Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Why Theology Matters

If evangelical Christians cannot agree on all areas of theology, we might be tempted to conclude that theology isn't all that important. Do we need to insist that we have doctrinal agreement in the church? The Apostle John thought so. Here is what he says:

22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

When John uses the term antichrist in this passage, he is referring to those who were once a part of the Church but have subsequently left (1 Jn 2:18-19). And he is writing in this passage to warn those who are still in the Church, and to exhort them to not fall prey to the deceptive lies of these "antichrists" (1 Jn 2:26).

But notice why John calls those who have left the Church "antichrists." It is because they have denied the Father and the Son. And how have they done that? By denying that Jesus is the Christ. In 2 John 7, we find out more: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” We know from verses like this that John was combating a growing heresy in the church called Gnosticism. One segment of Gnosticism, called Docetism, denied that Jesus had come “in the flesh” but only “appeared” to be human. Their view of Jesus was too high: he was God but not man. Another segment of Gnosticism taught that Jesus was a human being upon whom the Spirit of God came at his baptism but left before his crucifixion. Their view of Jesus was too low: he was a man but not God.

It is not clear which of these two heresies is in view here, but in either case the problem was a Christological error. These “antichrists” held a belief about Jesus that was not right. He can call them “antichrists” because in spite of what they might say about Jesus, because of their heretical views about him they are perverting Christianity and in reality opposing Christ.

For John, right theology mattered a whole lot. Although there are many theological things that we can and should debate among ourselves, there are a few things that we cannot afford to be wrong about. And one of them is before us in this text. We cannot afford to be wrong about who Jesus is. John argues in the second half of verse 22 and in verse 23 that if we deny something that is true about Jesus we have also denied the Father. To be wrong about Jesus is to put yourself at odds with God. Conversely, the acceptance of Jesus automatically leads to fellowship with God.

In other words, John calls these apostates “antichrists” primarily because they deny an essential truth about Christ. Yes, theology matters. It matters a whole lot.

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