The Holy Spirit is the Christian’s guide to helpunderstand truth (John 16:13). Christians can be fallible, however, although the Holy Spirit (God) is not.
Thus continues the defense of denominationalism on the part of the Ministerial Alliance (MA) in a town in another state. They published a declaration in the local newspaper aimed at a Preaching Brother (P.B.) who decried Christians being divided. The MA sought to explain their rationale for unity in division. It is easy to see why it took him nearly a year to respond to what they wrote. Prior to the quote above they had, in effect, blamed Almighty God for being unable to communicate with His creation (mankind)—thus creating division among believers—but with the two sentences above they have actually found a way to make matters worse, which shall be demonstrated shortly.
Before getting to that, however, it must first be shown that every one of these men misunderstands and misinterprets John 16:13. Anyone reading the context would know that Jesus was not speaking to all Christians there—His words are applicable only to His apostles. Notice both verses 12 and 13:
“I still have many things to say to you [the apostles, GWS], but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”
Denominational preachers often try to make this passage apply to the Holy Spirit revealing things to all Christians, which is problematic, to say the least. The fact is that Jesus was promising His apostles they would be guided into all truth, which both Peter and Jude claim was accomplished (2 Peter 1:3, Jude 3). But if this applied to all Christians for all time to come, then it would mean: 1) that revelation was still ongoing; and 2) that the Holy Spirit continually helps all Christians to understand the Scriptures. Now if that were the case, where is the additional truth that has been revealed since the first century? In fact, why do we not have an annual update of all the truth the Holy Spirit has revealed since last year? Imagine all of the volumes every Christian would need to read from the past two millenia just to keep current!
The truth that Jesus and the Holy Spirit gave to the apostles was completed by the end of the first century. He gave them all things that pertain to life and godliness; He delivered to them once and for all “the faith.” (Notice that Paul talks about “one faith” in Ephesians 4:5.) If all had been revealed at that time, then nothing further has or could be revealed since. Possibly the men of the Ministerial Alliance don’t understand that, or maybe they are just trying to deceive people. Jesus spoke similarly in John 14:25-26, but they did not refer to that passage; so it appears below:
“These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”
In both passages, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will teach them all things and guide them into all truth, but in John 14 He tells them the Holy Spirit will enable them to remember the words that Jesus had spoken to them. No wonder this verse was ignored. Nearly anyone would conclude, “Wait a minute! I never heard the words of Jesus personally spoken to me.” People would know immediately that Jesus was speaking only to the apostles; so the MA omitted John 14:25-26 and used 16:13. This is an example of men using the Scriptures to prove their theology instead of studying them to discover what they actually teach.
But, suppose for a moment that the Ministerial Alliance (MA) were correct. Do they realize what they have just advocated? Do they understand that they have just blamed the Holy Spirit for the divisions that exist in Christianity today? They claim that the Holy Spirit guides us in understanding truth, but the very next sentence claims that Christians are fallible. Wait a minute! The Holy Spirit is not fallible, but Christians are. True. But if the infallible Holy Spirit is our guide to truth, why are we not all in agreement?
Is the Holy Spirit guiding some to be Methodists and others to be Baptists? Is the Holy Spirit causing various people to choose Catholicism, Presbyterianism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons? Dare we mention the various groups of Pentecostals? They definitely claim to have the Holy Spirit; the only problem is that some of them believe that the Godhead consists of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit while others believe Jesus is the only one in the Godhead. Why is the Holy Spirit giving out so many interpretations that outright contradict one another? Has the MA never read 1 Corinthians 14:33? “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
One certainly wonders, “If with the help of the infallible Holy Spirit, we have all these religious groups teaching doctrines diametrically opposed to each other, what would things be like if He was not helping?” Of course, the answer is that He is not. Men have created division. It is not God’s fault, nor are we too stupid to understand truth. Neither can the Holy Spirit be accused or blamed for the chaos. Let’s face it: Men do not have the desire to be united—or we would be.
Seeking to prove that the Holy Spirit is infallible but Christians are not, the MA provides examples. First, Peter was corrected by Paul (Gal. 2:11-14). Second, “The council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 is an example of Christian leaders coming to agreement when there had been opposing views.” Third, Apollos had to be taught the way of the Lord more perfectly. These are fine verses to study, but they have nothing to do with the subject at hand. First of all, Peter did not teach error. Paul rebuked him for his actions—which, by the way, were not consistent with his own teachings. Peter, apparently, responded properly to the rebuke and corrected his mistake. However, the event had nothing to do with any doctrine that the Holy Spirit taught Peter.
