Lesson 6 of 6
In Progress

Bible in the World – 2 John

Dogmatization of Faith

In 2 John we see a subtle shift in the language of “abiding.” While the Gospel of John and 1 John speak of abiding in Christ or abiding in the Father and the Son, 2 John speaks of abiding in the “teaching” of Christ. The Greek word translated as “teaching” is didaché, which can also be translated as “doctrine.” 

What is the difference between abiding in Christ and abiding in the teaching of Christ? The former implies an intimate relationship with a person while the latter implies assent to a doctrine. We see this shift happening in several of the later New Testament writings, as the church is confronted with beliefs that differ from the inherited tradition and feels the need to clarify and solidify its teaching. Some have argued that in the Western church in particular, this dogmatization of the faith has been taken too far, so that faith is viewed as intellectual assent to the correct doctrines, and the sense of a living, intimate relationship with God tends to get lost. Along with this, the importance of right practice – following Jesus in a life of discipleship and service – tends to get lost as well.

In any case, the author of 2 John probably would not make a distinction between abiding in Christ and abiding in the teaching of Christ. Proper understanding of who Christ is seems essential to abiding in him. And the author clearly understands right belief and right practice to be two sides of the same coin. As affirmed in 1 John, believing that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh and knowing the great love God has shown us in Christ naturally leads to following Christ and loving one another.

Church Discipline

2 John 10-11 encourages the community addressed not to receive into the house or welcome those who propagate false teachings. Clearly, the author wants to protect the community from being led astray. In contextualizing this letter for today, it is important to ask whether this advice should always be followed in situations of conflict or schism in the church. After all, if one refuses hospitality and dialogue with those of differing viewpoints, can there be any hope for reconciliation, or even civil relations between those with opposing views? What about the love and unity Jesus urges among us?

There are certainly times when, for the protection of the community and particularly its most vulnerable members, it is appropriate for congregations to exclude from their fellowship members causing harm. In cases of abuse, for instance, exclusion of the abuser is necessary for the well-being of the abused and the whole community. It may also be necessary to exclude members who intentionally sow division or undermine church leadership. Yet what about cases of doctrinal or ethical disagreements? Has the church sometimes been too quick to exclude people for these reasons? How elastic are the boundaries of faith? Perplexing questions remain for the church in our day.