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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hidden Warning

So, I'm reading through Paul's Epistle to "all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints" (Rom 1:7) and, of course, loving every minute of it. Good stuff. Fantastic stuff. Doctrine and concepts not found -- at least not as clearly -- elsewhere. I really enjoy Romans. But, to be honest, chapter 16 is pretty much a bust. Oh, not complaining, mind you, but it is almost entirely "N/A" -- not applicable. It's personal stuff, commendations and greetings for fellow believers, thanks for others, that sort of thing. I mean, how many of you remember that Epaenetus was the very first convert in Asia? (And, frankly, what does that mean? After all Israel is in Asia. Wouldn't the disciples be "the very first converts in Asia"?) Okay, fine, whatever, but not particularly applicable. There are no commands to follow and not a lot in the realm of doctrine to pick out. That is ... if you're not careful. Because if you're not careful, you will miss this. Stuck in amongst "Greet one another with a holy kiss" and subsequent grace and greetings for all, Paul inserts this tidbit:
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (Rom 16:17-20).
Wow! Paul, what are you saying here? I mean, it's certainly not conducive to a friendly dialog with those who disagree, is it? It's not "humble" by any means. Are you sure about this?

Look at what it holds for a moment. Paul, first, places some high priority on "the doctrine that you have been taught". This is the same concept as the common concept of "orthodox Christianity" -- the historical, constant teachings of the Church. Paul here doesn't say, "Avoid thinking that you're right and they're wrong" or "Agree to disagree" or "Whatever you do, don't get arrogant thinking that 'the doctrine that you have been taught' is right and they're wrong." No such thing. He warns about those who "cause divisions and create obstacles" contrary to those things. Whatever you conclude with this, it is quite clear that 1) there really is value in "the doctrine that you have been taught" and 2) there really is something to be said for vigilance against those who would try to alter or block it.

Now, Paul doesn't necessarily say, "Do battle with them." No, he says, "Avoid them." Not the same thing. Why "avoid them"? Well, these persons, despite appearances, "do not serve our Lord Christ". They may appear to, trying to correct your thinking or stop you from "going down the wrong path". "Yes, yes, you've always been taught throughout all Church history that we are saved by grace apart from works, but that's just not right and it should be obvious." "Sure, Christianity has always been opposed to premarital sex, but that's no reason to assume that they were right. It has been a longstanding misunderstanding." "Well, sure, the Church has always maintained that women were not to be in authority over men in church leadership, but that was because of [and they'll insert a variety of reasons here], and no longer the case today." "Well, of course Christendom has always maintained that homosexual behavior was sin and marriage was the union of a man and a woman, but Christendom has also maintained other errors at various times and places, so there's no reason to think we haven't figured out what they never could on this topic."

Why do we avoid this? "Such persons do not serve our Lord Christ." If not serving Christ, what are they serving? According to Paul, they serve "their own appetites". And with a minimal amount of examination you can easily see that the arguments produced against "the doctrine that you have been taught" are almost entirely constructed first on "their own appetites". It's something they desire -- power, sex, money, personal choice -- and, therefore, something to attack.

Paul includes a specific warning here. The first reason to avoid them is that they don't serve Christ, but their own appetites. The second reason to avoid them is "by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive." How very true! "You don't want to stand in God's way on this, do you?" "We're just seeking to be loving and accepting of all people." "Come on, we need to be seeker-sensitive, and your holding to those biblical doctrines turn off those outside the Church." "Surely it's obvious that the tide of public opinion is against your view and soon you'll be left behind." "We just want marriage equity. Surely you're in favor of fairness."

Paul, then, is warning his readers. Don't be naive. Don't be deceived. Avoid these people who don't serve Christ, but their own appetites. You can know who they are because they teach that which is opposed to orthdox Christianity, the longstanding concepts that Christians, led by the Holy Spirit throughout the history of Christendom, have always held. Cling to that unity, and avoid those others.

I guess perhaps I have some reevaluation to do. Are there people I need to be avoiding? I certainly know people who fall in this category of causing division and creating obstacles, of denying historical orthodoxy, of serving their appetites rather than Christ, of trying to deceive with smooth talk and flattery. Do we engage them or avoid them? I wonder how much of this is the question in Proverbs. Do we "answer not a fool according to his folly" (Prov 26:4) or do we "answer a fool according to his folly" (Prov 26:5)? This will take some thinking and praying.


David said...

I think the difficulty comes down to; when are they being constructive debaters and questioning, and when are they being divisive. At what point do you realize they aren't arguing to correct you of wrong interpretation, but arguing to "correct" you toward public opinion?

For those standing by doctrine and orthodoxy, it goes along with Paul in warning about not being blown with every change of the wind. Correct doctrine produces orthodoxy, orthodoxy produces orthopraxy, orthopraxy produces hate from the world.

Stan said...

Of course, the question gets muddier when you find that some think they are trying to correct you of wrong interpretation when all they are really doing is causing division. Sometimes people will lie to you. "No, I'm just trying to correct your interpretation." Sometimes people will lie to themselves. "No, I'm just trying to correct their interpretation." Unfortunately, we all know who the father of lies is.

Dan said...

It's kind of funny when you think about it. Anyone can ask you "Did God Say?", and then assert in response to your answer "yes" that you can't possibly know; then, if you point to the actual words in God's Word, insist that you are causing division.