prison. Here is the amazing part of the parable when we apply it to God–because this man did not forgive the small debt (the sin against the other person), God took away his forgiveness and condemned the man he had forgiven!

Forgiveness is absolutely essential to the Christian life, and not just us being forgiven by God. If we truly want to experience God’s forgiveness, we have to extend the same grace to others who have sinned against us. If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us no matter how many times we pray a sinner’s prayer, call out to God in repentance, serve the poor and needy, or do anything else in the name of Christ. If we harbor grudges and will not forgive others, we can never be expected to be forgiven by God.

That is straight from the mouth of Jesus.

Zephaniah 3:1-4 and The Impossibility of Legislating Morality and the Need for the Holy Spirit

bible-zephaniahKing Josiah of Judah was probably one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history. His story is recorded in 2 Kings 22-23. He followed two horrible kings who led the people terribly astray from the Lord, Manasseh and Amon. But during Josiah’s reign great reforms were accomplished and the Lord even relented of the judgment he was going to send on Judah because of Josiah’s faithfulness. It always amazed me, therefore, how quickly the people fell back to worshiping false gods and doing detestable things after Josiah died.

As I read Zephaniah, I realized that his prophetic ministry was during the reign of Josiah (Zephaniah 1:1). With that in mind, look at this passage:

Doom, obstinate one,
        the defiled one,
        the violent city.
She listened to no voice;
        she accepted no discipline.
She didn’t trust in the Lord,
        nor did she draw near to her God.
The princes in her midst are roaring lions.
        Her judges are wolves of the evening;
        they leave nothing for the morning.
Her prophets are reckless, men of treachery.
        Her priests pollute that which is holy;
        they do violence to the Instruction.

Josiah may have loved the Lord with all his heart, and he may have legislated the destruction of the high places, the temples to the false gods, and re-instituted the festivals to the Lord in a cleansed Temple, but he could not change the people’s hearts. The civil leaders, the princes and judges, were still corrupt. The religious leaders, the prophets and priests, were still false. It is no wonder that the nation reverted so quickly after Josiah died to its idolatrous ways. Josiah could change external actions, but not internal spirits.

The amazing thing about Josiah is that the Lord, full of grace and mercy, actually held off judgment during Josiah’s lifetime because of his faith. The rest of the nation had not repented of its sins, nor did it feel the need to repent, yet the Lord counted Josiah’s faith-filled life as worth holding back the coming judgment.

The only way for true reform is with the power of the Holy Spirit to change our lives, our hearts. And the only way to access the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Legislation morality or appropriate behavior will never work, as evidenced with Josiah. The corruption in people goes too deep once it is there. The people were merely waiting for Josiah to shuffle off this mortal coil so they could get back to the pagan ways they desired. True change can only come through God. This is a good reminded for anyone in any type of leadership at all. We can be as faith-filled as Josiah, and we can see tremendous blessings like he did, but if it was our wills superimposed on the people around us, it will not last. We need to seek the Lord for our people and help them learn to seek the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in their own lives so real, lasting reformation can take place.