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Key Texts: John 8:44; Prov. 23:23; Acts 20:27–32; 2 Thess. 2:7–12; Ps. 119:105, 116, 130, 133, 160; Prov. 16:25; 2 Cor. 4:3–6.

Opening Question: “What can be done to prevent or slow doctrinal and behavioural drift in the Christian community?”

The lesson this week covers some interesting territory in that it invites us to look at the early centuries of the Christian era not so much from the viewpoint of the persecutions that took place from time to time, but from a change that took place as Christianity became more and more acceptable, finally becoming the religion of the empire. Along the way, some significant developments took place that, arguably, moved the Church to adopt ideas and positions that are quite far from biblical teachings.

There are several biblical passages that warned of this development, sometimes in rather stark terms. Consider, for example, 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12. In this passage, Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians that the secret power of lawlessness is already at work, and he goes on to describe the damage this power will do especially to those who are not vigilant in their understanding of God’s word. There are also the words of Paul in Acts 20:27-32 where, in his parting speech to the elders of the Ephesian church, encouraged them to be good shepherds because “savage wolves” would come in and wreak havoc. These two passages should be put alongside Jesus words in John 17 where, in his prayer, he spoke of how the world hates his followers. In these three instances at least, we see reflected the great controversy as it plays out between the forces of good and those of evil.

It is widely known and acknowledge that, as the Christian faith became more acceptable to the general public and to officials who were in charge, it underwent some significant changes. This was partly due to the lack of proper instruction of new converts, but it was also due to the desire to make some elements of the faith more palatable to those who joined. Some examples of this would be the shift from Saturday sacredness to Sunday sacredness. This is a subject about which much is now known. There is some disagreement over what exactly precipitated the change, but what is known is that the change took place. Some cite a desire to differentiate Christians from Jews; others cite the desire to be more respectful to the gods the pagans once worshiped. What is known is that the change was initiated in Rome and it was gradual. AT one point, the Bishop of Rome encouraged believers to be respectful of both days! Another significant change that took place was the adoption of a different concept of humans namely that we are not souls – living, breathing beings – but we have souls, inherently immortal entities that become part of us at conception and depart at the point of death. This is not a biblical idea but one that seems to have been borrowed from the pagan philosophers who were looking for a bridge between the ideal realm and the material one.

The best protection against doctrinal or ideological drift is to be well informed about the contents of the source of authority that is claimed. For Christians, that would be the Bible as it functions as the repository of the record of God’s activities in history. By reading and studying what had been written down, people had their best chance of understanding the plan of God and following it. One of the big problems that developed as time moved forward was that the written word became scarce. For long periods, believers were proscribed from reading it on their own, if indeed they could get their hands on a copy. This eventuality allowed considerable drift from the truths of God’s word to occur.

One of the points made prominent in the official lesson had to do with the authority of God’s word. This needs some careful thought. Usually when we use the word “authority,” we have in mind liberty given to someone who can come and clean up whatever mess has occurred. It is thought of as an external correction applied by someone duly designated to straighten things up whenever necessary. In the popular mind, the police would be one category of people who have authority. In consequence, there are many people who think of the Bible in similar terms, that it is an external authority to be applied even to the unwilling. But some careful thought about this would suggest that, if God is love, He would not work in that manner. God does not force his will onto humans. He works not by restraint, but by constraint. God asks for a willing compliance. To those who come to believe, the word of God and its teachings get internalized and function as a constraint and guide from inside the mind of a willing subject. Truth applied from the outside does not usually foster compliance as much as it produces rebellion.

Here the concept of truth must be brought to bear. One of the difficult things to have to face when dealing with truth is that it is intolerant in the sense that, if something is right, all else must be wrong. An idea cannot be both right and wrong at the same time. Furthermore, some serious thought has to be given to just how capable a human mind would be when faced with discovering and describing truth. It would be sheer hubris for a human to contend that he or she can discover and fully describe truth. This is why the prospect of revelation from outside the human realm is both attractive and important.

We would do well to keep 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 well in mind for it portrays a battle of and for human minds. We should keep it in mind that the ideas and concepts that we adopt or acquire, are very important for they create the framework or context from which we draw our beliefs and they are the reference points for our living. From a Christian perspective, it is of great importance to be accepting of what God has revealed. That is what should serve as an authority in our lives to guide our living.

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