Results tagged “idolatry” from Reformation21 Blog

I arrived on Faculty at Westminster in the summer of 2001. I had only been on campus for a couple of months before a group of students approached me one lunchtime and tried to recruit me to a most sinister and dangerous cult. `What?', I hear you cry, `Are the Moonies, the Children of God, and the Manson Family alive and well and operating out of a campus in Glenside, PA?' Well, no, not at all as far as I know. The offer I received was far more dangerous than anything such groups might have made to me. The request was simple: would I be willing to meet with a particular group of students every two weeks in a local bar or restaurant to talk theology? My answer was straightforward and immediate: no

I would, I said, be happy to meet for a drink or meal with any student to chat about theology; but I did not want to make it a regular or formal arrangement. My reason? That is how partisan thinking is born. That is how theological groupies emerge. That is how cults of personality are brought into being. I knew exactly where it would lead: I would try to impress students with my intellectual swagger; they would try to mimic me; and round and round it would go. Other professors, students, groups, etc. would be routinely dismissed, lampooned, and denigrated in a manner that made us feel good about ourselves, and Team Trueman would come to consider itself the best thing since sliced bread. I would give them a tidbit of theological gossip, make them feel they had the inside scoop on something or someone; they would reciprocate with suitable acts of obeisance and worship; and so on and on the merry dance would go. 

Well, so sorry, but I was not going to go there. I'd rather be at home with my wife and kids or out on my bike or off for a run, all of which would remind me of mortality and my more than obvious limitations; and which would ultimately be far better for my soul.

The cult of professor worship is perhaps the most dangerous and reprehensible cult in the theological world. It is no respecter of theological position, afflicting the left just as much as the right. It is no respecter of intellectual ability, as the psychology of leader-follower is predicated more on personality and relational qualities than brainpower. And it is no respecter of souls; nothing so destroys a Christian leader, or his followers, than the mutual flattery involved in the uncritical adulation of a fan-base for a professorial rock star (and I use that term advisedly). Hence, while every instinct in me told me that the offer was a great opportunity to start up Team Trueman on campus, I chose to go against my fallen desires and immediately declined the offer.

I had occasion to recall the incident some years later. By then, I had become something of an amateur student of the history of the Southern Baptist Convention and its various institutions. A strange occupation for a Presbyterian; but, when one remembers that the SBC has undergone a remarkable transformation over the last three decades, involving the overturning of a dominant liberal consensus in favour of more traditional evangelical orthodoxy, the story remains inspiring even to those outside the SBC. 

In this context, there are a couple of particularly helpful items in such study. One is the 1995 PBS documentary, "Battle for the Minds," an unremittingly hostile analysis of changes in the SBC, along with a veritable hatchet-job on Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., and the early days of his presidency at Southern Seminary. In order to tug at the viewers' heartstrings, the documentary plays the issue as one of the persecution of women, particularly one specific woman professor; but when interviewed in the film, the Vice Chair of Southern's board makes the point that the controversy was more about whether professors actually believed the Abstract of Principles (Southern's equivalent of a confession of faith) to which they were bound by voluntary vows; and that, as the woman professor featured in the documentary did not do so, she was, in effect, working, and taking money, under false pretences.

The other fascinating item is the memoir by Judge Paul Pressler, A Hill on which to Die (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2002). Pressler was a layman and Sunday school teacher who became disturbed by the teaching and publications he saw emanating from SBC seminaries in the early sixties. He then spent the next four decades organizing a movement to reinstate Christian orthodoxy both in the SBC and in its educational institutions. It was a hard road for him to walk: the early years were lonely and frustrating, and he and his family were later the targets not only of national negative media campaigns, but even of death threats. Still, he persevered on the simple grounds that the garbage taught in seminaries today become the garbage preached in pulpits tomorrow.

One paragraph in particular caught my eye as I worked my way through his book. It reads as follows:

In some instances a student has gone to an institution and has been befriended by professors whom the student respected. The professors tell the student how bright he or she is and how the professors are willing to help the student escape the limited background from which he has sprung. In this way, some professors create a circle of students who follow them. They will train the students in what the professors believe. Such groups can be used to glorify the professor rather than the Savior and can become another source of liberalism. (p. 152)

What Pressler offers here is a brilliant insight into the dynamic of the relationship between some professors and students, and the unfortunate results which can then transpire. Indeed, it is worth unpacking in a little more detail.

