“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.”
These words were written by the apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus almost 2,000 years ago, but they serve as a timely warning to us today. Winds of false doctrine, trickery, and deceitful scheming are blowing all around us.
We are in an age when knowledge, truth, and intellect are under attack.
The fact that we are, once again, sitting in church with our masks on is a direct result of people being blown about by trickery and false doctrine.
Here are just a few of the conspiracy theories surrounding the life-saving Covid vaccine. It alters your DNA. (It doesn’t). It affects your fertility. (It doesn’t).
It makes you magnetic. (It doesn’t). It contains a microchip that allows the government to track you. (It doesn’t).
It would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous, and if the people who believe such nonsense also don’t believe it is necessary to wear masks.
That’s not the only deceitfulness in the air. This week we heard testimony before a bipartisan House committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Although we were able to see the attack as it was unfolding, there are attempts by some of those who were there to claim that it was a peaceful demonstration, that it was planned by the former president’s enemies, that he had nothing to do with it.
That attack was the outgrowth of the former president and his disciples’ claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent — a deceitful scheme that threatens our very democracy, but which millions of Americans claim to believe.
There are other examples. Many still believe that climate change is a hoax even as fires burn, temperatures rise, and rivers and lakes dry up throughout the west.
There’s the claim that teaching about our country’s history of slavery and racism is anti-American, as if the truth were something to be feared and avoided.
What is especially galling to me about this assault on knowledge and truth is that so often those who seem to delight in ignorance or lies are people of faith, or more particularly, Christians.
“Choosing God over facts,” said one headline I saw recently.
“We have to admit that for countless millions the Christian religion has not only been an unthought affair, but an aid to thought’s repression, a tranquilizing agent assisting one to pass through this ‘vale of tears’ with a minimum of original reflection upon the whole and wondrous journey,” theologian Douglas John Hall writes in his book Thinking the Faith.
But as we know, Christianity does not have to be an “unthought affair,” or an embrace of ignorance. In fact, such an attitude seems to me to be extremely unfaithful.
Years ago I had an advertisement for the Episcopal church hanging in my office. It had a picture of Jesus and these words, “He came to take away your sins, not your mind.”
A faith that requires you to close your mind is not much of a faith at all.
One of the things that I love about the Episcopal Church is that it does not make that requirement. At our best we encourage education, scientific study, questioning, and the intellect.
The Bible itself proclaims the importance of the mind and intellect.
“I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also,” Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians. “I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also.”
And he writes to the Christians in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you might discern what is the will of God.”
And we remember that Jesus himself said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind.”
To lead, as Paul calls it, “a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” requires using your mind.
But there is another important phrase in Paul’s admonition. The words, “We must no longer be children tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming” are these words:
“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
“Speaking the truth in love” is also an admonition. It is so easy to be condemning and angry at those who seem to so easily be blown about, who seem to have turned off their intellect, who fall prey to the deceitful schemers of our day.
It’s easy to be self righteous and feel superior.
But that, too, is unfaithful, Paul says.
An article in The Washington Post yesterday is a good example of speaking the truth in love.
Heather Shaner is a defense attorney in Washington. She was horrified by the January 6 insurrection and could not imagine representing anyone involved in it.
But as the need for defense attorneys for those charged in the riot grew, she began to feel like she needed to respond.
She refused to defend anyone charged with hurting a police officer, but she now represents a handful of people who entered the Capitol that day.
Shaner thinks the events of that day were despicable. But she also feels that she needs to see the humanity in her clients charged with those acts.
“What happens is when you’re watching television on January 6th, they’re monsters,” she said. “Then when you get assigned them, potentially they’re human beings. And then as you get to know and work with them, you see all the mitigating influences.”
The primary mitigating influence she sees is the belief in misinformation and lack of knowledge of history and the workings of government.
In other words, the people she represents are being blown about by trickery and deceit. Instead of self righteously condemning them, she is combatting the misinformation and trickery.
She encourages her clients to read about history and write about what they have learned. She sends them a link to the Constitution and online civics classes. She gives them titles of books and movies — such as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Just Mercy, and Schindler’s List — to offer a base of historical knowledge.
Shaner believes that knowledge can make the world a better place. She wants to make a difference for her clients and her country. If there’s healing and learning to be done, she wants to be part of it.
That is “speaking the truth in love.”
In the next few weeks our children — from preschool to graduate school — will be going back to the classroom.
We pray that their minds will be renewed by what they learn, and that they will rejoice in the knowledge that they gain.
We want them to grow up knowing the basics of history and science and literature and mathematics, to have their horizons broadened, to use the minds that God has given them, to be aware of the amazing discoveries being made almost daily about the world and universe that God continues to create.
Most of all, we want them never to feel that they have to stop asking questions, stop seeking knowledge, stop looking for truths in fear that doing so might somehow threaten or lessen their faith.
As scripture reminds us, “All wisdom and truth is from the Lord and with the Lord it remains for ever.”