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Walking the wrong talk

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sermon for the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Every family seems to have a scandal. Somewhere along the line, someone upsets a brother or a sister or a cousin. You may have heard of parents disowning children or children divorcing their parents. We certainly know of many marriages which have ended badly.

Is it ever right for a family to break apart? There are certainly families so dysfunctional that they have to be broken up.

It seems that the Church is just such a dysfunctional family.


The Church has been riven with many schisms and factions. Even today, we witness congregations disowning their parent church and realigning themselves with others. Though many would deny it, this is true of all branches of the Church. It has happened in the Orthodox Church which has fractured most recently over the issue of Ukraine; the Anglican Communion is fragmenting along issues which boil down to the authority of Holy Scripture; and Pope Francis has recently said that he doesn’t have a problem with those who threaten to break away from the Church of Rome over issues his pontificate raises.

Surely this isn’t right. Surely there is only One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. How can that break apart?


First, we should realise that St Paul witnesses fragmentation in the Church. His letters to the Corinthians and to the Romans demonstrate that he is committed to resolving disputes. However, there are occasions when a split must occur. St Paul writes to St Timothy who is in Ephesus. His main concern about the church in Ephesus is that strange teachings are arising. St Paul tells him, “charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.”

These false teachers are Nicolaitans and Our Lord tells St John in the book of Revelation that the Church in Ephesus has done well to hate their teaching. We still don’t quite know what the Nicolaitans teach but several Church Fathers such as St Hippolytus and St Epiphanius suggest that the Nicolaitans are the followers of a deacon called Nicolas who has fallen into sexual immorality and impurity and changes the teaching of the Church to reflect that.

St Paul is very clear, “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.”

For the health of the Church, the Christian must walk away from anyone who changes the Faith from what Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us, from what He shows us and from what His disciples bear witness. St Paul tells us that those who change the Faith like to change and quibble about what words mean, and argue about what is really being taught. We have seen this before, because we know that the Devil likes to quote Holy Scripture but in such a way as to make it mean what it does not.

So, we must withdraw from those who change what Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches.



There is an important thing here that we must take care. Our Lord Jesus commends us for hating the teaching of the Nicolaitans, but not for hating the Nicolaitans. The one thing that can never change is that all humanity is one family and that we share this humanity with everyone, even evil doers. We have the same humanity as Our Lady, St Peter, St John, St Paul, St Theresa of Calcutta, even the same humanity as Our Lord. But we also have the same humanity as our worst enemy, the greatest schismatics, the Nicolaitans, and dictators such as Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. We cannot change that.

Each person is still our neighbour and still worthy of our love because they bear the same humanity as we do, and the teaching of Christ is that we love them. There is a difference between walking away from those who preach a false Gospel and hating them.


When we have to walk away, we must do so with tears in our eyes, feeling for the people who have been so deceived and remembering that we ourselves can easily be corrupted if we are not careful. We must pray to God vigorously begging Him to save those who have thing so badly wrong, and begging Him to show us of any false teaching that we might be holding onto. We must keep the door of the Church unlocked and a light burning in the window for those who leave the Church through false teaching so that they can see the way back and find God’s forgiveness and joy at their return.

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