Yesterday at the Florida College Lectures Alan Cornett presented a lecture entitled, “The Pervasive Influence of Reformation Thought” that challenged our thinking on several levels.
Alan suggested that those in our fellowship are theologically influenced much more by Reformation movement than we often care to admit. He traced the Protestant Reformation and its impact to those in America like Campbell and Stone who sought a return to Scriptural authority and to echo the cry “No book but the Bible, no creed but Christ.”
Cornett shared Campbell’s “principle of approaching the Bible afresh” with his illustration of wearing “colored spectacles.” Campbell believed that sectarian division occurred because each group wore a different set of glasses that colored their view and clouded their vision of the Bible. If everyone would remove their prejudicial glasses they could see the Word of God afresh. Clearly. Correctly. And accurately.
Campbell is quoted as saying, “Thrice happy is the man who lifts the Bible as if it had dropt from heaven into his hand alone, and whose eyes are anointed with the true eye salve that he may see.”
Alan opined, “I am sure that many of us are inclined to nod along with Campbell as he decries the denominational lenses.”
However, he responded with this challenging thought. “While this idea can have quite a bit of rhetorical appeal, the cycle of it ultimately leads to something of a theological Groundhog Day, with each generation rediscovering the old heresies, unaware anyone thought of them before, and the old battles are relived with no reference to the past, just as Bill Murray relived the same minor holiday over and over again on film.”
Furthermore, Cornett wrote, “I would submit that if we find an issue that has not been considered before, and seriously so, then we had best drop the issue and move on. Biblical theology has not waited 2,000 years for you nor for I to come along and discover anything new. If it has then the entire idea of the Restoration is a failed concept.”
Alan then quotes Restorationist historian Richard Hughes who states that “the churches that root their identity in efforts to restore ancient Christianity are susceptible to the illusion that they have escaped the influence of history and culture altogether.”
As I have been reflecting on this thought since yesterday morning, it occurs to me that many today are rejecting “the old paths” in search of something new. Exciting. And fresh. They have, however, failed to learn from their forefathers. They are going down a path that ultimately will not lead them closer to the Divine pattern revealed in Scripture, but father away. Their “fresh eyes” have led them into old errors.
Furthermore, it seems there must be a balance between the “fresh eyes” approach and blindly believing everything that we have been taught. Harry Pickup Jr used to warn us “preacher boys” against extremes. He counseled that there are two dangers with young preachers. One is rejecting everything old preachers believed in search of something new. The other is believing everything older preachers taught without personal study and conviction.
Cornett suggests that “congregations provide a community in which Biblical teaching can be studied and understood, building on the past understanding of mature Christians.” Paul encouraged us to follow him, as he followed Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Although Paul was an apostle, it is appropriate for us to lean on godly, dedicated, spiritual men and women for insight, guidance, and counsel.
The Apostle instructed Timothy “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). This “generational chain of teaching” as Alan describes it will serve us well in equipping others to minister in the Word, follow the ancient pattern and live faithfully. All the while with open eyes that clearly see the Scripture and have learned the lessons that history has recorded for us.
Alan closed by encouraging us to embrace the maxim of George Santayan, ”Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman