The Church Not An Ultimate Guide
IT must be admitted by all who take the New Testament Scriptures as authoritative, and who receive the teachings of Jesus as recorded therein, for the truth, that the Holy Ghost was to succeed Him as the ultimate teacher and guide of mankind; and using language in a strict sense, He is the only teacher and guide of the Christian under this dispensation. In so far as it applies to spiritual life and Christian living, He is the teacher of all things, and the guide into all truth. Hence, all other supposed guides, must be false guides.
It is not right to regard the Church as an ultimate or infallible teacher and guide as some Christians do. The belief that the Church is the guide of the Christian, is, I think, one of the first heresies of primitive Christianity, and I may add, one of the worst, if not the mother of all the heresies that sprang up in the first century of the Church’s history.
The very moment an individual Christian began to look to the organized Church, or to the society of Christians to which he belonged, to find out whether he was right in his actions, or to get sanction for what he was doing, or for guidance for what he ought to do, that moment he disregarded the personal presence of the Holy Spirit, and abandoned God’s only method for such guidance. To do this, a man must fall from grace for the time being at least, or what is the same thing, become carnal and cease to be spiritual.
Why does a Christian seek guidance from a good man, or from any number of good men, whether organized into a Church or not, as to whether he is right in his actions, if he knows that the All-wise God the Holy Spirit dwells in him. on purpose to teach him, and to either approve or disapprove of his actions? The utmost a Christian can get from the Church is advice or counsel, but in the final matter of right and wrong, the Holy Spirit is the only guide.
If he were actually spiritual, and discerned the presence of the Holy Spirit, he would have no need to turn to a Church composed of fallible men for endorsation, but because he does so turn and appeals to the Church, it is a proof that he does not know, in answer to Paul’s question,” Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?”
How would it look when Jesus was with the disciples, if John, for instance, while reclining on the bosom of Jesus, and having doubts on any matter which he wanted settled, should leave the All-wise Son of God, who would gladly answer his question, and should summon Peter to a conference to quiet his troubled soul? Would such an action be honoring to Jesus or show faith in Him as the teacher? If John were first to consult Jesus, and He were to refer him to Peter for an answer, that would be another question, of course, just as in another case when they wanted money to pay their taxes Jesus did not furnish the money direct, but He told them where they might find it.
Hence, when a man turns to the Church, or depends upon the Church in any measure to guide him in matters of right or wrong he becomes anti-Christian, because he puts the Church in the place of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus said should guide.
Now what is true of one individual Christian in this respect is true of two, or of any greater number. The promise and provision is that, “They shall be all taught of God,” meaning that each and all should be so taught, and God is jealous of any interference with this, His sovereign prerogative.
We all know that very early in the history of the Church, if not indeed during the days of the Apostles, there was a turning away from God’s method of settling questions, to the worldly method of councils, and the Church councils or courts, soon usurped the place of the Holy Spirit. It is a most interesting study to review the questions brought before the many councils of the Church for the first five hundred years of the Christian era, and to witness the questions with which they struggled.
In my opinion, there is ground for criticism, even on the action of the first council of the Apostles and Elders, held at Jerusalem, to consider the questions, submitted by Paul and Barnabas with others, as to whether the Gentile converts at Antioch, should observe the law of Moses, and there is ground for criticism also of the men who went there to submit the questions.
There is no authority given by Jesus for any council or court to make laws and regulations binding the conscience of individuals. When such questions had been submitted and settled and the decisions, having the force of law, became binding upon the consciences of Christians, both the councils making the laws, and the individuals observing them as laws, fell from grace and became carnal, for the law-making bodies took the place of the Holy Spirit, and their followers became followers of men and not of God.
The only Guide and Teacher Jesus appointed for His people was, and is, the Holy Spirit, and He is the teacher and guide to each individual. The doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Church, and I think of the ritualistic branch of the Anglican Church, if not of others, that the Holy Spirit is in the Church as a Church, to guide it infallibly right, and not in the individual as an individual, has no authority in the teaching of Jesus Christ, and the theory stands condemned at the bar of reason.
I have read Cardinal Manning’s work “The Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost,” with great care and no little profit; but he fails to prove his chief point, is that the Holy Ghost resides in the Church as a body, and that therefore all the deliverances of the Church, are of Divine authority, and that the Pope, when speaking ex-cathedra, is just as infallible, as God, because he is then the mouthpiece of God.
