The worship of men: an old problem

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Some of us are fond of bemoaning evangelical celebrity culture as largely the product of a church too much tinged with the spirit of the age. A few weeks ago, Michael Haykin was kind enough to let me see a brief pamphlet from 1645, entitled Anthropolatria; or, the Sinne of Glorying in Men, especially in Eminent Ministers of the Gospel. The author is one John Tombes, for whom I have a soft spot because, despite (as far as I know) communicating all his life as an Anglican, he gloried in the reputation of an antipaedobaptist. What he would make of the current debacle with the Anglican approval of women bishops I should love to know.

But, my friends, do not any of that put you off, one way or the other, nor the fact that he spells like Paul Levy, for Tombes in this pamphlet speaks good solid sense. He deals with the sin (or, sinne) of the evangelical celebrity culture afflicting seventeenth century London. His way of dealing with it suggests that - while certain times and circumstances may well lend themselves to such a sin - it is a perennial problem arising from the human heart. I read through the pamphlet while away in Australia, and found it coinciding with and illuminating other thoughts that may appear here in due course, but I give you some of the essence.

We would do well, I suggest, to consider this matter carefully, both in terms of our own appetites for ourselves and our offerings to others. Both of these are important, because Tombes would have us understand that the problem is often not primarily in the teachers and preachers themselves, even those of the "Look at me while I make a big deal about my humility in telling you that I am not worthy to be looked at so wonderfully exhorting you to look away from me at someone else" school of preaching. The problem lies more in the hearts of the hearers - in mine and in yours. I do not remotely believe that this problem is restricted to any particular circle. Indeed, those who boast in their orthodoxy are often as prone to this as any others. There is no sphere where it cannot raise its ugly head, and some of those who most readily hurl their thunderbolts against others are lauded by their own followers with the same kind of mindless adulation that they criticise in their targets.

Tombes defines the problem in this way:
And so to glory in men, is to glory in other men, whom we conceive to have singular excellency, and ourselves to have some proper interest in them, or relation to them, and accordingly to boast of them, and the conceived property we have in them. Thus men glory in their Ancestours, Princes, Generals, Teachers: And the glorying in this last sort of men particularly as Teachers or Preachers of the Gospell, is here forbidden, as the occasion of this precept shewes. (4)
He goes on more carefully to define his terms, and then asks and answers the following question:
But what then is the glorying in the true Teachers here forbidden?

To this I answer, 1. Negatively, 2. Affirmatively. Negatively I say, 1, That it is not the magnifying of the Apostles above other Ministers, by ascribing to them an eminent, and extraordinary authority in assuring us of the will of God, and in establishing the Churches. . . . 2. That it is not the giving of that regard to the true Teachers, which is due to them as Ministers of Christ. . . . 3. That it is not the proper love to esteeme of, and rejoycing in some as our fathers in Christ, as the Apostle calls himselfe, 1 Cor. 4.15. . . . 4. That it is not the desire of having, or rejoycing that we have men of best gifts . . .

Affirmatively I say, here is forbidden inordinate glorying in men which are Teachers, and this is [sic] sundry wayes; 1. When some Teachers are gloried in peculiarly, as if they were the only Teachers worth the hearing, none else to be regarded. And that this is the speciall branch of glorying in men here forbidden is manifest from the Apostles reason why the Corinthians should not glory in men: because all were theirs, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas. It may seeme that some of them accounted Paul the only Teacher, for his singular knowledge in the mystery of Christ, of which we reade, Ephes. 3.3, 4. Some delighted only in Apollos, because of his eloquence, of which we reade, Acts 18.24. Some magnified Peter, as non-paril, whether by reason of his fervency and zeale, or his seeming dignity among the Apostles, which seems to be intimated, 2 Cor. 12.11. Gal. 2.9. Now this branch of inordinate glorying in men, the Apostle doth studiously forbid, as considering that this was the egge out of which their contentions were hatched, and perhaps foreseeing that in time, out of it would spring Prelaticall greatnesse, and Antichristian tyranny; therefore the Apostle forbids this, 1 Cor. 4.6. that they should be puffed up for one against another: so it is usuall for hearers to take an inordinate affection, to have an inordinate esteeme of some Preachers, and thereupon to count them theirs, to glory to be their followers, disdaining all others as not to be named with them, though Teachers of truth: because they have an high conceit of their learning, wit, eloquence, holinesse, or the like quality. 2. When the so-magnified Teachers, are esteemed not as servants to a higher Master, but as Masters themselves. And that this it was with those Corinthians, it may be gathered in that the Apostle doth so diligently admonish them to looke higher then [sic] himselfe or Apollos, that they might not esteeme them authours of their faith. Thus 1 Cor. 1.13, he expostulates with them, Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified with you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? And chap. 2.1, 5. When I came to you, I came not with excellency of speech or of wisedome, that your faith should not stand in the wisedome of men, but in the power of God: and chap. 3.5, 6, 7. Who then is Paul? and who is Apollos? but ministers of whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man. I have planted, Apolos watred, but God gave the increase; so then, neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth, but God that gives the increase: and 1 Cor. 4.6. that ye might learne in us, not to think above that which is written. Now this sin is very incident to many hearers, when they admire some Teachers wit, eloquence, zeale, holinesse or the like quality, to ascribe their conversion, edification to them; to praise them superlatively, to assume their names, forgetting that they are but Gods instruments, and Christs servants, and that their graces come not from the abilities of the Teacher, but the power of Christ. Wherefore the Apostle, 1 Cor. 4.7. expostulates thus with these Corinthians: for who makes thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why doest thou glory as if thou hadst not received it? (7-9)
In one of his most perceptive sequences, he identifies ten "pernicious effects" that arise from this sin:
But the evill of this sin is most cleerely seen in the pernicious effects that are consequent upon it, which are many: As 1. it is a direct cause of schisms: . . .

