HOW IS TRUTH DETERMINED?

Neal Pollard

Recently, I received some feedback on a recent article (Truth Is Truth, No Matter Who Disagrees With It). Negative feedback is not rare, but expected when we put ideas down on paper (or on electronic media like blogs). This feedback was not personal, nor unkind. Yet, it reflects the thinking of so many who shun the idea of absolute, objective truth. Consider the major arguments made by the one who wrote:

—No matter what you believe, the majority disagrees with you.
—You are no smarter or more sincere than those who disagree with you.
—Everyone is certain their religion is right, but this is a function of the brain and proof of nothing
—Conflicting views within the “Restoration Movement” shows the fallacy of being certain about truth
—Certainty is dangerous because it does not allow for change

The last three arguments seem more of a confrontation of certainty than arguments against truth, but consider each of these individually.

Does the inevitability of disagreement nullify the idea of absolute truth? If someone argues our answer that two plus two equals four, and were able to get a majority to side with them that the answer is five, does that nullify the truth of what two plus two equals?

If a person with demonstrable intellectual capacity and apparent sincerity nonetheless avers that two plus two equals five, do we rewrite the laws of addition and reprint the textbooks? If not, why not? Is it not because we can take two of something, add it to two more of the same something, like integers or apples or books, and find the inescapable, universal truth that now there are four?

Can any religion be certain that they are right, but be wrong? Universalists believe everyone will ultimately be saved. Those who believe that murdering those they deem “infidels” pleases their God and they teach others that this is truth. Cults often dub their leaders the Messiah. On what basis would we object or oppose any religious tenet, like these, without an objective standard of truth?

Does the imperfection of people in applying revealed truth impugn the reality of absolute truth? It will never be suggested that anyone is perfectly interpreting or applying the perfect standard of truth, including those trying to restore New Testament Christianity (which, incidentally, implies belief in a perfect, objective standard of truth). But, does that mean restoration can or should be rejected for ideas which clearly contradict what the New Testament says (i.e., “sinner’s prayer’ versus how the New Testament teaches people were saved)?

If there is a conflict between the certainty of New Testament teaching and the desire for change, which is to be preferred and chosen? The religious world has changed a myriad of things that the New Testament explicitly teaches must be done or taught a certain way. Isn’t it a faulty premise to choose change proposed by men, when it assaults a certainty revealed by God?

That there is religious confusion and division is indisputable. It is disheartening. The Bible warns that articulate, polished religious leaders would teach things contrary to the revealed truth of the New Testament (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 John 9-11; Rev. 22:18-19). Let us never put confidence in man, but let us ever put confidence in the truth of Scripture.

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Alternate Realities

Neal Pollard

I don’t know when I first noticed it, but I’ve noticed that it has dramatically intensified in the last few years. We might call it the “CNN-Foxnews Dissonance” where a specific event is viewed, explained, and interpreted in such different ways that the observer is left believing that it could not be just one single event but two totally different events instead. The cultural divide in our country is distinctly felt, and it is baffling that the world could be seen in such different ways by people who coexist beside each other day by day. Environment partially explains it, where we grew up, who influences us, and what we value. However, what guides our life–our authority–is perhaps the biggest influence on how we see the world. All of us base our lives upon a premise, a purpose, and a prospect (i.e., where we came from, why we’re here, and where we’re going). This belief system materially effects how we see our world.

Your worldview effects:

  • The value you place on people, especially as compared to other living things (animals, plants, etc.)
  • The value you place on human life, especially the most vulnerable ones (the pre-born, mentally challenged, chronically ill, terminal, and elderly)
  • The value you place on other people, especially compared to your own rights, feelings, etc.
  • The value you place on objective truth (whether or not you believe it exists)
  • Your stance on moral and ethical matters involving human sexuality
  • Why and how you interact with people in your various relationships (work, school, family, friends, etc.)
  • How you think, talk, and act.

It’s no wonder that people see our culture and our world so differently from each other. It’s more a matter of perception than proximity.  What erases these typically harmful dissonances is a mutual willingness to submit to the supreme authority. If we let God through His Word tell us how to see the world and if we come to it truly determined to listen to Him without prejudice and hardened hearts, we can see eye to eye on anything that has ultimate meaning and impact. What divides us from each other may be ourselves as much as the other person–our view of God, His will, and our submission to it.

