False apostles and the impulse to split

The Collect for St. Matthias pulls no punches: “Grant that your church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors” (BCP 239).

The reading from the First Letter of John is equally harsh. On the subject of antichrists, John says “by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us” (1 John 2:19).

These two statements about leadership in the church run counter to our American way. We generally prefer to go off and start our own churches — I remember reading once that there were 24,000 Christian denominations in America — so this judgment about “going out” hits hard.

I think there’s also a plain meaning of falsehood that gets cloaked in pious language in an attempt to justify the impulse to split. I am a salesman, and if I were to promote a competitor’s product, I would be fired for not doing my job. If an apostle — in our church, that’s a bishop — leads people out of the church he or she has sworn to guard, that bishop is false, not doing his or her job. I am not talking here primarily about teaching or correcting those in error, but about the separating of the body. You cannot both leave and stay.

John comes back to his real theme at the end of today’s passage. “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:24). John is urging us to stay, to abide in the fellowship of the church.

This may be particularly hard for us as Americans. What might you need to do in order to more fully abide, to more fully stay in the church as it is, rather than as you might prefer it to be?

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