Often times in culture we see the newest trend or the latest fad and we rate it more highly than the events or people of the past. We do it with movies, TV and sports all the time. This is a mistake that younger people are particularly prone to make. They immediately assume that every movie made before 1990 is not going to be any good and fall into such heresies as believing that The Phantom Menace was superior to A New Hope (fools!). In the same way people look at Christopher Pine as Kirk without knowing who William Shatner is as Kirk. Amazing but true.
However there is a mistake that is often made by older people and that is to romanticise or idolise the past. These are the people who still believe Magnum PI is the greatest detective show ever and still remember adoringly the two part episode with Sharon Stone and say things like, ‘Magnum, you smoothie!’. I don’t’ know if people actually say this but in my mind they do.
So what’s my point? The church today and generally speaking many older saints who believe it is their self-proclaimed responsibility to stand guard over the church and its doctrine tend to accept the wisdom or sayings offered by older saints, glossing over their sins, while categorically rejecting wisdom and sayings from modern saints and highlighting their sins.
For example I recently received an email warning me of the dangers of the latest year long teaching series that Saddleback Church is running. It’s written by what seemed to me to be well meaning Christians who are concerned about the non-Christians that Pastor Rick Warren is giving influence to in this latest series. The article made some valid points but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think there wasn’t a tone of fanaticism that bordered on anxiety.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that we are ‘to Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.‘ (1 Timothy 4:16) I am often the first guy to jump in and say that something isn’t biblical or that a particular doctrine or method is a little off.
But I often wonder if people who are so dogged in their attack of people like Rick Warren, who though not perfect has done much to advance the gospel, would also attack the likes of CS Lewis, George Whitfield, Charles Finney and Martin Luther in the same way.
Consider the below.
‘In the early 18th century, slavery was outlawed in Georgia. In 1749, George Whitefield campaigned for its legalisation, claiming that the territory would never be prosperous unless farms were able to use slave labor. He began his fourth visit to America in 1751 advocating slavery, viewing its re-legalisation in Georgia as necessary to make his plantation profitable. Partially through his campaigns and written pleas to the Georgia Trustees, it was re-legalised in 1751.’
‘Luther argued that the Jews were no longer the chosen people but “the devil’s people”: he referred to them with violent, vile language. Luther advocated setting synagogues on fire, destroying Jewish prayerbooks, forbidding rabbis from preaching, seizing Jews’ property and money, and smashing up their homes, so that these “poisonous envenomed worms” would be forced into labour or expelled “for all time”. In Robert Michael’s view, Luther’s words “We are at fault in not slaying them” amounted to a sanction for murder. Luther’s “recommendations” for how to treat the Jews was a clear reference to the “sharp mercy” of Deuteronomy 13, the punishments prescribed by Moses for those who led others to “false gods”.’
There are points up for debate with each of these statements but so to is there debate about Rick Warren’s latest teaching series.
I want to reiterate that I am not attempting to defend Warren but rather am encouraging us to learn what we can from the great voices across Christendom while always listening with a critical ear and reading with a perceptive eye, regardless of what century someone was born in.
As the Corinthian church did, we too can easily fall into the trap of falling in love with a particular teacher and we can start to equate their words with that of the Scriptures.
Rather let us remember that we are all fallible, even our greatest teachers from history and the present day and strive to follow the spirit and our God-given reason in determining what is truly in accordance with the Word of God.