Thank you again for taking the time last week and today for the personal feedback. I feel like I can reply to both since both messages are dealing with the same general issue. Please read this letter in a tone of candid friendliness, however contrary you may or may not find my opinions. The following paragraphs may sound a little didactic but please understand that I do not presume to teach you. However, I do believe that any belief worth having is worth holding strongly, and so I proceed.
Regarding your response that to say prayer should be frequent is “a huge understatement”: The reason why I use “frequent” and not “constant” or some synonym is that Paul, in all his praying without ceasing, was a very busy man that seems to have been engaged in many activities besides prayer. His own admonition had to refer to a disposition and not a literal habit (“without ceasing,” unavoidably to the hypothetical exclusion of the other many activities for which he and we are responsible), which means that while we must at all times maintain a God-ward heart and mind, the actual act of praying (“Our Father…”) has to be no less than frequent, but probably not actually more. Just as I may spend all day at my office along with the other pastors at my church and our conversation never really ends yet we are not constantly engaged in actual talk, the same must apply to our conversation with the Father.
Regarding legalism: It has been many years since I was asked to make my exit from Fundamentalist circles, but I have always been convicted by the necessity of showing grace to those who seem to experience none. It’s been a battle that has tested my patience many times, but I’m thankful to say that God has brought some fruit out of it and I have seen a number of old relationships restored and legalists turned toward grace. I am not wounded or cynical, but rather I’ve endeavored to make myself aware of the root causes of legalism itself. Legalism, in my estimation, is caused chiefly by teaching as commands from God the mere doctrines of men. This in turn leads to my next concern.
Regarding extra-scriptural ideas: In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul suggests that the infighting of his fan-club against those of Apollos or Christ is ultimately due to their lack of unity around the foolishness of the cross. In place of the centrality of Christ and grace, they argue over their personal teachers and opinions; as a solution, Paul makes the following statement: “I have applied all these things to myself and to Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another” (1 Corinthians 4:6). Hearsay or not, the basing of any doctrine or dogmatic practice on the statements of believers (mature or otherwise) seems to be a very tenuous foundation at best, or (what is more probable) even a direct violation of scripture itself. While Moses, David, Daniel, Jesus, and Paul all demonstrate occasional prayers of substantial length, nothing else I’ve seen in scripture justifies the position that many hours of prayer on a daily basis is a normative or even useful thing for a believer to be engaged in. Please understand my spirit here — I am not attempting to make a dogmatic statement and I myself have many times been driven to long periods of prayer when God laid someone or something on my heart. What I am addressing is the notion that we as pastors ought to be teaching people to evaluate their spiritual maturity in part on an idea that is not commanded in scripture.
Finally, regarding past believers: While I have certainly benefitted from the study of the lives and works of many past believers, I cannot seem to escape their imperfections or even hypocrisy (Calvin’s condoning of public execution of a heretic and Jonathan Edward’s ownership of slaves being a few prominent examples), and these facts have two effects on me: first, they encourage me to know that God uses each of us despite our sins, but second, it also calls into question both their wisdom and maturity. It is one thing to be an imperfect husband; it is a different thing to murder or enslave. Again, I am not wishing to make a mean-spirited or arrogant statement, but the history of the church is littered with schisms, executions, crusades, and hypocrisies among institutions that stood against science and freedom of thought and expression. While church history is something we can learn from, the saints serve as a negative example perhaps as often as otherwise, so I’ve neither felt any particular danger in differing from them in my interpretations nor been convinced of rationale to do otherwise. I remain completely open to other viewpoints on this, but experience leads me to believe that even the best of us are not fully trustworthy, unlike the scripture.
Of course, there are those in the church who feel the need to backpedal and defend the spiritual giants of the past, and I think that’s admirable. Yet, I’m not sure they need the defense. Spiritual leaders are imperfect (just like all of us) and God’s grace covers their sins as well as ours. I have no desire to assassinate the memory of their character. However, in my dialogues with unbelievers, they allow no such quarter, and it is to them that I must carry the Great Commission. One cannot defend Calvin to an unbeliever by saying he only murdered one man or Edwards by asserting that he felt uncomfortable with the fact that he owned slaves. Hypocrisy is one of the top three reasons unbelievers give as to why they cannot become Christian in my experience, and it’s such an important thing that the Bible has an entire chapter devoted to it (Matthew 23). To defend them or openly hold them up as spiritual giants is a mistake as it comes to evangelism. We can safely learn what we can from Augustine or Lewis and then let them quietly slip back into the history books, judging both their teachings and mistakes as well as our own by the explicit statements of scripture and nothing more.
As a final disclaimer, I want to reiterate that I’m in no way upset; I’ve appreciated your counterpoint and concerned feedback, and there are certainly exceptions to the things I’m claiming here. I see your point and don’t particularly disagree with what you’ve said so much as I believe that it’s worth considering that there may be more (or in this situation, perhaps less) to the story.