RISE UP, O MEN OF GOD
Have Done with Lesser Things
Anchored at Bombay. This day I finished the thirtieth year of my unprofitable life; the age at which David Brainerd finished his course. I am now at the age at which the Saviour of men began his ministry, and at which John the Baptist called a nation to repentance. Let me now think for myself, and act with energy. Hitherto I have made my youth and insignificance an excuse for sloth and imbecility: now let me have a character, and act boldly for God.
~ Henry Martyn, The Life and Letters of Henry Martyn, p. 284
I am slightly disturbed by the categorization of fundamentalists into groups of young and old. This trend is easily recognized in venues of discussion about contemporary fundamentalism, such as SharperIron.org. The unfortunate consequence is that the appellations “young” or “old” turn into pejoratives or badges of honor — depending upon one’s perspective — when, in reality, age has little to do with the current discussions. I am decidedly not a part of either group. I am a fundamentalist who happens to be thirty-five years of age. My age and my opinions, however, have earned for me the label “young fundamentalist,” which I reluctantly accept only because I am both a fundamentalist and young. Yet I know men twice my age who share my views. They, of course, are flattered to be called “young” — not so much because of the merits of their views, but rather because of the boost any old man gets by having anything affiliated with his person described in terms of youthfulness. Nonetheless, I resist the “young fundamentalist” label on the basis that an unhealthy fixation on age categorization has begun to hinder the dialogue, intimidating young men with real concerns by invalidating their criticisms as “youthful,” and shielding older men, who must give an account, by insulating them from rebuke. Age has little place in a conversation about facts, truth, and the Church of God.
Since I am apparently categorized as “young,” I have two little words for the many young Christian leaders who are my peers: “Grow up.” It seems as though Paul may have had the same idea when he addressed the squabbling, unfocused, and divided Corinthians: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV). Whether it be a call to courage or manliness, Paul’s challenge still applies to the large group of Christian men — and I think of those within fundamentalism — who are young and in positions of leadership. Men, quit whining about your youth and the dismissive attitudes you perceive from older leaders. Be men! Take up the challenge! You are a man when you decide to be. Augustine thought that his youth was a thing of the past when he entered his thirtieth year — “Dead now was that evil and abominable youth of mine, and I was passing into early manhood.” I only wish men would be men so soon and so confidently now.
I recently read an interview between a younger pastor and an older pastor. Near the end of the interview, the younger pastor asked the older pastor whether he had anything else to say to “us ‘young fundamentalists’ whose brains are still full of ‘mush'” [my paraphrase, although “mush” was his word]. When I read that characterization of younger men within fundamentalism, my first thought was that the interviewer’s brains were not mush. Secondly, I thought, an interviewer who holds a pastorate certainly should not have mush for brains! And third, I decided he did not speak for me! There is, of course, a value in self-deprecating hyperbole, which I’m sure was the interviewer’s point — to humbly reiterate his deference to the elder — but the problem is that we face a very real despising of youth which undercuts the effectiveness of pure Gospel ministry.
Young man. Old man. Who cares? Is he a servant of the Lord, a man of God? That is the real question. There is an unnecessary amount of angst among young leaders within fundamentalism about the attitudes and duties we are supposed to have toward our “elders.” And some, young and old alike, resort to discrediting anything that a man has to say on the basis of his age categorization, whether he be young or old. Still others, as “elders,” are hiding behind their supposedly rightful shelter of longevity — refusing to come out and field the blows that they may or may not deserve. Whether I am “old” or “young,” I do not know. As I said, my years on this globe number thirty-five now. Categorize me as you will, but this I do know: I am a man. And I am a man of God.
