Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Fallibility of Ministers

I have been focused on pride for the past week or so and I notice so much of it in me. Just today in Sunday School I interrupted the teacher with my important comment on the subject we were studying. I felt so terrible that I was so excited about what I wanted to say that I cut someone else off just to get it out. It's little things such as this that break my heart.

Today I am blogging about the Fallibility of Ministers with an excerpt from an article by J.C. Ryle on the subject. This really sheds some light on our own fallibility -- how we all are subject to error and need to keep a close eye on ourselves! The Bible is infallible and without error in any point, making it the perfect rule for measuring our conformity to God's word or our compromise to the world. The former brings us closer to righteousness while the latter influences and reinforces our errors.

Will not rank and dignity confer infallibility? No, they will not! It matters nothing what a man is called. He may be a Czar, an Emperor, a King, a Prince. He may be a Preacher, Minister, or Deacon. He is still a fallible man. Neither the crown, nor the anointing oil, nor the laying on of hands, can prevent a man making mistakes.

Will not numbers confer infallibility? No, they will not! You may gather together princes by the score, and ministers by the hundred; but, when gathered together, they are still liable to err. You may call them a council, or an assembly, or a conference, or what you please. It matters nothing. Their conclusions are still the conclusions of fallible men. Their collective wisdom is still capable of making enormous mistakes.

The example of the Apostle Peter at Antioch is one that does not stand alone. It is only a parallel of many a case that we find written for our learning in Holy Scripture. Do we not remember Abraham, the father of the faithful, following the advice of Sarah, and taking Hagar for a wife? Do we not remember Aaron, the first high priest, listening to the children of Israel, and making a golden calf? Do we not remember Solomon, the wisest of men, allowing his wives to build their high places of false worship? Do we not remember Jehosaphat, the good king, going down to help wicked Ahab? Do we not remember Hezekiah, the good king, receiving the ambassadors of Babylon? Do we not remember Josiah, the last of Judah's good kings, going forth to fight with Pharaoh? Do we not remember James and John, wanting fire to come down from heaven? These things deserve to be remembered. They were not written without cause. They cry aloud, "No infallibility!"

And who does not see, when he reads the history of the Church of Christ, repeated proofs that the best of men can err? The early fathers were zealous according to their knowledge, and ready to die for Christ. But many of them advocated ritualism, and nearly all sowed the seeds of many superstitions. The Reformers were honored instruments in the hand of God for reviving the cause of truth on earth. Yet hardly one of them can be named who did not make some great mistake. Martin Luther held tightly to the doctrine of consubstantiation [believing that during communion the bread and the wine became the actual body and blood of Christ].

Melancthon was often timid and undecided. Calvin permitted Servetus to be burned. Cranmer recanted and fell away for a time from his first faith. Jewell subscribed to Roman Catholic Church doctrines for fear of death. Hooper disturbed the Church of England by demanding the need to wear ceremonial vestments [priestly type garments] when ministering. The Puritans, in later times, denounced Christian liberty and freedoms as doctrines from the pit of Hell. Wesley and Toplady, last century, abused each other in most shameful language. All these things speak with a loud voice. They all lift up a beacon to the Church of Christ. They all say, "Do not trust man; call no man master; call no man father [spiritually] on earth; let no man glory in man; He that glories, let him glory in the Lord." They all cry, "No infallibility!"

The lesson is one that we all need. We are all naturally inclined to lean upon man whom we can see, rather than upon God whom we cannot see. We naturally love to lean upon the ministers of the visible Church, rather than upon the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd and High Priest, who is invisible. We need to be continually warned and set on our guard.

I see this tendency to lean on man everywhere. I know no branch of the Protestant Church of Christ which does not require to be cautioned upon the point. It is a snare to the Scottish Christians to pin their faith on John Knox. It is a snare to the Methodists in our day to worship the memory of John Wesley. All these are snares, and into these snares how many fall!

We all naturally love to have a pope of our own. We are far too ready to think, that because some great minister or some learned man says a thing, or because our own minister, whom we love, says a thing, it must be right, without examining whether it is in Scripture or not. Most men dislike the trouble of thinking for themselves. They like following a leader. They are like sheep, when one goes over the hill all the rest follow. Here at Antioch even Barnabas was carried away. We can well fancy that good man saying, "An old Apostle, like Peter, surely cannot be wrong. Following him, I cannot err."



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