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.

Not Empty Words

For [the Law of Moses] is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess (Deuteronomy 32:47, ESV).

There are many types of literature that I pass by when I go to a bookstore. I care little for romance novels or science fiction; I have little interest in cooking (my interest is just in the eating!) so cookbooks and nutrition guides are easy to ignore. My real interest is in the ideas that drive us to do what we do, so I peruse books on philosophy and theology and classic literary stories. The rest are just empty words.

Many people today view the Bible as a large book of empty words. The stories coming from ancient times don’t seem to have any relevance to their lives today, and they can’t imagine how a 2000—4000 year old book could be relevant in an age of such advanced technology. Sadly I am talking about people who claim to be Christians.

Biblical theology claims that the God that created us has revealed Himself to mankind. He has not left us to wonder if He exists or what His will is; the Bible asserts forthrightly that its words are the very Words of God. (There are some who choose not to believe that the Bible is God’s Word, but there is no question that the claim to authority is made in the text.) To read those claims for oneself, a person merely needs to turn to the end of the third chapter of Paul’s second letter to Timothy and read into the first few verses of chapter four. Jesus Himself told us that the words of Scripture will never pass away (Matt 5:18).

If, as Biblical theology also claims, the realm of this God is our everlasting destination, and this space-time existence is only temporary, it seems logical to figure out how He has communicated to men through the ages and what He has said to them. For all our advanced technology, after all, we are still just created people — even as they were in every other age. We must also understand that the Bible’s 66 books claim to be the complete revelation (Heb. 1:1—2:4); don’t be fooled by the claims of some that God added an addendum (see Gal. 1:6-9).

This understanding is the rationale for Moses’ statement that the Law God gave him was not an “empty word, but [our] very life” (Deut 32:47). It is relevant to us today, just as it was when it was written, even though we have to filter the ideas through our changed culture. An initial reading may take us through parts that are difficult to understand (we might even describe them as “boring”), but with some understanding of ancient cultures those difficulties can be overcome — by any normal adult. Some parts are understandable even to preschool children. We simply must begin with the understanding that these are not “empty words.”

Many years ago I decided for myself that if these are indeed the words of God, nothing is more important than for me to understand them, so I began to read the Bible cover to cover each year. No decision has had a more profound effect on my life than this one.

The Pursuit of Truth

O LORD, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent (Jeremiah 5:3, ESV).

These ancient words are profoundly contemporary.

We live in a world where expediency is more desired than truth. Americans (especially) have always had a pragmatic bent to them. We like to use phrases like “like a well-oiled machine,” “We’re clicking on all cylinders,” and “now we’re cooking with gas” to describe the aspects of our lives that are going well and progressing. When things aren’t going so well, we assume that the machinery is somehow wrong.

This mindset is wonderful for overcoming obstacles that are physical in nature — we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and figure out where the machinery is deficient. But not all problems are physical in nature; sometimes things don’t go well because we have failed to pursue the truth that the Lord is trying to communicate to us. He is — at least according to Christian orthodoxy — continually revealing His will to men.

Such was the case in Jeremiah’s day. God brought judgment because the people resorted to idolatry. They didn’t listen to His Word or His prophets or the Laws that their ancestors adopted. Instead, they chose to worship false gods and were surprised when they were “struck down” and “consumed.” They didn’t need better mechanics — they needed to repent.

Repentance is not preached much from America’s pulpits any more — to our detriment. Repentance is how we get right with the God that created us and how we stay in a right relationship. We usually define repentance as an act of turning from sin to Christ, and this is a proper definition. It implies, though, that this is a one time action. Contrition is a related word, but implies that the repentance is a “state,” an ongoing expression of repentance.

The price of repentance/contrition is often too high for us as Americans. Like the proverbial “average” student in school we assess what is the minimum amount of work to get by and we do that. For many of us it’s enough that we put on a show of repentance even if we have not really done so in the integrity of our hearts. Repentance involves real sorrow for sin; it involves the true admission guilt; it involves a lifestyle change that begins in our thoughts and carries through to our actions. It doesn’t mean perfection; but it does mean honesty. When David repented, he stated, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being (Psalm 51:6, ESV).

