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Listening to God through Fallen Vessels

Posted on May 23rd, 2008

I receive e mails regularly from people who are troubled that I am quoting and learning from people who do not have a solid evangelical theology, who might be universalists, or tend towards a works-righteousness, or pray to saints. The following are a few points to consider to help us remain humble and teachable as we seek to listen to God. Firstly, many of our great evangelical heroes also appeared to have some large holes in their theological armor. Consider Jonathan Edwards who owned slaves like his father before him and even defended the practice, arguing the colonies were dependent on it. (However, he also was the first pastor in Northampton to baptize “negroes” and admit them into full membership.) John Calvin endorsed the drowning of an Anabaptist, that is a fellow-believer who believed in baptism by immersion for believers alone! Martin Luther was an anti-Semite. Hitler quoted those portions of his writings. CT Studd and William Carey, the Father of modern Protestant missions, had terrible marriages. C.S. Lewis loved to drink beer and smoke cigarettes and a pipe. He also held out the belief that moral people who did not acknowledge Christ in this world would be given another chance (see the Last Battle where the followers of Tash are also saved by Aslan). Lewis also believed in purgatory and prayer for the dead; he prayed regularly for his wife after her death. John Wesley, while he opposed slavery and the slave trade, had terrible relations with women. Augustine of Hippo argued that Donatists should be compelled by force to convert – at the end of the sword. Add to this the Bible’s accounting of God using people like Jonah (a racist prophet), David (a murderer and adulterer), and Hosea (married to a prostitute), and I think humility is in order. I am not advocating we accept errors of theology or judgment in those who have gone before us. The arrogance is to think we too are not wrong in some areas and limited by our culture and time in history. I believe we can learn from believers very different than ourselves (and need to I may add), despite our differences and their inconsistencies. And we want to study Holy Scripture with all our hearts, asking the Holy Spirit for revelation on her application in our difficult times. As my friend Scott Sunquist, church history professor of twenty-five years with author of History of the World Christian Movement (Orbis, 2006) says, “There are no perfect Christians, so as we find Christ in the saints and lift that up for our edification.” How do you feel/think about God moving through such fallen vessels? What can you/we learn from that?

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