In-Sight: Who Can Be A Guide?

Some months ago, I received an email containing a list of “dangerous people” in Christianity.  The author of the email was exhorting readers to henceforth have nothing to do with anyone on her list—note: “her” list.

It was uncomfortable to see the names of some whom I have looked to for guidance for many years, and whom I have quoted and commended right here on Oboedire. The only substantiation for her conclusion was one quotation from each “heretic.”

I have to be honest and say that the email bothered me for two main reasons.  First, I do not want to say, do, or write anything that would harm someone else’s faith.  And second, the email raised the question about the credibility of those whom we allow to guide and influence us.  When are they more harm to us than good?  I have prayed for some “light” on this important matter, and here’s what I have to share.

If we followed the logic of the sender’s email, we would not pay attention to Peter.  Just a few days ago, I read the account of Jesus’ time with the apostles at Caesarea Philippi.  In one moment, Peter got it wonderfully correct: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  But in the next moment, he got it horribly wrong, as he tried to steer Jesus away from his announced, upcoming suffering.

If the criteria for putting someone on “our list”—or taking them off of it is impeccable correctness–if one bad quote can do you in,  then Peter would have been taken off as soon as he spoke in error.  And remember, this was not simply a benign mistake, this was in relation to the very redemption Jesus had come into the world to provide.  If he could be so “doctrinally wrong,” how could the new church (from that point on) ever know whether to trust his counsel or not?

It was in reading this passage that I saw my way through the email.  The simple fact is, no one gets it “right” all the time.  One moment, we are speaking revealed truth as Peter did (see Matthew 16:17), but shortly thereafter, we may speak serious error.  That is the way it is for any of us who are willing to factor “being human” into the theological equation.

This means that the onus of responsibility is upon those of us who pay attention to someone.  We must receive their witness and writings with discretion and discernment.  Everyone gets it wrong sooner or later.  When we are concerned about another’s words, we turn to the creeds and councils of the Church—the Christian community over the ages—to help us sort through things.  That’s why the Christian tradition is so important.

The trouble with the sender’s email was that her list wasn’t long enough.  Every name of every Christian should have been on it.  At one time or another, we are all “dangerous” to some degree.  That includes the sender of the email, and the one who is writing this one!

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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4 Responses to In-Sight: Who Can Be A Guide?

  1. Jim Bradshaw says:

    Me too. Knowing a little Greek and Hebrew can be a dangerous thing!

  2. Thank God for his grace that has “covered” me and my mouth on many occasions! I’m currently reading a book by L’Engle. It’s helping me a great deal in this season. I’ve seen her name on some of those lists. You’re so very right; the responsibility lies with us as readers. May we discern everything through the light and witness of the cross!


  3. Donna Bogan says:

    What an interesting post! If we are to analyze anyone’s effectiveness as a guide on the basis of ONE quote, wouldn’t it be wise to know at what point of that person’s spiritual path that statement was made? St. Augustine, preconversion wouldn’t be a very reliable Christian guide; post, he is a spiritual warrior. Same thing with the Apostle Peter. I guess I’m not much of a list-maker.

  4. Tom Pope says:

    Well said. Guess you’d better add me to the list too.

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