The people of our day are much like the people to whom Jeremiah was preaching in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of his prophecy. They are harder than rocks; they refuse to repent (5:3) because they have ignored the truth for expedience.

Intellectual Honesty

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11, ESV).

I first read this passage shortly after I put my faith in Christ. I was a student at a theologically liberal, liberal arts college affiliated with a mainline Christian denomination. The Religion/Philosophy department at that college had a disdain for those of us who held an evangelical faith, who believed that the Bible was indeed the revelation of the Living God. In their minds we were not “intellectually honest”; we were silly enough as to believe that Moses did part the Red Sea, Noah did preserve the human race on an ark, and Jesus did rise from the grave.

On the day that I first read this passage, something unusual happened that I have trouble explaining. I was captivated by the text; it filled all of my thoughts for a period of time; I sensed that God Himself had met me in that hour. Since that day the Judeo-Christian Scriptures have had a special place in my thinking.

I knew that what I had experienced was just the opposite of what I was being taught at my college. I also knew that I didn’t have the intellectual and academic background to take on the professors and students that scoffed at what they would call “psychological or religious experiences.” They would dismiss my experience as the result of the previous meal’s pepperoni pizza, even though I knew it was not. I held on to this tension and the question of “intellectual honesty” for several years until I discovered the writings of an evangelical author — Dr. Francis Schaeffer — who had himself wrestled with these same issues.

As is often the case, the open disdain these students and professors had for the Scripture drove me to consider it more deeply. I wanted to know the truth. Is there a God that is outside the realm of humanity, that created men, before Whom we would give an account? Is He still active in this world? How can I know Him? This was the time that I discovered the reality of God’s words to Jeremiah, “you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (29:13, NASB).

Is it “intellectually honest” to believe the Bible? The answer is an unqualified, “YES!” The lack of intellectual honesty is really on the part of those professors and clergy who deny the Bible. They are the ones who draw their salaries from the gifts of people in the pews of these mainline churches who still hold to the authority of the Bible, at least to some degree. The people often have not yet discovered that these professors don’t believe that the God described in the Bible even exists.

Anchored By Scripture

See to it that no one misleads you (Matthew 24:4).

For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24).

The days before the return of Christ will be marked by deception. Jesus predicted it in the verses above; Paul predicted it in II Timothy 4; Peter predicted it in II Peter 2; and though Jude doesn’t use the same language, he confirms the spirit of the age.

Most Bible scholars believe we are living close to the return of Christ; I agree, but not always for the same reasons. I suggest that we are living in the last days because of the deception that is happening around us and sometimes in us.

If we limited our evidence to the political world, there would be enough duplicity to convince the most pollyannaish among us, but the evidence goes far beyond politics. Many are duped today into believing the lies of the cults simply because their lives seem so morally pure; others are taken in with promises of health and wealth; and others imagine that joining a cause will bring fulfillment in this life and sexual ecstasy in the next.

Several years ago I enjoyed fishing with my father-in-law in his old boat on a small lake near his home. To the naked eye the lake didn’t appear to have any current, but I discovered quickly that unless we dropped his homemade anchor (an old coffee can filled with cement and an eye hook), we would soon be a good distance from where we suspected the fish were.

For a variety of reasons, our society is adrift without an anchor, and therefore ripe for the deception that marks the end times. The deception actually has been around since Jesus ascended; what’s different is that we have turned away from the anchor — the Bible.

Some of us have been shamed into disbelieving the Bible. We have listened to the scornful, seemingly superior, “wisdom” of those who have more education than we have. They have spouted objections that we can’t answer, making us think that there are no answers.

