We all naturally love to have a pope of our own!
(J.C. Ryle, 1884)
"When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong!" Galatians 2:11
One lesson we learn from this verse, is that great ministers may make great mistakes. The best of men are weak and fallible. Unless the grace of God holds them up, any one of them may go astray at any time. Let us learn not to put implicit confidence in any man's opinion, merely because he is a minister. Peter was one of the very chief Apostles — and yet he could err. 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?
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 — that it must be right, without examining whether it is in Scripture or not.
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. We should believe them so long as they can say, "Thus it is written! Thus says the Lord!" but further than this, we are not to go. Infallibility is not to be found in ordained men, but in the Bible alone!
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 example; but do not make a pope of him! Do not place his word on the same level with the Word of God.
The Christian minister is not infallible! The vulgar notion that a clergyman is not likely to hold or teach erroneous doctrines, and that we seldom need to doubt the truth of anything he tells us in the pulpit — is one of the most mischievous errors which has been bequeathed by the Church of Rome. It is a complete delusion! Ordination confers no immunity from error! Ministers, like Churches — may err both in living and matters of faith.
The Apostle Peter erred greatly at Antioch, where Paul withstood him to the face. Many of the church Fathers and Reformers and Puritans made great mistakes. The greatest errors have been begun by ministers!
The teaching of all ministers ought to be constantly compared with the Scriptures — and when it contradicts the Scriptures, it ought not to be believed. However high a clergyman's office may be, and however learned and devout he may appear — he is still only an uninspired man, and can make mistakes. His opinion must never be set above the Word of God!
Let us receive nothing, believe nothing, follow nothing — which is not in the Bible, nor can be proved by the Bible. Let our rule of faith, our touchstone of all teaching, be the written Word of God alone!
"Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true!" Acts 17:11