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THE CHRIST?ANS

Neal Pollard

I’ve seen the play advertised locally. Lucas Hnath, a 36-year-old playwright, has a background in religion. His mother attended seminary and he even sat in her classes. The New Yorker reveals that there were expectations early on in his life for him to become a “pastor,” a choice he forewent for the arts instead (“Divine Intervention,” 9/7/15, Hilton Als). The play is about a megachurch preacher who has come to believe there is no hell and who believes God gave him this revelation. The result of his divulging this in a sermon is a church split, led by the assistant pastor who does believe in the reality of hell. While doctrine lays at the heart of the split, the play is said to focus on the personalities and behavior of various folks making up the church. Alissa Wilkinson, in a flamboyantly titled review, says this play resonates because “schisms, church splits, or at least disgruntled storming-outs are familiar to virtually everyone who stays in a church long enough to be committed to its life” (Christianity Today, 9/23/15). At least in advertising I’ve seen, the play title appears “The Christ?ans.” The idea is that, judging from their behavior, it is questionable whether or not they are truly Christians.

There are heartbreaking stories of congregations of the Lord’s church whose internal battles became known to the community and the brotherhood at large. Some have resulted from battles over doctrinal issues, whether regarding morality, fellowship, worship, leadership, or the like. Some have resulted from dueling strong personalities, jockeying for power, position, and prominence. Some have boiled down to squabbles about money. In all of them, tragically, Christ has been relegated to the corner and forced to be quiet while His “followers” duke it out.

While the implications over a doctrinal dispute and a personality power play are different, too often the predominant feature is a show of the flesh.

Many with a background in religion will be able to relate to the theme of the play because they have seen schisms in churches before. The world is a divided place, full of rancor, backstabbing, infighting, and unfair fighting. The church, particularly the church of the New Testament, must never exhibit such traits. Corinth set off such an alarm with Paul for this very reason. He urges no division to mar them (1 Cor. 1:10-13) and goes on to address both doctrine and attitudes in the letter. Philippi had two quarreling women straining the unity of that church (4:2) and Paul goes right to the heart and the mind.

We must strive to conduct ourselves with one another in a way that is always exemplary before the eyes of the community, the brotherhood, and the world. I thank God to work with a church that has been around so long and been through so much and who have weathered those storms by sticking together. Yet, too often, people have aired their dirty, unsightly laundry out on the clothesline of public purveyance. This soils the reputation of the Savior! That fact alone should horrify every child of God. May we always strive to be a beacon of light (Mat. 5:16), shining a spotlight on the Sinless Savior and not squabbling saints!

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Everyone Can “Do” Evangelism

Neal Pollard

  • Pray, specifically, about having opportunities to share your faith. Think about the people in the various places you spend your time and ask God for inroads with these individuals specifically. Pray for courage, wisdom, and your words (cf. Col. 4:2-6). Pray for their hearts. Pray to pick opportune times to approach them.
  • Cultivate your fields. Spend time thinking about who you have or can build a relationship with. That will be your area of greatest success. Be involved in their lives (see below). Work at growing the number of people you could share Christ with.
  • Develop genuine interest in the lives of the people in your life. Learn spouse’s and children’s names, occupation, interests, hobbies, and passions in their lives. Ask about those things. File away and remember those facts, as your specific recall with them will impress them with your sincerity and concern. How is trust won? Time and transparency.
  • Be able to speak openly and wisely about religion with them. That means picking your battles wisely. You will hear people spout misinformation and false ideas when religion is being discussed. Always maintain control and calm, being gentle in discussing religious matters (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). If asked (and you eventually will be) about some specific, like salvation or church organization or what “denomination” you are a member of, be winsome and kind but courageous enough to give a biblical answer.
  • Work at working in your faith and the church into your conversations naturally. This may require prayer and thought, but practice turning your conversations with people toward the spiritual. Like anything, if you’ve not had practice, it may seem clunky and awkward initially but not ultimately. If something is going on at church that relates some way to what your friend is saying, bring it up matter of factly. If their issue or struggle concerns something you have come across in your recent Bible study, share the verse with them.
  • Be prepared to serve and help. So many of our co-workers, associates, neighbors, and other friends have messy lives. They are struggling and, without Christ, have no bearings on how to address their problems. As human beings, they inevitably struggle with the same things all people struggle with—relationships, family, finance, uncertainty, health, fear, etc.  Remind yourself that you are here, on earth, to serve (cf. Mat. 20:28; Gal. 5:13).
  • Watch yourself. Your example, especially under the pressures and fires of life, can make or break your evangelistic opportunities. Your temperament, reaction, attitude, and the like are a display case for the Lord or the world. Regularly remind yourself of this (Ti. 2:8; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 2:12).
  • Remember the mantra, “It’s not a matter of ‘who’ is right, but ‘what’ is right.” I received this counsel decades ago, as a young preacher, from David Sain. I have used it countless times in soul-winning circumstances. Truly, ultimately, all religious questions must be settled upon the foundation of Scripture. Feelings, opinions, what churches teach and practice, what religious leaders say, and such must be subjugated to what the Bible says. Those other standards may fail us. Scripture won’t!

