If the church is to be rooted in the timeless truths of God’s word, it needs leaders who are standing on the shoulders of giants in whom the Spirit of God was at work. If pastors are to navigate the overwhelming challenges of an increasingly secular and antagonistic society–not to mention the internal attacks from strong willed and self-seeking individuals within the church–they need to counsel of older and wiser saints.
When I was a young man, my father used to tell me, “Never be quick to praise the living, because the living are subject to change.” In just over a decade and a half in ministry I have seen more shooting stars come and go than I can remember. While garnering large crowds and even larger accolades, such men boasted of their ministries, accomplishments, and supposed movements. They set themselves up as leaders of a generation of zealous yet directionless young adults. In their own sense of profound sophistication, they criticize the great ones who went before them. In short time, they fizzled out and are forgotten as quickly as they were celebrated. Such is the generation of ministry platforms and celebrity.
Georg Friedrich Hegel famous noted, “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” This is just as true in the church and in the realm of theology as it is in the social and political sphere. The allurement of innovation is the spirit of originality and pioneering. The result of novelty is often deconstruction and deterioration. There is a better way.
Pastors need two things more than anything else today–the wisdom of the multitude of pastor/theologians who have lived and died wise and faithful lives before them, and the wisdom of the elderly in the church today. By neglecting these two things, many set themselves up for ultimate failure.
In a letter to Robert Hooke, in 1675, Sir Isaac Newton famously wrote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Numerous theologians have repeated this sentiment over the centuries. It captures the essence of what it means to glean from the generations of ministers who have gone before us. We would be ignorant fools without the wisdom of the spiritual giants who have gone before us. We would have no Calvin without Augustine. There would be no Spurgeon without the English Puritans from whose wells he drank so deeply. There would be no Vos with Bavinck. There would be no refinement in our understanding of theology without the labors and example of those giants who have gone before us. Yet, the natural condition of the human heart is pride and self-sufficiency.