Follow the leader(s) …
Even when they contradict the Bible?
Originally published in a CMI newsletter, May 2013.
You have probably seen one of the many news reports on North Korea with people showing frenzied adulation for their ‘supreme leader’. Yes, some of this is likely from fear of retribution in this strange and secretive Stalinist state. But it is fairly obvious from newsreels that much of the devotion and cheering of its masses at the latest sabre-rattling by the leadership seems to be genuine.
The ideology of its leadership has doomed the populace to repeated bouts of starvation, and one of the lowest living standards in the world, while the leaders themselves wallow in luxury. Yet, the willingness of huge numbers to swallow the propaganda fed to them repeatedly boggles the mind of the outside observer.
I wrote once on the way in which we can be easily pressured to ‘follow the herd’.1 That article referred to a psychology experiment in which unwitting subjects were briefly shown two lines and later asked which was longer. If lots of others (who were ‘in on the game’) gave their recollection as the opposite, they would change their minds.
Transcending even this herd mentality may be our tendency to follow the opinion of those to whose leadership we have given some sort of allegiance. North Korea is probably the starkest modern-day example of where this can lead—a kind of mass delusion. However, the same sort of thing can take place in everyday life. In this ministry one sees it far too often in the frequent willingness of Christians to just blithely take the opinions of their leadership over what the Bible plainly teaches.
Please don’t misunderstand; our spiritual leaders are there to be listened to. But the Bible makes it obvious that in the event of any conflict between our duty of allegiance to our leadership and that owed to the ‘Supreme Commander’—God Himself—it should be a ‘no-brainer’.
Reading Scripture as it was meant to be understood
I don’t mean allegiance to some subjective feeling of certainty of what someone thinks God may or may not have ‘told’ them directly. Rather, we are to be subject to the plain teachings of His written Word, His revelation to mankind, the Bible. Those in the Berean synagogues (Acts 17:10–11) were commended for being eager to receive God’s message, but also because they didn’t just take the word of Paul and his co-worker. They were “examining the Scriptures [i.e. the Old Testament] daily to see if these things were so.”
Now, passages taken out of context can mislead, and theological training is there for a purpose. Our leaders can help us enormously in properly understanding the Word of God. But the basic point holds: the Bible should trump the teaching of any leader. Whereas the OT role of the spiritual leader was priestly (a mediator between God and man), after Calvary, things changed dramatically. Through Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection, the veil of the temple was torn apart. We can now approach God directly on the basis of the blood of the slain Lamb, the only mediator between us and God. The NT leader is no longer to be a priest, but a prophet; not in the sense of predicting the future, but faithfully expounding and exegeting God’s Word, the Bible, to us. He is also to be a shepherd, and a teacher, of course—but those roles flow out of the first, and as such are to be totally in conformity with the Bible.
So it is particularly sad that when it comes to this hugely important, Gospel-foundational issue of Genesis history, far too often one sees people just passively in lockstep with their leaders—marching straight into error as surely as North Koreans have followed their leader to disaster and famine. Note that this is not some legitimate denominational controversy that assumes the Bible’s truth in the first place, for instance debates over eschatology, modes of baptism, or some fine nuance of understanding of a passage or two. I’m referring to a major, overarching ‘big picture’—something affecting the authority and truth of the Bible itself, even the entire meaning and understanding of the Gospel.
Respect for academia/leadership?
This concession to leadership, prominent in the West, is even more so in the East. Perhaps this is because of the Confucian tradition of respect for one’s elders. In Hong Kong, for instance, my hosts on recent ministry informed me that there is huge respect for anyone in a high position at Christian institutions. Because such academics often hold to various ‘compromise’ theories on Genesis, the average Christian just listens to ‘those with the degrees’. One associate pastor in that city told me about this, “They see what the Bible says, and how it is different from what the ‘academic’ person teaches. But, they think, ‘What do I know? How can I not accept this—he must have special knowledge that makes his interpretation correct. There is obviously something I don’t understand.’ So they just ‘go with the flow’ of such damaging compromise.”
