Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
So, we have to “test the spirits”. What does that mean, exactly, and why is it necessary? Let’s start with the first. Not every idiot who says they are speaking for God is, in fact, speaking for God. (It’s one of the reasons I’m extremely glad I stopped watching any form of broadcast TV several years ago!) I don’t think we have to limit it to spirits, we can apply it to preachers, evangelists, and even friends. In the case of the community of John, the problem seems to have been Docetism. What is that? Here’s a quote from Christianity101.com:
Beginning with the apostle Paul, the leaders of the early church had to address wrong headed ideas that threatened the integrity of the gospel message. One of the first, Docetism, was mentioned in our discussion of the first century. Docetic, which comes from the Greek word meaning “to appear.” Those who proposed this heresy maintained that Jesus really did not possess, or inhabit a physical body, but only “appeared” to have a body. The basis of Docetism is that Jesus was truly a spiritual being, and as such, could not have had a true body.
Does this sound slightly familiar? There is a slow creep of Greek philosophy into the faith. It holds that all physical things (especially our bodies) are lesser, lower order spiritual natures. If this is the case, and if Jesus is the Son of God, it goes to figure that Jesus really could not have had a real, physical nature. It just appeared that he did. This idea goes against both the Jewish, and the early Christian spiritualties. God created the physical world and called it good. Jesus was famous for sitting and eating and drinking with a cagey group of people. The community of John was especially steeped in this tradition. The Gospel of John begins with a clear recalling of the Genesis creation text: “In the beginning was the word . . .”
So, what are the spirits we must be careful of now? Here is my top ten list–in no particular order. (Feel free to make create your own!)
- Anyone who says they know why a catastrophe has occurred. They don’t have a clue, and they should keep their mouths shut.
- Anyone who says God wants us all to be rich. Dave Ramsay heads in this direction, Joel Osteen worships there.
- Anyone who says being a Christian will take away all of your problems, and that your life will be smooth sailing from that point on. Lie! Becoming a part of a Christian community will probably be one of the more challenging things you will ever do, and it won’t take away your problems (sorry about that!)
- Anyone who says that a guy named Joe Smith had some solid gold tablets, but, kind of, well, misplaced them.
- Anyone who won’t let you celebrate Christmas or your birthday. These folks also use Jehovah as their reference to God, which any Old Testament scholar will tell you was a clever tool to keep people from using God’s name, but never one which was used to refer to God in scripture.
- Anyone who uses a science fiction book on which to base their faith. They also will want to hook you up to a machine to discover the exact moments in your previous life where you messed up and need help. L Ron Hubbard thought this whole thing up.
- Anyone who can tell you exactly who Jesus hates. Jesus only seemed to have gotten really angry at religious officials who judged others. He said love your enemies. Go, and do likewise.
- Anyone who thinks the Bible is the literal word of God dictated to certain people in certain times.
- Anyone who ignores their brothers and sisters in need, or ignores global warming, but lives an opulent lifestyle. (Me, for example . . . )
- And, finally, anyone who makes a top ten list of other people’s faults, but doesn’t look at their own.
There are tests for all of these things. We must test them against the Biblical traditions, but that’s not enough. It’s also important to see where the Holy Spirit is leading us through our own faith traditions. This is one reason I think it is important that we continue to have ties to our Methodist and Lutheran historical churches. Oh, what the heck, let’s just complete the quad and include human reason and experience as well!
Quotes for the Week
“Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really want to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.” L Ron Howard
“Make money. Make more money. Make other people make money.” Ibid
“Riches are such dangerous things . . . they are usually a curse. People are cursed by blessings, they are destroyed by riches.” John Piper
“I wonder: when a Jehovah’s Witness dies and goes to Heaven, does God hide behind the door and pretend He’s not home?” Brian Celio
Lesson: 1 John 4:1-6 (The Message)
Don’t Believe Everything You Hear
4 My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.
2-3 Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. And everyone who refuses to confess faith in Jesus has nothing in common with God. This is the spirit of antichrist that you heard was coming. Well, here it is, sooner than we thought!
4-6 My dear children, you come from God and belong to God. You have already won a big victory over those false teachers, for the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world. These people belong to the Christ-denying world. They talk the world’s language and the world eats it up. But we come from God and belong to God. Anyone who knows God understands us and listens. The person who has nothing to do with God will, of course, not listen to us. This is another test for telling the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of deception.
Questions for the Week
- How do you “test the spirits?” How do you figure out what to believe, and what to reject?
- What current false teaching makes you the most upset? Why?
- What false beliefs would make your top 10 list?