“Tim, we need your assistance up front.” I heard this from one of our Baristas (professional coffee worker) recently. He continued, “There’s a guy in the Credo House asking a bunch of questions we’ve never heard before….we’re out of our league.” Michael Patton and I work hard to theologically train our coffee employees, but we also tell them to come get us if they feel like help is needed.
As I walked to the front, I was greeted by a guy with a slightly wild look on his face. We ordered Luther Lattes and sat down for a chat. I asked for his story and thoroughly loved the conversation which followed.
Jake, the name I’ll use for the rest of the post, had been your typical church going Christian. He worked a normal job and played by all the “Christian” rules. Something bizarre happened to him about six months ago. He got really into reading the Bible. As he continued with his story he said he was getting ready to wrap up his third complete reading of the Bible in the last six months. I stopped him in mid-sentence, asking him again to clarify, “You have actually read every word of the Bible three times in the last six months?”
He assured me that, yes, he was consumed with the Bible and had been reading it whenever he wasn’t working or spending time with his family. Although I knew there was some reason the Baristas asked me to talk with Jake, I first encouraged him that it was totally amazing he was spending so much time learning from the Bible. Almost every pastor I know of would kill to have a guy like this in their churches. Someone who is devoting more time to God’s Word than Netflix, Google Play, Amazon Prime and/or Hulu Plus. So often church leaders bang their heads against the wall pleading for their people to step out of the stupor of apathy. It was exciting to talk with someone who is, for the first time, discovering such powerful truths.
Then came the “Aha” moment for why I was asked to talk with Jake at the Credo House. As Jake read the Bible he processed some of the content in unusual ways. First, he believed any ideas he came up with from the Bible must be correct because the Spirit must have communicated the ideas directly to him. If anyone thinks his interpretation is wrong…Jake thinks they must be wrong. Second, he had closely correlated the Bible with Astrology. Note, I said Astrology and not Astronomy.
He continued to go on for quite some time, without any further interruption from me. He told me that he had started to ask his pastor many questions without much of a helpful response. Maybe the pastor was being helpful, but from Jake’s perspective the pastor had no clue. His pastor then decided to pass Jake, and his many questions, on to his predecessor who had recently retired from the local church but was still attending their church. “What happened then?” I asked. The referred pastor also couldn’t help him, saying he wasn’t that much of a Bible scholar, but perhaps the young man should talk to the professor at the local seminary who was just retiring at the age of 80, and would likely be able to help Jake. “What happened then?” I asked. Jake said he was really disappointed, and even felt bad for the professor, because Jake felt like he knew more in 6 months than the professor acquired in Biblical knowledge during his 80 years.
Jake then looked at me straight in the eyes and said something that almost broke my heart, “I know I’m not a crazy person…what’s wrong with me or those around me?”
We then started to walk through his story. I knew this guy really wanted to be orthodox. He really loved God. He really loved God’s Word. I knew my task was one of discipleship. We quickly dove into ideas of: Bible interpretation (Hermeneutics); How we know things (Epistemology); How to test our interpretations with Spirit-Indwelt Saints who have gone before us (Regula Fide); and many more issues.
Jake was surprisingly receptive for some theological/biblical direction. For six months, while his passion for God’s Word had exploded, Jake had been pushed to the periphery. When church members saw Jake coming down the sidewalk, they crossed to the other side. Instead of receiving encouragement and grace from God’s people, piles of dry wood were being stacked for the up-and-coming heretic. Jake was on the fast track to being kicked out of his church and remembered as that crazy guy. It struck me so vividly how the church can produce heretics instead of disciples.
Nevertheless, I thought Jake and I had made a lot of progress. After a lot of “calm” back and forth exchanges, he eventually saw the need for some excellent commentaries to help guide and direct his reading of Scripture. I was able to teach him about essentials and non-essentials of the faith. There are certain things like the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union of Jesus, and the Resurrection that are essentials. These are issues all of us should be willing to die for. There are also non-essential issues that may be important, but probably aren’t worth giving up one’s life. Unfortunately, many people who have not been discipled may think that every issue is equally essential.
Things were going great in our conversation, but I still didn’t know how to approach the Astrology issue in a way that would, hopefully, point him in a good direction. Then I remembered reading about a great friendship between some world-changing Christians.
Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon were very close friends. Many people are familiar with the 16th century reformers John Calvin and Martin Luther. Melanchthon is not as well known today, but he was just as influential a reformer as Luther, or Calvin.
Luther thought the world of Melanchthon. Since Luther made such a large impact on world history, he could have easily considered himself the best of everything. It’s interesting, however, to hear him talk about the strengths of Melanchthon. On more than one occasion we have preserved writings where Luther is telling people how Melancthon is such a great Bible and Theology teacher. It is clear Luther considers Melanchthon a more gifted communicator, teacher and even thinker in certain areas. Luther is obviously excited to be teamed up in ministry together with Philip.
Philip Melanchthon, however, was really into Astrology. It was a side passion. Around the Credo House we call this his pet heresy. We have a recorded conversation between Luther and Melanchthon where Luther is complaining about the Princes ruling 16th century Germany. Luther makes the comment that he’d never like to rule Germany, it’s not in his nature. Melanchthon’s response to Luther made me laugh out loud. Philip was trying to help Luther see how it makes sense why Luther wouldn’t want to rule Germany. He turns to Astrology by telling Luther, “You have the sun in your nature, it’s in your horoscope.”
How did Luther respond to Philip’s well reasoned Astrological analysis? Luther said, “Oh, I have no interest in your astrology!” I can just picture Luther even slugging his friend in the arm as he quickly dismissed Philip’s ideas. They continued in their conversation talking about other issues they fully agreed upon. I love that Luther still highly valued Melanchthon although they disagreed over Astrology.
I told Jake that for the past 2,000 years Astrology has not been seen by Christians as a central component of the faith. There are far larger things for us to discuss and teach than astrology. When we are communicating Christianity to someone, there are many other things we should address before bringing up the subject of Astrology. I quoted him John 3:16 noting the absence of Astrology from this very important verse. I encouraged Jake to make sure people know he’s way more into Jesus than Astrology. But I also encouraged him to not think of himself as a crazy heretic if he never drops his Astrology leanings.
As Jake and I parted our ways for the day I felt like Jake had been rescued from the category of heretic and properly placed back in the discipleship category. As we were getting up from the table he was visibly relieved that I didn’t think he was crazy (even though I had a couple times told him confidently that some of his ideas clearly were not from the Holy Spirit). We left our conversation as friends in Christ, not as enemies.
The next time any of us encounter someone who seems to be one of those crazies with a Bible in their hand. I want to challenge you on two points.
First, thank God they have a Bible in their hand. It is good for them to have God’s Word.
Second, pray God would allow you to be part of their discipleship. We are all part of one body. We need the gifts of each other to grow and be healthy. The Christian life is not meant to be lived solo. That “crazy” person might help you too. You might need to “go deep” with them. You might need to learn more about: Hermeneutics; Epistemology; Essentials/Non-Essentials; Regula Fide and many more topics. Would that be a bad thing? Helping to grow other people in Jesus will help you also grow.
If we effortlessly label someone a heretic and move on…two people are hurt.