I grant that my claim to the “man of God” title could appear arrogant and unbecoming — but the fact of the matter is, I have no business pastoring a church (thereby assuming the office of an elder) if I am not a man of God! The elderly Apostle Paul referred to the much younger Timothy as a “man of God” (1 Timothy 6:11). If you are a pastor of a church, then you should be a man of God. The size of your church and the number of your years are irrelevant. Your authority is not diluted only because experience or your sphere of influence are limited. Your influence, man of God, is much less restricted than you think. Samuel Rutherford and John Bunyan ministered from prisons. Young and ill, David Brainerd ministered through his journals — posthumously! Men of God ought not be intimidated by limitations — imposed, real, or perceived. Men of God should intend to influence. Men of God ought not to allow youthfulness to become a gag.
Within the movement of fundamentalism, there are controversies into which we younger leaders, by God’s providence, have been inserted by birth. The most disturbing of these concerns is obviously sin, and sin among the “leaders.” It is a sad irony that too many young pastors are looking to the older pastors to help fix a fundamentalism just because they are “older” when, in fact, many of those “older” leaders are directly responsible for the sad state of today’s fundamentalism. To borrow the words of the prophet, “Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard; they have trampled down my portion; they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness” (Jeremiah 12:10). Spiritually speaking, there are very few fundamental Baptist churches of which I would want to be a member. My repulsion has nothing to do with worship style or standards. Rather, it is because few churches have shepherds after God’s heart, shepherds who feed His sheep with knowledge and understanding (Jeremiah 3:15). It is obvious that sin problems exist in the Church when God’s people are, as John Owen put it — “at peace with the world and division among themselves.” The responsibility falls on every individual, of course. Pastors, moreover, are called to give an account to God for the souls in their care (Hebrews 13:17). The innumerable multitude of confused, ignorant, self-righteous (and, in too many cases, unsaved) “fundamentalist” souls are the fruit of “fundamentalist leadership.” For the glory of God and for the good of His Church, the Lord is opening up a door of influence through the Internet (weblogs, forums, etc.) to men who only a few years ago would have been unheard because of the obscure places where they serve. Now, by power of this new medium, God is bringing Amos to the city. And Amos, the country preacher, has a thing or two to say.
Amos may be provincial, from an obscure location, and perhaps even young. But he’s right. To Amos, I say, “Speak up!” And to God’s people, I say, “Listen!” In the noise of youthful voices, there are some who are God’s men for the hour. Stop the age branding and remember that the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets (1 Corinthians 14:32).
One self-described “young fundamentalist” recently chastised his peers for supposedly holding “old fundamentalists” at arm’s length. On the basis of his personal experience with only five older fundamentalists, he exhorted us all to aspire to be old fundamentalists again and then made allusion to Rehoboam who, upon listening to his peers instead of the older counselors, hastened the downfall of his kingdom. Unfortunately, his argumentation showed his youth. I would remind him that “there is also the imperceptibly growing tendency of old age to abated vigour and activity, which brings a chilling frost or damp upon our energies, and in various ways gives advantage to the ever-watchful enemy to counteract or paralyse a course of usefulness” (Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry; emphasis mine).
I have personal experience with fundamentalist leaders (many more than five) who are/were liars, adulterers, child molesters, and/or cheaters. This does not figure the ones who have been disgraced formerly, but who are currently held in high esteem. The ministries under their leadership are/were corrupted in every corner by sins of lying, immorality, cheating, and ignorance (ignorance is a sin, by the way). Glory to God, I also know older leaders within the movement who are men of God and an example in every way. However, I have had countless personal experiences with “leaders” who have been guilty of double-speak, cronyism, favoritism, mishandling of Scripture, slander, fear of men, and laziness. Using the approach of the young fundamentalist who wants to be old again, I could chastise anyone who would audaciously sin against God by identifying with older fundamentalists — simply on the basis of my personal experience. If my brother can generalize on the character of an entire generation by his very limited experience, can’t I do the same thing on the basis of my much more extensive experience? Obviously, I can’t — because age, in fact, is not the critical distinctive.