There is much in this work of Cardinal Manning to be admired, and on the personality of the Holy Ghost and His functions, many Protestants could read the work to their great advantage. The writer of the book is logical in many of his conclusions from the premises before referred to, but his premises, that the voice of the Church is the voice of God, are derived from the early Church councils, and the early departure of the Church from the simplicity of Christ’s Gospel, and not from Christ’s personal teaching.
The issue was soon raised between God’s government of His children as individuals, and His government of them by councils or Church courts, and the latter became victorious, so far as the practice of the Church went. That a Church has a right to state its doctrines, to have a polity, and to make advisory rules, I do not now deny, but it certainly has no right to take to itself the power to bind the consciences of its members.
The hardest lesson for fallen men to learn, even after conversion, is to recognize the Holy Spirit as a veritable person, and the Guide and Teacher of the individual. It seems difficult to see Him, Who is invisible, to hear without sound, and get instruction without audible conversation, and hence men turn readily to what they can see and hear for their guidance.
To be controlled by an invisible power; to recognize the unseen God, and to be satisfied with His guiding, without appealing to some person or persons in the flesh for confirmation or endorsation, is a spiritual art, and an achievement of faith; possible indeed for all; nay more, the imperative duty of all, and yet history records comparatively few who have been thus spiritual.
But this is the Christianity of Christ, and nothing else is; this is what He taught, but men have sought out many inventions, and have established many substitutes, and one of the earliest, was to put the body of believers or the Church, in the place of The Holy Ghost.
Christianity is simplicity simplified. Christ did not cumber his followers with complicated doctrines or elaborate rules and ceremonies. He gave but few, if any, precepts that were intended as lasting laws; He established no Church rules or discipline; He said nothing about baptism by sprinkling, pouring or immersion; He did not pretend to give detailed laws as to duty, but by example and precept, He taught the individual to recognize God, and be guided by Him direct.
His purpose was to bring men back to the spirituality of the Garden of Eden, before the Fall, where the unseen God was as real to Adam and Eve, as though He had been seen with the outward eyes, and been heard with the outward ears. But what was the condition of the Church in a very few years after Christ’s death? It was burdened with elaborate laws, ceremonies, doctrines and usages, which were a burden about the necks of Christians, which neither they nor their fathers were able to bear, and which few understood and none could keep.
The Church itself, gradually became an awe inspiring, mysterious body, and not only assumed the prerogative of the Holy Spirit, but stood actually in the place of God, to the masses, and became an object of practical idolatry. Individual liberty and freedom of conscience were denied; the Church as an organized body, undertaking to do the thinking for each and all; and any who would not submit, were anathematized, the thumbscrew, and the rack, following in the Middle Ages in due course.
The doctrine that the guidance of the individual lies in the Church, thus hurling the Holy Ghost from His throne, has been fraught with the gravest evils. It is the mother of heresies, and was the main cause of the corruption of the early Church; it brought on the gross darkness of the middle ages with all the inhuman and disgraceful deeds then performed in the name of Christ’s Church; it made the name of Christianity a stench in the nostrils of thinking men of all the civilized nations of the earth, and retarded the coming of Christ’s Kingdom, more than all other causes combined. The protests of Luther, and Melancthon, and Zwingli, and the other reformers of the sixteenth century, against this claim of the Church, is the very pith of Protestantism.
The demand of the reformers was for the right of individual judgment, that each man was responsible to God alone for his beliefs, and that the Church had no right to fetter the thought of Christians. Along with this demand for liberty, the doctrine of justification by faith was vigorously preached, and the Bible was thrown open for the perusal and investigation of each and all alike. In proportion as these ideas gained right of way, in that proportion the people came back to the simple teachings of Jesus, and the accumulated theological rubbish of the centuries began to be removed from the conscience of Christendom.
But only a part of the errors that they had fallen into since Pentecost were seen and pointed out by the reformers, and it is doubtful if Luther and his associates even saw the extreme simplicity of the truth from which the Church had departed, and hence the reform was only partial, and much yet remained to be done. I think I have said enough to show that the Church was not meant by Jesus, to be the guide of the Christian, and that grave evils resulted to the world, and the cause of righteousness by the practice and preaching of that doctrine. But if it is true, and I cannot see how it can be disputed, that the Holy Spirit is the sole Guide, then another important question must be discussed in another chapter.