First, there is the fact that the relationship is built on a mutually beneficial dynamic of basic vanity. The professor tells the students how clever they are, despite the limitations of their educational background so far; and the students reciprocate by allowing the professor, magus-like, to introduce them to the wonderful, liberating world of real thought. Everyone's a winner; everyone's ego gets stroked; everyone feels good about themselves and somewhat superior to those left outside the sacred circle of Gnostic knowledge.

Second, the focus of these groups becomes the professor and then the little group of acolytes, not the Gospel or, indeed, proper thinking, scholarship, or anything else for that matter. If they feature at all, they are merely fuel for driving the larger cult of personality. In fact, the decorum and moderation of style which typically mark careful thought and scholarship, and even normal friendships and associations, are signally absent from these groups. It is often the case that these little cabals become hyper-sensitive about even the slightest perceived criticism of themselves or their chosen leader; but, by way of contrast, they are often extremely free and colourful with the language they use to describe those with whom they disagree. He who is not with them is, by definition, against them. 

This violence of language is symptomatic of deeper issues, indicating that it is often, at root, the emotional connection to the professor which drives the subsequent theological conviction rather than the other way around. This exact point is made with some clarity by James Gordon in his intellectual biography of James Denney, the great Scottish theologian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Denney studied at Free Church College in Glasgow, during the years when the Free Church of Scotland was being torn asunder by the higher critical views of the brilliant young professor of Old Testament, William Robertson Smith. Gordon argues that it was as much the atmosphere surrounding the man, the liking of and sympathy for, his person that helped to shape Denney's own doctrine of scripture, particular in his positive reception of moderate higher critical approaches to the biblical text. [James Denney (1856-1917): An Intellectual and Contextual Biography (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2006), 72-74]. Affection for the man as an engaging teacher, perhaps even the fact that he was `a good bloke' as the English would say, as opposed to one of the `grumpy old men' who opposed him, led the younger hot-shots in the Free Church to lend him their loyalty and to pattern their own theology after his. 

Of course, this is no monopoly of the left. I am reminded of the criticism of Francis Schaeffer as made by James Barr: he taught a whole generation of the evangelicals that they didn't have to read or think for themselves. This is not to say that either Robertson Smith or Schaeffer consciously cultivated mindless clones of themselves--or that their followers necessarily acted in the ignorant, immature, and ill-mannered way I have described above--but it is to say that this is a constant temptation and danger for the powerful intellect or alpha personality, one that needs to be guarded against at all costs.

Third, the long-term impact is that the views of the particular leader get transmitted to the spheres of influence in which the students themselves progress. This is where the little classroom cults become much more dangerous, where they start to harm people's lives, where they start to split churches. It is surely one of the most unsettling experiences to see one's own faults replicated in one's children. If I treat my wife with disrespect, lo and behold, my son does the same. And if I have an ounce of decency, I feel the pain and shame of my responsibility straight away. 

This is not simply the way biological children develop; it is the way in which intellectual and spiritual offspring grow as well. The throwaway comment that a professor makes in a lecture or a pastor makes in some context can come back to haunt the Church in unfortunate and unintended ways, as admiring students latch on to the words of the coolest profs in town and, in an attempt to get a little piece of the magic for themselves, repeat them, exaggerate them, and even misquote them out of context. This is bad enough when done unintentionally; how much more dangerous is it when swaggering professors go out of their way to cultivate acolytes, who then go out and do this sort of thing virtually for a living? 

Such fan bases, such personality cults, are nothing new. They afflicted the church in Corinth, and they have been an enduring malady ever since. Psychologists could no doubt have a field day here: 

Transposition of filial affection to a surrogate parent figure... 

A desperate need to belong to a group...

Both of these can offer plausible, second-level explanations for such commitment and surely contain important truths. At root, however, the problem is even more serious: the Christian, biblical perspective has to be that what we see in such relationships is idolatry. The Bible is clear that idol worshipers take on the characteristics of their idols. Worship a dumb statue, and you will become dumb (Ps. 115); we might add that, if you worship a professor or teacher or pastor, you will come to be like them, warts and all, and probably in an exaggerated way. That is why so many professorial disciples sound like cheap, lightweight versions of the original; they are basically idolaters, and what you see in their lives and language is the inevitable result of their idolatry.