In the process, what happens? The Bible’s ‘Gospel big picture’—a good world, ruined by sin, to be restored in the future by removal of the Genesis Curse— is jettisoned. Adam becomes a shadowy figure, or even a myth, rather than the real blood relative he is to all of us. (Which, btw, is why Christ, the “last Adam” was able to step into humanity as our blood relative, our kinsman-redeemer, as Isaiah puts it.2)
Original sin—the notion that we are all born sinful, and hence we need a Saviour—becomes the next domino to fall. Obviously so; Paul’s epistles make it clear that our sin nature is a consequence of the first man Adam’s transgression, an act of real history. If that is not regarded as ‘really real’ by Christian leaders, is it any wonder that the Gospel itself is being seen as less and less ‘real’?
Paul also understood the straightforward link between sin and death. The disobedient first Adam brought the Curse of physical death and bloodshed, and the last Adam shed His blood in physical death. Not just for the salvation of individual believers, but so that the Curse will eventually be removed—again, as a real thing in space and time. It is so plain and obvious in the Bible that throughout the bulk of church history, for the vast majority of both leaders and followers in the church, this has been the overwhelming understanding. Until, that is, the neo-pagan revival of long-agism, well before Darwin.
Neither the facts nor the Bible changed, but it became untrendy to interpret the evidence using the Bible’s history. Unfortunately, the ‘leaders’ that many relied upon were all too often in the forefront of progressively abandoning big chunks of the Bible’s historicity. Perhaps the motive was to maintain ‘respectability’ in the eyes of the world, or to try to ensure the Bible was not discredited, or some combination of both. The end result is that the background history upon which the logic of the Gospel depends has suffered the death of a thousand cuts. And it has done so at the hands of those who should be its staunchest defenders.3
In Australia, one of our staff scientists was contacted by a former classmate. She said she was “surrounded by scholarly people” in her church circles, all of them long-agers. This means they have to accept death, bloodshed and suffering for eons before the entrance of sin. So, unwittingly or otherwise, they’ve ‘given away the store’ in terms of the credibility of the Gospel’s big picture. She said that she had found CMI’s arguments “compelling”, and that (her words), “the notion of death before the Fall, for any nephesh [i.e. ‘soulish’ life capable of suffering] is entirely irreconcilable with the ‘absolute’ goodness of God.”
Nevertheless, she was finding the pressure to ‘give in’ to old-earth compromise virtually irresistible. Like the Hong Kong Christians mentioned earlier, she said, “…who am I to suggest that they are all wrong and I am right—when they are far more godly and have far greater biblical understanding than I will ever have!”
What is particularly sad is that all this is coming at what is actually an exciting time in history to be a Christian, as far as the scientific evidence is concerned. For example, the increasing finds of soft tissue in dinosaur fossils—including transparent, flexible blood vessels with an ooze still inside of them showing red blood cells, and with identifiable proteins and now DNA, too. As the evolutionist Dr Mary Schweitzer, who made the first such discoveries, said, “When you think about it, the laws of chemistry and biology and everything else that we know say that it should be gone, it should be degraded completely [after tens of millions of years—CW]”4
Her comment should alert believers that this whole issue is not really about science at all. If it were, then they would of course trust the laws of science and doubt the millions of years. But these beliefs (millions of years) are a crucial part of the antibiblical worldview that suits the spirit of our age, so it’s no surprise when this doesn’t happen.
What is encouraging is that there are Christian leaders/pastors around still prepared to do the obvious—trust the Bible—and not be bluffed and intimidated into ‘following the leaders’ by the pressure of ‘Christian academia’. As these pastors invite CMI to reach and teach their flock, thousands around the world are being strengthened to ‘stand fast’ in the face of these pressures. And they are also motivated to reach their friends and neighbours like never before. After all, if you didn’t believe the Bible to be really, truly true, why would you get excited about sharing its message?
References and notes
- Creation.com/herd-rule, March 2002. Return to text.
- Hebrew goel, also used of Boaz in the book of Ruth. Return to text.
- This has been well demonstrated within the Princeton reformed theologians, in many ways stalwarts of the faith, in Donald Crowe’s landmark book Creation Without Compromise. See below. Return to text.
- Nova Science Now, May 2010, www.cross.tv/21726. Return to text.