The Athenians said to Paul, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Luke explains, “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” (Acts 17:19-21)
For the idolatrous people of Athens and their various religions, it could be argued that this made sense. They did not have the answers which they sought in the religions that they knew, so they wanted to hear something new. And indeed, from Paul’s preaching, they heard of the one true God and the call to repentance from their idolatry.
For Christians, however, the desire to constantly tell or hear something new does not make sense. In fact, we are warned against it. I’m not talking about the desire to continually learn Scripture, study the Confessions, or about continually reading good theological books you haven’t read before. I’m talking about constantly desiring to tell or hear theological speculations and ideas that are not in accord with the apostles’ teaching (cf. Acts 2:42), that are not in accord with the standard of teaching to which you were committed (Rom. 6:17), and that do not follow the pattern of sound words you have heard in Holy Scripture (II Tim. 1:13).
Such desires are not rooted in speaking the truth or learning the truth, but in being tired of speaking and hearing the truth. The unhealthy desire to tell and hear new things stems from being bored with the apostles’ standard of teaching and the pattern of sound words handed down to us. It is a desire to incorporate words and teachings from the world or from worldly philosophy with doctrine to present something new; from scientific theory or the latest management and leadership techniques, anything to latch onto itching ears who will not endure sound teaching (cf. II Tim. 4:3).
You know you are hearing these new teachings when they are not in accord with the apostles’ standard of teaching and the pattern of sound words handed down to us. If you are in church and you are hearing about coaching and entrepreneurship, you know you have wandered from hearing the apostles’ teaching into management and leadership seminars. If you are in a church and you are hearing the denial of Scriptural creation in six days, then you know you have wandered from hearing the pattern of sound words into speculations of scientific theories. If you are in church and you hear edgy, clever witticisms and provocative novelties of wordplay rather than the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, you know that you are in the wrong place.
Paul writes to Timothy to avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene (II Tim. 2:16). Paul tells him to charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith (I Tim. 1:3-4).
Wilhelm Loehe, while warning about preachers about getting stuck in a kind of singularity of expression, writes, “On the other hand there is the ancient advice that one especially should keep the standard phraseology of the Church and always express oneself in a way so that the hearers can determine that all preachers agree. Certain concepts and sentences have to be kept unchanged; like milestones of the truth they must never be moved.” (The Pastor, p. 236)
Unlike fads and trends of the day, and unlike scientific theories, leadership techniques, and clever wordplays that save no one and change from age to age, God’s Word is eternal. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” (Is. 40:8) Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Luke 21:33)
The Gospel is eternal (Rev. 14:6) and it alone has the power to save (Rom. 1:16). It is not new. It will not expire. Let us not tire of telling it and hearing it, and let us tell and hear the apostles’ standard of teaching and the pattern of sound words handed down to us rather than searching out something new.