What is worse than this, of course, is that such people negate the power of the cross of Christ. Paul makes the point with ruthless effect in 1 Corinthians 1. To indulge in a cult of personality is not simply to miss the point of the cross; it is also to empty the cross of its power. That is why it is not simply incumbent upon students to guard against being sucked in to such idolatry. How much more is it incumbent upon the professors to avoid becoming the objects of such a cult? 

It is often said that you cannot enter into a pulpit and make yourself look like a great preacher and Christ look like a great saviour at one and the same time. So it is in the classroom, on campus, at conferences: the professor, the theologian, cannot point to the power of the cross and simultaneously encourage a cult of personality. These things simply cannot stand together. Indeed, it is surely vital that the professor not only avoid creating such cults, but also actively opposes them as they start to arise around him. To do less than this is, I fear, to empty the cross of its power and to lead others into idol worship.


Carl Trueman is professor of humanities at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. Born in Dudley, UK, he has previously been a faculty member at the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen (UK) and Westminster Theological Seminary (PA). He was also formerly Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Ambler, Pa. He enjoys running, listening to rock/classical music, and doing what his wife tells him.


This article was originally published on reformation21 in August of 2008. 
In 1869, the German physiologist, Friedrich Goltz, published a series of conclusions from tests he performed on frogs. In his book, Beitrage zur Lehre von den Functionen der Nervencentren des Frosches (Contributions to the Theory of the Functions of the Nerve Centers of the Frog), Golz revealed that he had put a number of frogs in a pot of water and heated it to 78.8 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, the frogs obviously made efforts to get out. Golz then slowly turned up the temperature until the frogs died of at 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When he ran the experiment on decerebrated frogs, Golz discovered that the decerebrated frogs remained calm until they were fully cooked in the boiling water. I relay this story at the risk of offending both PETA and little boys who love frogs, in order to draw an analogy. In "late modernity," believers are in danger of becoming just like decerebrated frogs in the kettle. As the temperature of cultural wickedness increases around us, we remain motionless--until it's too late. While we silently tolerate and seek to negotiate with a culture in which abortion, sexual immorality, idolatry, materialism, abuse and every other form of wickedness runs ramped, we are being cooked. I am not suggesting that we become bombastic cultural warriors. I am, however, suggesting that we need to wake up to the reality of the wickedness in the culture in which we live and be willing to live as the faithful, God-honoring, sin-hating, righteousness-loving, truth-speaking believers Christ has redeemed us to be--no matter the cost. 

Jesus teaches us that there will be evidences of God's grace in the lives of those he redeems. The recipients of God's grace are marked as being poor in spirit, mournful, meek, merciful, peacemaking, pure in heart and hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matt. 5:3-9). They will also be those who are "persecuted for righteousness sake" (Matt. 5:10).  Righteousness is not a culturally defined concept--something determined by statist ethics or media-driven agendas. As one theologian rightly explained, "What God says is right is right because he says it and He says it because it rests on his holy nature."1 This means that we must have our ethics shaped exclusively by Scripture. 

Recent exposés related to Rachael Dehollander, and other victims of sexual abuse, have served to prove how willing society--and, regrettably, even the church--has been to tolerate, cover and accommodate wickedness. If we have learned anything from this tragic situation, it is that we must wake up to the reality of wickedness in the world in which we live; and, be willing to call sin what it is. In order to do so, it is incumbent on us to defend the "straight line" of righteousness. Denhollander appealed to C.S. Lewis' reflections in Mere Christianity on the "straight line," as she faced her abuser: 

"I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was. And I know it was evil and wicked because the straight line exists. The straight line is not measured based on your perception or anyone else's perception, and this means I can speak the truth...without minimization or mitigation. And I can call it evil because I know what goodness is. And this is why I pity you. Because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good."

What a powerful word there is in this for us. We must seek, by a diligent use of Scripture, to appropriate into our own thinking, consciences and lives the "straight line" of righteousness. When we cease doing so, we will inevitably begin to accommodate evil. This is not simply a call for us to stand up for victims. It is a call for us to reject all unrighteousness. We must disabuse ourselves of the notion that something is wrong only because it hurts someone else in a perceptible manner. Sin is, first and foremost, rebellion against the King of Heaven. As R.C. Sproul put it, "Sin is cosmic treason...against a perfectly pure Sovereign." When King David finally acknowledged his sin of adultery and repented of it before the Lord, he confessed, "Against You and You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight" (Psalm 51:4). Accommodating culture on the horizontal plane is the inevitable result of downplaying the severity of sin on the vertical.

