I’ve always loved history; I find it fascinating to learn about what has happened in the past and how our world got to where it is today. And I’m especially fascinated by how history keeps on repeating itself; every few generations people keep on making the same mistakes, trying the same things, and encountering the same problems. And each time, we act under the assumption that we are making our own unique advances, because we haven’t learned from the past.
Studying early church history this semester has shown me the same thing. The modern New Age movements are expressing the same ideas that were evident in the Gnostic sects that plagued the early church (they believed human beings are divine souls trapped in the physical world). Or the hard-line Christians today who claim their denomination is the one true church are just echoing the Donatists of the early North African church (they believed that only those who lived morally blameless lives should be allowed in the church). As the writer of Ecclesiastes observes, “There is nothing new under the sun’” (1:9).
The lesson to learn here is that we should stop and think before rushing into the intriguing, persuasive ideas we read in new, flashy books or that we hear from others. Whether it is a ‘ground- breaking reinterpretation’ that shows Christians ‘can live as we desire’, or a ‘modern mindset’ through which Christians can see ‘new revelations from God in other religions’, we need to be discerning.
These and many other ideas are not brand-new revelations, but rather the same old spiritually dangerous ideas which have surfaced dozens of times before, and which the Bible has shown to be false every time.
Be gracious toward others but be discerning toward new ideas and truth claims. Weigh them up in light of Scripture and look to see whether Christian minds before us have already solved the questions we encounter.