Evangelism will always be intimidating because it ultimately calls for courage and conviction. Not every specific situation will be a success story, but if we can remind ourselves of our purpose on this earth and how much people need what we have learned we will act! And there will be success!

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The Brooks-Sumner Affair

Neal Pollard

In 1856, Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Senator, delivered an excoriating speech full of vicious name-calling and personal insults—especially against Senators Douglas and Butler—for their defense and advocation of slavery and especially the violence in Kansas in response to the actions of John Brown and his followers. The speech went on for two days, and shortly after its completion a man named Colonel Preston Brooks, a U.S. representative from South Carolina and distant relative of Andrew Butler, retaliated by beating Sumner with a cane. It was a serious enough beating that Sumner would take years to recover. Sumner would become an iconic hero to northerners and Brooks, who as punishment for the crime was fined $300, a darling of the south. Newspaper headlines of the time, in each region, painted their man a hero and the other man a demon (read a sample here: http://history.furman.edu/benson/docs/sumenu.htm). It is not the loathsome sin of slavery that I wish to highlight here, but the age-old tendency to blindly defend a person or position one feels inclined toward and the incredible efforts to vilify those on the other side of the issue—no matter what.

People are inclined to line up behind men rather than the Messiah. It is not just during political season or for certain social agenda items that this occurs, but more importantly in every season of the year when it comes to religious matters. Paul decried men’s tendency to be “of Paul…of Apollos…and…of Cephas” (1 Cor. 1:12). In the religious world, division has occurred because men have lined up behind some man’s teaching. Often, this teaching is a misconstrued view of a passage (for example, John 3:16, Acts 16:31, Mark 16:17, etc.) or a teaching without benefit of a passage (for example, having an experience of grace, saying a sinner’s prayer, infant baptism, etc.). As with politics, people can become blind apologists for their leaders and champions who promote what they already believe. Often, no amount of reason and logic can overcome the predisposed bias of the adherents. Lost in the cacophony of religious debate can be clear, simple biblical truth. Religious division is not the product or prompting of God (1 Cor. 1:10; 14:33). It is entirely of human origin. While there are some matters where God has not legislated, there are also some clear “right” and “wrong” matters in Scripture. Where God has spoken, we must take His word and will over that of absolutely anyone else. Otherwise, we will find ourselves guilty of elevating one above the One we must all ultimately give an account to. That would be an injustice and violation to top even “The Brooks-Sumner Affair.” May we keep our allegiance to God free from the taint of personal prejudices, even in the matter of our religious convictions. Psalm 119:89.

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Do We Need Permission?

Neal Pollard

For several years while in Virginia, I enjoyed going out with a couple of dear Christian brothers to hunt for Civil War relics.  Of course, hunting on federal property was a serious crime and was unthinkable. However, so many of the personal properties owned by residents in the Richmond area were treasure troves of those artifacts. Their woods and fields held bullets, shells, buckles, buttons, and the like. Dave Young, Jr., always followed the same procedure before our hunts. He would go see the homeowners where we wanted to hunt, people he had known, built friendships and done business with for years. If we got their permission—sometimes the thoughtless or unethical practices of other hunters made them inclined to refuse us—then we would go on their property and hunt for relics. It was their land and their right to permit or deny. If we had ever chosen to hunt one of those places without permission and got caught, it would have been a silly argument to say, “They did not tell us we couldn’t hunt here.”

