When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” – Acts 12:12-15
I tend not to think a whole lot about angels. At most, I’ve always seen them as characters that have their part to play in the overall story but have little to no direct contact here and now. Because of what was written about angels in the Old Testament, Jewish men and women came to believe that everyone has a heavenly representative, a guardian angel, who could take the form of the person they are meant to protect. This belief carried on into the New Testament. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” – Matthew 18:10 and Hebrews 1:14; “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”
The belief in angels was a powerful one that on occasion crossed the line of angel worship: ” Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.” – Colossians 2:18-19
It seems as if there are two extremes – one that is a powerful belief in angels and one that very nearly denies them completely. Of the two, most would rather error by not believing in angels than by beveling in angels too much. At least, that’s been my stance on the matter as long as I can recall. That might be because the angels we see in the Bible don’t seem to be beings that minister to us here and now. It’s not as if angels are going to rescue the righteous out of sinful cities before it’s judgement, or going to stand on the road in our way, or destroy whole armies, or personally deliver messages to God’s prophets. It never seemed like I’d qualify for any of those things.
I struggle to find the right balance. I think that’s true of Christianity in general these days. We don’t want to believe too much in secondary matters, but we ought to believe in them at least somewhat as they’re part of the package. There’s also confusion as to what is secondary and what isn’t. Sometimes we don’t really miss out if we get some of the secondary things wrong. However much or little one believes in angels doesn’t really disqualify them from being a Christian. But when secondary matters are made to be primary matters, that’s when we risk throwing off the balance entirely.
Imagine what it would be like if Christianity were to emphasize belief in the roles of angels as being equally important as belief in salvation through Jesus. Imagine that the roles of angels gets talked about more than the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the armor of God, or virtues such as faith, peace, and humility combined. Because this secondary belief has been made primary, it becomes a key part of the ‘litmus test’ for a true believer. Anyone who believes in Jesus, but not in the role of angels or anyone who believes in the role of angels but not Jesus is enough of a heretic to warrant disfellowshipping. But that’s ridiculous, right? We would never do such a thing.
Ah, but we do all the time. That’s half the reason of denominations. For the Southern Baptists, the issue was that slavery was as important as salvation and it was Biblical. Denying slavery would be akin to denying the very word of God. Anyone who believed in “Jesus + Slavery” was good. Anyone who believed in either but not both could not be one of them. Right now the Methodist church is settling the question of Jesus and the belief in homosexuality. It’s a long, slow debate. For some churches the litmus test will be “Jesus + belief for” and the others “Jesus + belief against”. The Southern Baptists are caught up in all sorts of different teachings: “Jesus + Young Earth Creationism” or “Jesus + Calvinism” or “Jesus + …”
I think that’s a big part of why the Church loses so very many people. What they are told they have to believe doesn’t match up with what every cell in their body happens to believe. They are told that they are wrong and the church is right. There isn’t any balance in their teachings or their approach to interpretation. Really smart people get turned off by the dismissal of evidence. Arminians get turned off by the dismissal of their beliefs by Calvinists. Men and women get turned off by the emphasis on the secondary teachings that get more focus than Jesus himself. Christianity feels like anything and everything that isn’t Jesus these days.