Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a 19th century preacher in the Scottish Church. I recently read part of one of his sermons in which he reminded his congregation that our time on this earth is short and that very soon other people would sit in the pews they were occupying and another man would preach from the pulpit he used. For M’Cheyne that turned out to be very true. He died from typhoid fever at the age of 29.
I think that, among all the problems besetting the Church in the 21st century, one of the most glaring is the lack of preaching emphasis on our short life spans in this world. Too many preachers are bowing to the wishes of too many parishioners for upbeat messages about how God wants them to have a great life here on earth, how He wants to be our pal and help us out. Too many people want to hear that they are just fine the way they are and go home after singing a bunch of so-called praise songs, patting themselves on the back for being good people who just gave God an hour of their life.
How many people, I wonder, sit through church services without being told they are sinners who deserve eternal damnation but, through God’s mercy, their lives will be spared because of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ for the sins of the elect. Or maybe the words are use but the emphasis isn’t there. Friends the exit door from this world is right in front of everyone of us and sooner rather than later we will all pass through that portal. There is not time for us to fool around. There is not time–no there is not time. We stand on the very edge of eternity. There is no more time to waste.
The early Church Father Irenaeus wrote a book with the same title as this blog post. The heresies which most concerned him were various forms of Gnosticism which were plaguing the 2nd century Church. Gnostic teachers tried to use Christianity as a way of spreading their rather outlandish teachings. They tried to appropriate Jesus and insert Him into their fanciful visions of divine history. Every now and then we read of some academic with a burning need to publish something trying to say that those heretics were really a legitimate version of Christianity.
What fascinates me is the way in which all sorts of old heresies keep raising their ugly heads in the Church. The old Arian heresy that led to the formulation of the Nicene Creed by the Church is still floating around in the form of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who might ring your doorbell this evening. Another modern version of an old heresy was raised up a couple of years ago by some well known evangelical theologians who began to argue that Jesus was eternally subordinate to the Father. In other words, Jesus might be God but He isn’t as fully God as is the Father. And who knows where their speculations would take them with regard to the status of the Holy Spirit? And then there is all sort of heresy being sown in Pentecostal circles, including the idea that the Holy Spirit is not equal to the Father and the Son. (A good reference on this is John MacArthur’s book Strange Fire) And let us also note here the Unitarianism that is really the undercurrent among many liberal theological speculations.
Yes, there are always heresies troubling the Church of Jesus Christ. And we need to be quite candid about why that is so–Satan tempts sinners within the Church. He holds before them the illusion that they have more insight into God’s ways than those who went before them. It is a conceit rife in our society, that we moderns are more knowledgeable and even more intelligent than our ancestors. What the modern heretics ignore, however, is the work of the Holy Spirit inspiring the Church to come to a knowledge of the Truth. A knowledge which has been shared down through the centuries. We find the Truth in the Word of God and in the Ecumenical creeds which summarize the one true faith.
If you doubt the Word of God recorded in the 66 books of the Bible or if you cannot speak the Creeds without any dishonesty, friend–you are a heretic. And that is not a good things to be.
However, since heresies are the creations of the minds of men, we can indeed return to the true faith by spending our time immersed in the Word of God and allowing Him to guide us past the rocks and shoals our sinful minds erect to keep us from the submission we owe to the Creator, Redeemer and Comforter who is the true object of our worship.