Saturday, September 15, 2007

Discerning What is Truth, Part 2

Objective Truth Exists
In Discerning What is Truth, Pt 1 , I was essentially saying that the starting point for discerning truth is to believe, in answer to Pilate's famous question, "What is truth?", that such a thing as objective truth actually exists and can be discerned by rational, thinking human beings. We must abandon all hope of finding truth if we believe that it cannot be found because it is only in the eyes of the beholder. I think however, that no one actually lives as if there is no objective truth whatsoever-- for we accept as objectively true certain basic facts about our lives (I am alive and breathing, I live in such and such place, etc.), and we decide to accept as true other things we believe in. In this way we build a view of life that is based upon things we call true. Christian truth however, is more elusive, because it is spiritually discerned. It is rational and not irrational, but it is also supra-rational, for Christian truth is not apprehensible by reason alone, but comes by revelation.

Truth Under Attack
As I said in my post, The Age of Tolerance Calls for Bold Proclamation of Truth, we are living in a time when truth is under attack. I suppose truth has always been under attack, but I find it troubling that many in the Christian community seem to be contributing to the growing lack of discernment among Christians by promoting a message that seems to say tolerance and civility are more primary goals for Christians than defense of biblical doctrine.

Called to Preach and Defend Sound Doctrine
I don't think that the Bible separates these concerns (truth and civility). In Ephesians 4 we read that as we are being equipped by those called to lead and teach us "in the work of the ministry and building up the body of Christ", the goal is that we "all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph 4:11-16)". Now how does Paul say that we avoid being "children" in faith who are easily swayed by "every wind of doctrine"?

He says that
speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Eph 4:15).

As to civility, Peter, writing at a time when Christians were persecuted, wrote that Christians must "always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:16-17).

So the manner in which we defend our beliefs before those who question us is to be gentle and respectful and is to reflect the fact that in our hearts we honor Christ as holy (1 Peter 3:15).

Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul makes the teaching of sound doctrine one of the key requirements for an overseer (leader) in the church. The following passages are examples:

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions (1 Timothy 1:3-7).

Teach and urge these things (the church practices he has commanded in 1 Timothy 5). If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain (1 Tim 6:2-5).

For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine(Titus 1:5-2:1).

We see from the above passages that while the Christian is called to be gentle and respectful as opposed to arrogant and quick-tempered, he is nonetheless called to boldly defend the faith, both by adhering to sound doctrine and rebuking those who teach false or unsound doctrine.

How Politically Incorrect of You, Paul
Notice how politically incorrect Paul is, as he agrees with what the Cretan prophet said of his own, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." Paul concurs with the testimony of the Cretan prophet and goes on to say that because some of these Cretan teachers "are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers", and are "upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach", that "they must be silenced". How? He counsels Titus to "rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth." I wonder if, on the basis of such language, Paul too might be labeled an uncivil "attack dog" by David Aikman.

Now, I most often agree with Dan Edelen, over at his fine blog, Cerulean Sanctum. In a recent post titled Same As It Ever Was, Same As It Ever Was…, Dan challenged Christians involved in the Arminian-Calvinist debate to cease their online bickering and attend to (apparently more worthy and urgent) tasks of service. In reading Dan's post, I do feel convicted that I could be more involved in directly ministering to needy people. So in this, I heartily concur with what seems to be the point of his article.

But the problem though, and I could see this most clearly from the comments his post generated, is that the entire Arminian-Calvinism debate is too easily dismissed as being somehow irrelevant to the real business of loving our neighbor. This would be an entirely wrong conclusion to come to, whether or not it is what Mr. Edelen's post was indeed implying.

As we have seen from the above sampling of New Testament passages, the teaching and defense of sound doctrine is required of leaders in the church. Why is it necessary? Because false teaching is both soul-endangering and destructive to the body of Christ. One of the Deceiver's great strategies is to introduce and promote subtle heresies within the doctrine of the church. Most American Christian evangelicals would readily recognize Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientology as false religions. But do these same Christians also discern the deceptions of the "health and wealth" gospel? Do we recognize false teachings within Roman Catholicism? Do we notice the liberal churches declaring that one can be a practicing homosexual and also a member in good standing of their congregations? Do we know how to biblically define true spirituality and true worship, or is our definition of these things based on our own opinions? Most of all, are we prepared to take a stand for the authority of Scripture in all of life, to present biblically rational arguments to prove our interpretations of Scripture, and to rebuke unsound doctrine?

Are we prepared to take a stand for the authority of Scripture in all of life, to present biblically rational arguments to prove our interpretations of Scripture, and to rebuke unsound doctrine?

