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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Philippians 1:27-30 and Christian Victory

PWPaulInPrisonI have listened to many people who want Christian Victory in America. By this they mean that the culture and society will return to Christian values and morals, and that the congregations around the country will be full again. They see Christian Victory as laws being passed in Washington and state capitols that reinforce and support Christian ways of living. Paul seems to have a different vision for Christian Victory. In Philippians, he is writing this letter to a church he loves, and of whom he is proud, while he is chained up in prison. Here is what he says about Christian Victory in that situation:

27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Do you see Paul’s understanding of Christian Victory? Christians are struggling under persecution but holding fast to the mind of Christ, loving God whole-heartedly and loving their neighbors as themselves. By not being intimidated by those in the world who are against such actions and attitudes, and who would imprison or persecute those who have perform such actions or have such attitudes, Christians prove their victory and their opponents’ destruction.

We have victory as Christians, according to Paul, when we continue to live and act like Christ in the face of persecution. While the rest of the world would cower in the face of hardship and pain, we continue to serve and love. This is because we prove to the world in such circumstances that our hope and our allegiance are still to Christ and his Kingdom.

There is one other aspect of Christian Victory for Paul here. Christians united together. Those who are in Christ are united together in love and service to each other and the communities around them. No divisions. No one-up-man-ship and political positioning. No cliques or factions. Christians united in love and service.

We must be careful, though, that we do not reinterpret this as a call for unity for the sake of unity. Unity is in Christ and in the Gospel. There are some, mostly those who introduce novel, new interpretations on the Christian tradition and Scripture, who claim that no matter what they preach or teach about changing morality or theology, Christians ought to be united. Unity becomes a god for which all else ought to be sacrificed. This is much of the rhetoric coming out of the United Methodist Church (my former communion) right now (see many of the blogs here). Paul is clear in this passage–our unity is in Christ, which is through our mutual love and service in our faithfulness to the Gospel. It is the Gospel that informs us of the basis of our unity, and then we show the world our victory through our faithfulness to Christ and his Gospel together.

When we are united in our faith, and we show that unity through love and service despite how the world reacts to us or threatens us, then we prove our Christian Victory over the world.