Others of us have rejected the Bible because some in our circles seem to have reduced the Scripture to a few disjointed and inconsistent rules in an attempt to preserve the past. We wonder why they believe that the God that created us and gave us the ability to communicate is stuck in the seventeenth century expressions of Shakespeare. We had trouble enough deciphering his meaning in our high school English class. Why do some Christians insist that He still communicates in that way?

Jesus told us that the truth would set us free (John 8:32), so it seems logical that we should pursue the truth. It doesn’t work, though, to pretend to pursue the truth while all we are really wanting to do is find a way to inflate our egos. The God that created us, who is able by His Word to judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, can see if we are pursuing the truth in integrity or if we have succumbed to the duplicity of our age.

The God of Details

“…and to Jesse was born David the king. And to David was born Solomon…and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:6,16).

Like any other authors, the Gospel writers had a particular audience in mind when they wrote. John wanted skeptics to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing [they] may have life in His name” (John 20:31). Luke wanted his Greek audience (“Theolphilus,” see Luke 1:1-4) to know the exact truth concerning Jesus. Mark wrote to a Roman audience, so was less concerned about the things that a Jewish culture would consider important. But Matthew intended his Gospel to convince a Jewish audience that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

It was for this reason that he began with the genealogy that traced the heirs to the throne of Israel to Jesus. The promise to David was that Messiah would sit upon his throne, and God cannot lie. Somehow, despite the Babylonian Captivity, despite the intermarriage of the Jewish people with the pagan residents of Palestine when they returned from Babylon (see Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 13), and despite more than 500 years of not having an actual king on the throne of Israel, the genealogical records of the day showed that the rightful heir was a man in Nazareth named Joseph whose (adoptive) Son would be the subsequent King.

Until the lineage of Jesus could be traced to David, there could be no acknowledgement of Jesus as the Messiah. But now that this could be established, some other Messianic prophecies would have to be seen as having been fulfilled (the subject matter for a future blog).

Our society doesn’t value our heritage the way that the Jewish society did and, perhaps, still does. We allowed the obstruction of the birth records of President Obama so that his heritage could not be traced. Those legal records were of less importance to us than the political agenda that he espoused so we ignored them. But this blog is not about political matters.

We in this society are not concerned about Truth in many venues. The Supreme Court ignores the plain sense of the text of the Constitution to legislate from the Bench; video and eyewitness evidence is disparaged if it doesn’t fit the politically correct template. We conveniently ignore what we don’t agree with in moral and ethical arenas.

Matthew convincingly shows Jesus to be Messiah in his Gospel, but that doesn’t matter if there is no objective Truth. As long as we can decide for ourselves what Truth is, we will allow the general society to dictate what we will choose to believe. Let us enjoy this freedom while it lasts, because no society has ever survived with this spirit, and it will not be tolerated when we face the God who so very carefully arranged the circumstances so that we would recognize His Son when He appeared.

Truth Matters

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

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth (3 John 4).

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9).

Many people begin their walk with Jesus by asking, “What can I do to get rid of this guilt?”; I began my walk with Christ by asking, “What is the Truth?” That, in itself, makes me weird. Over the years I have habitually capitalized Truth in my writings to distinguish between those principles we call “truths” and the objective, unchangeable Truth of Scripture against which everyone one of us will be judged.

Admittedly, when we pursue the Truth, we must come face to face with our true moral guilt before the God that created us. He revealed Himself finally and completely in Jesus who declared unequivocally, “I am…the Truth…” (John 14:6) and died to remove our true moral guilt.

Beyond this declaration of Jesus, both Paul (in I Timothy) and John (in 3 John) recognized the importance of Truth in their writings.

But Truth is under assault in our modern world. Postmodern philosophy has capitalized upon the relativism that had been slowly becoming more pervasive since the end of WWII. Our world has received a steady diet of challenges to our moral absolutes as television shows and movies create scenarios in our minds where those who have been traditionally “bad” are suddenly shown to be the morally “good” and sympathetic characters. In the past few years this has played out in real life on the streets of some of our major cities.

