Day 357: 2 Peter 1-3; Trouble from Within

The second letter that is attributed to the Apostle Peter also contains encouragement to resist persecution, yet this time the main focus of his letter is about the trouble that is coming to the Church from within.  At the time of its writing, there were a great many false teachers and false teachings that had arisen from within the church, people that, as Peter says, had taken the writings of Paul and the Scriptures (which at that time would have been the Old Testament and possibly some of the Gospel writings) and twisted them.  These teachings were  fraught with teaching that only leads to their personal gain.  Peter writes:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

These two themes, persecution from outside the church and false teachings from within, have been something that comes up time and time again in the writings of the New Testament.  It is no secret that the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins by grace is something that the devil wants nothing to do with.  He works to thwart every advance of the Kingdom of God in every way that he possibly can.  This may sound a bit alarmist to many people, especially now days, but like Peter, I must insist that this is not only something that was going on in the days of the early church, it is something that has been plaguing the church since its beginning and continues to do so now.  Arguably, the church is facing more and more threats of false teaching from within its own walls in the 20th and 21st centuries than it ever has before.  Especially in North America, and in the United States where the freedom of speech that we all cherish protects and even allows people to speak false doctrine at will.  Please hear me on this, I wouldn’t trade the freedom of speech that we have for anything, but what I am saying is that the Church needs to wake up and see that this is happening and continues to happen!

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing,following their own sinful desires.  They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”  For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.  But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

The Church has done a poor job in recent years of silencing the heretics and false teachers that claim to be ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Protestant and Catholic denominations have each seen their fair share of groups breaking away from the teachings of the church because of “new revelations” or “a new understanding of the Bible.”  We are familiar with some like Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh Day Adventists, and Mormonism.  Some new teachings that we have begun to encounter are those of the prosperity gospel, people like Joel Osteen who trade the message of the gospel of a “feel good message” through which he makes tons of money.  There have also been other developments within the religious spheres.  Scientology, the Atheist Church, and other like them have sprung up, proclaiming a way to better humanity without any need for God, Jesus, or the Gospel.

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.  For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.  They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

While an assault on the moral character of these individuals is not warranted by me, they are certainly sinners in need of grace just as I am, it is important to understand that there is false teaching and heresy that is still very much present among us.  Certainly their rights to say whatever they want to say are protected by the American Constitution, and for that we should be thankful.  This country affords us the ability to worship freely without fear of retribution or persecution from authorities and protects us (or at least it should) from persecution from others as well.  However, though the Bill of Rights doesn’t say this, it should also encourage us to be awake and alert to what we are hearing from the pulpit on any given Sunday.  There is NO Gospel apart from Jesus Christ.  There is NO Salvation apart from the grace of Jesus Christ that we receive through faith.  No amount of money, work, good deeds, or ‘spiritual’ experience can bring us back into right relationship with God.  We are all sinful, we will all continue to sin.  May we understand this and go forth, awake and alert, so that we may not be led astray.



Day 301: Luke 12-13; Teachings and Parables

All throughout Jesus’ ministry we see Him teaching in both lessons from the Scriptures, much of which comes from the Law.  Our reading today starts off with Jesus directly addressing the teaching of the pharisees.  They too spend a great deal of time teaching on the Scriptures and the Law.  We’ve actually spent some time talking about that teaching too, about all of the laws that the religious leaders of that day had put in place over the course of a couple hundred years to put a hedge around the true law.  Rather than working to understand the true meaning of the Law, to hear the words of Deuteronomy 6 which say very specifically that all of God’s direction is about loving God with all that we are.  Yet, instead of looking to this and learning from the mistakes that sent them into exile, the religious leaders of Israel made more laws to protect the law.  If you weren’t supposed to do work on the Sabbath, they made sure that you didn’t even potentially come close to doing work on the Sabbath by saying that you weren’t even allowed to wash yourself or pick something up off the ground.

Jesus warns His disciples here to beware of the “leaven” of the pharisees because their teaching is hypocrisy.  The Law was meant to guide the people, God’s way of showing His people how they were to live in a way that would be both life giving and God glorifying.  Yet the pharisees had taken it and turned it into a chain, binding the people into the lifestyle that they demanded rather than helping them to love God more fully.  More than that, the religious leaders lived lives of false piety, making it seem as though they were living perfect lives while everyone else was struggling.  In some ways I would liken them to some of the false churches that are out there today, those that say you’ll be more blessed based on how much you give.  The teaching of the prosperity gospel by people like Joel Osteen doesn’t focus on loving God and living into the redemption that we have in Jesus Christ, but on how much you give… things that you can do to earn your own salvation… something we know to be not possible.  It is only in Jesus Christ that we find our salvation.

We also see Jesus teaching through the use of parables.  It is interesting that, when asked about why He speaks in parables, Jesus quotes a passage from Isaiah 6, when the Lord calls Isaiah to ministry.  What Jesus is doing for us, as He teaches about the Kingdom of Heaven and even the life of faith is to bring it into language and imagery that the people He is interacting with can understand.  The church that I worship at, Overisel Reformed Church, is a rural church that is in the middle of a farming community.  It would make little sense for us to talk about urban street life.  The reverse is true for urban churches.  Farming metaphors probably wouldn’t make much sense there.  The Kingdom of God is something that is completely foreign to us, and living the faithful life was something that wasn’t taught to the people in Jesus’ time… at least not in the way that it should have been.  So what does Jesus do?  He condescends to the level of the people, just has He condescended from the throne of Heaven to become a human.  This is a very real sense of divinity being translated to humanity in a way that we can understand.  God continues to do this as well, in the continuing revelation of Himself to us through His Word as well.