EVEN A CURSORY READING OF 2 John shows that the background to this short epistle overlaps in some measure with the background to 1 John. In both epistles there is a truth question tied to the identity of Jesus Christ. "Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world" (2 John 7). These particular deceivers denied "Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh"---which, interpreted paraphrastically, means they denied that Jesus was Christ come in the flesh. They introduced a hiatus between the flesh-and-blood Jesus and the "Christ" who came upon him. Thus they denied the essential oneness of Jesus Christ, the God/man, the one who was simultaneously Son of God and human being. There were many sad implications.
The reasons for this doctrinal aberration were bound up with widespread cultural pressures. Suffice it to say that these "deceivers," these "errorists" (as some have called them), thought of themselves as advanced thinkers, as progressives. They did not see themselves as evaluating the Christian faith and choosing to deny certain cardinal truths, picking and choosing according to some obscure principle. Rather, they saw themselves as providing a true and progressive interpretation of the whole, over against the conservatives and traditionalists who really did not understand the culture. That is why John speaks of them, with heavy irony, as running ahead of the truth: "Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9). John's stance is much like the old minister who hears some newfangled doctrine and opines,
You say I am not with it.
My friend, I do not doubt it.
But when I see what I'm not with,
I'd rather be without it.
The crucial issue, of course, is not whether one is "progressive" or not, or a "traditionalist" or not: one could be a progressive in a good or a bad sense, and a traditionalist in a good or a bad sense. Such labels, by themselves, are frequently manipulative and rarely add much clarity to complex matters. The real issue is whether or not one is holding to the apostolic Gospel, whether or not one is continuing in the teaching of Christ. That is the perennial test.
Which contemporary movements fail this test, either because they rush "ahead" of the Gospel in their drive to be contemporary or because they have become encrusted with traditions that domesticate the Gospel?