We are not going to solve the problems of race relations, police brutality and government overreach until we return to the Truth. One hundred and fifty years ago, churches believed and taught the Bible; today major denominations stand against the explicit teachings in it. Isaiah warned us, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (5:20). One author has entitled his book, No Place for Truth, lamenting that modern churches have become bastions of pop psychology and “feel good” homilies, rather than places where Truth is declared.

Of course, these things should not be a surprise to anyone who truly does believe the Truth. The enemy of our souls has been called, “the father of lies,” (John 8:44) and “the one who deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). He was the one whose first recorded words were, “Indeed, has God said…?”

The purpose of the Christian should be to align himself/herself with the Truth (and, yes, that begins with an admission of our true moral guilt and a confession of Christ); the purpose of the Church should be to strengthen and support that alignment through teaching the objective Truth, revealed in Jesus and the Scriptures — whether or not the crowds follow.

Our Prayer

Then Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, “What is this confidence that you have? You say (but they are only empty words), ‘I have counsel and strength for the war.’ Now on whom do you rely, that you have rebelled against me? Now behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt; on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him. But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?  Now therefore, come, make a bargain with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. How then can you repulse one official of the least of my master’s servants, and rely on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? Have I now come up without the LORD’S approval against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.'”‘” (2 Kings 18:19-25).

Remarkably the descendants of these ancient Assyrians are the ones who are currently oppressing God’s people (Christians, this time) in Syria and Iraq. World politics have changed enough that Egypt is no longer the hope for rescue, but the same ultimatum is being given – submit to us or die. They even justify their destruction by declaring that it is the command of their god.

As Hezekiah prayed for his people, so we need to be praying for the Christians in Iraq and Syria today. Earnest prayer for them will lead to earnest prayer for ourselves.

“Father, You are the Sovereign Lord Whose plans for this world will ultimately be fulfilled. As You revealed Your glorious power when Hezekiah and the city of Jerusalem were threatened, so we ask You to reveal Your power in this time.

“These infidels have scoffed at Your power no less than their ancestors did nearly 3000 years ago. They are intent upon establishing their rule and displaying their god as the supreme deity in this world. But You make it clear that You had/have no rival (then or now), that all who dare to exalt themselves to Your position will be cast down. In ancient times You destroyed their army by killing 185,000 in a single night so that they limped back to their home where their leader was assassinated. How You choose to protect Your reputation and show Your glory this time is Your own decision. We simply cry out that You will do it soon.

“We grieve the martyrdom of many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and the persecution others are enduring for Your Name. Sustain the families of the martyrs by the comforting ministry of the Holy Spirit. One of the early Church Fathers observed that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and so we ask that this would be true in this day as well, that the persecution of Your Church will be a blessing to Your Kingdom.

“Open the eyes of many in our world who have shown no interest in Your Truth so that they may see the assured confidence of those who die with Your name on their lips. Make clear to them that the persecutors are the deceived and the cowardly while those who stand with Jesus to the death will receive the ultimate reward.

“Open the eyes of those for whom the Christian faith is merely a form without substance. Don’t let them straddle the fence; bring them to the point that they must decide to reject You or follow You wholeheartedly.

“Finally, Father, renew in each of us who bears Your name the resolve to follow You to the death, if it is Your will. We recognize that in this world the name of Jesus is increasingly being denounced, and the pressures to turn from Him are growing stronger. Diminish the attraction of this world; magnify the world to come in our hearts.

“We ask this for Jesus’ glory and with His authority. Amen.”

Earthquake!

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. (Psalm 46:1-3 )

The recent earthquake in California’s Napa Valley was felt by my son and his family 20 miles away. Happily there was no damage to their possessions, and we are grateful that there was no loss of life (although I recall that there were a few serious injuries).