I will not broadbrush an entire generation, because there are a number of older fundamentalists who, though we do not see eye to eye on certain issues, are indeed men of God. Their character is godly. I love them. And in my heart I want to be like them. Conversely, there are a number of younger men who hold positions similar to mine, but whose character and spiritual maturity is nearly non-existent. There are a number of younger fundamentalists who are weak, immoral, lovers of pleasure, and wholly given to the contemporary systems of ministry. Many of the young critics today are going to be old, washed-out compromisers tomorrow. They too are hypocrites, and my soul is grieved by them. Whatever the case, old and young men in pastoral ministry are but men, and as men, they are peers.
Still, there seems to be too much hesitancy on the part of young men to rise up and speak up on behalf of the truth. Certain biblical examples are often cited to silence the younger critic.
For instance, the use of Rehoboam’s example (1 Kings 12) to warn younger men to listen to older men reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about the age issue. It is granted that Rehoboam listened to the advice of his peers over the advice of older men and consequently suffered the negative results. However, the differentia was not the age of the advisors, but the advice of the advisors.
Ironically, the young advisors were commending a continuation and an intensification of what the older Solomon had started. That was bad advice. The older advisors, on the other hand, were commending a plan to the contrary — i.e., a return to the methods of Solomon’s younger days. In other words, Solomon behaved most wisely when he was younger. The older guys could remember that. The good advice was to do what the younger Solomon did, “for when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods” (1 Kings 11:4 ESV). The older men, in this case, were appealing on behalf of the people who once served joyfully the young, temple-building sage, but who had since grown weary under the aging idolater. He had heavy-handedly imposed crushing levies on his subjects in order to build luxurious private homes. His once-winsome leadership had soured over time, corrupted by the effects of his personal sins.
In the very same context, the Scriptures record the horrifying impact an older prophet can have upon a younger man of God. In 1 Kings 13, a young prophet is told by God to deliver his message to Jereboam and return immediately — without stopping to eat. It was an old prophet (1 Kings 13:11) who deceived the younger prophet into stopping by his place for fellowship and a meal. Certainly, deference to the older man and confidence in his office as a prophet clouded the judgment of the younger prophet — who ended up paying with his very life for his trust in the old man. The old prophet had sons who were at Jereboam’s altar. We do not know why, but it is safe to guess that they were compromisers, care-free in the presence of such an idolatrous king.
The old prophet’s usefulness to God was a thing of history. It is the same for many old preachers today. The Spirit of God has withdrawn from them, grieved by the depth of uselessness and powerlessness to which they have sunk by incremental digressions of disobedience and compromise over many years of service. Little by little, they have relinquished their commitment to their holy vows and have lost pleasure in serving the Lord of hosts — saying like the priests of old, “what a weariness this is” (Malachi 1:13). Men, many of them younger, are saying to the older men,
“Why hast thou done this?” Have you found Him unfaithful to His promise? Have you discovered that He discourages His people? Will you say that the more you have known Him, the less you have thought of Him? It looks like it, O backslider. It looks like it, if you can remember days when you loved Him more, and served Him better than now.
Always it is true, that he that humbleth himself shall be exalted, while he that exalteth himself shall be abased. Look at Jonah, for instance. How deeply is he abased! A man whose intellect has been irradiated by the light of God’s word and Spirit — who has been exalted to the lofty rank of God’s messenger and friend, standing in His counsel, and entrusted with His secret — whose character has been refined and sanctified by His fellowship and service; — for such an one to have his duty pointed out and his offense rebuked by ignorant, unrefined, rude…men; how painful is the retribution; and how just!~ Hugh Martin, The Prophet Jonah, p. 167
They rise up, attempting to respond to the upsurge of opposition, the overflow of wickedness, and the rebukes of young men — to shake them off as they have always done before. But like Samson they are powerless, not realizing that the Lord has left them (Judges 16:20). Whether one wants to translate 1 John 2:12-14 literally or figuratively makes little difference. The conclusion is the same: it is the young men who are strong, in whom the Word of God abides, and who overcome the evil one.
Age is not the issue. An old man may be a Caleb if he so chooses. “Even youths shall faint and young men shall fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:30-31). Biological age is not the distinguishing factor. Being men — men who are young in spirit and strong in conviction — is the issue of the day. The urgent needs are leadership and faithfulness.
