Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It Was....Who Said...

The Deceptive Danger of Dubious Disclosures


The Art and Science of Quoting the Religiously Lost

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (I John 4:1, ESV)

More and more I am finding myself becoming uncomfortable while listening to sermons, reading books, and reading articles, including many blogs. As I listen intently to the speaker or read with great interest as the writer makes an excellent point from Scripture, I expect the speaker or writer to continue to be consistent with his content. However, more often than not I am surprised and disappointed when that consistency is interrupted with a dubious source.

I do not believe we should quote unbelievers who purport to be within “Christendom” or within a religious sphere. I am referring to those who claim to be believers, those who are in a main-line and liberal denomination or those who are in recognized cults. I am not referring to unbelievers who would not be considered within a “religious sphere.” I am not saying that we can’t quote Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin or even Mae West. Individuals such as these do not presume upon credentials that would lend credence to a point being made from Scripture.

I am hearing more and more quotes given as substantiation by individuals who are not believers or who are suspect. For example, just recently in an article, a writer made such a spiritual point. He then proceeded to support his claim with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoffer. This troubled me. Why, you say?

For starters, Bonhoffer was a religious humanist with orthodox leanings. Bonhoffer held to the position of sacramental regeneration. He held to the traditional Lutheran view that grace is dispensed through the sacraments of baptism (infant) and through the Lord’s Table. He held to the belief that one becomes a believer through these ordinances. By the way, he also held to the fact that a “believer” could lose his or her salvation. This might not be as grave an issue as sacramental regeneration but never-the-less it is a serious doctrinal issue.

I would think that in most cases a speaker or writer could find an orthodox Christian with accurate biblical belief’s to quote from than from an individual of a known cult, liberal denomination, or non-believer. An unbelieving liberal or cult member might have some interesting things to say, but should we give such an individual an audience?

The reason I believe one should think about whom they cite in order to support a particular biblical point, is to prevent clouding the issue at hand. Many people in a congregation or reading a book or article may not be at the level to discern whether the person or point is valid and/or biblical. We should be concerned for the lambs to might believe there is nothing wrong with the doctrinal background of the individual being quoted and become mired in doctrinal confusion.

Before the cards and letters start pouring in, let me say I am not advocating we set ourselves up as judge and juries over someone’s heart. I am not proposing we become “church cops” and like the gestapo, run roughshod over someone who may disagree with us on certain biblical issues. I am not suggesting we become judgmental or critical of denominations which have a point or two of difference.

However, I do believe we have the responsibility of matching up what someone says or believes with the scripture. Otherwise the beloved apostle John would have been guilty of judgmental, critical hate speech when he wrote”

“Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God. Whoever abides in the teachings has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” (2 John 9-11, ESV)

If we would not greet an individual nor allow him into our house, I am appalled that we would let him into our sermon, article, or blog. Of course there are many other places in scripture that encourages us to be sober, alert, aware, and even to test “the spirits.”  I fear that for many, when we quote a dubious source we erase all the error of an individual in the mind of many, giving credence or approval where approval should not be given. When Pastor So-and-So quotes So-and-So, then So-and-So must be OK.

Let’s think twice before we quote an unbiblical individual or organization. Let’s dig a little deeper in orthodox Christianity for our needed support. Let’s not blur the lines of truth/and error, especially in the minds and hearts of God’s precious lambs.


Scott said...

I understand where you are coming from, but at the same time, if I only quote those with whom I am in complete agreement, I wouldn't quote many people at all. Folks like C. S. Lewis, for example, have some wonderful insights into spiritual/biblical truth, and I think those insights are helpful even though I wouldn't agree with all of Lewis' theology. We should be careful, I agree. I would never quote Joel Osteen, for example. But some, who are widely recognized like Bonhoeffer, Lewis, and others, I think we can use their insights without subscribing to everything they've ever said. Eat the watermelon and spit out the seeds. Just a thought

Gregg Metcalf said...

Thanks Scott, I always appreciate your response and insight. I knew this post wouldn't be popular and would probably draw more criticism than "praise." (I am not seeking praise)

I love watermelon a lot and I do spit most of the seeds out, when it is not seedless. I fully understand that. However, I humbly submit that I still feel it is dangerous to try and substantiate something that the Holy Spirit inspired by something someone who may not be a believer says. I agree, I am not advocating splitting hairs - that is the last thing I want to do or be accused of.

I am not referring to dubious sources like Graham, or Moody, Warren, Hybels Wesley, Luther, some of the Reformers and Puritans, and such.

I am referring to times I have heard or read of quotes from Mother Theresa, Francis of Assi, Norman Vincent Peale, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Olsteen who are not believers.

I guess I am saying let's work harder at finding biblical illustrations to support our points and lets look to see if some bible characters can help substantiate biblical points.

Most of us in Christendom will disagree over various points. It would be foolish to not benefit at times from the wisdom of various believers who give testimony that they do know the Lord.

I just can't think of any justification or any light that could be shed on a passage of scripture by Mother Theresa. Yet, I heard her "heralded" as a great example of sacrifice. Based on her own words, her sacrifice was an abomination to God. I was floored when I heard her lauded as an example and heard her quoted in a message sometime ago.

Hopefuly, you can truly see where I am coming from. I am not here to split hairs over secondary points or seeking complete agreement on every issue. I just think we should be careful whom we choose to give more meaning and credibility to the words of our Savior.

Scott said...

I think we agree. It's always better to have "orthodox" examples. There are times, though, when someone states something in such an insightful or colorful way that it does help make a point. Sadly, most of us are too lazy to research the origin of the one making the statement. I usually try to stay with folks I know something about. But I do know that I've also quoted lines from folks that I don't agree with on many other things, but as they say, "even a blind squirrel gets a nut now and then!" Your reminder is a good one.

Anonymous said...

ughhh Gregg. I feel the same way you do but I'm sure I've quoted less than doctrinally stellar sources on occasion. Sometimes it's hard to know just where to draw the line. CS Lewis flirted with universalism, and Martin Luther still held to transubstantiation, which I think is a pretty big NO NO.. etc, etc.... but then there's guys like Schleiermacher who are absolutely forebodden to speak.

Maybe it boils down to who the author's master really is.

Like Bob Dylan said everybody's "gotta serve somebody" - oops! ;)