Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Heresy and the Book of Revelation

The appointed Bible readings for this week are especially challenging. They come from the Old Testament book of Amos, the New Testament book of Revelation, and the Gospel of Matthew. In all of them, God and his representatives are upbraiding God's people for matters of what we would call "theological ethics" - the way folks are living with God together.

The book of Revelation is a piece of apocalyptic literature. That means it understands itself to expound on the hidden meaning of what's going on in the world, and to let us in on the behind-the-scenes view (hence the English title "Revelation"). As the documents open, we are introduced to the author, John, who relates a vision of Jesus Christ in which he is told to draft some letters for God for the benefit of the various Christian churches of Asia Minor.

I find the warning to the Ephesian church to be particularly striking. Our Lord praises this Church for standing against heresy - testing and rejecting false apostles - but at the same time warns them that they have abandoned their first love. The implication here is that the first love is for Christ himself. How could it be that this community which manifested such zeal in protecting the faithful from false teaching had actually grown cold in their love for Jesus?

In my own ministry context, I often reach out to people who come from alternative versions of Christianity in which the Gospel is obscured or outright rejected. I know honest and well-meaning believers who stumble and fall away from the Faith because they cannot navigate a path between false dichotomies or between childrens' Sunday School answers and the challenges of real life. As I see this happen, I find my anger waxing hot against people who obscure the Gospel, and tell lies about God. I begin to spend a great deal of time thinking about false teachers and how to debunk their different gospels, and it becomes easy to loose focus on Christ and what's actually true about him. In my determination to prove that heresy is ugly, I forget that this is only because Christ is beautiful. We don't fight heresy as an end in itself, we fight heresy to make space for the Truth.

May God grant me the grace to love him first, and keep this work of teaching the Faith in right perspective.