…to believe that certain people are infallible.
From the introduction of I refuse, I noted that my list of refusals arose out of a time of frustration with myself and the church. Someone may rise in a church or community or nation where he is placed on such a level that we cease to evaluate them. We put too much emphasis on who someone is; we bestow trust on individuals who may indeed be trustworthy, but we also tend to give them carte blanche. Let me say up front that I have profound admiration and thankfulness for the work of authors and better known leaders in church circles. To name a few, Chan & Platt’s manual Multiply should become a classic. Other authors and speakers include Chandler, Carson, and Keller. There are more. A little more dated but still excellent, how about Lewis, Tozer, and Redpath? Many more can be listed. Everyone has favorites. They would, however, be the first to admit that they are not beyond fallibility. The issue is not their status (although, that’s for the next chapter!). The issue is the degree of trust we give them. Two passages, one from each Testament, illustrate this for us.
Moses is facing another crises in the ranks. Apparently, Korah and his sons don’t like his leadership. “You’ve gone far enough, Moses!” Aaron was also part of the mix as chosen high priest. So, we have two brothers in positions of authority. They are all of the same tribe as Korah: Levi. This tribe received special privileges and duties from the Lord. But, Korah was not alone in his disgust. Numbers 16:2 reads (NASB), “…and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown.” So, these were not “nobodies.” Other translations say they were “well known.” From our democratic point of view, we would conclude that Moses is certainly out voted. These influential individuals hold to the same point of view. They must be “right,” right? Except, the Lord chose Moses and Aaron. In the next chapter, he will confirm the choice of Aaron by causing his walking stick to bud and produce almonds. While Korah and his friends had credibility, they were wrong. They erred. They failed. God had the earth swallow them up. Later in the chapter, some still held to the side of Korah. Enter a plague. So despite the reputation, history, and position of these men, they found themselves resisting God. And, many still did not see that. How can Korah be wrong? Well, he is. See Jude 1:11.
(Note: the next chapter will dive more deeply into Galatians 2 as well). Paul was not happy when he wrote Galatians. While his other letters explain his love and thankfulness for a particular church, the body in Galatia receive no such praise. This was a tough letter for him to write. One can hear his heart breaking in every verse. What happened to them?
Controversy is no stranger to churches. Our modern, western churches has it along with other churches in other cultures. The issues may be different. For the early church, the issue is the Old Testament Law. What is its place? And, with all these Gentiles (non-Jews) coming to faith in Christ, should they not follow the Law? In their context, this question needed answering. In fact, Acts 15 records the minutes of the meeting and the conclusion: While we have a few recommendations, Gentiles do not need to follow the Law. Sadly, that did not end the controversy. Some had even travelled to the region of Galatia and promoted the Law. Since we are looking at a region, more than one church may have been involved. Who would promote such a thing? It sounds like those who would normally be trusted.
Enter Peter – certainly one who can be trusted. But according to Paul in Galatians 2, he also feared what the Jewish believers would say. How can Peter interact with Gentiles? Even Peter failed. But it does not stop there. Paul refers to his friend and confidant, Barnabas. Galatians 2:13b, “…so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” As an early pillar in the church, Barnabas accepted the newly converted Saul/Paul when everyone else ran from him. Along with Paul, he gave the original report about the Gentile churches and conversions. He should know better. Besides Paul himself, Barnabas understood the relationship of salvation by grace alone through faith. He witnessed it. Who knows how many discussions and sermons he heard from Paul? At this instance, he got it wrong. He failed.
So, let’s close out all the book stores, refuse to hear another sermon, and cancel all our podcasts, right? No, that’s not the point. Here’s the point: Even the best fail. I won’t go into details, but over the years I learned a tremendous amount through a particular man and ministry. I still have notes from his seminars on my shelf. By applying the biblical principles he showed me, my effectiveness rose. He was a national figure. Something happened. I could not believe my ears. As I sat in the audience at one of his seminars, all of us began to stare at one another in shock. He taught not only heresy but nonsense. What happened to this once anchor of the faith? Has he lost his mind? Should someone remove him from the podium? Many left the auditorium, but others hung on every word. Why? Because it was him, but he failed. He was not infallible. There are some lessons to learn.
- Do your homework. We never learn it all. How many times have you had the experience of reading a passage you know you’ve read before, but it feels like reading it for the first time? And, take the time to study and dig. We are too apt to take cut & paste short cuts rather than dig down to the bones of a passage or point in theology. In short, we can’t be lazy.
- Who’s side are they on? Watch for the self-serving. If Jesus is one’s lord, then he does not share the stage. Is this leader promoting himself, his products or is Jesus the center?
- Yes, you can take and use the good even if there is an occasional whammy. The best professional baseball players get a hit one third of their tries at bat. As they say, “No one bats a thousand.” Sunday school teachers to multiple PhD holders are the same. Just because we may find a swing and miss from time to time, don’t toss them completely.
- Don’t put that kind pressure on anyone. Pastors tend to be put on pedestals. That may feel good and complimentary, but it ultimately puts an unreasonable pressure on them.
- Remember, you’re not infallible either. Try as we might, we all make mistakes. Correct the errors. Truth is more important than our pride. And, while it does not feel right, people respect the honest scholar and leader over the one who never admits a mistake.
In the end, let’s refuse to believe that certain people are infallible.