“Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Ps. 146:3).
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in man” (Ps. 118:8).
In 303 ad the Roman Emperor Diocletian unleashed an aggressive campaign of persecution against the Christian Church. And by “aggressive campaign,” I don’t mean lawsuits and job-loss; I mean imprisonment and death. The Christian Church has always faced persecution in various places. There has never been a time of peace. But at this time, the most powerful empire on earth was violently hostile to the Church.
But there was one sure-fire way to escape persecution: deny the faith. Here’s your choice: you can go to prison, perhaps even feel the cold steel of a sword on your neck, or you can quit being a Christian. As a result, there were some who publicly denied Christ. There were even some clergy who denied Christ.
This scandalized many Christians (the Greek word skandalizō means “to cause to stumble”). It made them question their own salvation. There was a party called the Donatists that argued that the ministry performed by clergy who denied the faith was invalid. So if the pastor who baptized you later denies the faith, then your Baptism would be invalid. Fortunately, the Church condemned Donatism as heresy. The power of the Sacraments lies not in the men administering them, but in the Word of God. And the Word of God is true, even when it rolls off the unclean lips of sinful men.
In our time and place we don’t face this kind of persecution, but pastors still scandalize their congregations in other ways. In recent years we’ve seen the moral failings of megachurch pastors like Bill Hybels, Tullian Tchividjian, or Mark Driscoll. Others, like Joshua Harris or Rob Bell, have simply denied the core teachings of Scripture. There is always a fallout in their congregations. There are people who leave the Church and never come back.
Here is what we all need to consider: Where is my trust? Do I trust in God, or do I trust in my pastor? It’s okay to trust a pastor. I hope you can trust yours. But never trust in a pastor. There is a difference between trusting a person and trusting in a person. To trust a person means that you believe what they say, you depend on them doing what they are supposed to do, and you expect them to have your best interests in mind. It doesn’t mean you expect them to do all of these things perfectly, but you allow them to serve you. To trust in a person means that you look to them for ultimate fulfillment and you stake your hopes on them. You rise and fall with them. This kind of trust is reserved only for God, because he is the only one who will never fall.
In this life there are many people we can trust. We trust parents, spouses, pastors, teachers, friends, mechanics, repairmen, public servants, etc. But we should never trust in these people. We should not expect any of them to satisfy us completely, but we should see all of them as instruments of God by which he provides for us.
It is a mistake to trust any person besides God, but it is also a mistake to never trust a person, because if you never trust a person, you never receive the blessing God gives you through them. Some people may never actually trust their pastor. They may sit in worship or Bible study, always checking to see if they approve or disapprove. They hold themselves above the teaching, and, therefore, never receive it. Now, you should certainly check what a pastor says against Scripture, and if you see something that doesn’t line up, you should talk to him, and you should check that your pastor is teaching both Law and Gospel, but if you never come to the point of trusting a pastor, you won’t receive any of the Word of God he speaks to you. And I’m not just talking about myself. I’m talking about pastors in general, because I will probably not be the last pastor you have in your life. Trust a trustworthy pastor, confront an untrustworthy pastor, but never trust in any pastor.
Trust only in the God who gave his Son for your redemption and sends his Holy Spirit to call and preserve you in the faith.
The peace of Christ be with you all,