Why Serapion Matters
What? You don’t know Serapion? Psssssh! Obviously you need to bone up on your Church history. Serapion was a pastor back in the second century. You can read a bit about him here. And as a pastor he took his responsibility as a shepherd very seriously. Two key tasks are at the foundation of any faithful pastor. Accurately teach the Word and guard the Church from false teaching. In reality they are one and the same, just different sides to the same coin.
Paul wrote these words to the elders in Ephesus upon his imminent departure:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock ; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert . . . . (Act 20:28-31a)
That charge has not changed over the past 2000 years and most certainly did not fall on deaf ears with Serapion. Here is what happened. He found out that in one of the smaller villages, known as Rhossus a letter was being read and expounded that was supposedly written by the Apostle Peter. In time he was able to secure a copy of it and upon reading it realized that it could not have been written by Peter. He was well trained and as he read it he could see many problems emerging from the text. Issues that were not consistent with the biblical texts. He warned the churches using the letter of the dangers and as a result was found to be a faithful shepherd.
You can read a lot more about this event here, it is a good introduction to the nature of how our canon (the exact number of books in the bible) came about. What stood out for me though were these words:
Despite Serapion’s rejection of the book, Gospel of Peter remained popular reading among Christians for several centuries. In fact, more ancient fragments remain from Gospel of Peter than from the Gospel According to Mark. Still, only the scantest evidence exists to suggest that, except for those few months in the church at Rhossus, Gospel of Peter was ever considered an authoritative account of Jesus’ life.
The second century church was a lot like today. Every wind of doctrine came blowing by and many were eager to glom on to them, all to the harm of the church. But even though the Gospel of Peter remained popular as a book in the church, Serapion remained faithful as a witness against it. It appears he was in the minority but that did not matter. He had a charge, given ultimately from God Himself, to preach the Word and the correct those in error. And that was the charge that motivated him to his task.
Today we need the same. There is no way to stem the flood of bad teaching, much less, false teaching. You have men and women claiming a word from the Lord right and left. You have obvious charlatans leading revivals right and left. You have men who believe they are the voice of God today and their devoted followers who see them as anointed and untouchable. You have other pastors in love with men like Joel Osteen, yearning to have a “church” similar to his. A man like T. D. Jakes is able to be proclaimed orthodox by two pastors based merely upon their own word. And the list goes on and on; and this is only in the evangelical Western world.
The only answer, unless the Lord is pleased to bring about true repentance and revival, is to be ever reforming. Always submitting ourselves to the written Word of God. It is to be teaching truth and refuting error. It is disciplining out of the church those who cause dissensions through strange teachings. The task of the pastor who is ministering right now is to stand firm and remain faithful to his charge. In addition it is his responsibility to raise up young men within his congregation who can be strong in the Word and faithful in deed. Men who will be true, faithful servants of the Most High.
And like Serapion, numbers and polls cannot matter. All that matters is faithfulness to our Lord. It is His Church and He shall build it.