This example is crude and imperfect, but I think it illustrates a principle most can understand. It is not natural to construe someone’s silence as permission. Yet, when it comes to matters of faith and practice in religion, we attempt that very approach.

When it comes to how we live and serve in this life, we have to have God’s approval for whatever we do (Col. 3:17). When He tells us what His will is on any matter, our response to that should be thoughtful, careful, and submissive.  To be otherwise would be thoughtless, careless, and rebellious—with God’s stated desires.  To think that God would give us physical life, generous physical blessings, incredible spiritual blessings, spiritual life, and powerful promises on a continuous basis and we could ever be callous or cavalier about what He wants reveals an unfathomable audacity. Frank Chesser once depicted such an attitude this way, saying, “It has no respect for either the sound or the silence of God’s voice. It only does what the Bible says in a given area because it happens to agree with the Bible on that point. At the first sign of conflict, it will have its own way ever time” (The Spirit of Liberalism 18).

Church music in worship often gets isolated from the larger principle.  How we worship God in song, whether with or without mechanical instruments, is just one specific of a much broader principle. God has told us what He wants for church music (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Whatever we do must meet His expressed will. Projecting songs, using songbooks or shape notes, having a song leader, or singing in parts or four-part harmony still falls within the category of His command that we sing. But this same principle covers everything we do in worship as well as the specific commands He has for us regarding our work as a church, our response to His grace in order to have His salvation, and the like.

Our culture teaches us to ask, “Why can’t I?” It encourages us to say, “You didn’t say I couldn’t.” But, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The humble spirit of a grateful, grace-receiving child of God, when viewing the will of God, should always be, “Do I have permission for that?”  Such is neither cowering fear or abject slavery.  It is adoration and reverence for a Lord who gave everything that we “may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10).

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Some of my relics from back in the day

Selling What You Don’t Own

Neal Pollard

One of the more ingenious and amusing entrepreneurial moves I’ve ever heard is the company that offers to sell you a star.  For a price, you can buy a star and name it for a loved one.  The company will send you a gift pack along with registering the star in the name of the one you, the buyer, designate.  I have never been able to figure out how that company earned the right to sell something no one will ever visit, hold, or otherwise show tangible ownership of.

When I think about some of the new, strange religious ideas along with some long held, established ones, it reminds me of the folks selling the stars.  Preachers and whole denominations offer salvation on their own terms, altering and subtracting from the Lord’s established will as if salvation was theirs to offer.  They urge people to pray a prayer or accept Christ in their hearts, guaranteeing them salvation by so doing.  Or they tell a seeker that the Holy Spirit will irresistibly come upon them, filling them and by so doing indicate an experience of grace.  Or they urge parents to sprinkle their babies, saving them from what they call inherited sin.  The problem in all these scenarios is that people are offering what is not theirs to give.  Christ has already established the plan that saves the lost person—hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17), believing it (Rom. 10:10), repenting of sins (Rom. 2:4; 6:17-18), confessing Christ (Rom. 10:10), and being buried in water in order to enjoy the new life in Christ (Rom. 6:1-4).

The same things occurs with worship.  People claim to stand in the place of Christ and tell others what is and is not acceptable to God.  They propose changes in who can lead in worship (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12), how worship music is to be done (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and when the Lord’s Supper can be taken (1 Cor. 11:23-26; Acts 20:7).  Some would say that dance, weightlifting, incense-burning, drama, and the like are acts of worship God will accept, though they do so without a scintilla of appeal to the New Testament.

When it comes to the will of God, He has exclusive rights over that.  Christ does not share His authority with anyone (Mat. 28:18).  He makes the rules and determines right and wrong.  Beware of anyone who is selling anything else (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17).

“CONTRADICT: THEY CAN’T ALL BE TRUE”

Neal Pollard

Kathy just called me and told me she saw this bumper sticker on a truck as she fought traffic on Wadsworth Boulevard.  How clever!  It uses the same religions that the infamous “Coexist” bumper sticker uses, including Hinduism, Daoism, Shintoism, Unitarian Universalism, Satanism, Atheism, Islamism, and Judaism. There is a website where these bumperstickers can be purchased (http://www.contradictmovement.org; warning: I do not endorse everything on this web site, whether message or method).

