Upon closer examination, however, the problem of tradition and history is seen to be more complex. Even the most doctrinaire traditionalist must be concerned with such questions as the authenticity of works ascribed to an ecclesiastical writer or of decrees attributed to a council; he must trace the origin and transmission of quotations that appear in the documents of the church; he must investigate the social setting of his texts, to understand the very meaning of the words. All of these are historical assignments, some of them with far more subtle implications than the need of simply checking dates or verifying texts (8).This is Jaroslav Pelikan, the Lutheran scholar who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy before he died some years ago, saying “test everything, hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess 5:21). But he goes beyond that: he’s saying things that I’ve been saying for years: You can’t trust every church father that you read. Test them. Not everything is what it appears to be.
The word for the day is “discernment”. Don’t be gullible. Think before you believe something. Think before you commit. Watch out for those who knowingly or unknowingly pass along deceits and yes, watch out for forgeries. There are deceitful people out there.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.The threat is not “out there”. The threat that Paul is speaking about is within and among the “overseers”.
So, we catch Marcion; we catch the Carpocratians, we catch the Valentinians. Whew. The threat’s over.
Or is it? Is the threat “on the inside”? Could it be? “Fierce wolves will arise from among you overseers”. They will draw away disciples. And maybe write doctrines, which get mistaken for “infallible”.