Friday, January 31, 2014

Accidental Pharisees: Part Five IDOLIZING THE PAST

   Husaby Church in Sweden

My fascination for Sweden is almost an idolization of the past. I love reading about my Swedish ancestors. Unfortunately, it is my understanding (really hearsay) that the second and third cousins in Sweden do not exhibit much Christian faith. Maybe that is why my Scandinavian grandparents came to this country.

The subtitle for Part 5 on Idolizing the Past is WHEN IDEALISM DISTORTS REALITY. Here are some of my favorite quotes from part 5:
  • I'm not sure why this is true, but passionate faith is often coupled with a zealous idealism and a romanticized view of the past. p. 114
  • Their endless pursuit of the perfect marriage, the flawless family the ideal career, or the perfect church leaves them perpetually unsatisfied. . . . Cynicism is idealism on steroids  It has an eagle's eye for what is wrong and a bat's blindness for what's praiseworthy. The religious leaders of Jesus' day were classic cynics. . . . Today's spiritual elite are no different.  . . . they're masters at finding fault, especially with their three favorite whipping boys--the church, its leaders, and current culture. p. 115
  • The good old days weren't always so great. [In Chapter 14 Osborne has documented this with New Testament, Calvin, etc. ] The sins and failings of today's church and disciples, though significant, are nothing new. They won't keep Jesus from continuing to build his church just as he promised. p. 131
  • The longer I live, the more I recognize the importance of a proper attitude and motivation when confronting the sins and failings of others. p. 131 

The discussion questions from part 5 pages 135-136 in red and my answers are in black.

1. Do you ever find yourself guilty of idolizing the past? Yes.
a. If so, what are some of the "good old days" you find yourself longing for? The culture of the denomination I was in until 2000. And why? It was fun to be involved in the annual meetings, the decisions made and to know the leaders. Then I married my current husband and joined a wonderful RPCGA congregation that made me grow in faith in new ways.
b. What are some of the ways that looking at the past through "rose-colored glasses" might warp our perspective? Looking at a denomination keeps me from other growth in the faith.  Be as specific as possible. I try not to look back or to keep overly involved in the past. I have enough going on as a dementia caregiver and writing the seminary counseling dissertation on caregiving.

2. Part 5 discussed the three "whipping boys" that people love to disparage when comparing today to an idealized and idolized past--the church, church leaders, and culture. Which of these three are you most prone to criticize? The culture.  Why? I think that Ed Setzer said it best HERE when he discussed the Grammys. He made three points. 1. Culture has changed and is changing. 2. Christians will be increasingly uncomfortable in this world and will struggle to express that with grace. 3. There is great opportunity to show the difference Christ makes. 

3. After reading the chapters in this part, can you think of any great spiritual leaders from the past that you might be putting on a pedestal? Yes.  If so, who and how so? The Divines of the Westminster Assembly, the Puritans, Billy Graham who has had such a fine reputation in our country, and Francis Schaeffer, who has started warning the church fifty years ago with such books and films as How Then Shall We live.  Schaeffer's thoughts have been in my mind for a long time as I had the privilege of hearing Schaeffer in chapel when I was a student at Westmont College in Santa Barbara.

4. Why do we tend to remember only the good in our heroes? Maybe we think we can be like them by idolizing them.
a. How might this be dangerous to our spiritual walk? We need to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16).  Be as specific as possible. We need to let Scripture transform us, not just memorizing a secondary source about Scripture such as the Westminster Confession or studying the lives of the saints.
b. If someone asked you, "How can we learn from the past without idolizing the past?" what would you tell them? Hmm, have to work on an answer to that. Maybe I would be judging inappropriately.

5. Part 5 ends by summarizing the three great dangers that flow out of an inaccurate and unrealistic idolizing of the past.
  • Thinking that the sins and failing of today are unique and rare.
  • Lashing out in anger and disgust as if the sins of today are worse than the sins of yesterday.
  • Attempting to help Jesus by yanking out the weeds we see growing up among the wheat in the church.
Which, if any, of these three are you most susceptible to? The first one. Why? I have been thinking about a prisoner who is getting a sex change operation. Albert Mohler featured this on his podcast on Jan. 24, 2014 and on his blog I found the link to the case HERE.  This individual originally a man is in jail for life for killing the wife. But this individual has rights, you know, so this transgender individual is in the process of becoming a "she" in a male jail. It just seems that we keep getting away from being sensible as a society and moving towards our "rights" that the tax payers have to pay for!!  It really all goes back to original sin that came into our world as recorded in Genesis 3.

I need joy in the present. Instead of the past, I want to look to the future. Randy Alcorn writes HERE:
When you live with eternity in mind, it infuses you

with a joy that sustains you in your daily life.


  1. I'm not sure if I idealized the past with certain churches we've gone to, but I know when we moved from Montana back to Southern Calfiornia seven years ago, I had a real hard time with the move. I knew it was God's will we move and it was a good move (honestly for our son it was a great move, he would never have graduated high school and would more than likely have been in jail, not that he's perfect now, but he needed to get out of that situation) but I loved our church, the people there, the serving we did. Then we moved to this rich part of Southern California (Laguna Niguel, close to Laguna Beach) where the kids were driving BMWs, Mercedes, Lexuses to school and there were tons of rich people around, rich big houses, etc. (we weren't in any of those categories) that I had prayed to God to show me the poor people there, and he did. For a bit I did really want to go back to where we lived before, but I don't think it was because I idolized the past, I just wanted how familiar it was. I knew it wasn't perfect, in fact our 8 years in Montana were some of the hardest years of my life with kids' struggles, but it was the best 8 years of my life because I grew into a great relationship with Jesus through it all.

    (does this make sense and even answer that question?)

    I don't think I put past (or present) spiritual leaders on pedestals, but I do admire them for their consistency of their message, their willingness to continue to share it, and their commitment and love for Jesus.

    I think eternity will be so much better than we have ever imagined!


    1. Oh yes, Betty, eternity will be so much better. I do not need my mansion here!

      Betty, I can identify! I grew up in an outstanding church on the San Francisco Peninsula in Northern California that has shaped me in so many ways. We moved there when I was 13 and I remember being embarrassed by our family car because everyone else was richer. In the California church we had outstanding preachers and great community outreach. I was very involved.

      Now I am in such a small, but vibrant, Reformed congregation. I do miss some of the people I have know over the years, but know that I can be content. I keep learning so much now--even at my age!

  2. Interesting post. I would say that I idolize the past when it came to choosing a new church. Thankfully (?) we were able to eventually find a similar church. I've also had to let go of the pattern of the past when it came to serving in the church since our lives have changed and my husband is unable to do so these days. I so want to submit my will to the Lord's Word and follow Him.. not my own ideals.

    1. Georgene,
      I have also had to adjust to new churches as I have moved over the years. I think the judgment that we put on a sermon, a service or a church can hinder our growth. Why can't God reach us through new means.! Why can't we be in a prayer warrior for the church--what great service that can me! I like to ask people "How can I pray for you?"

  3. Thanks AC. Sorry it has taken me so long to read and respond to your blog. I would wholeheartedly agree that idealization of the past can quickly lead to idolization of the past. It reminds me of one of my favorite Richard Rohr quotes, "Our last experience with God is often our greatest barrier to our next experience with God."

    1. Stop by any time. Enjoy your insights.

      MC AC The Rap Lady


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