12 What I am doing I must continue to do, so that I may eliminate the opportunity for (such men) to be regarded just as we (apostles) are in the matter about which they are boasting. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will be according to their deeds. (2Cor11:12-15)
Re chapters 8-10
My previous post concerned 2Cor7. I have skipped through to chapter 11 for the intervening chapters contained little pure theological content. Applied theology for sure; they provided insights into Paul’s pastoral oversight of the fledgling churches. The apostle was pleased at hearing the report from Titus; in particular that the Corinthian church had repented in response to his letter of rebuke. He also urged the church to follow through their commitment to contribute to a collection for the suffering Christians in Jerusalem. Chapter ten continues the pattern of Paul’s letter, as he deals with various matters. He also tackles a personal charge against himself; that he is too unimpressive in person to be a true apostle of Christ. But he was a true apostle, unlike some who should follow him.
Coming to chapter 11 it is evident that Paul still has concerns about the Church at Corinth.
“I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his trickery, your minds will be led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if one should come and preach another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you would tolerate it very well!” (vv2-4)
Paul warns of false apostles
Two things concerned Paul; firstly, that false teachers would come along and preach a false gospel; secondly, that the Corinthian Church would fall for it. Consequently, they would be “led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Christ”. Regrettably, history proved Paul to be right on both counts regarding the Church at Corinth. That is affirmed by the letter of Clement, Bishop of Rome to the Corinthians, thought to be penned around 96AD. That re-iterated some of Paul’s concerns and referred to sedition against the established Church leaders.
The letter is almost certainly authentic and offers valuable evidence about the state of the ministry in the early church. But it also provides insights into matters theological. So on a personal note, in spite of its somewhat admonishing tone, Clement’s letter fills me with delight. For it is further reassurance that the understanding I have come to regarding faith, salvation and providence is the truth from God. That is not least because the Augustinian-derived “theology of sovereign grace” built on and reinforced by the Protestant Reformers is nowhere to be found. Indeed I propose that it is barely detectable in any of the writings of the pre-Nicene Church Fathers. That is all the more significant given that the likes of Irenaeus and Eusebius testified to the unity of doctrine in the churches of the second century.
Seeming servants of righteousness
In terms of the 2Cor passage, Christians of all traditions are likely to agree with Paul’s statement concerning “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ”. The issues of course are who they are, when they arrived (or shall arrive) and how they should be identified (v13). It is certainly not by their outward manner or seemingly pious teaching. “For even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light so it is hardly surprising if his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end shall be according to their deeds” (vv14,15). In terms of historical figures, for “deeds” read “legacy”; i.e. their impact on the Faith, the Church and the world. As for possible current and future candidates, one should consider motives, manner and above all what is likely to be their impact should they succeed in their endeavours.
What of “yours truly”?
So, should someone writing as I do fall under suspicion? Absolutely, without a doubt, no question about it, especially if he or she begins to receive more attention. So, I had better briefly restate my motives and intentions. It is to reveal the thoroughly intelligible nature of God’s goodness and justice; also the magnanimity of His providence towards humanity as a whole. Regrettably, that involves revisiting and deconstructing some established biblical interpretations and doctrines. I have concluded that especially applies to those distinctive doctrines of Augustine that were built upon and reinforced by the Protestant Reformers. The resulting biblical synopsis has been set out in “The Little Book of Providence”.
Related to that task is a quest to heal and re-unite the Church. Surely a worthy end in itself but it is also the only way that a coherent gospel could be presented to the World (Mt24:14). Such will not be achieved by a particular tradition being able to say “Told you so”. There needs to be an acknowledgement of error from all sides, more especially on the western front. No doubt that is because Eastern Orthodoxy has been less influenced by Augustine whilst her own theology is less systematized, less dogmatic and more accepting of mystery.
Errors fatal to the gospel
Some errors have been fatal to the gospel and so frankly are unsustainable. For example, Christian unity and coherent gospel evangelism cannot possibly be achieved whilst there are such fundamentally divergent perspectives on the Eucharist. Are the closely related Roman Catholic Mass and Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church divinely ordained pure re-presentations of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice at Calvary or are they age-enduring ceremonies of blasphemy? Are the bread and wine merely symbolic or do they actually become for the believer the body and blood of the Lord, essential for ongoing forgiveness and eternal Life?
Reasons to be hopeful
Biblical interpretation alone has not and will not resolve that matter – we have also to examine Church history. I am well aware that the potential implications of doing so will be too drastic for some even to contemplate. Yet I believe a resolution will occur, especially in view of Mt24:14 and Mal4:5-6. In terms of the broader benign providence I have been outlining, Rev10:9-10 and (more speculatively) Enoch93:8-10 and 104:11-13 suggest it is appropriate to expect such a joyous disclosure.
My involvement came about as a result of what I am clear were (two) encounters with the Holy Spirit. So like Paul I must say “What I am doing I must continue to do” (v12). Thanks to the internet, verifying (or disproving) unexpected new perspectives becomes a practical option for the many. But as the end of the age approaches, the false apostles and deceitful workers Paul warns us about are all the more likely to abound. Again, thanks to the internet, devious “servants of the devil” or more likely the simply deluded will struggle to make much headway. But neither shall intransigent traditionists be able to defend the indefensible for very much longer.
Related post: Examine yourselves