Is the Message Infallible?
Is the Message Infallible?
In a 1932 Houteff wrote a letter to a Seventh-day Adventist elder, shortly after publishing The Shepherd’s Rod, Vol. I.
“Your other remark which is of the greatest importance, you say I ‘must not take the position that The Shepherd’s Rod is infallible.’ I have never used the word ‘infallible’; but I have stated that The Shepherd’s Rod contains either all truth, or there is no truth in it. This position I have taken on the strength of the Bible, and the Spirit of Prophecy, as they both agree that God alone is able to reveal the Truth in His holy Word, regardless of its simplicity.. This means Inspiration, which is especially true of timely Truth.”
The claim of the Rod is not that it is “infallible” but that it is “all truth” It was the elder whom he addressed that had suggested the idea of infallibility, but Houteff himself never claimed or used the term to apply to the message; and there is a good reason why. “This position,” Houteff said, was “taken on the strength of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. . . . ”
Three years later he reaffirmed this same thought:
“Some of our brethren wish to know the position we hold on the message in the “Rod.” The question is, Do we allow mistakes in it, or do we hold that the contents in the “Rod” are unquestionable? This we answer as follows: Analysis proves that truth has never come at any time by the power and wisdom of men, but by the Spirit of God through instruments of His own choice. Said Jesus, “When the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into ALL truth.” If we would believe the Master, then we must conclude that the “Rod” contains either ALL truth or there is NO truth in it, save the quotations of truth. Therefore, if we admit one truth revealed by the “Rod,” then we must accept it ALL. If God has been able to guide His servants in the past into ALL truth, He is able now. Therefore, we take the position that the message in the “Rod” is free from error in so far as the ideas put forth are concerned.”
The point is that it is “all truth” from the context that it is inspired or God-breathed. He is simply stating that the message did not come of his accord—that it did not originate with him, but the Lord. Put another way, it means that it and the messenger were inspired as Ellen White or any other true prophet was inspired. He was the vessel or instrument, but the message is God’s, not his or anyone else’s opinion and so it had to be all truth. This is the reason for the statement: “The Shepherd’s Rod contains all truth, or there is no truth in it.”
The underlying issue here, is that to the Rod’s skeptics his claim can be interpreted as “infallibility,” although he never said so. But what does that mean in the biblical framework? Does it mean that every word, sentence, and phrase, is perfect in every particular? Does this indicate that everything a messenger taught or said will never need updating, amending, or alterations?
What Does “Infallible” and “All Truth” Mean?
There are a few points we should come to grips with in order to truly understand the meanings of the terms “infallibility” and “all truth”in the biblical context. In the general usage of the word it is defined as: “Incapable of error. Not liable to fall, go wrong.” In the biblical context this is true. However, because of man’s weaknesses, limited knowledge, inability to grasp God’s will all at once, (or even in one generation), there are aspects of every message that is limited in its scope and would thus appear faulty. Again, this is not owing to God’s incapability, but man’s. Jesus told His disciples, “I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” John 16:12
We refer the reader to the previous sections, especially Section 3, explaining the workings of Inspiration with His messengers. However, we can highlight two key principles that relate to our present discussion on infallibility.
That No Message or Messenger is Able to Attain to a Full Knowledge of the Truth.
“But no man,” wrote Ellen White, “however honored of Heaven, has ever attained to a full understanding of the great plan of redemption, or even to a perfect appreciation of the divine purpose in the work for his own time.” Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “for now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part . . .”
In another reference, Ellen White again made it clear that even a prophet is fallible. “We have many lessons to learn,” she said, “and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible.”
Thus a prophet can never claim to be infallible because, as we have already seen in a number of times, there are truths which the prophet is unaware. This is because God does not reveal everything all at once. We just can’t bear it! So He does not correct all of our erroneous or limited views. Consequently, He allows his people to teach commonly held ideas until He sends more light. Thus in his doing so, it appears that the former messenger was wrong. It is in that sense that the former messenger and their message was fallible. To say it again, we can refer to the examples of Moses, John the Baptist, the Apostles, William Miller, and Ellen White. Although their unique messages were fundamentally perfect, they all taught incidental ideas that later on had to be amended. The truth is that all the prophets to one degree or another were subject to this phenomenon. God ultimately takes responsibility for the limited light, in the sense that He knows just how much to give and how much to correct. That is, He knows how much we can bear or what is for our best good.
So how could Victor Houteff say that the Rod’s message is “all truth”? He could say it because what is reliable, perfect, incapable of error, is what God specifically gives; not the ideas or traditions He allows the prophet to teach in harmony with the thinking of the time. But although God allowed his prophets to teach or misunderstand certain views, it did not alter the fact that the core message that He gave them—the part that came specifically and emphatically from Him—is “all truth.” This direct and unique revelation is infallible and consequently unequivocal, authoritative, truthful, without error. This is so important, allow us to repeat it another way. Whatever God gave his servants as specific, new and unique revelation, was perfect, yet because of their weaknesses and the weaknesses of their church at large, God could not reveal all truth to them and consequently did not correct all of their misunderstandings, shortsightedness, traditions, and common thinking. Later on, however, God would reveal further light and his people would discover that the former messenger taught some things that needed updating—what most would term errors. But, although neither they or their message was infallible, the specific and unique teachings given them of God was “all truth.”
Some have asked: “how can we go all out for any Bible interpretation for which claim is made to Inspiration. Does not one’s making such claim jeopardize the entire structure of his message?
In answer to this question, the Rod replies:
[The] “difficulty stems from the hard fact that the Protestant world has long held that concept that God does not in this age employ an inspired mouthpiece to interpret the Scriptures and to declare His will, but invents and leads each Christian individually. This theory, however, is universally exploded when viewed in the light of the fact that those individuals claiming to be personally led by God, disagree among themselves just as much as the various sects disagree one with another. Before taking His departure, the Savior declared:
“ ‘When . . .the spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come’ John 16:13. Without controversy, therefore, the Divine will is that we have all Truth and only Truth. And it must be remembered that “no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men o God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Peter 1:20, 21.
“Indeed, the very word, Inspiration, in its theological significance, means to communicate Divine instructions free from men’s adulteration. Hence, any objection to Inspiration, can only, in the last analysis, be an attempt to put God out of sight and to bring men to the front, to cut off the only channel through which God can interpret the Scriptures, communicate with His people–‘reveal truth and unmask error,’ Testimonies to Ministers, p. 107.”
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