The Wrong Source
Stated positively, the truth is the Bible, God's word to man. Any religious matter can be settled by an appeal to the truth for final authority. It is extremely unfortunate that with most people this practice has gone the way of the horse-and-buggy and the ankle length skirt; unfortunate because a failure to do, so will result in spiritual division, and an eternity in hell for the individual.
Very few people have no standard at all, but the great majority depend upon the wrong source for their religious authority. Many rely upon the preacher, and accept his word for it. Now, it is possible that a preacher is teaching truth, but it is not truth because he is teaching it. In I Jno. 4:1, the apostle John plainly tells us not to trust the preacher: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world." Paul said, I Th. 5 :21 - "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." No matter how honest, how good a preacher is, he is still a man. Jeremiah says, Jer. 10:23 - "The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."
One's refusing to take his preacher's word for it does not demonstrate little regard for him; it shows that person's regard for being right, and he should be glad for his teaching to be investigated. Paul very highly complimented those of Berea for that very thing. "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so. 1) Paul did not feel hurt, nor did he consider it an insult for people to "prove" his teachings. Instead, they were commended because they wanted to make sure that what he said could be substantiated by God's word.
The truth has nothing to fear from honest open investigation. We should all welcome the opportunity to set forth scriptural reasons for religious practice. Peter says, I Pet. 3:15 -- "Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." Many do not welcome investigation because of the weak foundation their teaching depends on. Yet, even such people ought to encourage frank discussion, because truth is vital, and the one who can point out error in our teachings becomes our friend in leading us closer to it. Let us all, preachers included, be willing to study together, realizing that our hope for salvation depends upon our having the truth. Remember, although many times preachers do preach the truth, sometimes they make mistakes, and the only infallible guide is the word of God. Truly, we ought to "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good."
It has been pointed out that the truth, religiously speaking, is contained in God's word, and reference has been made to the Bible as the only source of authority in this realm. In order to make the lesson doubly plain, it is proper to approach this point negatively, and suggest some sources that are not infallible in their teachings of the truth, hence could not be regarded as an authority.
In this day and time many and varied are the sources to which people appeal for religious practice. Man, generally speaking, still has to learn that God's word is the only reliable guide; all others can make and have made mistakes. We hear much about the "voice of the church" ; a large and respected religious group, the Catholics, maintain that the true church (which they claim to be) produced the word of God, and is the only infallible interpreter of it. Many individuals in many groups have the idea that anything "the church" teaches is right. With all-due respect to those who have been thus taught, and thus believe, we must point out that, according to God's word, the very opposite is true.
Instead of the church producing the word, it is the word which, when rightly taught and accepted, will bring forth the church. Peter and his brethren first preached the word, the gospel, in Jerusalem, and the result of their preaching was the establishment of the church. In Acts 2:41 - "They that gladly received his word were baptized, and the same day there were added unto them three thousand souls." Christ tells us, Lk. 8:11 - "The seed is the word of God." A further explanation of this statement is recorded in Mt. 13:19, where the same incident is recorded (the parable of the sower) . . . There Christ tells us that the thing called the seed in Luke is the "word of the kingdom," or that which produces the kingdom.
It is true that members of the early church wrote the New Testament, but their authority for writing did not come from the church; they did not write because they had decrees and canons instructing them so to do. They wrote because the Holy Spirit of God so directed them. No. 16:13 - "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth." The Holy Spirit did come, and his guidance enabled the apostles (and others under His inspiration) to reveal to us the word of God without mistake: "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things we also speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual." (I Cor. 2:12, 13).
The church, as such, never received the promise of infallibility, nor should it be so regarded. Even during the time that the Bible was being written, churches did fall, they did make mistakes. John speaks of the church at Ephesus: "Thou hast left thy first love; Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent." (Rev. 2:4, 5) Verse 9 speaks of the "synagogue (or church) of Satan." Many times the church will teach truth, but we have no guarantee that it will in every case. The Bible produces the church, not the church the Bible, and the great Word of God still stands is the only reliable guide that man has for religious righteousness.
Truth Magazine II:5, pp. 20-21