By nature, men and women approve those things that they know are abhorrent to God. The Apostle Paul--after opening the catalogue of natural depravity ranging from sexual immorality to unmercifulness (Rom. 1:29-31)--explained the science of cultural accommodation. "Who knowing the righteous judgment of God," he wrote, "that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them" (Rom. 1:32). Our natural instinct is not only to tolerate but also to practice and to approve evil in the lives of others. Accommodation can happen either explicitly (through vocal support or active engagement) or implicitly (by downplaying its severity or covering it up). When we accommodate societal sin in these ways we become just like the decerebrated frogs in the kettle. 

It is a travesty of the highest order when ministers publicly castigate fellow ministers for speaking out on such things as abortion, marriage, homosexuality and gender identity, while silently refusing to speak out on them. Appealing to kindness and ecclesiastical procedure--in attempts to censure vocal denunciation--is often nothing less than a smoke screen for fostering cultural accommodation. Rhetorical sophistry is par for the course, these days, for those who--wishing to blur the "straight line" of righteousness--silently promote ethical compromise.  

Believers are not to be zealous to uphold the "straight line" because we are better than others. God only justifies "ungodly" men and women (Rom. 4:5). Rather, we do so out of a desire to glorify the God who redeemed us and to reflect His image in a wicked and perverse world. We do so also for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus died for sin. It is impossible to hold out the abundant and lavish grace of God in the Gospel unless we first uphold God's holiness and standard of righteousness (Rom. 5:20). The law makes sin exceedingly sinful so that men and women will see their need for the forgiveness and reconciliation that is only found in Christ (Rom. 7:13; Gal. 3:22). 

There will, of course, be a cost if we decide to do what is pleasing to God and stand for the "straight line" of righteousness in a world that approves and promotes wickedness. Rachael Denhollander learned that painful truth. Though the cost may be great, we must remember that there is true blessedness in upholding God's standard of holiness. After all, Jesus didn't say, "Blessed are the cultural accommodationists, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." 

 

1. Van Til, C. The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008).

Pluck Out...Your Candidate?

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I'll never forget the first year that I was able to vote. I had just turned 18 and could not have been more zealous to be part of the American political process. I spent six hours a day while I worked listening to angry talk show radio hosts who seemed intent on raising my blood pressure. I vehemently argued with (and regarded as an enemy) anyone who disagreed with me. If Facebook had been around I would have most likely have blocked anyone who thought differently from me. Thankfully the election eventually took place, and I had the satisfaction of knowing that I had played my part in the American process. As if emerging from a daze I went back to my regular life of spiritual devotion, church attendance, sharing the Gospel, and turning my focus more earnestly to the Lord.

Four years later, however, the daze occurred again and a similar pattern repeated itself. I devoted a solid 8 months (probably more, if I'm honest) pouring my spare energy into reinforcing my preferred choice and again trying to persuade others to join me in my "righteous" cause. This pattern has repeated itself for the last 15 years of my life, like clockwork. If my estimates are right, I have invested at least three whole years of my young life in politics; and, if I'm honest, I now regard them as lost years. I think of all the things I could have done during those 8 month cycles. I could have spent long stretches listening to good preaching instead of self-indulgent screeds. I could have read books about Christ instead of the opinions of pundits. I could have memorized the shorter and larger catechism. I could have memorized a book of the Bible. I could have spent time trying to persuade my non-Christian neighbors to come to Christ, or join my church. Instead, I tried to persuade them to join my political party and watched my blood pressure climb over events that I really had very, very little sway over.

With the advent of Facebook, the visible shift of focus for most Americans is startling. We had three years of some sort of normalcy (nevertheless characterized by bad news and cat videos). Now, the focus of nearly everyone has either turned to Pokémon Go or the election. Frankly I suspect that Pokémon Go may actually be of greater consequence than the election. At the least Pokémon is building non-volatile relationships!

This election year brings with it a choice between two human beings who (if I dare say so) nearly everyone seems to universally regard as despicable. Either candidate will be a loss for our nation and a harbinger of divine judgment. So how much time should American church members or ministers devote to picking their poison? I think a fair answer is, "Almost certainly less time than they are currently."

