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John Stott on Humility

May 6, 2011

Pride is a beast!  This is especially true in the life of a preacher of the gospel. I am convinced that nothing corrodes the presence or erodes the effectiveness of a minister as does pride. I fear that the celebrity preacher culture that has developed around us in our time has fueled the appetite of this monster.

Feeding this beast is the unhelpful and unfortunate designation of “ordinary pastors” being assigned to some.  Honoring the faithful labors of pastors is good.  Calling some “ordinary” is not.  Referring to some as “ordinary” inherently necessitates that we designate others as “extraordinary.”  Such descriptions are not just unbiblical, they are destructive. Consequently, nothing can be more important in the life of the preacher than the ongoing pursuit and development of humility before God and his people.

In truth, all of us are just ordinary men seeking to faithfully proclaim an extraordinary Savior (2Cor. 4:7).  Only the beast of pride tells us otherwise.

John Stott has an insightful admonition and warning in this regard. In his book on preaching, Between Two Worlds, Stott writes:

Truth to tell, the pulpit is a perilous place for any child of Adam to occupy. It is ‘high and lifted up’, and thus enjoys a prominence which should be restricted to Yahweh’s throne. (Isa. 6:1)  We stand there in solitude, while the eyes of all sit still, silent and subdued. Who can endure such public exposure and remain unscathed by vanity? Pride is without doubt the chief occupational hazard of the preacher. It has ruined many, and deprived their ministry of power.

Lord, move us to humble ourselves before you and your people. Keep us ever in the presence of the Cross, seeking the approval of the crucified and risen Christ more, far more, than the approval of men.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. David Vanie permalink
    May 23, 2011 12:43 pm

    Mr. Carter,

    Yes indeed pride is a beast! I myself am defiantly in a daily sanctification as the Lord purges this selfishness of pride from me. I have found even in reading commentaries or gospel literature from early reformers or saints of the old I have found myself grappling to find my strength and comfort in Christ alone and not in a falsetto of intellectual prowess. Pride is wrapped the the accomplishments and the achievement of men. The work of our hands will either glorify God or glorify man. I think part of actively crushing pride as followers of Christ is to keep God the center of the glory is every facade of our lives. The second our agenda begins to take on a man centered approach pride is birthed.
    I had the pleasure of reading “On being Black and Reformed” over the weekend. God sovereignty is grand. Thank you! I am curious in understanding better how social justice issues meet reformed doctrine. If you could shed some more light I would be grateful. With relation to the issue of pride in the church does a “Black theology” promote pride of self or of a community which might harm a fellowship of multiracial believer by displaying favoritism? While heritage is important to consider I do believe the word of God transforms and conforms our beings to the culture of Jesus Christ which should in fact move us away from seeking recognition and toward the mission and agenda Christ has called us to. Which leads me to my second question. Can pride in a culturally distinction distract one from serving God how we have been commanded to serve him? Much of what we term “cultural” is rooted with humanism and traditions of men. I do see there is a distinction and I know its a fine line. Im just trying to better visualize where it starts and ends. I believe the scriptures warn against elevating these things. What are your thought sir? Thanks again for the work.

    • ajcarter permalink*
      May 23, 2011 1:29 pm

      David, thanks for your comments. Pride is a monster we all fight with varying degrees of success. This is especially true of those who hold to and espouse Reformed theology. Truly understanding reformed theology should make us the least prideful, and yet because of indwelling sin, our temptations to pride seem to be all the more acute. Amazing, but true. As the bible reminds us, knowledge does puff up.
      Concerning your questions of culturally defined theology, the answer is yes. “Black theology” does inevitably promote pride and this is why when you read much of what is called “black theology” it is more “black” than it is “theology.” Yet, this is also true of any culturally designated theological perspective. When reading Dutch Reformed, German Lutheran, Scottish Presbyterian, or Southern Baptist theology (or anything else), we have to always discern where the theology ends and the cultural apologetics begins. We understand that culture in and of itself may not be evil. However, as you remind us, it must never trump Christ, the gospel, or Christianity. Unfortunately, this has often been the case.

      Christ and the gospel transcends culture. And thus if the message we proclaim can not be transposed and transcribed to various cultures and peoples of the world, then we have to question whether our message is truly the gospel – if it is truly of Christ. Thanks again for your comments and questions. They remind me this morning of the blessed, sin-cleansing, culture-transcending, all-unifying gospel of Jesus Christ. Might we preach nothing save Jesus Christ and him crucified!

      • David Vanie permalink
        May 23, 2011 3:53 pm

        If I may further the inquiry just a bit for better understanding. If the gospel transcends culture then the message we bring as faithful ambassadors should penetrate culture because its Christ. Yet, to transpose could possible mean literally transferring the gospel into a new form which is more palatable to that specific community. Thats the fine line I was referring to. How do we regulate the transfer of the form to ensure we are maintaining gospel truth? I may be off here. Please forgive if I am. Im just grappling with gaining an understanding based on scripture. Although, I can absolutely understand transcribing due to language barriers. How much exception should we allow for culture? My fear here is allowing for “rudiments of men” to surpass the standards of the gospel message we should be delivering. There is much false doctrine which has spurred from the allowance for mens traditions and “vain glory” as the bible states. Where do we draw the line and what does that look like? If you could maybe expound specifically on your experience within the African American community and what an “acceptable” cultural exception would be and “non-acceptable” cultural exception would be that might shed more light. I know this is a sticky one but, I do appreciate the dialogue sir.

      • David Vanie permalink
        May 23, 2011 11:36 pm

        Thank you sir! God bless I will make plans to come out for a service when I am in Atlanta in this fall. God bless!

  2. ajcarter permalink*
    May 23, 2011 5:26 pm

    Maintaining gospel primacy is both the calling and the difficulty. Each situation has its own sets of challenges and thus it is hard to give sweeping over-generalized answers. However, there are certain truths that are necessarily true in every cultural context – for example, the image of God, the sinfulness of humanity, the necessity of faith in the person and work of Christ, etc. It is upon these truths that the foundation for engagement is laid. And then still there is the continuing need to rely upon the Holy Spirit in prayer for direction. Only in the strength and wisdom of God’s Spirit are we able to make any significant strides in this area. I know that sounds cliche-ish, but I have found it to be comforting and true.

    David, we don’t pretend to have all the answers. Even in our current context we are learning everyday how to see the gospel as the only eternally significant life changing truth. Everyday we are learning to live the gospel out while we decrease (in personal and cultural esteem) and Christ increases in all things.

    As you say, sin makes the lines difficult to navigate. And we often find ourselves on the wrong side of the gospel v. culture. Nevertheless, the greatness of the gospel is that even in our sin, God’s grace is there calling us back to love Him and each other.

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