Letter from the South II – the point of no Return

 

I once spent a summer holiday camping on the banks of the Zambezi river, a short distance upstream of the Victoria Falls. It is an awe-inspiring sight as thousands of tons of water cascade over the edge of the falls and thunder into the chasm beneath. A few hundred meters upstream the river is deep and placid, its cool waters enticing to the hot traveller looking for a respite from the intense African sun. Yet the unwary bather is warned by a large sign with red lettering; “DO NOT ENTER THE RIVER BEYOND THIS POINT”. A deep rumbling sound and a misty spray in the distance are the only signs that betray the proximity of the cataract. At that point anyone foolish enough to enter the water will be borne downstream by powerful undercurrents, to be carried over the edge of the chasm in a sudden surge, plummeting into the abyss and almost certain death on the rocks below.

In a similar fashion it seems there are in the spiritual lives of individuals and even churches, points of no return.  There are invisible boundaries that mark the end of God’s patience.  Beyond these,  God gives us up to our own chosen path.  Paul refers to whole cultures which are given over by God (“God gave them up…”; Romans 1:24,26,28), and explains that this is evidence of his judgement.  One example is the story of Noah building the ark to escape the coming flood. A terse phrase describes the point at which Noah, after entering the ark with the animals, seals the destiny of those outside: “…and the Lord shut him in…”.  It is the point of no return.  While Noah’s destiny of salvation is set, a destiny of judgement for those he lived among is also set.  Jesus illustrated the same point in the parable of the ten virgins – those who were ready went with the bridegroom into the marriage feast and the door was shut against those who were not ready.

It also seems to be true that as the point of no return approaches it becomes more and more difficult to stop and change course.  The scripture has many stories illustrating this truth – an example being the story of Lot’s sojourn in Sodom.  Lot was a righteous man who stood out from the wickedness of the culture in which he lived.  He even endured persecution for his stand.  Yet when the time came for him to leave Sodom, he dithered and had to be forcibly taken by the angels who were sent to rescue him.  Although he was a righteous person, there was a very real danger that he would be “swept away in the punishment of the city.”  (Genesis 19:15).  We don’t know why he hesitated, but it is not difficult to imagine the ties that bound him to life in the city. Perhaps they were economic – his home and his financial investments, perhaps sentimental – he would be leaving much loved friends.  Bonds of affection can be dangerous it seems.

It is especially tragic when a person, or church has passed the boundary, and they are not even aware of it.  This happened to Samson, commissioned to deliver Israel from the Philistines. After heroic service, he was seduced into disobedience to God’s word. When the Philistines attacked him, he awoke, confident of his great strength. But as the Bible records, “he did not know that the Lord had left him”. Finally he perished in the calamitous judgement which was visited on the Philistines.

The writer to the Hebrews speaks about ‘outraging the spirit of grace’  (Heb 10:29) by deliberately sinning after receiving knowledge of the truth; and about ‘failing to obtain the grace of God, like Esau who passed the point of no return by selling his birthright and was rejected – “finding no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears (Heb 12:17)”

Paul says the reason God gives people up is that they exchange the truth for a lie and he will even send them a strong delusion so that they may believe what is false.  Will the spiritual leaders of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, bound by financial and sentimental ties to the American Episcopal Church, be swept along with it and exchange the truth of God for a lie, the gospel of salvation for a false gospel of inclusion?  For make no mistake, God will give them up.  There are disturbing signs that we are already  in grave spiritual danger.

How else should we interpret the fact that our bishops – those entrusted with the guardianship of our faith – have invited the leader of the American Episcopal Church to address them? This is the bishop who after all  is notorious in her denial of many of the basic tenets of that faith. What message are they sending ? Are they unable to distinguish between orthodoxy and heresy ?

A church that cannot distinguish between orthodoxy and heresy is drifting downstream in very dangerous waters.

 

“He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.”  Proverbs 29:1

Dave Doveton : Vice Provost, Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin, Diocese of Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

 

 

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.