Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love–Isaac–and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you. (Genesis 22:2)
So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. (Genesis 16:15)
Why does God say that Isaac is Abraham’s only son in Genesis 22:2 when Genesis 16 clearly tells us that Abraham had another son by Hagar? Now it may be that in Jewish culture or in Hebrew, the word for son is such that Ishmael doesn’t count, but I would prefer an alternative explanation. I prefer to believe that God’s words are an example of the principle that God forgets the sins of the faithful:
as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)
Whether or not you agree that the phrase “only son” is an example of the principle that God forgets the sins of the faithful, Abram clearly committed a sin with Hagar with far reaching consequences. Ishmael is commonly understood to be the patriarch of the Arab people and the long running conflict between Arabs and the Jews can thus be seen as the consequence of the sin of the “father of the faithful”.
I begin with this story because it seems to me that this pattern recurs many times in the history of the faithful. Just as Abraham is the father of the faithful and his sin has had far-reaching consequences for his descendants, so too later leaders in the Bible and of the church have committed sins that have far-reaching consequences for their spiritual descendants. May I suggest to you that the Pharisees emulated the sins of Moses and not his faith? May I suggest to you that the sins of David and Solomon contributed to the later problems of Israel and Judah? These men of faith sinned and their sins had long term consequences.
If these Biblical figures had sinful or ungodly attitudes that have had long-lasting consequences, then it seems obvious that church leaders not mentioned in the Bible could do likewise. As perhaps the per-eminent example of such errors, I would suggest that the Replacement theology and antisemitism taught by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther contributed to the antisemitism that led to the Holocaust. Men of faith committed sins and these sins had terrible long term consequences.
Now it would be possible for us to jump on the “accuser of the brethren” bandwagon and say that anyone who commits serious sin that has long lasting consequences was not a true believer. “Abraham was not a believer, his sin caused the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews.” “David and Solomon were not believers because their sins led to the idolatry of Israel.” “Martin Luther was not a believer because his antisemitism contributed to the Holocaust.” Yes we could jump on the “accuser of the brethren” bandwagon but do we really want to? Wouldn’t we rather do things God’s way and assume that those who have sinned have been forgiven rather than assume that judgment has triumphed over mercy? It is important to identify errors in Christian teachers, but it is equally important to assume that they knew the Lord and that they were saved by grace through faith and the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now the reason I mention this is that I recently came across the videos of a Bible teacher named Jacob Prasch on the Internet. With his Jewish cultural roots, his knowledge of Hebrew and his passion for the truth, Mr. Prasch brings interesting insights into the interpretation of the Bible. Unfortunately, his teaching has been marred for me by his tendency to label men like Chuck Colson, James Dobson and Rick Warren as false teachers. Let me be clear that I have disagreed very strongly with these men on a number of issues and I think they have been deceived in some ways. On the other hand, knowing my own failures and believing these men to have been more faithful than myself, it would be exceptionally discouraging for me to believe that these men had run the race in vain. I can only believe that the amazing grace of Jesus Christ will enable these men to stand.
Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4)