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Sunday, June 27, 2010 

An Irenaeus Quote And Guarding Against Heretics

The following is today’s reading from the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

We have learned from none others the plan of salvation, than from those whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and the pillar of our faith…

We allege…against those who do not recognize Paul as an apostle: that they should either reject the other words of the Gospel which we have come to know through Luke alone, and not make any use of them; or else, if they do receive all these, they must necessarily admit also that testimony concerning Paul, when he (Luke) tells us that the Lord spoke at first to him from heaven: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me? I am Jesus Christ, whom you persecute”; and then to Ananias, saying regarding him: “Go your way; for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name among the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him, from time to time, how great things he must suffer for My names sake.” Those, therefore, who do not accept him [as a teacher], who was chosen by God for this purpose, that he might boldly bear His name, as being sent to the forementioned nations, despise the election of God and separate themselves from the company of the apostles… But they are altogether deceived who imagine that they may learn from the scriptural text adduced by heretics, that [doctrine] which their words plausibly teach. For error is plausible and bears a resemblance to the truth but requires to be disguised; while the truth is without disguise and, therefore, has been entrusted to children.

-Irenaeus of Lyons

Sadly, there are many folks in the church today, both in leadership positions and otherwise, who should fall under the same critique as those who Irenaeus addressed in the quote above. These persons, while teaching in public forums disparage Saint Paul for being too focused on doctrine or too systematic with the ease at which they openly scorn their ex-wives. While expressing concerns that sound Biblical doctrine is a hindrance to spirituality and kingdom growing, these false teachers are more than happy to introduce the doctrines and practices of mystics who believed that God is a she and “sin is necessary part of life because it brings one to self-knowledge” as well as Roman Catholic monks who actually fought against the Lutheran reformers for a papacy which can praise the devotion of members who state “I will believe that the white that I see is black if the hierarchical Church so defines it!

Irenaeus correctly ties the Gospel preached by the apostle Paul with the one they learned from Luke who records eye witness testimony to assemble his Gospel text, Paul’s conversion, as well as traveled with him for a bit on his missionary journeys. If they fail to acknowledge Paul’s epistles as being received by God (and if being consistent is an attribute that doesn't offend their post modern sensibilities) then shouldn’t they throw out Luke’s testimony as well? Or maybe a effortless re-imagining of Luke’s account will suit what it is that they wish to introduce into the Church as some seem to have the tendency to do these days with the praise and approval of their ecclesiastical superiors.

I guess that since Saint Peter considered the epistles of Paul to be Scripture (2 Peter 3:16), the setting aside Peter’s epistles as suspect along with the Gospel according to Mark (as Mark’s account is more than likely derived from the testimony of Peter) might also be in order so we don’t fall into an abyss of doctrine where the color white is white and black is black to the vexation of that Roman monk some idolize.

Just as when Irenaeus was defending the Gospel against the Gnostics and those who wished to introduce into the Church new doctrines and practices cloaked in biblical terminology and themes; we must be on guard right now, today, for wolves that hide themselves behind plausible errors that resemble Biblical truths while maintaining that these new or recovered teachings are for the purpose of growing the kingdom, spirituality, or even salvation itself.

As Irenaeus wisely points out, a heretic’s errors are often disguised as plausible teachings and bear a resemblance to the truth. We must always, always be watchful and test what is being taught in the name of God to the very Word of God whether we are pastors, deaconesses, Sunday school teachers, or even slack jawed yokels like myself.

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So, the question seems to be, "Who has the authority to decide?" Is the church leadership absolute in making a decision like this or is the word of God the final Word. There are times when I long for the calming and authority of a denomination and then there are times when I realize how they can be misled. You guys really are in a tough spot with LCMS.

“"Who has the authority to decide?" Is the church leadership absolute in making a decision like this or is the word of God the final Word.”

That’s an easy one! The authority is always Scripture. We are always tasked with testing what is said in the name of God to the very Word of God and thereby holding leaders or denominations accountable.

It’s true we are in a tough spot but… the Christ’s church has always been under attack from those who would lead His sheep astray or have councils or convention resolutions trump Scripture. Just as Irenaeus’ did back in his day we are to remain steadfast against wolves who wrap themselves in plausible errors to beguile the sheep.

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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
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