SGBC Modesto

Pedestals and Pendulums

May 28, 2024 by

Johnnie Sloan

The San Francisco Giants are the best baseball team ever.  I am sure you agree with this because it is a simple matter of fact.  If you do not agree with it, you cannot possibly even watch baseball and claim to understand it.  What I have done here is introduce and illustrate the thesis of this article.  It seems that we folks of the human variety are prone to extremes.  We are the best in the universe at superlatives (did you see what I just did there?).  While we know the proverbial virtue of moderation in all things, it seems we prefer extremes in most things.  And it is the suggestion of the writer that this causes problems – big and small.  While I may not get invited to a barbecue because of my stance on the Giants, I may actually be in danger of far worse consequences in other more important areas.

My affinity – however it was developed and however unbalanced – has brought me to put the Giants on the proverbial pedestal.  And further, it may cause me to react to any opposition to my position with an extreme swing to the other side of the discussion, i.e. a non-fan cannot like baseball.  The amazing thing is that this illustration – silly as it is – describes often the attitudes and actions of many in the Christian community.  For example: ___________ (insert famous preacher or ministry leader’s name here) has written a new book on _____________ (insert topic or subject here).  His devotees begin to talk about said book.  They then begin to gain steam in suggesting those who have not read said book and became part of “the cause” are missing out.  Then when any opposition or even lackluster response comes, they respond with vigor on how those not involved may actually be failing (dare I say sinning?) in some way by not jumping on board.  This applies to books/studies, causes, preacher/authors, Parachurch ministries (shelters, studies, radio, etc.) and more.

The amazing thing is that there are explicit warnings to take care to avoid this in Scripture, and yet we still do it.  Whatever the subject or whoever the author (or ministry), these kinds of extreme alignments can be, and often are, dangerous.  We can equate our favorite author or ministry with exclusive Scriptural integrity and not realize we are doing it.  We might grant charity outwardly (to said causes) where more discernment is needed or lack charity inwardly (local Pastors or church).  We might say: They (teachers/ministries) are very popular and helpful, so they must be Biblical, right?  This can be possible unearned adherence to popular cause/person, lacking discernment.  Or, “Pastor, why are we not involved in or against so and so?” This can be lacking charity to the local Pastor.  We are not to do this, but rather to reflect the Bereans and open the Scripture for ourselves on all subjects (Acts 17).  We are to reach first for the Bible and its proper exposition, not to what others deem most important.

Paul explicitly warns against Pedestal Preachers when he names names of potential famous guys in 1 Corinthians 1:12,13; 3:4-6 (Apollos, Cephas, Paul). He also warns against extreme Pendulum swings in speaking of liberty and charity (1 Corinthians 10).  Some may find a minister or ministry so helpful they cannot fathom someone not being involved in it – thereby judging them as to how they use their liberty i.e. not supporting ministries or authors.  For example, I was once chided very harshly by two friends who literally had me cornered when they said, “How could you not be a part of Promise Keepers?!”  Not sure if it has a bearing on this discussion, but both men have divorced their wives they were with at the time and are not currently involved in any local church.

As a homeschooler, I can tell you these things are not uncommon.  Many put organizations, leaders, methodologies and/or causes so high on their priority list that they can inadvertently be despising their brothers who do not homeschool or, even further, do not choose their particular methods of homeschooling.  Further as a Pastor who is Calvinistic, I have seen extremes in all directions to the point where some call Calvinists diabolical (a local church teaches this in their new members class) while others of our ilk improperly call every Arminian a liberal (without comprehending true theological liberalism).

I now offer some observations that if taken to heart, may help discourage this propensity to extremes in believers.  Because clearly we have it or Paul would not have needed to address it as he has.

Your Ecclesiology (doctrine of church) or lack of it has everything to do with where your energy is focused.  There is such a modern emphasis on individual Christianity that folks may not realize that the local church is where God wants most of our Christian energy spent.  Parachurch ministries (men’s/women’s, associations, etc.) often take the place in the lives of folks and keep them all but loosely connected to the place where God wants them to serve Him – the Church.  Before reading an author, joining a club, starting a movement, or getting involved in non-church related things, read the book of Acts and ask: What was their focus and where was the energy spent?

Heresy = Factions.  While the general usage of the word heresy pertains to doctrines that are directly opposed to orthodoxy, it may surprise us that heresy is first and foremost the choosing of sides and causing factions in the body of Christ – see Acts 5:17 and 2 Peter 2:1 (Sect/Faction and heresies are is actually the same Greek word hairesis – or transliterated heresy).  The striking thing is that this can be done with any teaching, not just rank false teaching or demonic doctrine.  Apollos, Cephas, and Paul were all good guys, yet folks followed them in an extreme unbalanced way that seemed to elevate them to equality with Christ!  Some were esteeming days and/or teachings that were not pagan or evil, yet the divisions caused were no less troublesome.  So, it is possible that just being somewhat elitist or extreme can move toward heresy or creating factions.  In the true Church of Christ, we must take care to avoid the “us and them” syndrome.  It is not enough to say, “My way is not necessarily right.”  It is that ‘ways’ in general are not necessarily right.  This is not a cry for emotionalistic unity, but a call to balanced theology.