Unfortunately for the older men, most of those who have been at the helm the longest do happen to be — sorry! — older men. They have been the leaders, and they are responsible for how they led. If the new leaders do not figure this out soon, they will either squander away their opportunity to lead, or — as Rehoboam — refuse wise counsel and say instead, “whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke.”
Men, if you are in a church as a pastor, lead. If you are a young man of God, there are at least three options for you: shut up, speak up, or put up [the proof].
If you are young man of God and still under an authority who doesn’t agree with your new ideas, trends, and views — it would be best for you to just shut up.
If you are a young man of God and free to communicate your mind — speak up! If you are fully persuaded of the rightness of your stand, the truth of your convictions, and the needfulness of your message, speaking up is not only your right, but it is the right thing to do. Never has there been a day when we can communicate more freely and with such vast potential for influence.
If you are a young man of God and free to act upon your mind — put up the supporting evidence for your position and provide a credible example for followers. Demonstrate by your genuine walk the viable alternatives to errors you detect in fundamentalism. If you know that your philosophy is correct, that you are empowered by God, that you are enabled by the blessing of His Word, and that you have the authority of the Spirit, then help us all out and model it, please!
Fundamentalism is struggling today because of poor leadership, undefined leadership, and sinful leadership. The leadership, for the most part, happens to be older. The cringing and hands-wringing by younger leaders — hem-hawing about when to speak up or when to show respect (must one preclude the other? as though it were impossible to refute a brother in love and humility and mutual esteem) — is a shame. Such inhibition from younger leaders is indicative of weak character or weak thinking. Perhaps both. Many young leaders hesitate to address the spiritual concerns of our generation with aggression because it might require stepping on the toes of older leaders.
Their reluctance lends credence to an older fundamentalist’s prediction about his own movement: “The best thing that could ever happen to fundamentalism is that the old fundamentalists would die off.” A much better scenario, however, would be for all fundamentalists to repent and to listen to the sound, biblical teaching that is coming from men of God — young or old. The Bible does not require men of God to obsequiously tremble in silence before brothers who are fifteen, twenty, or even thirty years their seniors.
Ten verses of inspired Scripture record a biting rebuke to an aged servant of God in 1 Samuel 2:27-37. Eli had grown old, fat, and ineffective. The people under his leadership were corrupted and ignorant. One unnamed prophet apparently did not feel squeamish about verbally chastising the old man. Eli, however, showed more grace than many older leaders do today. He also told the boy — the boy! — Samuel, “What was it that [God] told you? Do not hide anything from me of all that He told you.” So the boy told him everything. Eli responded, “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to me.” I would exhort the older leaders in this movement to start hearing the Word of the Lord as from the Lord, instead of focusing on the faces of boys. Stop being older brother Eliabs who pretend to know your younger brothers’ motives and understand their hearts, saying, “I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle” (1 Samuel 17:28). Some of us — not all of us, but some of us — know that there is a cause, a cause which is not fundamentalism in and of itself, but the glory of God! Some of us know, by Scriptural and spiritual conviction, that there are many Elis in fundamentalism. And out of the Elis have issued many Ichabods. The glory has departed.
I am unafraid to tell the older men they are wrong, for, unlike Samuel, I am not but a recently-weaned child. I will not stand down when told that their age earns for them a free pass from honest scrutiny. Here’s why in ten briefly-stated reasons:
1. THE EXTENT OF AUTHORITATIVE LEADERSHIP IS LIMITED BIBLICALLY.
First, as a Baptist, these leaders are my leaders only insomuch as I decide to follow them. If they are not the duly selected and elected elders of the local church to which I am loyally bound, they are not my God-given leaders. Men, if you are determined to doggedly follow them even though their churches are dead, their families are dysfunctional, and their cronyism is blinding them to their own grotesque faults — fine. But stop whining. That kind of followship is your choice, not your duty. You are volunteering yourself to a bondage that is not required biblically and probably not even desired by your congregation. Hebrews 13:7 and 17 do not apply here. That text speaks of pastoral eldership and does not require you to kow-tow to a man merely because he is a college president or fifteen years your senior.