The “Coexist” campaign is meant to promote pluralism,  a theory or system that recognizes more than one ultimate principle. The very idea is contradictory.  The Koran says, “And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers” (3.85).  Shintoism says that humans become gods (kamis) after death, and they do not believe in absolute right and wrong with the soul losing individual identity and becoming part of one great guardian spirit (Japan-Guide.com; litesofheaven.com).  Atheism believes, since there is no God, that there is no judgment and no accountability to a higher power. Taking any number of tenets about conduct, salvation, our nature, deity, afterlife, and the like, one sees inescapable and frequent contradiction between these faiths and philosophies.  Yet, even without all of this, there is the exclusive truth claim of Christianity in Scripture.  The “Contradict” bumper sticker has a passage that says much.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  Jesus speaks of an exclusive way, calling it “the” way and saying there is “no other” way.

The “Coexist” mentality is founded, for some, upon a noble enough desire, the desire for peace and harmony.  Yet, it seeks the wrong way to peace and harmony, letting mankind devise their own way for this to exist. We do not have that prerogative.  The Bible reveals God, the Creator, in a specific way, revealing His nature, His will, and His expectations.  With that, there is human accountability and an expectation that people will follow that way or suffer the consequences of disobedience.  Conflicting, opposing positions contradict one another, and they cannot all be true!

What Kind Of Religion Do You Have?

Neal Pollard

While people today want to emphasize “spirituality” over “religion,” that is not the biblical way.  By “spiritual,” people want to talk about a self-defined personal relationship with God, the way they feel, or their pursuit of some mystical or mysterious expression of the soul.  The Bible is much less abstract and more concrete in passages like James 1:26-27, and the result should be quite convicting.

James indicates that one’s religion could be worthless (1:26).  This one may even think himself to be religious, but instead he is a forgetful hearer.  In context, he has forgotten what God’s word has said about bridling the tongue.  But, the principle applies much more broadly.  One can think himself religious, but in ignoring what the Bible says on a specific matter—ethics, morality, the plan of salvation, worship, etc.—this one deceives his own heart and possesses a worthless religion.  Notice that there is a concrete, objective way to measure this.

James indicates that one’s religion can also be pure and undefiled (1:27).  In keeping with context, this is a person who is a doer and not only a hearer of the word.  This person consciously reads and strives to apply what God has said in Scripture.  James gives a couple of examples of this in the verse, from compassionate care for the unfortunate to not allowing the world to taint us by its influence.  Regardless of the challenge or obligation, because we strive to follow the Word, we will have a religion that is unsoiled and unsullied. James says so.

I may think I have a certain kind of religious, spiritual life, but the Bible is a mirror that shows me exactly where I am.  I can claim or assert that I have a certain relationship with God or spiritual feeling, but does the declaration match the deeds.  That determines what kind of religion I have.

What Does The Bible Say?

Neal Pollard

Most people have very strong convictions, pro or con, about religious matters.  Many who claim to be religious form opinions and draw conclusions with very little if any biblical consultation.  How ironic is it to claim to follow God while ignoring and even rejecting His very revealed will?

Many religious people, church attenders and not, are guided by their feelings, desires, opinions, preferences, and consciences (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3; Prov. 14:12).  Perhaps they have a favorite preacher or other religious figure they implicitly trust.  Their religion may be submitted and subjugated to the message of the culture or even the media. It may be based on convenience and comfort.  Throughout time, man has attempted to serve God on his own terms and based on what he thinks is right.  Whether ignorantly or defiantly, he puts himself on a throne upon which only Jesus belongs (Mat. 28:18).

How long could religious error survive if potentially divided parties could lay aside personal interests and objectively study the sacred text?  So often, the religious world is divided because of man-made doctrines and traditions.  Instead of looking to the Bible to answer the important questions of time and eternity, men often come up with the answers they want and then go looking for Bible verses to support their predetermined views.  Consider that some of the most popular religious ideas—salvation by saying the sinner’s prayer, premillennialism, speaking in tongues, women worship leaders, once-saved, always-saved, and instrumental music—are not practiced or believed based upon their being taught in Scripture but instead their being the beliefs and views of mankind.  How thrilling it would be if we could unite every religious person in the desire to come to the text, the glasses of prejudice or sectarian beliefs removed, and let God tell us what to believe and how to live!  That is possible, but it begins with each of us humble, sincerely asking, “What does the Bible say?”