Fake News…in the Church

Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. (Psalm 119:89, ESV)

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the famous 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany, Historians have marked this event as the beginning of a revival known as the Reformation. It is the most important event outside the pages of Scripture. Sadly, most people know very little about it or why it happened.

Social media today is filled with what Donald Trump calls “fake news.” It is usually disinformation that is intended to promote or destroy a political position. Since I have people among my Facebook “friends” on both sides of the current political fence, I often chortle at what people will believe, but it begs the question, “How do we know what is true?”

Fake news was Martin Luther’s struggle with the Roman Catholic Church in his day. Like so many political groups today who solicit funds from their political base, the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century was selling “indulgences” to their base. Buying these indulgences would supposedly shorten a deceased loved one’s time in purgatory according to the highest office of the church. But doing good works had never rid Luther of the nagging sense of guilt that afflicted his soul. It wasn’t until he recognized that real forgiveness was to be found in God’s grace, applied to him by Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on the cross. Luther recognized the sale of indulgences (among other things) for what it was — an elaborate fund raising scheme that was duping innocent people into a false sense of security. So he objected by nailing his 95 Theses (grievances) on the door of the church.

This event was not well received by those in the church hierarchy, so Luther had to defend his objections, leading ultimately to the question of “How do we know what is true?” Interestingly, it is the same question raised by Trump’s term, “fake news.” Those who followed Luther’s lead recognized that truth is not a political position. It is not the “spin” determined by a body of human beings, even if they are church officials or people in power. Truth, for the Reformers, was objective and revealed by God in Scripture.

The Reformers were not monolithic. They had different approaches to a number of issues, but what they did agree on was the source of truth. In some relatively minor areas, they did disagree on what Scripture taught (hence, we have many Protestant denominations). But the final authority was Scripture, not the Church’s interpretation of Scripture.

In our day Protestants and Catholics still disagree on the source of truth, but now the disagreement is compounded because there is a large portion of the society that doubts the existence of truth. Postmodern relativism has created a world in which every statement is fake news to someone. Every statement is someone’s spin.

But the legacy of the Reformation — the reason that it is the most significant event outside the pages of Scripture — is that it identifies that truth is objective and then it defines its source — God Himself. In the words of King David, “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89, ESV). Thank you for your courageous stand, Dr. Martin Luther. Thank you to the many other Reformers who were martyred for firmly standing for the truth. May many in this generation say with you, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”

The Issue in the Church Should Be Truth

“ . . . the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15)

I often listen to talk radio in my car — that probably puts me in a certain demographic! This morning as I was driving the hosts (one man and one woman) were discussing what they were looking for in a church. Throughout the conversation the qualities they looked for in a church typically began with the statement, “I want a church where I feel______” or “I feel a church should ______.” What was conspicuous by its absence was any mention of truth.

Admittedly I completed my drive before the conversation concluded, so truth may have been mentioned later, and I hope it was. However, what I did hear is quite typical of a postmodern society in which truth is marginalized in favor of feelings. 

 Postmodernism is a philosophy which has denied the existence of absolute truth, but it has become the prevalent worldview of many in our society. Words can mean what ever we want them to mean. For example, law can be twisted to imply intent when the text of the statute does not include it. The definition of marriage can be redefined to include homosexual unions when the writers of our laws never had this in mind.

When absolute truth is ruled out, the Scripture is no longer authoritative (identifying the insidious nature of this current philosophy). As a society we have called sin, “moral error” or “a mistake” or “estrangement,” all of which it is, but these terms serve to water down the concept. The use of the term, “mistake” or “error,” recalls a test in school where a single mistake did not constitute failure. Biblically speaking, however, sin condemns us to hell — any sin, no matter how small, no matter how few. And according to the Apostle Paul, “All have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). Likewise he said we were all “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Only the Atonement of Jesus can deliver us, if we understand sin biblically; but if it has a different definition, many remedies can be considered to be correct (and many are in our world).

When absolute truth is ruled out, Paul’s description of the character of God, that He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), is meaningless. How can people come to know the truth when truth cannot be known?

When absolute truth is ruled out, “every man does what is right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Solomon tells us in Proverbs that “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (14:12). Without truth, there is no measuring line. The prophet used the picture of a plumb line (Amos 7:7-8). Until we return to the position that the truth is more important than how we feel, that the church is the repository of truth, our nation will continue to languish and, ultimately, implode.

I have no problem with looking for a church that has compassion for the poor or prompts us to think about the troubled world in which we live or demonstrates that they care for our needs, but unless truth is the first quality that we seek, everything else will be a band aid solution for our fractured society.

He Has Spoken

The LORD called Moses and spoke to him… (Leviticus 1:1, ESV).

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV)

There is no more profound thought in all of the world than the idea that the living God has spoken to His creation. People of previous generations grasped the idea that if He truly has spoken, our job is to listen and obey.

It seems to me that the most important issue facing this generation is the question of whether we will believe that God has spoken, and, if He has, where that communication will be found.

Christian orthodoxy (that is, the teaching of the historic Christian faith) has held that He has spoken through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The Westminster Confession of Faith (written in 1646) declares, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (I. vi.).

In recent years, though, the issue has been confused by those who have suggested that He has offered new revelation which has replaced the old. Our Muslim friends have suggested that Mohammed is a later (and therefore more authoritative) prophet than Jesus. They still claim Jesus was a prophet, but choose not to believe His claims to deity. Our Mormon friends have declared that the historic Christian faith has been trumped by the “new revelations” of an angel (Moroni) in the nineteenth century.

The latest confusion of the idea that God has spoken is the philosophy of Postmodernism which denies absolute truth. If there is no absolute truth, then the historic Christian understanding (at least as expressed above) is wrong. God may have spoken to Moses as recorded in Leviticus but times have changed and therefore His communication is irrelevant. If postmoderns are right, can we ever know anything for sure (including questions of right and wrong)?

Yet the people of this world crave certainty. Primetime TV is weighted with dramas that solve crimes through forensics, logic or law; there is a whole network that does nothing but show stories of the solving of crimes; other programs ask the audience to judge the guilt or innocence of a person after presenting the cases. For these, at least, justice is matter of right and wrong, of black and white.

This craving for certainty is a clear evidence to me that the postmodern philosophy is wrong. There is absolute truth; what God has spoken, He has spoken in space and time. Since He is God, that communication must have implications beyond the space-time moment in which it was uttered. This is one reason (there are several others) why I choose to believe the Scriptures. It is incomprehensible to me that God would give us a sense of justice and a desire to know Him without some certain revelation of Himself.