Who are they accountable to?  Before climbing aboard the bandwagon of any ministry, teacher, conference, association, or any other thing – ask the question: Who are they accountable to?  This goes back to our Ecclesiology because God set up the church to be the place of accountability.  Pastors and congregations, led by the Spirit and accountable to His Word is God’s model for ministry.  Recently, some of the Pedestal Preachers have taken very hard falls.  One in the area of prophecy, two in the area of family and homeschool ministries.  With still others in the area of unchecked sin at the top of a hugely popular ministry with an improper and unbiblical organizational structure.  They have in common that fact that they are not attached to churches and not accountable to local congregations.  Who does your favorite author answer to and do you have recourse if he or she falls into sin?  If not, please be careful.  If they aren’t accountable where they are, they are not accountable where you are.

Have you spent equal or more time on the subject directly in Scripture as you have its books/materials/conferences/authors? Very often we want to know more on a subject, so we seek out authors, books, or ministries to help on it.  Then our extreme nature kicks in and we jump on board their ministry train.  This can be a particularly tricky when the author writes specifically on the Bible as it may seem there should be nothing to watch out for when it is simply a “Bible Study”.  Almost amusing is the fact that people can go even decades without considering a ministry or topic, then once they find it ask their Pastor, “Why haven’t you taught us this?” as though he has failed in some capacity.  No doubt they would say to Paul, “I just heard Apollos teach, why don’t you parse Greek verbs like he does?”  Poor Paul!  Incidentally, as good as a teacher might be, we found out that Apollos was not as educated as assumed (Acts 18:24ff) and needed some correction that he received in a local church as mentioned above.  What about our favorites in our day?  Do we know their background to know if they are capable teachers?  A good rule of thumb is that the Lord will often show you in your personal Bible Study or as you are led by your Pastor, what He desires for your life and energy.  Rather than saying, I read __________ (author) or went to __________ (conference) and now feel led to  _____________, you might say, because of this passage from Colossians, I need to adjust some things in my life.  Or, this Proverb has shown me where I can serve my local church better.  Or, hearing this passage preached it has come to light that I need to ___________.  Parachurch ministries can function like an infomercial if we are not careful and create a so-called “need” in us that may or may not actually be by God’s design.  Like a “need” to support a particular team in baseball (eh, hem).

There are lots of teachings in the Bible.  Often these extremes and their followers create factions when some idea or group of ideas is overemphasized from the Bible and then overshadows the full counsel of God.  This can even be done for solid doctrines such as the Doctrines of Grace or Christology.  Usually though it is a less prominent teaching such as government activism, family emphasis, men’s or women’s ministries, apologetics, counter-cult ministry, etc.  Make sure your focus is not so narrow to one section of Scripture that it leaves out others.  There are family verses in Ephesians, but there are church verses as well.  There are government verses and end-times implications in Romans, but there are intense systematic Salvation passages too.

The Local Church is the check and balance.  Already stated, but now more explicitly: The Church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15).  When you read the New Testament, you will not see much in the way of Parachurch ministries, or favorite books, or conferences, or associations, or clubs except in warnings to watch out for them.  God gave Pastors for the equipping of the saints (Eph. 4:11) and He gave them to local congregations who were among them (1 Peter 5:2; Titus 1:5).  Be careful not to miss the system of truth and edification distribution God has appointed in favor of buffet-style Christianity.  In the age of the internet and social media, we can inadvertently let someone or something God did not appoint ‘pastor’ us.  And if not careful, we can unwittingly be looking to have our ears itched and heap up teachers for ourselves (2 Tim. 4:3).  This can be done with pure motives and still lead to trouble as seen above with good teachers. 

   C.S. Lewis’ famous ranking demon Screwtape sheds light (dark?) on the activity of demons in this area when he says, “All extremes except extreme devotion to the Enemy are to be encouraged.”  The enemy here to him is Christ and he is saying that when man is extreme in any area except extreme devotion to Christ, he is likely being influenced not by Scripture or the Spirit of God, but something else.

   Putting things or people on pedestals or swinging the pendulum of ideas to extremes can really get us into trouble.  The tricky part is that it can be clothed as passion for the Lord’s work.  But remember Elijah was weary because he alone (according to him) was serving the Lord.  God had to show him his extreme assessment of the situation was not accurate.  He put himself on a pedestal and took an extreme view of how right he was, but God took him down quite a few notches (1 Kings 18,19).

   Maybe Screwtape just showed me I need to take it easy on L.A. Dodgers fans… NAAAAHHHH!

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:10-11