I came across an amusing quote the other day from the famed American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” The reason I found it amusing is because Emerson himself is one of the most quoted writers I know of, and rightly so, as he made some astute and pithy observations on life. This particular remark I found to be extremely perceptive and should be well noted by Christian leaders today, especially those who consider themselves intellectual or academic.
The intellectual loves to show how widely read he is by frequently using quotes from numerous other intellectual sources in his own speaking and writing. While there is nothing wrong with being widely read and even allowing others to challenge and to help shape our thinking, for the Christian, and particularly those that teach and preach, it is vitally important that you yourself know something, rather than just be able to quote from someone else. The leaders in God’s church must be men and women of revelation – those that have seen something from God for themselves and therefore know where they are going. Emerson’s comment really struck me as it goes to the heart of the intellectual approach to the pursuit of God and His ways. If God was a God of the intellect, then only those who are of sufficient mental capacity and have the advantages (?) of higher education could truly know Him. However, God is Spirit and is only truly known by the spirit, therefore only those who are of the spirit, and not just the intellect, can truly receive his life and His truth.
In recent months I have been both surprised and disappointed speaking to church leaders who say they are on a journey, but in their thinking sound totally lost. They know where they don’t want to be, but don’t seem to know where they are going. They know what they don’t believe, but seem to have little idea of what they do believe and therefore choose to justify their own position by quoting from other men of differing intellectual opinion. They don’t like to be around those who are certain of things that they are uncertain of, citing them as supercilious and preferring instead to sit on the fence.
I believe we are all on a journey of faith. No-one has a complete revelation of all things, but God does want to reveal His mysteries to us by His Spirit. He wants us to have revelation knowledge of His word and His ways and give us a sure foundation for our life. He gives us gifts – not least of which is His Holy Spirit – but also apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to bring us to a unity of faith and a maturity of character. What chance do the sheep in the local flock have when the shepherd is himself blown about by every new wave, uncertain in his own thinking and direction? The church needs leaders who are not just able to quote from another man’s book, but who are themselves standing on what they have heard from heaven. “Tell us what YOU know.”