THE DANGERS OF THE LAST DAYS
Mk. 13:3-6 and Mk. 13:21-23
As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, opposite the sacred precincts of the Temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew privately asked Jesus, “Tell us, when shall these things be? And what sign will there be when these things are going to be completed?” Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one misleads you. Many will come in my name, and say, `I am he’ and they will lead many astray.”
“And if some one then says to you, `See! Here is the Messiah!’ or, `See! There he is!’ do not believe them. For false Messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will produce signs and wonders to lead the elect astray, if it is possible. But do you look to yourselves! See! I have told you beforehand all that will happen.”
Jesus was well aware that, before the end, heretics would arise; and, indeed it was not long before the church had its heretics. Heresy arises from five main causes.
(i) It arises from constructing doctrine to suit oneself. The human mind has an infinite capacity for wishful thinking. In a famous sentence, the Psalmist said, “The fool hath said in his heart, `There is no God.'” The fool about whom the Psalmist was speaking was not a fool in the sense that he had no intelligence. He was a moral fool. His statement that there was no God was made because he did not wish God to be. If God existed so much the worse for him; therefore he eliminated him from his doctrine and from his universe.
One particular heresy has always been with us, that is antinomianism. The antinomian begins with the principle that law has been abolished–and in a sense he is right. He goes on to say that there is nothing but grace–and again in a sense he is right. He then goes on to argue–as Paul shows us in Rom.6–on lines like these. “You say that God’s grace is wide enough to cover every sin?” “Yes.” “You say that God’s grace can forgive any sin?” “Yes.” “You say that God’s grace is the greatest and the most wonderful thing in the universe?” “Yes.” “Then,” the antinomian concludes, “let us go on sinning to our hearts’ content, for the more we sin, the more chances we give to God’s amazing grace to operate. Sin is a good thing for sin gives grace a chance to work. Therefore, let us do whatever we like.” The grace of God has been twisted to suit the man who wants to sin.
The same kind of argument is used by the man who declares that the only important thing in life is the soul and that a man’s body does not matter. If that is so, the argument runs, then a man can do what he likes with his body. If he is so inclined he can sate its desires.
One of the commonest ways to arrive in heresy is to mould Christian truth to suit ourselves. Can it be that the doctrine of hell and the doctrine of the Second Coming have dropped out of much religious thought because they are both uncomfortable doctrines? No one would wish to bring either back in its crude form, but can it be that they have dropped too far out of Christian thought because it does not suit us to believe in them?
(ii) Heresy arises from overstressing one part of the truth. It is, for instance, always wrong to overstress one attribute of God. If we think only of God’s holiness, we can never attain to any intimacy with him, but rather tend to a deism in which he is entirely remote from the world. If we think only of God’s justice, we can never be free of the fear of God. We become haunted and not helped by our religion. If we think only of God’s love, religion can become a very easy-going sentimental thing. There is more in the New Testament than Lk.15.
Always there is paradox in Christianity. God is love, yet God is justice. Man is free, yet God is in control. Man is a creature of time, yet also a creature of eternity. G. K. Chesterton said that orthodoxy was like a man walking along a knife-edge ridge with a yawning chasm on either side. One step too much to right or left and disaster follows. We must, as the Greeks insisted, see life steady and see it whole.
(iii) Heresy arises from trying to produce a religion which will suit people, one which will be popular and attractive. To do that it has to be watered down. The sting, the condemnation, the humiliation, the moral demand, have to be taken out of it. It is not our job to alter Christianity to suit people, but to alter people to suit Christianity.
(iv) Heresy arises from divorcing oneself from the Christian fellowship. When a man thinks alone he runs a grave danger of thinking astray. There is such a thing as the tradition of the church. There is such a conception as the church being the guardian of truth. If a man finds that his thinking separates himself from the fellowship of men, the chances are that there is something wrong with his thinking. It is the Roman Catholic principle that a man cannot have God for his Father unless he has the church for his mother–and there is truth there.
(v) Heresy arises from the attempt to be completely intelligible. Here is one of the great paradoxes. We are under the bounden duty of trying to understand our faith. But because we are finite and God is infinite we can never fully understand. For that very reason a faith that can be neatly stated in a series of propositions and neatly proved in a series of logical steps like a geometrical theorem is a contradiction in terms. As G. K. Chesterton said, “It is only the fool who tries to get the heavens inside his head, and not unnaturally his head bursts. The wise man is content to get his head inside the heavens.” Even at our most intellectual we must remember that there is a place for the ultimate mystery before which we can only worship, wonder and adore.
“How could I praise, If such as I could understand?”
“I believe,” as Tertullian said, “because it is impossible.”
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