Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Theological Lint-Pickers

The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

In 1813, Thomas Chalmers wrote in “The Christian Instructor” bemoaning the compulsion to internecine warfare amongst the Reformed, Paleo-Conservative, Theological Lint-Pickers, and Nomenclature-Saber-Rattlers in the Scottish Church.

He described the tendency as “that mingled sentiment of fear and aversion with which they listen, even to opinions that are evangelical and substantially their own, when they came to them couched in a phraseology different from what their ears have been accustomed to.”

Their selective but ardent litmus tests for acceptance, he argued, goes well beyond creedal faithfulness. “They must have something even more than the bare and essential attributes of orthodoxy.”  Indeed, “Even orthodoxy is not welcome unless she presents herself in that dress in which she is familiar to them; and if the slightest innovation in the form of that vehicle which brings her to their doors, she is refused admittance, or at best treated as a very suspicious visitor.”

Chalmers concluded that this parsimonious fractiousness is largely due to “a want of those two very things which they often insist upon, and with justice, as the leading attributes of a true and decided Christian: there is a want of faith and a want of spirituality.”

Alas, two hundred years later, it seems little has changed.


JOB said...

George, I'd appreciate any thoughts you'd care to share on how we promote deeper unity among brothers who disagree so that we do not resort to party spirit and political action committees, while recognizing that some people are 'lint-pickers' and will never want to work to break down the barriers between brothers who don't agree on everything.

George Grant said...

Great question. John Frame wrote on this a few years ago in his now infamous monograph "Machen's Warring Children", as have so many others over the years.

I love Jeremiah Burroughs' Puritan classic, "Irenicum: Healing the Divisions Among God's People."

And of course, Ken Sande and the ministry of Peacemakers has done excellent work in our own day.

But, as you point out, such admonitions are only as effectual as our willingness to hear and heed.