From the earliest days of the Christian era, believers understood their responsibility as guardians of truth. The New Testament teaches specific objective truths about the attributes of God, the person of Jesus and the nature of Salvation. In spite of this, a number of teachers emerged over time, promoting claims and ideas contradicting the teaching of scripture. Much of this heretical activity was driven by the three motives commonly responsible for misbehavior. Leaders within Christianity were often driven by their own prideful desires. None of this came as any surprise to those who knew the Scripture, however, since the Bible predicted teachers such as these would arise, offering false ideas and distortions of God’s Word:
But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds.
2 Peter 2:1-2
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.
1 John 4:1
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
1 Timothy 1:18-20
This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.
A man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition reject.
The early Christians had been warned by Paul, Peter and John to be careful about truth. The Apostles embraced certain objective truths about God, Jesus and Salvation, and warned these truths were not simply a matter of choice. Their followers were diligent to heed these warnings. The Apostle John’s disciple, Polycarp, had a disciple of his own named Irenaeus. This disciple of Polycarp, just two generations removed from the eyewitnesses, took the apostolic admonition about truth very seriously. He confronted the Christian misinterpretations and lies of his day in a work he titled, “Contra Haereses” (Against Heresies). Irenaeus understood truth is exclusive and error (while it is often carefully disguised) must be confronted:
“Error, indeed is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced more true than truth itself.” (Against Heresies 1.2)
Irenaeus’ words transcend time. They are still important for us today. This week we’ve been looking at a series of historic heresies. Their descriptions should sound familiar; the same errant views related to God, Jesus, Salvation and man continue to reappear in our own time. But the Christian faith has always held truth in incredibly high regard. As Christians, we are called to seek and teach the objective truths of the Christian Worldview, while rejecting the obvious errors of false teaching. Irenaeus modeled this aspect of the Christian life brilliantly; his example should inspire us to do the same.