Monday, May 15, 2006

The Church Effeminate: The fallibility of ministers

In the next chapter in the book The Church Efeminate, the late Anglican bishop JC Ryle speaks to the Church with his article entitled 'The fallability of ministers', based on the passage Gal. 2:11-16, whereby Paul rebuked Peter in the face due to his compromise:

There are three great lessons from Antioch which I think we ought to learn from this passage:

    1) The first lesson is that great ministers may make great mistakes.
    2) The second is that to keep the truth of Christ in his church is even more important than to keep peace.
    3) The third is that here is no doctrine about which we ought to be so jealous as justification by faith without the deeds of the law. (p. 131)

1. (b) ... let us not learn not to put implicit confidence in any man's opinion, merely because of his office as a minister. Peter was one of the chief apostles, and yet he could err.

This is a point on which men have continually gone astray. It is the rock on which the early church struck. Men soon took up the saying, "Do nothing contrary to the mind of the Bishop." But what are bishops, priests, and deacons? What are the best of ministers but men — dust, ashes, and clay — men of like passions with ourselves, men exposed to temptations, men liable to weaknesses and infirmities? What says the Scripture, "Who is Paul and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?" (1 Cor. 3:5). Bishops have often driven the truth into the wolderness, and decreed that to be true which was false. The greatest errors have been begun by ministers. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of the high priest, made religion to be abhored by the children of Israel. Annas and Caiaphas, though in the direct line of descent from Aaron, cruicified the Lord. Arius, that great heresiarch, was a minister. It is absurd to suppose that ordained men cannot go wrong. We should follow them so far as they teach according to the Bible, but no further. ... Infallibility is not to be found in ordained men, but in the Bible.

(c) For another thing, let us not learn not to place implicit confidence in any man's opinion, merely because of his learning. Peter was a man who had miraculous gifts and could speak in tongues, and yet he could err. (p. 135-136)

(d) For another thing, let us take care that we do not place implicit confidence on our own minister's opinion, however godly he may be. Peter was a man of mighty grace, and yet he could err.

Your minister may be a man of God indeed, and worthy of all honor for his preaching and practice; but do not make a pope of him. (p. 36)

2. I now pass on to the second lesson that we learn from Antioch. That lesson is that to keep Gospel truth in the church is of even greater importance than to keep peace.

I suppose that no man knew better the value of peace and unity than the Apostle Paul. He was the apostle who wrote to the Corinthains about charity. .. Yet see how he acts here! He withstands Peter to the face. He publicly rebukes him. He runs the risk of all the consequences that might follow. He takes the chance of everything that might be said by the enemies ofthe Church of Antioch. (p. 137-138)

... Many people will put up with anything in religion, if they may only have a quiet life. They have a morbid dread of what they call "controversy." ... They are possessed with a morbid desire to keep the peace and make all things smooth and pleasant, even though it be at the expense of truth. I believe they would have thought with Ahab that Elijah was a troubler of Israel and would have helped the princes of Judah when they put Jeremiah in prison to stop his mouth. ...

... I believe that to maintain this pure truth [Gospel] in the church men should be ready to make any sacrifices, to hazard peace, to risk dissension, to run the chance of division. They should no more tolerate false doctrine than they should tolerate sin. ...

For the truth's sake Paul withstood and blamed Peter, though a brother. What was the use of unity when pure doctrine was gone? And who shall dare to say he was wrong? (p. 138)

Yes! peace without truth is a false peace; it is the very peace of the devil. Unity without the Gospel is a worthless unity; it is the very unity of Hell. ... (p. 139)

Divisions and seperations are most objectionable in religion. They weaken the cause of true Christianity. They give occasion to the enemies of all godliness to blaspheme. But before we blame people for them, we must be careful that we lay the blame where it is deserved. False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism. If people seperate themselves from teaching which is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved. In such cases, seperation is a virtue and not a sin. ... The old saying must never be forgotten, "He is the schismatic who causes the schism." (p. 141)

... Unity which is obtained by the sacrifice of truth is worth nothing. It is not the unity which pleases God. ... There is quiet and stillness enough in the grave, but it is not a quiet of health, but of death. It was the false prophets who cried, "Peace," when there was no peace.

Controversy in religion is a hateful thing. ... But there is one thing which is even worse than controversy, and that is false doctrine tolerated, allowed, and permitted without protest or molestation. ... There are times when controversy is a not only a duty but also a benefit. Give me the mighty thunderstorm rather than the pestilential malaria. The one [the latter] walks in darkness and poisons us in silence, and we are never safe. The other [the former] frightens and alarms for a little season. But it is soon over, and it clears the air. It is a plain Scriptural duty to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

.... Three things there are which men never ought to trifle with — a little poison, a little false doctrine, and a little sin. (p. 142-143)

3. But I pass on to the third lesson from Antioch. That lesson is that there is no doctrine about which we ought to be so jealous as justification by faith without the deeds of the law. (p. 143)

I invite special attention to this point. I ask men to observe the remarkable jealousy which the Apostle Paul shows about this doctrine, and to consider the point about which such a stir was made. Let us mark in this passage of Scriptre the immense importance of justification without the deeds of the law. ...

This is the doctrine which is essentially neccessary to our own personal comfort. No man on Earth is a real child of God and a saved soul till he sees and received salvation by faith in Christ Jesus. (p. 144)

This is the doctrine, the absence of which accounts for half the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. (p. 145)

(Italics original, Bold added)

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