What is truth? It’s a vital question because truth is foundational for our faith, our lives, our small groups, and our churches.
But I want to approach the question, “What is truth?” by asking it another way: What isn’t truth? Truth is not my opinion (or yours), my stance (or those of my seminary professors or favorite theologians), or my feelings. As we study God’s truth in his Word, we must carefully differentiate actual truth from our particular positions and interpretations. That takes wisdom and diligence in studying Scripture. It takes sound exegesis. It takes integrity, humility, and self-surrender.
Most Christian leaders agree on the doctrines on which we will not sway, and from which I hope we will not stray. We refer to these as “essentials” or “matters of faith.” We might call these “bullseye beliefs.” We are called to unity in these areas. There are other areas, however, where smart, biblically astute disciples of Jesus don’t agree. On these debatable matters, we sometimes sacrifice unity, love for one another, and our witness in our quest to be “right.” We can privately discuss and debate these issues (that’s what makes them “debatable”), but we must maintain “liberty in opinions,” “love in all things,” a posture of oneness, and intellectual humility.
“All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you” (Philippians 3:15).
Speaking of which, some of us could do a better job of not using Scripture out of context . . . which I just did! I used the Philippians verse to make a point that Paul was not making. This happens way too often on social media as well as in small group Bible studies, Communion and offering meditations, and sermon messages.
Recently, a preacher posted on Facebook that the repentant thief on the cross wasn’t baptized and then provided verses used out of context to explain why that matters theologically. Several people shared the post and scores commented on it, many with biblically unsupported assumptions; some claimed, for example, that the thief had been baptized by John the Baptist (and so had no need to be immersed before he died).
Social media posts like these can lead me into temptation. My reflex is to correct what I think is error, to shut down what I perceive as falsehood. But then God reminds me of the times I’ve gotten something wrong or spoken before I was certain of biblical truth. When I allow God to be in control, I can resist these “foolish and stupid arguments” (2 Timothy 2:23).
Disagreement—whether in a small group or in any other relational context—is normal. We don’t need to respond to every response in a group or social media post with which we hold a differing opinion. We waste so much time and effort arguing with one another about debatable matters. Imagine what would happen if we spent that time talking to people who desperately need God’s truth and grace, of which we are ambassadors.
I’m reminded of the words of the 1970s Dave Mason song: “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy. There’s only you and me, and we just disagree.” While the song had a very different application from ours, I believe we can disagree on disputable matters without destroying our unity and our ability to make disciples. I am not saying we should never take a stand on issues, even disputable ones. But we must do so with humility, with agape love, and with unity as our polar star.
True, there is one correct interpretation of Scripture, one right position on every doctrinal matter. We can know truth partially and provisionally, but only our almighty, omniscient God knows the truth absolutely, entirely, and infallibly; he alone is always right . . . and I may be wrong (but not about this). We will never know all that God knows, but we can seek to continually grow in our understanding.
Like many people, I have struggled to understand God’s truth on certain debatable matters. Here’s my practice in discerning these often-complex issues. First, I study as many relevant Scripture passages as possible. Then I reference various theological and historical works, speak with theologian friends I trust, and then I often re-examine Scripture. Eventually I arrive at a conclusion—a position. I can then say with conviction that I’ve studied the matter thoroughly and this is where I stand. I can preface my remarks with, “in my view” or “from my study of the Bible, here’s how I see it.” And, at the same time, I can treat others who have different convictions with respect, dignity, and honor. They may be right, and I may be wrong.
May we all continue to humbly seek, study, ask, learn, and correctly handle the word of truth!
This post is adapted from my January/February 2023 Christian Standard From the Editor column, “I May Be Wrong.”
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