2. AGE DOES NOT EARN A FREE PASS.
Secondly, no man is excused from criticism or rebuke merely because he is old or young. There seems to be the notion that 1 Timothy 5:1 teaches us against all forms of rebuke toward an older man. This is simply not true. Paul says, in effect, “Don’t rebuke, but exhort.” Exhortation, according to Paul, should be age/gender appropriate. Therefore, what that passage actually teaches is that we are not supposed to rebuke the elder, nor the elderly woman, nor the young man, nor the young woman.
Now, at first glance, this passage would seem then, not only ot justify the consternation over reproaching the older man, but also to expand its applicability to both sexes and all ages! Clearly (interpreted in light of other passages), it is not Paul’s intention to forbid rebuke of anyone, ever. The word “rebuke” here is unique to this passage, speaking of a censorious, belittling, berating, and humiliating brow-beating. Yet, a severe and public rebuke obviously does not fall into this category, because the same author commanded such in 1 Timothy 5:20 and Titus 2:15.
3. GOD OFTEN USES YOUNG TO CONFOUND OLD.
Third, it has been God’s pattern to use young men. It is also remarkable that old leaders have failed God’s people on many occasions. This is not to say that they should not be leaders, but it is to say that they remain as accountable as they ever were. Cases in point:
· Charles Bridges published his tome The Christian Ministry, With an Inquiry into the Causes of its Inefficiency, a volume that is still regarded by serious ministers as one of the most important to read in one’s life time, at the age of 36. In this work he takes it upon himself to instruct all men in the ways of ministering. He even includes strong admonitions to the older men.
· Richard Baxter was 41 when he wrote the sobering, prophetic denunciation of his peers in the volume, The Reformed Pastor, which is still in print to this day. Susannah Spurgeon would often read segments of this work to her weeping husband, Charles, on Lord’s Day evenings.
· John Owen was only 27 when he blasted on to scene with the still-in-print Display of Arminianism (also still in print). He wrote his moving and as-yet-unanswered The Death of Death at the young age of 31. He was 40 years young when he gave generations of yearning saints Mortification of Sin in Believers, and 42 when he penned Temptation: The Nature and Power of It. The latter two works are perhaps the best ever written on personal holiness.
· John Calvin was 27 when he delivered his classic Institutes of the Christian Religion to the King of France. John Murray said of this work: “Institutes is not only the classic of Christian theology; it is also a model of Christian devotion.” According to one of the great historians of our era, an unbeliever, Calvin’s Institutes are one of the ten most influential books in world history.
· Jim Elliot affirmed when he was only 20 years old:
“There is no need to apologize for one’s action, nor defend it if he is sure of God’s will. And this is my confidence. That the Lord wanted me here for now. Deliver their souls from the conventional tediums, terms, and traditions” (as quoted in Shadow of the Almighty, pp. 140-141).
· David Brainerd completed his earthly ministry at age 29. Anyone who has read his journals even cursorily can gather that his expulsion from college — supposedly as a rebellious and impudent young man — was uncalled for, unmerited, and unjust. The older leaders were wrong.
· The young William Carey was told by the elder John Ryland Sr. to cease from his overly ambitious and unrealistic vision of world-wide missions.
· Over half of the Westminster Divines were under the age of 45.
And the list goes on and on. The evidence is in. God uses young men.
4. ALL LEADERS ARE JUDGED BY A STRICTER STANDARD.
Fourth, whether they are old or young, public leaders are fair game for public criticism if their leadership is either blatantly unbiblical, or if it is producing fruit unbecoming to godliness. You know a man by his fruit. A close examination of the state of fundamentalism will reveal bad fruit and “a healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit” (Matthew 7:18). The cry of many young hearts is for congregations of people who “have become crucified to sin, separate from the spirit of the world; conformed by the image, and consecrated to the service, of God; brought to the present enjoyment of Christian privileges, and ‘made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light'” (Charles Bridges). Rather, we see in too many fundamental churches people who are coddled by preaching which “begets in them a persuasion that they are in as good condition as the best professors…and with many such considerations do poor creatures harden their hearts in their unregeneracy” (John Owen). This is the fruit of the leaders who have been our teachers.
