On Idols and Teachers

Acts 14

Paul and Barnabas are in Lystra preaching, and at one point, Paul heals a man crippled from birth. In light of this and other signs and wonders, the people attribute the healing power of God to the two of them, declaring that “the gods have come down among us.” Paul and Barnabas are immediately taken aback by this claim, and rebuke them harshly for these claims, stating that they have come for the exact opposite purpose, to cast aside their idolatry of attributing god like powers to mortal men, to animals, to statues, etc; while revealing the one True God to them.

A popular Protestant teacher once declared that any movement of the people of God becomes successful when the founder of the movement truly knows Jesus. However, he also warns that the exact moment that movement fails is when the followers only know the founder. And this is a hard teaching, but also a very true one. See, it’s so easy for us to find a teacher, a leader, a theologian, that we gravitate to; one who perhaps even is truly close to Jesus and has that intimate relationship with Him. But, the problem comes in when we begin to elevate that teacher’s teachings to too high of a level. To elevate their teachings as being higher than the teachings of the Church, or of Scripture itself. And, while we would never directly state that; it is exactly what we do when we trust their interpretations of Scripture more than we trust in the actual words of Scripture.

Now, before anyone misunderstand me, I will stress that it is imperative that we have teachers in the Church. No matter of prophecy is left to personal interpretation. However, to cling to the teachings of one person over the teaching of the Church as a whole, as the 2000 year old Body of Christ, is where we get into danger. When we ignore hundreds of counsels held over thousands of years and elevate one teacher’s contemporary view over all of these centuries of tradition, then it becomes deadly. No, it is imperative to the life of a Christian that we be joined to the Church, that we find a spiritual father who can guide us in our walk, and that we obediently and faithfully read the word of God, becoming knowledgeable about it; and look to the Church to help us comprehend what we have read; similar to the Ethopian and Philip.

Here we see Paul and Barnabas, doing the works of God; and the Holy Spirit performing miracles through that work. But we also see Satan’s influence in the world here as well. We see Satan tempting the people to attribute these workings to Paul and Barnabas, seeking to lure them into godless idolatry. But we also see the temptation of Paul and Barnabas to pride. To accept this praise, even if only for a moment. Think about how great of a temptation it would be to have an entire city full of people praising you as a god. In our generation, we see our leaders declaring themselves “God’s anointed.” We see leaders and authors becoming celebrities, and puffed up with pride, they immediately rebuke any who disagree with their positions on things. We see theologians so prideful that they decry others as being “unqualified” to teach. And we see many of the people elevating them to that point of where they feel justified in doing so; feeding further and further into the pride that has caused them to declare themselves “masters.”

Regretfully, all throughout history, many teachers and pastors have fallen victim to the enemy in this same respect. They’ve declared that they are right and all others are wrong. They’ve declared themselves free from the constraints and the authority of the Church, and in so doing have opened the flood gate to a myriad of teaching which directly opposes the teachings of the Church for over 2000 years. All of these teachers who have so strongly embraced their own doctrine and theology and, in fallible human wisdom, their knowledge about Christ, and have elevated those things above above Christ Himself.

We must learn from this passage, my brethern. We must recognize that no one man is infallible, that everyone is subject to mistake, to temptation, to pride. We must find one whom we entrust to teach us, but let us never elevate their teachings above the teachings that we have received from the Church itself, or of Scripture itself. When Scripture directly states that “if a man is sick let him be brought before the elders, and the elders will lay hands on him and pray over him and the prayer of faith will heal him,” let us never accept a teaching which states that “there is no prayer of faith that will heal the sick” (taken from the Reformation Study Bible commentary). Let us instead recognize that any one man is subject to mistake, therefore let us cling to the teachings which have survived millenia unscathed, which have gone through countless Church councils and remain unchanged. Let us read and learn the word of God, never elevating any one man’s thoughts or opinions above the words of Holy Writ, but instead trusting in the Church to help us comprehend those things which we have received.

Christ is in our midst.

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