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Despising Heresy, Loving Heretics: Irenaeus

Heresy can be a spark to revival.

The presence of heresy in the Church can throw a damper over Kingdom progress. It can also be a match tossed into kindling to spark revival. This was the case during the second century, when Christian leaders like Justin and Irenaeus, recognizing that heresy was impeding the progress of the Christian movement, took to their pens to lead the Church through the sludge of heresy back to the fast track of revival.

So let’s continue looking at Irenaeus and his polemic against heresies, especially Gnosticism. 

In his writings, especially Against All Heresies, Irenaeus thoroughly examined Gnosticism. He understood his opponents, and left no stone unturned in exposing the dark and dangerous side of their teaching. He avoided none of their claims, exposed the emptiness of their terms, and warned of the dangers of following their teaching.

Yet his rigor in dismantling gnostic teachings did not include any animosity towards its adherents; he was not engaged in a philippic, rather, quite the opposite. While his words against the promulgators of heresy were blunt, he employed harshness only to expose the true provenance of their views, and to call them back to the way of faith:

Such are the adversaries [the Gnostics] with whom we have to deal, my very dear friend, endeavoring like slippery serpents to escape at all points. Wherefore they must be opposed at all points, if perchance, by cutting off their retreat, we may succeed in turning them back to the truth.

Irenaeus wrote to give proper direction for the Church, to lead believers to the path that issues in true faith and revival. But he intended to persuade all believers, even those who were being led astray by false teachers. Later, he goes on to say: [that] I may succeed in persuading them to abandon such error, and to cease from blaspheming their Creator, who is both God alone, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is a tough love, the kind of love our tolerate-everything culture rejects and seems to be incapable of exercising. In the Church, however, if we wish to see revival, we need to set the match of God’s heat to the kindling of false teaching, that the Lord by His Word may burn away the dross, and bring true believers to higher levels of burnishing and sanctification.

Irenaeus, and so many of our predecessors, realized what was at stake. All who adhered to false beliefs were in shackles, and those chains were dragging them into hell because they were blaspheming God.

In many churches today, our willingness to go to almost any lengths to avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable, our tendency to blink at sin, and to define the faith of Christ in self-interested terms – these are slowing the progress of the Kingdom. We have so focused on accommodating the world and our selfish interests that we are in danger of losing sight of God and His holiness. 

We may well bristle at such bluntness. But throughout history, the Church has realized that the only true love is love that presents God in all His holiness and splendor, as well as His grace. 

True revival will see idols torn down, the path of truth fully illuminated, and the lost lifted by God’s grace as we exhibit and proclaim His tough love. This is a tall order, and, while only God can fill it, we can join with Him by actively seeking revival, renewal, and awakening – beginning in our own lives – through prayer.

Ralph Lehman, Men’s Prayer Coordinator
T. M. Moore, Principal

Visit the website to watch the brief video on using our booklet, If Men Will Pray, to begin enlisting other men for a deeper, more satisfying, and more powerful life of prayer (click here).

Download “Men of the Church: A Solemn Call” for free by
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Ralph Lehman

Ralph Lehman, JD, CFA, CAIA, is an investment adviser after having spent nine years in a discipleship-focused ministry, Worldwide Discipleship Association, where his ministry focused primarily on college students and inner-city work. Ralph resides in Knoxville, TN with his wife Charlotte and he is a Board member for the Fellowship of the Ailbe.
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