As we’ve discovered in the last few years, viruses often morph into any number of variants. Some are less virulent than the original disease, while others can be even more deadly. Some variants, like Omicron and Delta, while less likely to land you in a hospital bed breathing through a ventilator, are more contagious than other versions of the virus. We’re all weary of vaccinations, masks, distancing, and obsessive hand washing, nevertheless we’ve done what we’ve had to in order to stay as well as possible.
Since I came to Jesus 50 years ago I’ve seen way too many “variants” of Christianity to count. Many “winds of teaching” have blown through in these years, due to the “cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). I’ve heard some of the weirdest teachings, seen some of the most bizarre spiritual practices, and witnessed some of the most outlandish moral behaviors by people who identified as Christ followers.
But, as with the Coronavirus, new and unimproved variants of “Christianity” keep cropping up, more contagious, and in some cases, even more virulent than the one before. Sometimes they are hardly recognizable as remotely related to the faith that Jesus died to purchase. It’s concerning to say the least.
It used to be that we debated Calvinism versus Arminianism, whether or not to speak in tongues, or if the “rapture” was going to occur before, during, or after “the tribulation.” And usually, the debates were civil and mostly edifying. But these are different times.
Now some “Christian” groups advocate such stupid and wildly unbiblical ideas as a violent civil war! Some people spend way more time with cable “news” than in prayer, Bible reading, and fellowshipping with other saints. No wonder their theology is infected with every new variant that appears on the scene. John Wayne-ism is more popular than the “meek and lowly” Jesus of the Gospels. People send out Christmas cards with photos of their families holding assault rifles as though the Son of God born in a borrowed stable to dirt poor parents could be represented in such a contradicting way. And these are just a few of the disturbing new variants of noxious versions of Jesus and his story.
What ever happened to discernment? Does anyone read the Bible anymore? Consult with God once in a while? Have any accountable relationships these days? Who will warn the Church of the toxicity of these new variants? And who would listen even if they did?
“Watch out that no one deceives you… many false prophets will appear and deceive many people… false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.” Matthew 24:4, 11, 24, 25
It doesn’t matter much to me if you speak in tongues, ascribe to a Calvinistic approach to salvation, or whether or not you baptize babies. It seems like we’ve come to terms on some of those issues. We learned to disagree agreeably and go about the work of the Kingdom together in spite of our divergent opinions.
But these new variants, in my humble opinion are more deadly to their adherents and damaging to our testimony in the world. Onlookers didn’t care if we were pre-, mid-, or post-tribulation rapture. They weren’t even aware that we disagreed about whether or not the atonement is “limited.” But what do you think they think when they see people under the banner of Christ dressed in fatigues marching down the street carrying assault rifles or breaking into the capitol building carrying Jesus signs? If I were an unbeliever, I’d think, “I should keep an enormous distance from those addled people, whose religion has robbed them of critical thought.” I’d wonder if there were a vaccine against this virus that would keep us all safe from what seems to be growing into a religious pandemic.
“The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:3-5
Friends, I appeal you to safeguard yourself and those around you from inhaling these new variants. It might not kill you or even land you in the hospital, but it is deadly, if not to you, to others watching you. Read the Bible carefully as if for the first time. Begin again with the Gospels. Immerse yourself in Jesus’ story, his character, his ways. Spend time with him and let him drench you in grace and truth. Hang out with some critical thinking, God-loving, obedient saints who can help you (and you them) to cultivate a spiritually healthy life. Develop the essential tool of discernment. Learn to weed out what is poisonous to your faith and plant seeds of truth that will in time bear good fruit from which others near you may find nourishment.
“Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18