Monday, November 30, 2020

The Dividing Line (3 John)

"I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us" (3 John 9)

In 3 John 9, the apostle mentions a letter he had written to “the church.” Because 2 John is written to the “elect lady,” and this seems to be a reference to a church, it is often believed that 2 John is the letter referred to in 3 John 9.

We cannot know this for certain, but we can take note of something John wrote in 2 John that provides a context for 3 John. John wrote against the traveling heretical teachers that “if anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching [the true Gospel], do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked ways” (2 John 10–11). By implication, the second sentence means we should also shun those who share in heresy by welcoming heretics.

Now we read in 3 John about the heretic Diotrephes: “He refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church” (3 John 10). We notice that the heretic Diotrephes is doing exactly what John commanded the church to do. The critical difference is that he is treating the orthodox as if they were heretics and the heretics as if they were orthodox.

This brings up a matter that concerns and confuses Christians sometimes. If we judge only by externals, it’s as if the disciplines of the true church and of the heretical antichurch are the same. If we react against the discipline of an heretical antichurch, we can begin to adopt the idea that all discipline is wrong: “That sect is unloving and puts people out who disobey the leaders. I never want to join a church that does anything like that!”

But we must not judge by externals in this way. The church is indeed commanded to practice discipline. John says that not only must we not receive heretics, but that we take a stand against anyone who does, because those who receive heretics share in their heresy and wickedness. You can be sure that when the elders discipline a heretic and his followers, the elders will be called “unloving” and “tyrannical.” The question we have to ask is this: Who stands for the truth? Who is obeying the Bible? We must not simply react against the sternness of the elders.

The command to shun those who welcome heretics addresses our associations with unbelievers. Is your local church in a denomination that welcomes those who deny the deity of Christ, His resurrection, the authority of Scripture? Have nothing to do with such heretics, nor with those who welcome them.