—by Jeremy Purvis, Ruling Elder
A few weeks ago, our church had the privilege of honoring its high school graduates as they reached the end of their hard-earned journey. Five young, energetic faces stood eagerly on the podium, ready to embark on new academic and vocational adventures.
What do we want them to remember as they go into the world?
We find an answer to this question in 1 John, in which the apostle encourages us to hold fast to what we have been taught. “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you,” he says. “If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you, too, will abide in the Son and in the Father.”
Just a few years after Jesus’s death and resurrection, the Church was already facing opposition from a variety of sources. One of the biggest threats was false teaching: subtle theories that served to chip away at the full truth of the gospel. Was Jesus fully divine? Isn’t there something I can contribute to my salvation? Are there other ways of understanding God that I should consider?
These teachings were presented by persuasive, highly decorated, and well-respected philosophers. Sadly, their words probably turned many people astray. We catch a glimpse of this battle for the truth in a letter from Irenaeus, an early church cleric who defended the orthodox view, to Florinus, who supported the false teachings of Gnosticism:
“These doctrines, O Florinus, to speak mildly, are not of sound judgment. These doctrines disagree with the Church, and drive into the greatest impiety those who accept them…”
He then goes on to describe what he learned as a small child, sitting at the feet of Polycarp, a faithful teacher of the gospel who himself had learned directly from the apostle John.
“For when I was a boy, I saw you [Florinus] in lower Asia with Polycarp…I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it; so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life … and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord. And as he remembered their words, and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the Word of Life…”
This letter is fascinating. The writer is two-degrees separated from the apostle John and therefore three degrees from Jesus himself! Irenaeus recalls with detail what he had learned as a boy and how the truth was firmly established in his mind. He appeals to his reader, Florinus, on the basis of what they learned as children and is not afraid to confront the disagreeing voices around him.
I think there is a strong message here not only for our young people as they head off into the greater world, but for the rest of: Remember the original story. Be ready for opposition. Help your friends who are running off the road. Hold fast to what you learned from the beginning.