Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Peace at last

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Philippians 1:15-18 NIV

We have become so accustomed to the breach of order in the Body of Christ, so used to seeing love and discipline and faithfulness universally discarded, that we take for granted that ‘preachers of the gospel’ must be doing what they say, even when we disagree with what they are saying. But the reverse is almost universally true. The pulpit has become a standing throne for unbridled intellects to show off the treasures of their knowledge of scripture, even as young men who know nothing but are deceived by their own lust to consider themselves worthy of belief.

To give testimony of Christ is the work of a sincere heart. Anyone of any age can and does do that. But to presume to preach when one has not been tried and tested in the furnace of humiliation, at best is harmless foolishness, at worst dangerous delusion—strong delusion that infects both preacher and hearers, but whose sickness does not show immediately, but only after a time, and by then, it is sometimes incurable. And yet they promote themselves in place of Christ, using His name as bait. Lord, have mercy!

Hence the Church fathers have taught such things as, ‘A man should know that a devil’s sickness is on him if he is seized by the urge in conversation to assert his opinion, however correct it may be. If he behaves this way while talking to his equals, then a rebuke from his elders may heal him. But if he carries on in this way with those who are greater and wiser than he, his sickness cannot be cured by human means’ (John Climacus). Yes, the devil’s sickness. What audacity he has to whisper his lies into the ears of men, telling them they are ‘someone great,’ as He did to Simon Magus…

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’ They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery.

But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.

When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’

Peter answered, ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.

‘Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’ Then Simon answered, ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’

Acts 8:9-24 NIV

Although this account is well-known as the condemnation of the church disorder now known as ‘simony,’ paying money for priestly ordination, it indicates a deeper disease.

As Peter told Simon Magus, ‘I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin,’ this is what is at the root of the disorder affecting the factious, those who ‘preach Christ out of envy and rivalry.’ They preach ‘out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble’ for the Holy Church, that divine Body whose Head is Christ alone, her only Mediator and Advocate, the only Teacher, the only Lover of mankind.

Yet they do what they do, trampling the love of Christ while aping it, stirring up trouble but not knowing how to bring peace.

Though great love has been shown them, though they may have gone up in an altar call, gotten baptised, anointed, prayed over, ‘though they speak with the tongues of men and of angels,’ they have no love, they ‘are full of bitterness and captive to sin,’ and unless they come to their senses, and humbly and unconditionally repent as did Simon Magus, ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me,’ they will only go from bad to worse.

This is a very hard word, but the same Rock that is the foundation of the saints, for them becomes a stumbling-block.

Pray, brethren, for mercy to be shown them, that they find the gates of repentance open, and enter into peace at last.

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