Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Put Away the Evil

In Deuteronomy 12 and 13, Moses elaborates on the first commandment by reminding the nation of Israel that worship would occur in prescribed place and manner before a prescribed Person. Any deviancy was considered evil (De 13:5, 11, 17) inviting condemnation and judgment enforced by the nation. In order to drive home the seriousness of the situation and the necessity to eradicate evil, three scenarios were presented as examples.
  • Prophet or seer arises (De 13:1–5)
  • Family member entices (De 13:6–11)
  • Lawless group seduces (De 13:12–18)
While the source of enticement varies, the situation remains basically the same: someone wants to worship other gods and lead others to do the same. The punishment is also the same—eradicate the evil by killing the instigator(s) and those who have been turned. Sadly, a punishment was not always meted out, so that those who led astray became stronger and more brazen in conduct until God enacted His own punishment through captivity at the hands of pagan nations. The children of Israel were God’s chosen, precious possession. Whoever came between the Lord and His people guaranteed their own destruction.

Is there a correlation to the Church today? Scripture does not condone the death penalty within the Church, but measures are to be taken when people try to turn believers to other gods. Now you might say, “Wait a minute. Are you saying that Muslims, Wiccans, and the like would try to infiltrate the local assembly and lead some to Allah, Gaya, or some other deity du jour?” No, I am saying that people will rise among the assemblies and lead some to a deity having many worthwhile qualities, even the name Jesus, having form but no substance—a phantasm. There have been many over the centuries who have tried peddling their own Jesus. Some have even gained a sizable following, and many are in operation today with gods that promise wealth, fulfillment, and purpose for a ministry donation to unlock or free whatever is currently binding your life. Or they promise power, authority, and wonderworking abilities if you only believe with enough faith. Whether huckster or false teacher, these individuals and groups are offering other gods.

We should stop at this point to acknowledge that a difference should be made between the one leading astray out of ignorance versus those out to deliberately swindle or manipulate. The former is like an unbroken equine, running freely and powerfully yet lacking purpose and direction. Such a one needs to be corraled and taught how to harness that energy for the best effect much as Apollos was taught the ways of God more accurately Aquila and Priscilla (Ac 18:26). The latter is self-serving hoping to gain authority by paying off the right people (Ac 8:18–19) or else come in as a savage wolf or perverse teacher (Ac 20:29–30). It is this person or group that St. Paul warned must be avoided:
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. (Ro 16:17–18)
So, too, did the Church Fathers who followed:
Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father.… Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If anyone walks according to a strange [i.e., heretical] opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ].
Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians

Let no one, beloved brethren, make you to err from the ways of the Lord; let no one snatch you, Christians, from the Gospel of Christ; let no one take sons of the Church away from the Church; let them perish alone for themselves who have wished to perish; let them remain outside the Church alone who have departed from the Church; let them alone be without bishops who have rebelled against bishops; let them alone undergo the penalties of their conspiracies who formerly, according to your votes, and now according to God’s judgment, have deserved to undergo the sentence of their own conspiracy and malignity.
Cyprian, Epistle to the People Concerning Five Schismatic Presbyters
Why do we take such care to avoid heretics and schismatics? Why do we warn others to do the same in Christ’s Church? It is to demonstrate our faithfulness to the Lord and His ways in preserving the unity of the Church by holding fast to God’s Word. We do well to heed the explanation of Vincent of Lérins as he rightly applies Moses’ warning to the Church:
But someone will ask, How is it then, that certain excellent persons, and of position in the Church, are often permitted by God to preach novel doctrines to Catholics? A proper question, certainly, and one which ought to be very carefully and fully dealt with, but answered at the same time, not in reliance upon one’s own ability, but by the authority of the divine Law, and by appeal to the Church’s determination.

Let us listen, then, to Holy Moses, and let him teach us why learned men, and such as because of their knowledge are even called Prophets by the apostle, are sometimes permitted to put forth novel doctrines, which the Old Testament is wont, by way of allegory, to call “strange gods,” forasmuch as heretics pay the same sort of reverence to their notions that the Gentiles do to their gods.

Blessed Moses, then, writes thus in Deuteronomy: “If there arise among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams,” that is, one holding office as a Doctor in the Church, who is believed by his disciples or auditors to teach by revelation: well,—what follows? “and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder of which he spoke comes to pass,”—he is pointing to some eminent doctor, whose learning is such that his followers believe him not only to know things human, but, moreover, to foreknow things superhuman, such as, their disciples commonly boast, were Valentinus, Donatus, Photinus, Apollinaris, and the rest of that sort! What next? “And shall say to you, Let us go after other gods, whom you do not know, and serve them.” What are those other gods but strange errors which you do not know, that is, new and such as were never heard of before? “And let us serve them;” that is, “Let us believe them, follow them.” What last? “You shall not hearken to the words of that prophet or dreamer of dreams.” And why, I pray, does not God forbid to be taught what God forbids to be heard? “For the Lord, your God, tests you, to know whether you love Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” The reason is clearer than day why Divine Providence sometimes permits certain doctors of the Churches to preach new doctrines—“That the Lord your God may test you;” he says. And assuredly it is a great trial when one whom you believe to be a prophet, a disciple of prophets, a doctor and defender of the truth, whom you have folded to your breast with the utmost veneration and love, when such a one of a sudden secretly and furtively brings in noxious errors, which you can neither quickly detect, being held by the prestige of former authority, nor lightly think it right to condemn, being prevented by affection for thine old master.
The Commonitory X
God continues to test His people. Do we pass?

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