Without the work of the official ministry of the Word as established in the true church, instituted according to Scripture with ordained minister, elders and deacons, we have no protection against “the trickery of error.” The work of the ministry in the pure preaching of the Word is for the purpose of edifying (building up) the Body of Christ. In fact, we could put it this way: The work of the ministry is the edifying of (the Church) the Body of Christ! So that in those church buildings where the body of Christ is never edified, then no work of the ministry is there. That work is not going on there. This goes for certain nominal Protestant fanatics who lay claim to secret, inner and extra-biblical revelations from the Spirit. They speak of “a word of knowledge” which is suddenly flashed into their minds by a direct revelation from God, entirely apart from the sound guidance of the Word of God written. This fanaticism inflates them with the pride of being far above the rest of us who have only the revelation of Scripture. Along with this pride goes that super-pious exclusively private reading of the Scripture whereby they regard the ministry of the church unnecessary.
Many do not really belong to a church in the official sense of the word. They go to a “chapel,” or a “gospel hall,” or they belong to an “assembly” (a term they prefer in their aversion to the very word church). After about ten or fifteen years of that sort of religious life, they show no signs of spiritual growth. They have been deceived and misled in what they call “Bible teaching” or “church truth” by their own misconception of “rightly dividing the Word.” Mistaking their shallow biblical scheme and erroneous distinctions for depth, after many years they are still like a child, an adolescent that is not half man. Calvin says, of those who never grow in the grace, nor in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, that “after a man is once past fifty, it seems he decays both in his understanding and his memory.”
We, when it is well past harvest, ought not to be still like green grapes actually going bad on the vine. So the apostle exhorts us “that we henceforth be no more children.” Children must be carefully nurtured like little lambs through a stage of instability and liability to being deceived and led astray. In their unsteadiness, they are like a ship with neither rudder nor gyroscope. Waves and wind toss and sweep it along almost keel up. The Hebrews writer exhorts, “Do not be carried about with divers (various) and strange doctrines’’ (13:9). James, agreeing, pictures the unstable person “like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (Jas. 1:6). It is, therefore, dangerous, even cruel, for a child, being only a little lamb, to be left to itself to choose its own religion and its own course of education. Would such a child ever know of what faith it ought to be? Would it ever, in a whole lifetime, hit upon the Reformed Faith? No, but it would be tossed up and down by the confusing winds of Evolutionism, the public school’s state religion of Secular Humanism, or by the worldwide waves of Pelagianism and Arminianism, to say nothing of the subtle, deviant breezes of Eastern Mysticism now sweeping away those addicted to “Rock music.”
But the world today is so very scientific, isn’t it? The world is directed by a scientifically developed technology, isn’t it? Beware! Avoid “antitheses of pseudonym science” (I Tim. 6:20, Gk.). Calvin warns us that this wretched world (it is wretched despite its boasted development of a modern, futuristic cosmopolitan civilization) has been misled and beguiled, and still is, by popery. Have we not heard via the news media the blind followers of the pope brainlessly singing his praises in the blasphemous, perverted ditty, “He’s got the whole world in his hands”? The world is like a highly educated, mature, finely polished gentleman? It is more like an inebriated teen-age idiot speeding his sports-car pell-mell along the wintry, icy freeway of “down-town” to the junk heap it will soon become. But, again, as Calvin said, “you young people and little children understand that you have a Father in heaven.” You know, too, “that because He is our Father, He will not lay our sins to our charge, but receive us in His love through His own free goodness, accepting us for righteous, when in true repentance we condemn ourselves, and seek all our welfare in Jesus Christ. . .” But we would never do this where there is no “work of the ministry.”
But notice that those who are only children spiritually are liable to be tossed topsy-turvy by “the sleight (literally, “the dice-playing,” or underhandedness) of men.” Few adults, much less children, are competent to compete with professional gamblers whose business it is to know and use a vast store of tricks. Then who will disagree with Calvin when he says that in this occupation “there is neither honor nor honesty,” and adds, “it is known that all dicers are deceivers.” Young people, it will be wise for you to keep this well in mind. For spiritually, in the world of religion, there is much of this sleight of men, much spiritual “dice throwing.” (Cp. modern evangelism in its appeal to the chance contingencies of Free-willism). Besides, there are plenty of scoffers and deceivers always seeking to pervert and subvert our faith. (Cp. a “Moonie”-owned newspaper and a Mormon-owned magazine). The air is full of choking spiritual pollutions and thick with the fiery darts of heresies, enough to poison and corrupt all men along with these deceivers and deceived. Where there is no “work of the ministry” of the Word in the pure preaching of the gospel within the God-ordained instituted church, there is no well-grounded faith, no walking in God’s truth, no standing firm for any good whatever, no watchmen on the walls of Zion. There is no knowledge of what we would call our doctrinal ABC’s. What they have had of the ABC’s of the Bible they have forgotten, and so cannot seriously be said to be beginners.
Then for them things become worse. As children they get carried away by ‘the cunning craftiness’’ of false apostles, false witnesses, false brethren, false teachers, false prophets and false Christs. Then they fall into error, and error, being evil, is incubated and produced in the atmosphere of moral evil and spiritual corruption. (Here we could name well-known nation-wide names.) False prophets, for example, are self-centered, bad, deceitful, the most obstinate of them being unquestionably malignant. (Consult almost any chapter in Larson’s Book of Cults.) Their ‘‘cunning craftiness’’ is carried on by deception and treachery. For a clear picture of this fatal evil, read the intriguing story of the underhanded machinations of the Arminian Remonstrants in the book, “The Voice of Our Fathers.”
Relative to that “cunning craftiness,” it is added, “whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” The Greek reads, “by the (crooked) dice-throwing of men (and) cunning craftiness, with respect to the trickery of error.” This trickery presents the picture of a slinky panther engaged in its sly, cunning, deceptive method of stalking. The false Christs of our modern day are as malignant as a panther, silently yet relentlessly stalking its helpless prey. This is the evil of error (the word not translated error here, Eph. 4:14, but it is in seven out of its ten appearances in Scripture). For a dynamite exposure of “the trickery of error.” read Valdis Fisher’s “Children of God.”
Modern “evangelists”, you may notice, preach a line quite similar to the “Rejection of Errors” recorded in our Canons of Dort. This means that they do not preach the Five Points of Calvinism, but principally the Five Points of the Remonstrants. They preach what we might call a “Semi-Pelagianism” or a so called “evangelical Arminianism.” One of them has condemned the doctrine of Unconditional Election on coast-to-coast radio. Another often takes little digs, especially at the Reformed churches, but also at the Reformed Faith. Still another, nominally Presbyterian (and therefore in name Reformed) admits to abandoning the Calvinist position to oppose it “tooth and nail.” Their Arminianism is closer to Roman Catholicism than to the Protestant Faith of the Reformers. Some are sharply criticized for their associations with theological modernists, religious liberals and the false ecumenical movement. For some have left their former strict separatist position and now compromise with Romanism, Modernism and New-Evangelical- ism. But they are all Arminians and preach an Arminian “gospel.”
How do we escape this “trickery of error” and cease being spiritually childish? By speaking the truth in love to grow up, which growth toward spiritual maturity is growth unto Him. We do this only in that sphere where growth is possible, in the true church, where there is the demand for, the reception of and the preservation of the means of grace. The work of the ministry preserves us against the trickery of error.