A few weeks back I wrote an article about disagreeing agreeably.
Following up on that, I was reminded of an Alistair Begg broadcast I listened to last year while driving in my car. There was a short portion I went back to and transcribed. In it, Alistair is first quoting Luther and then adds his own commentary.
“Some of us get one part right. Other teachers get other parts right. None of us get it all right…..One falls in one thing, one in another. Others will see what I do not. What then follows – by that we should help one another and make allowances for those who error as knowing that we either have erred or shall error ourselves…..I know that he must be a man of most shameful hardihood who would venture to give out that he understands a single book of Scripture in all its parts.” – Martin Luther
“That’s the kind of pastor you need. Not a talking head who has the answer to every question. But someone who comes before the Bible and says, “This is my best with this. But now we see through a glass darkly.” And that is not embracing theological vagueness. It’s about recognizing what is actually true. And yet contemporary evangelicalism exalts as heroes these individuals of “shameful hardihood” according to Martin Luther.” – Alistair Begg
I really appreciate a pastor or theologian or any Christian leader who takes an approach as described here by Luther and Begg.
There are many who do regularly lead with this kind of humble discourse. Unfortunately, the know-it-alls are the ones who seem to gain more press or influence in the church and so we see and hear from them more often. And our celebrity culture props up with admiration those who bloviate their “truth” on every single issue and circumstance. We sometimes forget that not all are like them.
We are all responsible for ourselves, yet I really look to pastors and Christian leaders to set the tone on this matter. Easy for me to say since I’m not a pastor. But at the very least, the Bible does call those who are teachers to a higher level of account. (James 3:1)
When pastors regularly carry themselves in gracious and unpretentious fashions, both from the pulpit and in personal communication, it influences their parishioners to act in like manner. If a pastor regularly speaks in a know-it-all fashion it sets an altogether different tone for those who hear them. Same as when they regularly criticize those Christians who are “different” from them, and speak as if they are wayward or second class Christians, or maybe not even Christians at all. It emboldens those who listen to them to act the part. They now, too, speak as if they have it all figured out and speak down to and about those who differ from them.
One thing I have been able to surmise in my limited study as a layman is that completely and perfectly understanding every theological premise in the Bible is a very difficult, if not impossible task.
I come to that understanding not so much because some things are hard for me to ascertain, but much more so because when I look at the expanse of smart and knowledgeable and respected and God-fearing theologians and pastors who are of good character and believe the Scriptures to be the fully authoritative Word of God, I see them coming to different conclusions on different matters.
How can so many honorable people who are earnestly seeking to understand God and His Word have so many differing understandings? Yes, they come to much agreement on the essentials of the faith, but after that, there is a great diversity of views as reflected by the many traditions and denominations and sects we have.
Is all of this difference of opinion and “division” within the church a good thing? In some ways, maybe yes, but probably not in other ways. That can be a big discussion for another day.
However, among all of this distinction, I tend to think that God cares more about our attitudes and approach when we speak about the things we believe to be true, and in how we speak with and about those with whom we disagree. Rather than with whether or not we are perfectly right in our understanding on matters such as the baptism of the Spirit, or women’s roles in the church, or how often we should celebrate the Lord’s supper.
I much more welcome a pastor or theologian or even layman who can avoid the “shameful hardihood” of knowing it all. Those who don’t have the definitive answer to every question. Who don’t need to show off just how much they know and also feel the need to always point out what is wrong with everybody else. So thank you to those who carry themselves with humility and a regard for others. It is much appreciated.