One enduring fallacy from the 16th Century is that understanding God’s Revelation is all a matter of logic and reason. Some of the same people who are first to say, as Calvinists, that it is only by God’s grace that we are able to know or do what is right will also claim that a person can be in sin and still “do” good theology. To my own limited imagination that would be like saying that a chef with a good cookbook can serve wholesome food out of a filthy pot!
From the beginning of the Faith, the Church has had the principle that, “worship precedes theology.” First the Church Fathers would spend time in prayer, and unburden themselves of all anxieties and harmful lusts, and worship the Lord in the beauty of His holiness, and then they would approach the Scriptures. It is through this wisdom that they were able to answer the complex questions raised by gnostics, heretics, and newly-converted philosophers and provide the body of truth that the Church ever since has built on, even when we haven’t realised it!
When God judged Israel's sins, as John the Baptist predicted, He struck at the root. When Jesus was teaching His disciples how to discern a false teacher, He told them to look at the fruit of his teaching. In any body of thought there is a root, and there is fruit. If the root is good, or corrupt, Jesus said, so will be the fruit. Now, there can be sound fruit found on an ailing tree, but even then the fruit might be a lot prettier on the outside. Even so, as teachers, we can dress up any old thing we find on the roadside and feed it to our congregations, but the shiny skin can mean anything from health, to polish, to poisonous waxes.
Now, Brother Preacher, let’s look at something: When we preach, there are two things we want to happen. We want the people to consider what we say in light of God’s own Revelation, and we want them to receive it into their hearts as something good, sound, and useful for their lives. Isn’t that right? But is that how we receive it from God, with open hearts to His Word, or do we collect insights from our own favourite sources?
It has been said that Calvin said, “Read the Bible to learn the doctrines of God;” but when he died, Beza preached, “Read the Bible to learn the doctrines of Calvin.” And so Melancthon with Luther, Bullinger with Zwingli, etc. Each reformer had his own following, and each following canonised its own reading of its founder's views as infallible, and so there came rivalries and wars throughout Europe which caused many to turn from faith to a humanistic rationalism which in turn led to the French Revolution and Reign of Terror which in turn spawned the Russian Revolution, Maoism, Pol Pot, etc. Millions of people dead and enslaved, and the spark behind the whole blaze could well have been from people holding their leaders in the place reserved for the Holy Spirit!
The good news is all the better. As in Romans 5:15, “But not as the offense, so also is the free gift. For if through the offense of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many,” God’s grace is so much greater than our offenses that, though a slavish dedication to favorites led to so great loss, a disciple’s love for his Master’s voice can lead to even greater glory. How can this be? I don’t know. It’s not my question. But what is impossible with man is entirely possible with God, and it is God “with Whom we have to do.”