At the end of his third missionary journey Paul warned the Ephesian church that “shortly after my departing shall grievous wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock,” (Acts 20:29). Knowing these wolves were coming, Paul left Timothy in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:2-3) with the instructions to love humility (v15), to make sure people understand what the law is really about (v9), and to hold fast to the faith (v19). He wanted the church to achieve this by putting on prayer (2v1), female propriety (2v9), proper leadership (3), and by putting off legalism (3v3), destructive fables (3v7), and bad doctrines of Christ (3v10). Timothy was to lead them kindly and wisely (5), and to teach them the truth in love.
Did this plan to save the church work? Sort of. The Ephesians did reject the false teachers who claimed to be apostles, but they also went too far in their hardness and lost their first love. Yes, it was better for them to be hard and cold rather than lukewarm and soft (because this way they at least had the sense to hate the deeds of the Nicolatians) but it was ultimately no good for them since the church isn’t built on what it rejects, but on the One whom it embraces.
You’ve probably seen the Ephesian effect for yourself, no doubt. You look at a church online and things seem okay, but when you arrive in person it’s a small affair, full of cold and unfriendly people, clinging to their dislike of error rather than their love of God, unable to warm themselves with joy any longer. Or you join a church and then later find out the people there are much more of a social club than they are a serious group of sanctified believers. Their problem really is larger than their lack of love. It’s also that they have a lack of imagination, a lack of humility, no sense of wonder, and no grateful delight in God. Their sin has poisoned not just part of their lives, but all of it.
The antidote to this is Orthodox Christianity. We must see it be like blind men seeing for the first time. We must embrace it completely and let it purify our minds as well as our affections–continually. And a big (and I mean huge) help in doing this is Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.
Hold on. I know what you’re thinking. It’s something like, “I’m not convinced. Why else should I use my valuable time reading both this book and your posts about this when I have better things to do?” To which I answer: I have no idea, and no other argument in the least. Aside from the fact that it would be good in general to work through this book I am completely at a loss of making a case for it. As Chesterton astutely observed, “It is very had for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked to suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, “why do you prefer civilization to savagery?” he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, “Why, there is that bookcase… and the coals in the coal-scuttle… and pianos… and policemen.” … That very multiplicity of proof makes reply impossible.”
I am so totally convinced of the essentiality of this book that I have no reason for you to read it at all. I simply believe it to be one of those things that everyone in our age should read, similar to Knowing God by Packer or Basic Christianity by Stott. You might as well ask me why we should appreciate the night time sky or stare at an edifying piece of art. All I can say is, “now that you’re convinced, let’s read it together.”