Thursday, August 29, 2013


It is the job of a shepherd to protect his flock. But he needs to be careful of how he tries to protect them. It is possible, in our effort to protect people, to make them too dependent on the leadership.

The ancient church was besieged by those with contrary teachings. It was also a poor and persecuted church, often made up of uneducated people. How then do you protect them from false teachings? They were told to listen to their bishops. (Bishops then were what pastors are now.) But the false teachers had their leaders too; how do you know which bishop is right? It was pointed out that Jesus had taught the apostles and they, in turn, had taught those after them. Now if someone comes out of nowhere, claiming they have the correct teaching, who are you going to believe, the church descended from the apostles or this upstart? Those who said this were good men trying to protect the flock. And it makes sense, as one principle to consider. But over time it became a magic talisman: the church organization that can trace its descent to the apostles cannot err. This allowed the established church to drift away from the truth without anyone being able to question it. And when the church organization became corrupt, there was no easy way to correct it. It took the Protestant Reformation to break away from this kind of thinking.

It is important to protect people, but the best way to protect them is to help them to understand the issues for themselves. We live in an era that is becoming increasingly hostile to historic Christianity. The idea that we can protect people by somehow insulating them from the world around them is long past. That people should let their leaders do their thinking for them was always wrong but is fast becoming unworkable. There are too many other voices out there that want to influence them. We need to help people understand what we believe and why we believe it. Now there is a danger in this. If we teach people to think, they might not end up not thinking like we do. Now I would much rather someone disagreed with me on the details but understood why they believed what they believed than have anyone agree with everything I held just because I held it. And if teaching someone to think through the basic teachings of the Christian faith causes them to reject those teachings, then those never had that deep a hold on them in the first place. Now I do believe in the importance of good Christian teachers. But the job of a teacher is to pass on what that teacher knows, not hoard it. We should teach people to understand things for themselves and not trust some magic talisman. 


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