Right, nearly right and the problem of frequent exposure

My wife came home the other day with some chocolates from work. Awesome! Who doesn’t love digging into a selection box? That’s right; weirdos, that’s who! I was pleased. All the more pleasing because it was a box of chocolates I did absolutely nothing to earn. I merely reaped the benefits of my union with my wife. D’you think you know where this is going? Probably not where you’re thinking at the moment.

You see, as that wise old fellow, Forrest Gump said, ‘life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get’. In this instance he was right. As we tucked into that box of chocolates, something was amiss. Each flavour – caramel heart, cocoa truffle, etc – all sounded right, tasty even. But each mouthful was bitter and disappointing. Another look on the front of the box revealed the problem: Black Magic. No, not that kind. It wasn’t bad joo-joo, though the box had most definitely been cursed! Black Magic is Nestle’s dark chocolate selection box brand.

On the face of it, everything looked good. Here was a box of chocolates with a selection of flavours that should, ostensibly, taste great. Sadly, they were covered in nasty, bitter dark chocolate. Every mouthful was a potent reminder that this would all taste so much less disgusting if they had just used milk chocolate. The dark chocolate meant the selection ranged from not great to downright rank, the best ones being those flavours that were so strong they covered up most of the disgusting chocolate flavour. It was so nearly right, and yet so very very wrong.

I was put in mind of Spurgeon’s adage, ‘Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right’. Much heresy and heterodox teaching comes to pass in ostensibly good Evangelical churches because it sounds almost right. It is like the selection box truffle covered in nasty dark chocolate. It looks good, the flavour on paper sounds nice, but you eat it and want to spit it out because the dark chocolate makes the whole thing nasty.

Few heresies take hold in the church because someone stands up with horns on their head and a pitchfork in hand announcing, ‘yoo-hoo! Satanic heresy, hot off the press. Any takers?’ No. Most heresy enters the church touted by respectable people with a Bible in hand who sound entirely plausible. The use words like ‘gospel’ and certainly mention Jesus. Much of what they say sounds right. But they are, to all intents and purposes, spreading heresy or heterodoxy.

Sure, we might be able to spot the most extreme forms of it. The likes of Creflo Dollar, whose very name is a dead giveaway, running around dancing on money in front of his church. He is like the solid dark chocolate block that doesn’t even attempt to mask its nasty flavour with a filling. We can spot that heresy because it’s nothing but money-toting, gospel-less nonsense.

But I have lost count of the number of people who have rejected such overt heresy whilst lauding and affirming other almost identical ones. I’ve heard people claim to reject the prosperity gospel advocated by Joel Osteen whilst lauding Joyce Meyer. I’ve heard people decry Steve Chalke’s use of the word ‘Evangelical’ on the grounds he is well outside the camp whilst sitting up to listen avidly to Rob Bell call himself one as though he is any different. What they say, to the ears of some, might not sound entirely wrong. They use words like ‘Jesus’ and ‘gospel’. But discernment is recognising the difference between right and nearly right.

I was put in mind of the recent sermon by Michael Curry at the Royal Wedding. Many called it as a ‘wonderful gospel message’. Certainly, Michael Curry mentioned Jesus, love, and quoted from the Bible. He even used words like ‘gospel’ and ‘saved’. But using a few of the right words doesn’t make something faithful, using the word ‘gospel’ doesn’t make a gospel sermon and quoting a few scriptures doesn’t make something scriptural. Much of what he said, on the face of it, sounded right. Nearly right. Yet it was like a caramel filling covered in nasty dark chocolate. It looked good for the eating, appearing so right, but in the end was good only for spitting out.

I saw the dark chocolates that my wife brought home. I wouldn’t have picked them for myself but I presumed they’d be OK. It was only in the eating that I realised how rank they were. Like that, much heresy and heterodox teaching appears OK, maybe not the way we’d put things but basically alright. Little do we know just how rancid it is.

The Psalmist calls us to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’. But if we allow ourselves to continue swallowing heterodoxy, we may just find our taste buds become warped. We begin to think that the disgusting food we are feeding on regularly is really rather nice. We’ll have become like those pretentious people that pretend gross stuff like olives and the most pungent of stinking blue veiny cheese is ‘just to die for, dahling’. These things, much like dark chocolates, are acquired tastes that require frequent exposure if we are to tolerate them. Discernment may be telling the difference between right and nearly right but happily imbibing heresy is what happens when we repeatedly expose ourselves to what is nearly right which soon leads us to adopt what is, in point of fact, entirely wrong.