Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Question 4 from Affirmative

Question 4 – 1 John 4:1

In your rebuttal essay you used some strong language to describe my appeal to the command in 1 John 4:1 to “Try the spirits whether they be of God….” In fact, you made lots of negative assertions about the text.

1 John 4:1-3
1Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 2Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

But what is inescapable is that the verse is commanding believers to pass judgments on teachers. And, in fact, this particular epistle is commanding them (implicitly) to use Scripture (since this epistle is Scripture) in the process.

This principle of testing teachers and churches against Scripture is reflected in the writings of the early Christians:

Ambrose wrote, for example, “Therefore, to begin, the faith which is to be sought is entrusted to the Church. If Christ lives in it, then no doubt it is choiceworthy. But if, on the other hand, the populace is false, or a heretical teacher mars the house, the fellowship of heretics must be avoided, and the synagogue judged as something to be avoided. The dust on the feet must be shaken off, lest the footprint of your mind be polluted by the splitting dryness of barren lies, just as a footprint may be polluted by the dry and parched earth. For just as a preacher of the Gospel ought to take onto himself the bodily infirmities of the faithful people, and just as our own empty deeds must be compared to dust, traces that should be lifted up and destroyed, just so was it written: Who is weakened and I am not weakened? Thus, if it is the Church that lacks faith, it will not possess the teachings of the aforementioned apostle. It must be destroyed, so that it is not able to spread the stain of falsehood. The apostle evidently asserted this very thing, saying: Avoid the corruption of heretics after [you have seen?] one man. And he said to them: You give them something to eat. And they replied: We have no more than five loaves.”

Augustine wrote, likewise: “Whoever dissents from the sacred Scriptures, even if they are found in all places in which the church is designated, are not the church.” De Unitate Ecclesiae, Caput IV, §7.

And again Augustine wrote: “Let no one say to me, What hath Donatus said, what hath Parmenian said, or Pontius, or any of them. For we must not allow even Catholic bishops, if at any time, perchance, they are in error, to hold any opinion contrary to the Canonical Scriptures of God.” De Unitate Ecclesiae, Caput XI, §28.

And yet again, Augustine wrote: “We ought to find the Church, as the Head of the Church, in the Holy Canonical Scriptures, not to inquire for it in the various reports, and opinions, and deeds, and words, and visions of men.” De Unitate Ecclesiae, Caput XIX, §49.

And still further Augustine testifies: “Whether they [i.e. the Donatists] hold the Church, they must show by the Canonical books of the Divine Scriptures alone; for we do not say, that we must be believed because we are in the Church of Christ, because Optatus of Milevi, or Ambrose of Milan, or innumerable other bishops of our communion, commended that Church to which we belong, or because it is extolled by the Councils of our colleagues, or because through the whole world in the holy places which those of our communion frequent such wonderful answers to prayers or cures happen.” De Unitate Ecclesiae, Caput XIX, §50.

Furthermore, in Scripture the Bereans are commended for testing the apostolic teachings themselves against what they already knew to be the Word of God in Scripture (Acts 17:11).

So, if Scripture clearly indicates that believers have a duty to judge whether their teachers are false prophets, how can they do this aside from comparing their teachings to Scripture – emulating the Scriptural example of the Bereans, the Scriptural command of 1 John 4:1, the implicit testimony of Ambrose, the explicit example of Augustine, and the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith?

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