Teachers have great influence, and they should be prepared to take the heat, for they will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1). As already stated, they do not automatically get a get-out-of-jail-free card because of past achievements or gray hair, although many pretend so. There are literally hundreds of ministries shriveling up and dying under the sleepy, lazy watch of aging ministers who have pampered themselves with an early retirement from spiritual vigilance, but who still wish to be afforded the status of reverend doctors. At the ripe young age of 36, Charles Bridges had this word for his older contemporaries: “Let not age itself, let not the long and active discharge of your ministerial avocations, in which you have grown old, suggest for you a legitimate reason for ceasing from the combat, and of at length enjoying the repose, to which, after so many years of labor, you may seem entitled. Rather let your ‘youth be renewed like the eagle.'” George Whitefield is said to have prayed that “the Lord would keep me from growing slack in the latter stages of my journey.” Vigilance is required all the way through to the end. Moses, as an old man, disqualified himself from entering the Promised Land by smiting the rock instead of speaking to it as commanded by God. God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and age makes one not less, but more accountable — for “to whom much is given much shall be required” (Luke 12:48).
5. WE MUST BE REALISTIC ABOUT INDIVIDUALS’ SIGNIFICANCE IN GOD’S CHURCH.
Fifth, public leaders are mere men and their importance in the Church is not so significant as many are tempted to think. Their importance just seems to be more significant than it is. Paul said this of the Apostles Peter, James, and John, the intimate friends of our Lord Jesus while He was ministering incarnate. They, said Paul, “just seemed to be pillars” (Galatians 2:9). If inspired Writ will say that of Peter, James, and John, I have no problem thinking that college presidents, seminary professors, pastors of large churches, and old men might only seem to be pillars of God’s Church.
6. AGE DETERMINES VALUE ONLY WHEN WE ARE DISCUSSING WINE.
Sixth, age is irrelevant if you are right.
7. YOU’LL UNDERSTAND WHEN YOU’RE OLDER…NOT.
Seventh, it has been the age-old, over-used, predictable modus operandi of older folks to undercut the arguments of younger folks by telling them they are young. This ad hominem technique is very effective and convincing, though it evidences nothing less than rebellion. If He were ministering among fundamentalists today, some people would chastise Jesus Christ Himself as an impertinent young man. Don’t think so? Why wouldn’t they? Solely on the basis of age distinctions, there are those who defy Jesus Christ’s words when spoken by men of God who are about the same age as our Lord during His earthly ministry.
8. FAITHFULNESS AND RESPECT ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE.
Eighth, it is not disrespectful to disagree, nor to disagree emphatically, nor to disagree with vehemence. If a brother within the reach of a man of God’s influence is sinning, it is the man of God’s duty to confront him.
9. IT IS SINFUL TO SHIRK CONFRONTATION OF SINNERS.
Ninth, it is a sin not to confront leadership who have sinned.
10. GOD SAYS “OBEY” TO YOUNG AND OLD.
Finally, God called the prophet Jeremiah to the difficult and mostly negative task over the nations to “pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). There was only one hitch: Jeremiah said, “I am only a youth.” God responded, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 1:6-7).
Men of God, either shut up, speak up, or put up. But drop the “I’m a youth” rhetoric. It’s unbecoming of men who are chosen and called by God to be leaders, men who are supposed to be men of God.
Maybe you ought to pen into your journal the same words that Henry Martyn wrote:
Let me now think for myself, and act with energy. Hitherto I have made my youth and insignificance an excuse for sloth and imbecility: now let me have a character, and act boldly for God. ~ Henry Martyn, The Life and Letters of Henry Martyn, p. 284
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