Although it is not mentioned explicitly, it appears that the Psalmist recognized the common phenomena of a resulting tsunami when he spoke of “the mountains [slipping] into the heart of the sea. Though its waters roar and foam…”

Fear is a common emotion in the midst of an earthquake. We often use the Latin phrase, “terra firma” so we can emphasize the “firm” in “firma.” An earthquake is anything but that. Somehow the fact that scientists can explain the shifting of the plates beneath the surface of the earth doesn’t alleviate our fears because even though they can explain them, they can’t predict them accurately or intervene to prevent them.

According to the political correctness that dictates speech today, we are forbidden in our day to attribute earthquakes to God. Random naturalism created everything according to their view, so earthquakes are also random events. “God” is just the metaphysical coping mechanism that helps us deal with this or any other fearful event. Although they deny the Scriptures, modern proponents of political correctness would point out that even in this verse God is not seen as the source of the natural phenomena.

This is, however, a ridiculous argument. The God of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures is revealed as the Sovereign God who created and maintains the laws that keep the universe operational. He is revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ and is called “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light…to Him be honor and eternal dominion” (I Timothy 6:15-16, emphasis added). In another place Jesus is described as the One who “holds all things together by the Word of His power” (Colossians 1:17). This is the same Jesus that predicted an increase in earthquakes leading up to His return (Matthew 24:7).

So, if we believe the Scriptures, it makes sense that we would turn to Him during the fearful time of an earthquake. He created the earth; He is Sovereign over its operations; and He holds it all together. Ultimately the earthquake is a harbinger of that day when we will meet Him, when He will judge our works. And, given that we will have one chance to stand before Him (Hebrews 9:27), we should get to know what He requires. Happily that is written for us, if we will just choose to read it.

Free Indeed

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance (Psalm 33:12)

This morning I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Restore America.” I don’t know if the sentiment is a faith-based one or merely the patriotism of conservative politics. I know I am on many email loops that complain about what is happening to our country, so maybe my eye is more attuned to these sentiments on various platforms, but there seems to be a lot of them these days. I am sure that if we polled each of the sources, we would come up with a couple dozen or more solutions to our country’s plight. They likely would all overlap on the plank of changing the residents of Washington, DC, but beyond that every opinion would be different.

The men and women that founded this country were people of rare courage, a courage that we don’t see duplicated in our day. The tyranny they fought against cost them “[their] lives, [their] fortunes and [their] sacred honor.” And it wasn’t just the men and women who used to be named in our history books; they included the unnamed minutemen in Massachusetts and the anonymous soldiers at Valley Forge, not to mention their wives and children that tended their homes and farms while they were away. But today, precious few of us have the courage to sacrifice the material substance that we have accumulated to stand against the re-energized forces of tyranny that have emerged in our country. What is the difference between then and now? What was the source of their courage in that day? Can it be recovered, and if so, how?

I submit that the source of that courage was the revival known as the Great Awakening that swept through Colonial America 25 – 30 years prior to the Revolution. This Revival, the chief spokesman of which was Jonathan Edwards (although there were many others), restored the spiritual foundation to the American Colonies that had led to the founding of most of them. That spiritual foundation was distinctively Christian – not Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or even secular. Men and women were set free from the bondage of sin in their hearts and realized they were created to be free from every kind of bondage. Consider the famous words of Jesus: “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36). Paul said it differently, but the meaning was the same: “who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4).

Men who have never been set free from sin are seldom willing to risk their lives and livelihoods to be set free politically. They are far more likely to learn to manage their bondage and make the best of it because they have no assurance, indeed no real hope, that their sacrifice would result in any substantive change. At best they would join a movement of others toward freedom, which is why we know the name of Thomas Paine and those of a few other humanists of that era (but none from any other religious system).

The cry in America for restoration will be just an impotent cry until there is a genuine revival of Christianity in America. The only source of the courage we need in an oppressive age is one that transcends time because the restoration we seek will not happen overnight and few of us  – outside of authentic relationships with Jesus – are willing to sacrifice for something that will not benefit us personally.