Does theology really matter? Does theology divide the church or bring it together? Let me answer those questions: “Yes” & “It can do both”. Theology is important because it helps us get to know God through the doctrines about God. But, it can also separate believer from believer if those believers tend to elevate their owns wants over God’s will… or choose to debate the finer points that Scripture doesn’t speak clearly on rather than uniting under the focal points that Scripture clearly teaches.
Hymenaeus shows us theology is important – even critical – for a healthy church.
What the Bible tells us about Hymenaeus is not good. Apparently, he and two other men named Alexander and Philetus were stirring up the church in Ephesus with their teaching about the resurrection. It seems Hymenaeus was teaching that the final resurrection – the Day when all the dead will be raised to life and eternal judgment – had already taken place! It’s not clear what Hymenaeus was thinking or why he was saying what he was saying. In any case, he was upsetting some other believers, who were no doubt confused – and concerned – by all this.
To stay current on Hymenaeus’ situation, it goes like this; Hymenaeus had,
1) made a public and Christian profession of faith in Christ, yet
2) he had not turned away from evil, but,
3) by his profane teaching went towards more ungodliness. This led to,
4) his abandoning his faith and a good conscience, and thus
5) he brought about the end result of his faith being shipwrecked.
The heretical teaching of Hymenaeus had been so far successful: it had “overthrown the faith of some” (2 Tim 2:18).
So, how did Paul handle this? Did he downplay the significance of the teaching about the resurrection? Did he say Hymenaeus was entitled to his beliefs? The answer to both questions is “No”.
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he spoke of Hymenaeus as having “shipwrecked” his faith… and having been “handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme” (1Tim. 1:20), which probably also refers to his false teaching. Apparently Hymenaeus wasn’t bothered by what his teaching was doing to his own life or the lives of others. The possible results were so serious that Paul was forced to take drastic action. When Paul “handed Hymenaeus over to Satan” – either excommunication from the church or exclusion until repentance – he hoped he would come to his senses by living through the consequences of his actions.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Hymenaeus was evidently still spreading false doctrine. Paul described the false teaching of Hymenaeus as “gangrene” (2Tim. 2:17)… it was slowly eating away at the healthy body.
In the Church today, there are still some who take doctrine lightly. To them, faith boils down to little more than personal preferences. But, a faith that is not anchored in the truth of God’s Word is a ship sailing to disaster.
How would you describe your doctrine? Do you know what you believe? Do you know if what you believe is grounded in what the Bible teaches?
You can read the tragic story of Hymenaeus in 1Timothy 1:18-20 & 2Timothy 2:14-19.