The Popes of Evangelicalism (Lints)

(This is a re-post from December, 2015)

I always think it’s ironic and comical when a Christian mocks or discredits creeds and confessions then turns around to favorably quote popular evangelical leaders on social media. While social media is new, this anti-confessional and pro-popular leader mindset is not new. It was a central characteristic of 19th century American revivalist religion. For example, Charles Finney talked said it was “highly ridiculous” for a church to recognize and utilize the Westminster Confession of Faith. Finney called the Westminster Confession a “dead Pope;” he said “It is better to have a living than a dead Pope.” Richard Lints explained this well in 1993:

“The revivalist located the ‘living Pope’ not in Rome but in the human heart. The experience of the Holy Spirit became the lens through which the works and words of God were interpreted. The work of the Spirit was severed from the confessions and creeds of the church in such a manner that an individual led by the Spirit was considered to be directly and immediately in touch with the meaning of Scripture. The work of the Spirit was not mediated by the community of past believers….”

“A curious effect of this emphasis on the subjective leading of the Spirit was the growth in power of the ‘popular popes’ of evangelicalism. Though highly individualistic in their approach to salvation and populist in their biblical interpretation, populist Bible teachers and preachers served to draw people together in a mass movement largely through the strength of their personal popularity. As Mark Noll puts it, ‘Evangelical interpretation assigned first place to popular approval.’”

“The right of private interpretation that they promoted can be understood as a desire for freedom from opposing viewpoints. It would seem that the early evangelicals were not so much interested in removing all human authority as they were in choosing human authorities with whom they agreed. And once they found these individuals, they were willing to invest them with a great deal of de facto authority.”

There’s another downside to this trend/movement:

“A striking result of the rise of the popular leader was the displacement of the theologian from the place of preeminence in the evangelical movement. The new leaders of the movement were popularizers of the gospel message, revivalists, and Bible conference preachers. This tradition persists today; the theological leadership of the movement is provided by preachers who travel the circuit of popular conservative Bible conferences” (p. 34-35).

This is not a great picture of evangelicalism: it doesn’t have a Pope like Rome, but it does typically have a pope within (the heart) and a pope without (a celebrity pastor).  Remember this next time someone criticizes the confessions and gushes over some quote of a popular preacher!

The above quotes are from Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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3 comments on “The Popes of Evangelicalism (Lints)

  1. Whether one is a confessional Reformed or a confessional Lutheran this particular excerpt and quote from The Fabric of Theology evokes a unanimous amen.

  2. The Popes of modern Evangelicalism are the modern “Pauls”.
    Pharisees who follow the bad carnal example of Paul the Pharisee in his exploitive dealings with the Church in Corinth in particular.

    They are not following Jesus – they are following their idol Paul.

    Poem – Looking forward (Rocky)

    Jesus never calls us out
    For what we used to be.
    His voice is so much greater
    Than paul the Pharisee.

    “You are Simon son of John”
    Said Jesus, without elaboration.
    No mention of a cloudy past
    No hint of condemnation.

    No accusation against the brothers
    No comments dark and obscure,
    Writing to the Church in Corinth
    “that is what some of you were.”

    Not the voice of the accuser,
    Boss Paul the Pharisee,
    Telling the redeemed people of God
    About what they used to be.

    Jesus never said right is wrong,
    He never said wrong is right.
    He came so we can turn from darkness
    And into His glorious light.

    “Neither do I condemn you” said Jesus,
    To a woman entrapped by dogs.
    The game the dogs play is the same today,
    Except now they do it on blogs.

    “Go, and sin no more” said Jesus,
    Don’t relive that history.
    Look forward, not back, don’t dwell on your past.
    “You will be called” Rocky.

    Looking forward – Chapter 2

    “I am he who searches hearts and minds”
    says the Risen Jesus Christ
    “Repent and do what you did at first”
    Don’t be lazy since He paid the price

    Yes, Jesus sees our sins today
    Don’t think that He is blind
    But the words of paul the Pharisee
    Will put you in a bind

    Jesus washed away your sins
    Don’t listen to paul the accuser
    paul abandoned the Church in Corinth
    And then paul became an abuser

    When you put your trust in Jesus
    Yes, your stains were white as snow
    You didn’t need to wear a Scarlet Letter
    Everywhere you go

    “I will repay each of you
    According to your deeds”
    This is Jesus speaking to The Church
    Not a business selling felt needs

    For “those who claim to be apostles”
    Jesus said they must be “tested”
    Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos
    Persevered and were not bested

    They exposed the false teachings
    Of paul the Pharisee
    So the Church in Ephesus rejected paul
    And had a chance to be free

    Bibliography
    All quotes in “Chapter 2” are the words of Jesus, in Revelation Chapter 2

  3. Jesus is “The Way”

    Jesus “The Good Shepherd” is my Pastor

    Jesus is The Way to God
    The real Jesus of the real Apostles
    But false teachers come and pervert God’s Word
    With twists and turns and jostles

    “My sheep listen to my voice”
    Jesus said for us all to hear
    “I know them, and they follow me”
    He doesn’t run when a wolf appears

    He “calls his own sheep by name”
    It’s not the witchcraft of a distant stranger
    Not just repeating the magic words
    And then thinking you are out of danger

    Our Father in Heaven wants to talk to you
    He can hear you loud and clear
    And He sent His Son Jesus to inhabit the earth
    So that all who want God can draw near

    Real prayer is a conversation
    At least that’s what God wants it to be
    We talk in the garden in the cool of the day
    When we are part of His family

    Only Jesus never disobeyed God
    He’s the only immaculate conception
    The Holy Spirit comes in His Name
    Don’t listen to the voice of deception

    If a false apostle preaches
    I became your father, imitate me
    He doesn’t speak the words of God
    It’s just Boss Paul the Pharisee

    And if a heretic now claims to be
    The Church’s universal pastor
    His words should be ignored
    They lead to nothing but disaster

    Jesus did not just teach The Way
    He IS The Way, my friend
    Repeating the mantra of Marypaulhammad
    Is nothing but a dead end

    Bibliography – all “quotes” in “quotation marks” are the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John chapter 10

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