Now, to be fair, I can't and won't tell others how to spend their time. I am so far from being a perfect model of how to spend one's time. For instance, I read a stack of comic books this past year. I have hobbies and things that I do for fun that bring rest, relaxation, and pleasure into my life. I have been known to regain focus for studies or ministry after watching a TV show on Netflix. When I think of the ideally pious use of one's fleeting moments, I think of Jonathan Edwards, who resolved "never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can." This is not me (though I want it to be), and I do not speak as a perfect model.

However, of this much we can be sure: Jesus tells us that if something is causing us to sin, we should cut it off or pluck it out (Matt. 5:29). Brothers and sisters, if politics has become an idol for you...if political engagement is impeding the work of the Kingdom that you know you should be doing, Jesus commands you to cut it off. I can't tell you at what point political involvement has passed from the legitimate responsibility of a citizen into idolatrous waste. I can't tell you exactly what the best use of your time is at every given moment. If you find political investment to be fruitful, restful, and a source of joy and pleasure in your life, by all means invest yourself and pour yourself out for the cause to bring glory to Christ. But I would also encourage believers to ask themselves the following diagnostic questions. It is my hope that they may be of some help to our knowing whether we need to cut off our political hand:

 
  • "During this season do I have more or fewer relationships where I have opportunities to share the good news with a sinner?"
  • "Do I invest more energy in getting people into my political party than I do getting them in to my church?"
  • "Do I spend as much time having my soul enriched by the preaching of the Word as I do listening to pundits?"
  • "Are my anxiety and blood pressure higher during this season? If so, is politics worth the toll it is taking on me?"
  • "Do I watch too much news? If so, have I become more anxious, fearful, or angry?"
  • "Do I believe that the right candidate will bring the kind of joy into my life that only Christ can bring?"
I realize some will charge me with presenting a false dichotomy here. Surely some are capable of walking and chewing gum. I was not able to personally engage well in politics and the work of the Kingdom of God during the last four political cycles. I suspect I am not the only one. I am not suggesting that believers should have no place in political involvement. What I am suggesting is that because we are not only citizens of earth, but also citizens of heaven our investment in the earthly city of man where we currently live ought to be modest, measured, and balanced by the knowledge that Christ's "kingdom is not of this world." Of all people, we have our priorities straight.

Let us never kid ourselves into thinking that obsessive political investment on social media or in private conversations with believers or unbelievers will further the kingdom of God one inch. The kingdom of God is furthered by the proclamation of the Word and by the work of the Spirit in opening the hearts of people to receive the message of Christ crucified. The kingdom of God is advanced by the work of evangelism and discipleship--by using the means of grace that God has given to his people and His church. If something - anything - is impeding the work that you or I ought to be doing, Jesus commands us to cut it off or pluck it out from our lives. It would be better for us to enter heaven without our candidate than to enter hell with our candidate, would it not?

Adam Parker is the Pastor-Elect of Pearl Presbyterian Church in Pearl, MS. He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson and the Associate Editor of Reformation 21.

Another bite of the Apple

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How pleased and blest was I
To hear the people cry,
"Come, let us seek our God today!"
Yes, with a cheerful zeal
We haste to Zion's hill,
And there our vows and honours pay.

The excitement is building and the tension is mounting. We have been eagerly anticipating this day, a day on which we get to consider marvels and receive blessings, in the company of others so marvelling and blessed. We have been planning for this, clearing our calendars, arranging our schedules, saving our offerings, cancelling other commitments and structure our family life with this day in mind. It comes regularly, but it feels rarer. We know something of what to expect, but we are hoping that - this time - something better may be our experience, that the glories we have come to know in part might beam a little brighter this day. Yes, with a cheerful zeal, we haste to Apple's [sic] hill, and there our vows and honours pay. Because today they might show us a new watch.

If that is your testimony, and these your priorities, something may be wrong.

If your appetite for Apple transcends your appetite for God; if your excitement for the company of those faithful is more than for God's faithful; if the prospect of the Spirit of Jobs drawing near stirs you in a way that worship never has; if there is no planning, clearing, saving, cancelling and structuring in anticipation of the day of worship, but there is for this; if you obsess over the merely good but miss the truly great - something has gone awry.

Just saying.

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!