Irenaeus of Lyons was biblical theologian par excellence, a faithful apologist for the church, and warm-hearted pastor. In his polemical work against Gnosticism, he spends two books unpacking and then demolishing the false doctrines of Marcion, Valentinus, and others. Then in books 3-5, he unfolds a rich biblical exposition of the Scriptures that centers on Christ and that demonstrates mostly well (in some places poorly) what biblical typology looks like. But at the end of Books 3 and 4, he offers a prayer for those deluded souls for whom he is contending.
He is not merely arguing against these false teachers; he is crying out to God on their behalf, asking for their souls to be saved from these pernicous doctrines. He is doing what Jude 22-23 instructs us to do: “have mercy on some who are doubting; save others snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”
Reading Irenaeus prayer gives you a renewed perspective of contending for the faith. It is not simply a proud, boastful war of words or theological jockeying– it is a crying out to God, who alone can change hearts, open eyes, and free imprisoned souls from the shackles of Satan. May we who love the truth consider that the next time we contend for the faith, and pray with Irenaeus for those who are in bondage to false teaching:
We do indeed pray that these men may not remain in the pit which they themselves have dug, but separate themselves from a Mother of this nature, and depart from Bythus, and stand away from the void, and relinquish the shadow; and that they, being converted to the Church of God, may be lawfully begotten, and that Christ maybe formed in them, and that they may know the Framer and Maker of this universe, the only true God and Lord of all. We pray for these things on their behalf, loving them better than they seem to love themselves (Irenaeus Against haereses 3.25.7).
May we love the truth, and may we truly love by interceding for brothers and sisters held hostage to false teachers!
Sola Deo Gloria, dss