Yes, the error of the Judaizing teachers was resolved in Acts 15. Peter made a logical presentation for not keeping the Law of Moses; no one had ever kept it perfectly (except for Jesus). Furthermore, God gave the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews, thus showing His approval of them. Paul and Barnabas gave evidence concerning what God had done with respect to the Gentiles. James quoted Scripture to prove Gentiles were acceptable. So the doctrine of the apostles became clear at this point, but some of the Judaizing teachers refused to cooperate with the decision. As late as A.D. 62-64, Paul was still denouncing such men in Philippians 3.
All might well wonder why the Judaizing teachers refused to cooperate with their brethren on this matter. The logic of Peter, the Scriptures given by James, and the examples of God’s receiving and blessing the Gentiles was sufficient evidence for any fair-minded Christian; the problem was that some of the Jews who had become Christians could not overcome their bias in favor of the Law of Moses. The dispute had been resolved—by the Scriptures. They just refused to accept the truth on the matter.
And that is the problem with all denominations. The things that divide those who desire to be Christians have already been resolved—and by the Scriptures. People just do not want to accept the solution. Suddenly matters of doctrine become opinion, or, “Human beings are just too fallible.” No, the problem is that people refuse to see beyond their biases—just like the Judaizing teachers.
The third example had to do with Apollos being taught more perfectly. The MA should not have mentioned this illustration because it utterly destroys the whole point they are making. Yes, the eloquent Apollos was in error concerning John’s baptism, but he studied with Aquila and Priscilla and came to a knowledge of the truth. If he had behaved like the men of the MA, he would have muttered something about being a fallible Christian and continued on his merry way. When people discuss the Scriptures, there is hope for unity, which occurred in this case. The three of them parted in harmony—not agreeing to disagree.
The authors of the newspaper article from the MA never seem to notice when they have blundered beyond recovery. They just go from bad to worse. Consider the final three sentences of their third paragraph.
Since all Christians are in the process of learning and growing in understanding by the leading of the Holy Spirit, we are not perfect nor do we have perfect knowledge. Some things are difficult to understand. Some things we will only understand clearly when we are in heaven in front of God Himself.
This paragraph would be entirely true if it were not for the phrase, by the leading of the Holy Spirit. If the infallible Holy Spirit is our guide and leading us, why is our understanding not better than it is? Why do we not all believe the same teaching? Why do some believe in original sin while others don’t? Granted that we may be at different levels of understanding and the degree of our spirituality, but how, if we are all led by the Spirit, can we hold to doctrines that are the exact opposite of each other? Do we really want to blame the Holy Spirit for that?
Notice that the Scriptures teach that it is possible for unity to exist. Paul commanded that brethren be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). Despite the MA’s attempt to make the verse only refer to purpose, it is obvious what Paul meant. In Ephesians 4:4-6 he provided seven reasons for unity. The first one listed is that there is only one body or church (cf. Eph. 1:22-23; 5:23). Since there is only one church, how is it that the MA’s members belong to several churches?
Second, there is only one Holy Spirit—not several spirits leading Christians in different directions. Third, all Christians have the same hope—the resurrected Jesus. Fourth, we have only one Lord, Jesus. Fifth, there is only one faith—which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). So why are the members of the MA willing to accept the idea of several “faiths”? Sixth, God authorizes only one baptism, yet some in the MA probably sprinkle instead of immerse. A simple lexicon would explain the meaning of the Greek word translated “baptism”; they don’t even need the Holy Spirit on this one. Seventh, there is only one God and Father of all.
In the first century, the church really was led by the Holy Spirit. He inspired the apostles to teach the truth regarding salvation, worship, and all other matters. And what do you know? As long as brethren followed those teachings, they remained united. After three thousand were baptized on the Day of Pentecost, they “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…” (Acts 2:41-42). The Holy Spirit does not create disunity; the Words He inspired do not, either. Brethren enjoyed fellowship with each other during this time. Only one thing disrupts unity—error, which is the opposite of truth. Unity can only be restored through adherence to truth.