Saturday, November 29, 2008

Desiring Truth in Community

For meeting our material needs, it is beneficial to have community. It is possible for someone to live completely alone until he dies caring for himself until he can no longer care for himself. At that point, he dies. He can prolong his life if he has others to share in the tasks of meeting material needs communally. This is certainly true if he has contributed to the upbringing of progeny who can tend to his needs when he becomes unable to tend to his own.

Inasmuch as believing eternal truths is a spiritual need, we need community to challenge and reinforce these beliefs. The reason is obvious when we talk to others. We typically don't believe the same things to be true. Opposing truths cannot both be true and some truths only appear to oppose one another. There are truths that are more easily discerned than others and other truths that are not easily discerned.

This is a fallen world, which is apparent: Just look at the news, drive down the interstate, go to the store or just live with someone else for a day. Being in a fallen world, we are out of communion with our Creator. Therefore, we live in a world filled with false perceptions if not downright lies. In order to make Himself sure to us, such a Creator, desiring to reveal Himself to us, would make a revelation sure. Merely appearing at one point in time or another before a certain number of people demonstrates no continuity for people who only live a short time. What revelation would bear the mark of our Creator so we could know it?

This revelation would not come to merely one person, author or prophet, but many. It would be well-documented, the writing of which is firmly established in the history it contains. It would contain specific, verifiable prophecies. Most remarkably, it would be accessible to a large number of people for public dissemination, apprehension and discussion. This is the Christian Bible.

The argument is often made that we all tend to disagree with the theology it contains: how, therefore, can we say it contains any revelation since we cannot agree on what the revelation contains? The problem with this argument is that it fails to take into consideration our fallen state. None of us get it completely accurately because the object of truth, our Creator and Savior, is rather beyond our comprehension at many points. It's like a fish trying to discover the topside of a boat by only being able to investigate that which is apparent below the surface of the water. Those of us who earnestly desire to know the truth agree with what has been shown to us (although we have trouble with "propeller" issues such as Reformed theology). We know that the boat can be trusted to float.

You see, no one of us has a corner on the truth. We need each other to help develop a more sure understanding. This must be a continuing process as we mature and die and younger believers are raised up. The truth comes from our Creator, but our discernment requires us to challenge each other.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) appears to be having an issue currently with a resurgence of Calvinism. This typically refers only to Calvin's soteriology, often as summarized by the Synod of Dort and, for the purposes of Southern Baptists, some of the founding documents of the SBC. The SBC started out rather Calvinistic, but the infusion of strains of existentialism into the pop philosophy of western culture bred a gradual change toward libertarian free will. The resurgence has been met with some vitriol among non-Calvinists to the extent that at least one otherwise good pastor was removed for no other reason than the church discovered that he was a Calvinist. The debate has been spirited and some from both sides have been less than gracious.

Earlier this year many of the more gracious Calvinists got together with non-Calvinists at the Building Bridges Conference to work toward a spirit of unity within the convention. This month some of the more vitriolic non-Calvinists got together at the John 3:16 Conference to encourage division. The one observation I want to make between the two conferences is that Building Bridges welcomed fair presentations from both sides of the issue and the John 3:16 Conference was decidedly one-sided choosing instead to present Calvinism as a straw man. Desiring to believe the truth welcomes fair challenges to our beliefs.

Something that confuses the issue are those who do not earnestly desire the truth, but engage in the debate nonetheless. There are many theologians who do not believe the Bible to be true and yet they argue for the veracity of their own beliefs from passages of the Bible, distorting its clear message as they go. If someone doesn't want to know the truth and argue that the truth cannot be known, one look at these false teachers will give them every excuse they need.

Recently, I had a discussion with a few of my church members. I was exceptional in that I was the only one who had not grown up in a legalistic church. My grandfather had been a Baptist missionary preacher who preached a true gospel but whose churches were often somewhat legalistic. In the course of my spiritual development when I was older, I was taken in by a family of wild legalistic fundamentalists. So I identified in some way with the others in the conversation. One lady said that the one thing she noticed when she first came to our church was how free it was.

We are a moral church, but we're not particularly legalistic. For example, we don't allow groups to conduct dances at the church, but we do have dancing in many of our programs.

Sociologically, groups of people who swing ideologically as a pendulum from one extreme often swing to the other extreme. Yesterday's legalism has generated much of today's liberalism. However, I've noticed that many individuals who leave legalism do so because they have grown spiritually. They keep from legalism the part that's important and leave behind that which is unimportant.

It is good that we are firm in our beliefs. It is not good to be so firm in our beliefs that we cannot change them when we are clearly shown to be in error. It is not good to be so willing to change what we believe that we cannot say we know anything for sure. We know that we will not have full knowledge in this world.

I look at my children ages 12, 9 and 5. They are growing in knowledge. They are nowhere close to understanding all that I currently understand, but I work with them so they can grow. I cannot be indignant with them for not knowing. Too many people I see are indignant when confronted with others who don’t know what they know or who don’t believe as they believe. I cannot condemn a sinner for sinning when the sinner has no conviction that they have sinned. I can and will challenge my fellow sinners according to their understanding and not mine so that they might grow to a good conviction and repent. It is not important immediately that we know all truth.

But the most important thing when seeking the truth as a community is that we all desire to know and believe it.

Next: Characteristics of Someone Who Desires Truth

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