The Bible encourages Christians to look for and respect godly examples. Hebrews 11 includes a list of faithful saints whom believers should imitate (Hebrews 6:12). Paul articulates the appropriateness of imitating godly people (1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7; ). He even commands believers to imitate him (1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1). It is certainly appropriate for Christians to look to other Christians for examples of godliness and to learn doctrine and practice from godly people.
However, even godly men are sometimes wrong. Godly men are still men, and according to the Bible, men are fallible (Romans 3:9-18). Never can believers fully rely on the opinions and examples of sinful people. At the end of the day, each individual Christian is responsible before God for his beliefs and actions . He must therefore do the work himself that is necessary to understand what the Bible says and how to apply it to life.
Most Christians would probably agree to these points in principle, but unfortunately when it comes to practice, many believers blindly follow others whom they consider godly examples.
This is often the case when it comes to music and worship philosophy. I have spoken to, read, and heard of many good Christians who believe pop music is acceptable for worship largely because they know other godly people who defend that position. They look to these individuals, who may be the godliest people they’ve ever known, and they can’t conceive of the possibility that such people could be wrong. They look at these individuals, who may be influential defenders of the gospel, and they can’t conceive of the possibility that such people could be wrong. They look at these individuals, who may be the most earnest defenders of the glory of God, and that can’t conceive of the possibility that such people could be wrong.
J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) addressed this kind of thinking in a sermon titled, “The Fallibility of Ministers”:
Will not rank and dignity confer infallibility? No, they will not! It matters nothing what a man is called. He may be a Czar, an Emperor, a King, a Prince. He may be a Preacher, Minister, or Deacon. He is still a fallible man. Neither the crown, nor the anointing oil, nor the laying on of hands, can prevent a man making mistakes.
These statements are part of a sermon from Galatians 2 that relates Paul’s necessity to confront the Apostle Peter. Here was an Apostle of Jesus Christ, one to whom had been given the keys to the kingdom, the foundation of Christ’s Church, and he was wrong. Ryle continues by listing other such examples from Scripture and history of godly individuals who are wrong on particular occasions. Consider this list of godly people who greatly erred:
- Abraham, who took Hagar for a wife
- Aaron, who formed the golden calf
- Solomon, who allowed his wives to build high places
- Jehosophat, who helped Ahab
- Hezekiah, who received ambassadors from Babylon
- Josiah, who fought with Pahraoh
- James and John, who wanted fire to come down from heaven
- Martin Luther, who held to consubstantiation
- Calvin, who permitted Servetus to be burned
- Cranmer, who recanted his faith
- Jewell, who subscribed to Roman Catholic doctrines for fear of death
- Hooper, who demanded the need to wear ceremonial vestments when ministering
- Wesley and Toplady, who abused each other in most shameful language
Ryle says of these examples,
All these things speak with a loud voice. They all lift up a beacon to the Church of Christ. They all say, “Do not trust man; call no man master; call no man father on earth; let no man glory in man; He that glories, let him glory in the Lord.” They all cry, “No infallibility!”
Of course we would all readily recognize the fallibility of men in these examples. Of course we would readily recognize today that godly men are still fallible. And yet so many people hold to certain convictions about music and worship simply because the most godly people they know also hold to such convictions.
Let us be certain that our convictions about music and worship are based upon reasoned application of the Word of God.