2. The prohibited glorying in men, doth expose the Christian profession to obloquy and contempt, for whereas it is the honour of the Christian profession, that they have one body, one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptisme, one God and Father of all, Ephes. 4.5, 6. by the glorying in some Teachers afore others, the Christian society is made like the severall Schooles of Philosophers . . .

3. By glorying in men, as there is an over high esteeme of the guifts of some, so there is an undervaluing of the guifts of others: which thing as it is an unworthy abuse of those various gifts Christ giveth to his Church, so doth it inferred an injurious imputation to Spirit of God by whom they are bestowed. . . .

4. By the inordinate glorying in some, and despising of others, the despised persons are often discouraged and disheartened, to the detriment of the Church of God, and the grievance of the despised. . . .

5. By glorying in Teachers, it falls out that they are puffed up and perverted: much experience has confirmed this as true, that popular applause hath filled Teachers with vaine glory, and made them adulterate the word of God to please their auditors. . . .

6. This glorying in men, begets an aptnesse to receive their errours, to imitate their actions, which is the seed of heresies and superstitions: for admiration and doting love to a person, easily draws the admirers to a blind obedience, implicit faith in them, to an inslaving of their judgements, so as jurare in verba Magistri.

7. Adde hereunto, that this gloring [sic] in men makes mens endeavours remisse in things necessary, earnest in things vaine; that time and labour that should be employed in the maine duties of godlinesse, in seeking the advancement of Christs Kingdome, righteousnesse, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, is often bestowed in magnifying those in whom they glory, upholding their party, promoting their opinions: . . .

8. On the contrary, the word of God though soundly and truly delivered, is neglected, being either not heard, or without fruit, when it is spoken by such a Teacher as they affect not, but disdained, censured, contemned. . . .

9. By this meanes the rule of Christianity is changed; for whereas the rule and ground of our faith and obedience is the word of God as Gods word, through the addicting themselves to some mens authority, Gods truth stands at their devotion for its acceptance . . .

10. Lastly, They that glory in men, are either inconstant in their affections, as experience often shewes, they that one while would pluck out their eyes for him whom they magnifie, will at another time revile and hate him . . . (11-14)
Finally, he closes with a couple of applications, the second of which seems most apposite:
Application 2. In a serious dissuasive from this sin in these times, with some directions to prevent the infections thereof.
. . . It is an evill that usually doeth follow those Churches to which God bestowes excellent gifts, and worthy Teachers; . . . . But to what end is it [that God gives such blessings]? not that you should magnifie them, but use them to bring you nearer unto God, not to glory in the gift, but to rejoyce in the giver, reverence and make use of them, but reserve to their Lord his owne prerogative: may you not justly feare that God will take them away from you, when you give his due to them? (17)
As part of this application, he offers some suggested correctives for this sinful spirit:
1. Endeavour to have ample thoughts of Christ, his eminency, his fullnesse; the more high thy thoughts be of Christ, the lower will thy conceits be of men, the larger comprehension thou hast of him, the lesse wilt thou doate on his servants. . . .

2. Have a right esteeme of all true Pastours and Teachers as the Ministers of Christ, so the Apostle requires, 1 Cor. 4.1. Let a man account of us as Ministers of Christ, and Stewards of the mysteries of God, neither make more of them nor lesse. Heare them as messengers from Christ, not for their singular abilities, but for their message sake; respect them not only for their excellent wit and elocution, but for their faithfulnesse: note and retaine not only fine speeches, but every solid truth, that is from God, least while thou taste the dainty sawce, thou neglect the solid nourishment of thy soule; whoever he be that preacheth Christ truly, heare him gladly, and receive him respectfully for his Masters sake.

3. Make a fruitful use of the gifts of every true Teacher, get somewhat by all, and then thou wilt not glory in some, and disparage others; if thou didst profit by them, God should have glory and every Minister due esteeme. . . .

4. Lastly, Be well grounded in knowledge, and constant in practice of what thou hast learned: Have thy sense exercised in the word of righteousnesse, that thou mayest be able to discerne both good and evill, Heb. 5.14. and so thou shalt be fitted to profit by every godly Preacher, and inslave thy selfe to none, nor glory in man, but in the Lord. (17-19)
It makes you wonder what the blogosphere, to mention just one arena, might sound like if - for one week at least - every true Christian undertook to give themselves less to assaults on or defences of particular men and their teachings, and more to the exaltation of the great Giver of every such gift to the church. With apologies to Wordsworth, bliss would it be in that dawn to be alive, but its perfection would be very heaven!
Posted July 17, 2014 @ 10:55 AM by Jeremy Walker
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