Four significant things are mentioned in Article 7 of our Confession in connection with the matter of “The Sufficiency Of The Holy Scriptures.” These matters are:
(1) All that is necessary to believe unto salvation is clearly and sufficiently revealed in the Bible. The Bible is not obscure but a lucid revelation of the plan of redemption.
(2) The whole manner of worship, which God requires of us, is likewise clearly taught in the Holy Scriptures at large.
(3) This being the case, no one — though he be an angel from heaven — has the right to teach anything contrary to these Holy Scriptures. Since its doctrine is perfect and complete, it is gross evil to add unto or take from the Word of God.
(4) Because all of the foregoing is so, it is unlawful to regard any writing of mere men, or custom, or tradition, or decrees and decisions of Synods, etc. as of equal value with the Holy Bible.
In connection with these four things, the Article of our Confession concludes with this interesting statement: “Therefore, we reject with all our hearts, whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule, which the apostles have taught us, saying, Try the spirits whether they be of God. Likewise, if there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house.”
“With all our hearts, we reject . . . .” Do we?
Credo! Yes, indeed, I believe . . . . but what harmony is there between my faith and my practice? Let’s see once!
In the last part of this article two passages of Scripture are cited. The latter of these we wish to consider in the present essay. It is found in II John 10 and to the part quoted in the confession there should be added, “neither bid him Godspeed for he that biddeth him Godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
In a practical way, young people, let’s ask what this passage of the Word of God means for you and me. To what extend must this matter be carried out? Must we literally exclude from our houses those who do not agree with us doctrinally? Must we insist also that our parents do likewise and that they, in refusing to permit us to keep company with “outsiders,” practice a degree of consistency when they extend invitations to the “company” they receive into the parlor? Don’t we leave an impression of conceited, bigoted, denominational isolationism by literally executing this word of the apostle John? What is the “truth” and “error” of this matter?
In commenting upon this we would have you take note of the following elements in the text:
(1) What is meant by “this doctrine?”
(2) Specifically, what is denoted by the expression, “to receive one into your house?”
(3) What is the connection or relation between this and “bidding one Godspeed?”
In the light of these three questions we will discuss this passage with you and, meanwhile, suggest that the text in question should provide interesting material for a discussion in your society. There you can enter more detail than we can in our Truth vs. Error department as you consider some of the practical aspects of this matter in connection with the question: “Just how far must we go in carrying out the command of this text?”
Before we write more fully on the three questions proposed above, we wish to point out that there are various interpretations given of this passage as may also be expected. On the one hand is the extreme view that rejects any teaching that would make the Christian assume a harsh or positively intolerant attitude toward heretics. This view expresses, and now we quote Nicoll’s “Expositor’s Greek Testament”; “If so, it (i.e. intolerance of heretics) is certainly an unchristian counsel, contrary to the spirit and teaching of our Lord. Heretics are our fellow-creatures; Jesus died for them also, and our office is to win them. If we close our doors and our hearts against them, we lose our opportunity of winning them and harden them in their opposition.”
This view then proceeds to tell us of a Jewish fable according to which Abraham is supposed to have cast out a wayfarer from his tent at one time because he asked no blessing for his food and avowed himself a fire-worshipper. The Lord is then supposed to have shown Abraham that this conduct of his was wrong for he said to Abraham, “I have suffered him these hundred years, although he dishonored Me; and couldst not thou endure him for one night?”
We hasten to add that this view is “Error.” It would indeed be a very strange way for the Word of God and the apostle John to tell us to “open our doors and hearts to win heretics” by stating that we are “not to receive them into our houses nor bid them Godspeed.” Neither can we be satisfied with the explanation that applies these words to local circumstances of that time, thus leaving the impression that they have no meaning for us today and may just as well be elided from the Bible. The church in those days frequently met in the homes. Itinerant apostles and prophets went from church to church or from house to house. Many of these were false teachers and the text is then supposed to be a warning against receiving these heretics into a position of leadership where they are afforded opportunity to unsettle the faith of the whole church. Neither was such a church to recommend such a teacher to a neighboring church for to do so made her guilty of his evil work.
Although there are elements in this interpretation that are true and may also be applied today, we do not feel it is a complete explanation of the text. The text has a personal as well as ecclesiastical application. This we will come to a bit later.
Another view which favors the positive and complete exclusion of all heretics from Christian fellowship tells of an incident that was supposed to have occurred in the experience of St. John himself. He was, on a certain occasion, at Ephesus where he visited the public baths and while there he saw Cerinthus within. Now Cerinthus was a heretic whose errors the apostle strenuously controverted. On the occasion of visiting the baths, John is supposed to have hastened out of the building crying out, “Let us flee, lest the building fall since Cerinthus, the foe of the Truth is within it.” Polycarp, one of the early church fathers is supposed to have told this story.
Whether it is true or not, we have no way of knowing but we may say that the text we are discussing does not teach or mean to express that we are to literally flee from any building in which there may be at the time a heretic for fear that the building will collapse. We shall attempt next time, D.V., to discuss the three questions mentioned before in order that we may arrive at a clear understanding of this important passage. For the present, however, our space is filled.