Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Diotrephes and Demetrius

The book of 3 John contains a sober lesson for modern Christians as it relates to Christian attitudes in general and toward leadership in particular. John sends this letter apparently in response to a report he received from missionaries that had visited the Church where the beloved Gaius served. John opens the letter by reaffirming his love for Gaius and wishes him well. We know this letter was in response to a report because John says that he was very glad to hear that his children are walking in the truth. (v.3)
In the ancient Church just as today, Christian missionaries traveled from region to region preaching the gospel. These missionaries relied heavily on the hospitality of fellow Christians and churches for their provisions. In the case of 3 John there appears that there was an individual named Diotrephes that was not only willing to support the efforts of these ordained missionaries, but he also forbad anyone else from doing so. For some reason, unknown to us, Diotrephes rejected the missionaries. John tells us several things about Diotrephes.

Frist, Diotrephes loved to be first among the saints. He had a hunger to recognition and notoriety. He wanted to have the preeminence among the Church. Second, he rejected the words of the apostle. Diotrephes thought he knew better than the apostles. He rejected the inspired and authoritative word of the leaders of Christ’s Church. Third, Diotrephes is a slanderous man. He unjustly and falsely said wicked things about John and the other leaders. Diotrephes is out of touch with love and out of touch with submission. Fourth, Diotrephes rejects the Christian missionaries who were no doubt sanctioned and sent out under apostolic rule. In addition, and fifth, Diotrephes refuses to allow others to receive these missionaries as well. This indicates that Diotrephes was either very influential or in a position of authority or perhaps both. Sixth, Diotrephes actually excommunicates those that do receive these Christian missionaries. He forces them out of the church. This points to the fact that Diotrephes had adopted doctrine that ran contrary to apostolic teaching. It also indicates that he had very strong feelings about his doctrine and that he would stop at nothing to protect his position in the church.

Contrast Diotrephes with another man Demetrius. Demetrius had a good reputation with everyone to include the truth itself. That is, Demetrius was faithful to the truth of the Christian message. Demetrius was viewed a man that was busy doing good, honoring truth, and blessing the saints.

The modern, visible church is filled with men like Diotrephes. These men, from the very start reject anything that resembles submission to the authority of Scripture. They abandon historic orthodox teachings at alarming rates, without much thought, and they do so with a smug casualness that makes one wonder if they have ever encountered the Christ of Scripture. This is the direct product of pelagian and semi-pelagian theology run amuck and taken to its logical end. The Christian message of supernatural faith and a miraculous born again experience has been replaced with a rationalistic understanding of Christian conversion. The direct influence of the enlightenment, even in thousands of conservative churches is felt. The doctrine of regeneration has been reduced to rational decision-making at one end and little more than a psychological event on the other. It is in this garden of “Christian” enlightenment thinking that leaders are being nurtured to promulgate a version of Christianity that is the hatchings of demonic plotting.

We experience the impact of this thinking everywhere we turn. It is almost impossible to avoid. Regeneration is no longer the powerful work of God to transform a life. Rather, it is a decision to join the group. Faith is nothing more than an intellectual belief, rather than the profound spiritual gift of the Spirit described in Scripture. The Bible has been reduced to the product of men that were unenlightened, prejudiced, and who did the best they could with what they knew. But we know so much more. We know better than Moses and the ancient Hebrews that the earth was not actually created in six literal days. We know that God used evolutionary processes to create life. The story of Adam and Eve is nothing more than a parable, a metaphor representing humanity. We know that the acts of judgment in the Old Testament were the biases of a blood-thirsty culture overlaid on the deity. We know that God could never really become a man and that ancient Christianity actually never believed this either. We know that Christ did not really rise from the dead but His message is really what rose above the tradition of the religious hypocrites of His day. That is what is important. We know that God loves everyone and that some people are going to heaven through Christ, others through Islam, others through Buddha, and others through their good works and the worship of whatever god there is.

One does not have to read very far into the previous paragraph to realize that Christianity has become a religion of mass chaos and confusion in the 21st century. In fact, one of my issues in conversing with atheists and skeptics is refusing to defend a generalize idea of Christianity because there are so many different versions of Christianity that exist in the world today. I now have to establish the fact that there is only one true version of Christianity and defend the fact that I know which one that is. Diotrephes has been a busy fellow over the last few decades and especially in the last two or three.

The problem is that in one way, shape, or form, we have many Diotrephes running around in the visible Christian community doing their own thing. They have decided that 2,000 years of apostolic teaching is enough. Historical Christian orthodoxy is nothing more than ancient phariseeism. The image of God is exchanged for one that is kinder, gentler, friendlier, and much more tolerant. So Diotrephes graduates from seminary and heads off to a location of his choosing and starts a church in a local school with his new hip message about a hip Jesus whose existence revolves around making American Christians happy.

This modern Diotrephes has been thoroughly baptized in enlightenment doctrine and as a result, he in turn, baptizes Christianity in enlightenment doctrine. For Diotrephes, Protagoras was right when he said, “Man is the measure of all things.” God is not sovereign, His knowledge is limited by the free will of the creature, the Bible is not inerrant but some of it is inspired (the parts he likes), hell is a metaphor, God did not really create as much as He did reshape, man did not come from dust, but rather God worked with evolution to produce him from a single-celled organism (whose origin is still a mystery), abortion is not murder, but a woman’s health issue, sex is love, and therefore gay sex is love, and we need to accept and tolerate all people (except conservative Christians, they are the worse), and the atonement is not Christ taking the wrath of God in our place because such a view is equivalent to divine child abuse. In addition, alternative views are perfectly fine. We are not sure Christ was God. We do not think there is only one way to heaven.

Hence, we see what happens when entrance into the Christian community is reduced to a rationalistic soteriology. Unbelievers do not become believers. There is no genuine faith in Christ within these men. This is why we often read about their apostasy years later. They gave the appearance of being a Christian for some time. But when they encountered just the right circumstances, the truth became obvious: they never knew Christ. These men and women fill the ranks of most churches today and some of them are even in conservative churches. They may be in your church. This is why it is important for Christians within communities to get to know one another. Then and only then are we in a position to serve one another by holding each other accountable for the sinful proclivities that we all have. Our pride does not want to admit that we are tempted each day to sin against God. We are tempted to anger, to lie, to be prideful, to lust. We don’t want to admit that in a moment of weakness, we lied, or we flirted, or we enjoyed a flirt. We don’t want to admit that our hearts are filing up with pride because we are reasonably success in the job and our work is gaining notice. We must find a way to be more transparent, more open about these things. This will help us identify the Diotrephes in our own heart and more importantly, those that are in our communities. When we do locate Diotrephes, what do we do? We eradicate him! We do this in one of two ways. We lead him to repentance, or if he refuses, we lead him out of the community. For those traits of Diotrephes in our hearts, we mortify them.
Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.[1] but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.[2]

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 5:7.
[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ro 8:13.

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