The great apostle Paul was able to argue from Scripture in order to prove that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 17:2-3). He called Christian workers following in his footsteps to this same task: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)."

If one then may be approved by God and unashamed in their handling of the word of truth, then the possibility exists too that we may wrongly handle the word of truth and therefore not win God's approval. Such teaching bring shame and reproach to the cause of Christ.

Whose Information Can We Trust?
We live in the Information Age and the flow of data and information proliferates rapidly, especially on the World Wide Web via the Internet, as new sites are born each day and as the technology expands and develops. The new technology has democratized who may become a communicator-- it has become easier than ever to publish your own website or blog.

This explosion of information makes the discernment of truth, especially among Christians, all the more critical. Whose voice can be listened to and trusted? If anyone ought to be able to speak profound truth to a world that desperately needs to hear it, it is the Christian, the one who has received by grace a revelatory message that is meant to impact the world. But for our message of truth to ring out clearly and effectively, it must be authoritative. Where does our authority come from? Does it come from speaking a message that is popular, or that "works"? Does the relevance of the Christian message (the gospel of Jesus Christ) derive from its ability to meet the deepest needs of the human soul?

The Authority of the Christian Message
Truly our message is one that meets the deepest needs of the soul in a very profound way. But our authority comes not from us-- the skill with which we transmit or package the message-- nor does it come from the utilitarian aspects of the message. Yes, Christianity "works" because it is true, but we follow and preach Christ not because following His principles will help us realize our "best life now". Rather we follow Him because by divine revelation we have come to see and know that Jesus is the only One who can save us from our sins, which have separated us from God. The whole world is commanded to repent and believe the good news and the truth that Jesus Christ saves sinners.

Evangelical Christianity has often gotten this basic gospel message right. But it has also often added to the message, trying to make it more relevant and palatable, or repackaging it to meet the so-called felt needs of its target audience. Thus the gospel message becomes gradually distorted by modern day preachers/teachers. This is the strategy of the enemy-- not blatantly to lead us away from truth by obvious deception, but to subtly promote lies and error that cause us to slowly drift away from the true gospel, one blind step at a time. So, as the New Testament and Paul especially so often admonishes, we must be discerning and wise, that we may preserve the purity of the gospel message.

The Purpose of "Discernment Ministries"
Blog ministries such as Jordan's View, and many discernment ministries (or countercult apologetics), often with sites on the web, have arisen that address the need for discerning truth. These ministries provide a wealth of information to help people identify trends in society and in the church that may be diverting people from the truths of the gospel. Some of these ministries may also try to define the fundamental truths of Christian faith, so that one may identify erroneous teaching., though not a discernment ministry per say, is a site that, by emphasizing the monergistic (Reformed) view of the Christian faith, argues that the reformed, monergistic view of Christianity is historic, biblical and much needed today to protect against error and help bring about revival. Other "countercult" ministries specialize in providing detailed information about specific movements (e.g., Emerging Church, contemplative spirituality) and/or about cults.

Importance of the Arminian/Calvinist Debate- Theology affects all of life

Now, as Dan Edelen seems to be saying in his article and others too have pointed out, not everyone involved in the Arminian/Calvinism debate is necessarily driven by right motives. Personally I consider that debate to function under the category of discernment ministry, because I believe Calvinists are more biblically correct and that the errors and influence of Arminianism need correction. As I have stated in my writing about Arminianism vs Reformed theology, I think that there are very important, practical ramifications to the theology one holds, whether Arminian or Reformed. Everyone has a theology, expressed by their actions. The question is whether our theology is one we have examined and tested under the light of the truth of Scripture or one which remains unexamined. Examined or not, our theology will have a powerful impact on how we live, and that's why I think it's so important to get it right.

But in discernment ministries of all types, there may be those driven by ego and the need to win arguments, whose goal in criticizing is to be seen and heard rather than to edify. While such abuse is unfortunate, it does not negate the need and responsibility of Christians to defend sound doctrine and rebuke bad doctrine. Discernment ministries have helped address this need of the body, yet it is important too that every individual Christian be, as our Lord said, "wise as serpents and innocent as doves." We are fighting a battle with a spiritual Enemy who is incredibly cunning, and also we ought to expect persecution and hatred to come our way from this world. Among the other spiritual weapons we are called to don, we arm ourselves with the belt of truth, and with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, as we wage war with the truth of God's word as our authority and divine power (Ephesians 6:14,17, 2 Corinthians 10:4-6). We know too that in the end we are assured of victory, for the Word of God is Truth, and our Lord Jesus is the Lord of all Truth, who will reign in truth and righteousness when He returns to earth. Then the light of truth will overcome the darkness of error.

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