Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ecumenism: Wolves in Sheeps Clothing

Part 2.2 of an ongoing Bible study on ecumenism. See links to other lessons at the bottom of this post.

TEXT: Acts 1:15-20
15In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16"Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry." 18(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20"For it is written in the Book of Psalms, "'May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it'; and "'Let another take his office.'
     Exegetical Data. Peter said these words to the small group of believers who were gathered for the purpose of appointing a replacement for Judas Iscariot. This happened during the time when the believers were waiting in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4).
     Judas' betrayal had horrifying effects on the disciples. Because of him, Jesus was delivered over to be crucified, the band of disciples was plunged into disarray. It would have undone everything that Jesus had accomplished during His earthly ministry, if not for the sovereign hand of God. This assault on the band of disciples was all the more devastating because Judas was one of the twelve, and even a leader among the twelve, because he was in charge of the band's moneybag (Jn 12:16). And as is always the case when a member of the leadership forfeits or abandons his responsibilities, Judas' treachery left a vacuum among the disciples that would have been a serious handicap to the church. Hence, he had to be replaced.

     Judas' case demonstrated how effective an attack from the inside could be against God's people, and this is the strategy that Satan has been using since then.
  • Q: All the heretics have two things in common. Can you tell me what those are?
    • They all came from the same place: the Church. In fact, almost all of them were high-ranking, well-respected leaders.
    • They all reached their conclusions the same way: through human speculation.
  • Q: What lesson can we learn from the fact that they all came from within the Church?
    • This only confirms the pattern that is crystal-clear in the NT: the greatest enemies of the Church arise, not from the outside, but from within (Mt 7:15; 1Tm 4:1-2; 2Pe 2:1-2; 1Jn 2:18-19). They're so dangerous precisely because what they teach has a flavor of truth to it, and is therefore all the more deceptive.
    • To borrow an illustration from nature. These false teachers are like a certain species of worm that lays its eggs inside unsuspecting snails. Once the eggs hatch, they begin eating their host from the inside. Eventually, the host becomes nothing more than a shell overflowing with a teeming mass of worms. This is the kind of effect false teachers will have in a local church, unless dealt with immediately and decisively.
     Challenge. We can't take truth for granted, even when we're among professing Christians. There is no local church or organization that is so theologically sound and has such perfect membership that it's free from the danger of wolves in sheep's clothing. No one, not even the elders or the senior pastor, is above distorting the truth. This is an ever-present danger in the local church, but is magnified much more in an ecumenical setting, where the dynamics are so much more complex.
  • Q: What lesson can we learn from the fact that they all reached their conclusions through human speculation?
    • This reminds us that God reveals Himself, not through human genius or mystical experiences, but through His word. Therefore, we have to be people of the word. We have to do things by the book, that is, this book. And whoever we partner with in ministry should, at the very least, hold to a high view of Scripture, because ministry with such a person will only be a waste of time, at best. At worst, it might even confuse people even more regarding the Christian faith and mission.
     So today, we looked at heresies against the Trinity and against the union of the divine and human natures in Christ, and how dangerous these heresies are to our faith. We need to be careful not to lose our grip on these doctrines, especially as we try to fellowship and partner with other people and organizations that claim to be “Christian.” It is very possible that some who claim to be evangelicals will even argue that the things we're discussing are things that Christians can “agree to disagree” about. Well, I hope that I have sufficiently demonstrated that these things are non-negotiables to our faith. Certainly, they should constitute our absolute baseline standards for extending the hand of fellowship and partnership.

Related Posts:
  1. Ecumenism: The Need for Ecumenism
  2. Ecumenism: Heresies, Part 1
  3. Ecumenism: Heresies, Part 2

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