Chapter 5 -- Truth
Truth is not something to consider in passing--we cannot dismiss it as something that is nice and good, but not relevant to our salvation. Jesus states he was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. That's how important truth is.
What is truth? In the immediacy of the moment, even Pilate saw that as the primary question. Worldly men can differ on truths. Pilate's truths as a Roman procurator may be different from Jesus' truths as a Jew subject to Roman rule. But, Jesus was not speaking of truths as men of the world see them. What of heavenly truths?
If I believe Jesus was the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, and a Hindu monk in India believes in neither Jesus nor God, what is the harm? Can we each have our own beliefs? Can we each have our own truths? If I believe what the Catholic Church preaches, and another Christian believes in few (if any) Catholic doctrines, what is the harm? Can't we have our own beliefs? Can't we each have our own truths? Why do we need to know the truth?
There are as many answers to these questions as there are people hearing them. There is no shortage of Christians who are certain they know the truth, and are equally certain anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. They can not all be right; indeed, only a scant few can be 100% right. Yet, they not only tolerate each other's disagreements, some even promote them, as if the truth can vary from person to person.
So what is the average, God-seeking Christian to do? Where do we find truth? How can one know who to believe, who to trust as regards truth? What is the truth according to God? This is a search for answers to these questions.
Why Seek Truth?
Suppose there are fifty states in the United States (hopefully that won't be too hard to imagine). Now suppose some person in San Diego reasons that Ohio does not exist. He has never been to Ohio, he has never met anyone from Ohio, he is suspicious that Ohio was a myth in someone's mind, and the federal government has been telling a lie all this time. He finds like-minded individuals and they form a church they call the NOHIOS Congregation. Mainstream America as well as the federal government ignore the group because it is too silly to be taken seriously. Yet, they are persuasive, and are able to bring a substantial number of people from San Diego and a few other places into their fold. They have fellowship, weekly services, Sunday School, and feed the falsehood to the point it is unquestioned that Ohio is not true.
Do you see where I am going with this?
Suppose another group of like-minded individuals from Miami believe there is no Iowa. In similar fashion, they form the NOIOWAS Congregation. They are equally successful in convincing others in their beliefs.
We now have at least two break-away congregations that do not accept the truth about the fifty states. Both of these congregations know there are actually only forty-nine states, although one congregation does not accept Ohio and the other does not accept Iowa. Each congregation knows the 50STATERS are not following the truth, and the NOHIOS and NOIOWAS bond together in fighting ignorance among the masses. But deep in their hearts, the NOHIOS know the NOIOWAS are also not following the truth, and the reverse for the NOIOWAS. Nonetheless, these congregations tolerate the other's shortcomings because they both at least recognize the greater, over-arching truth that the 50STATERS fail to accept-that there are not 50 states.
What is the harm in all this? Does it really matter? If the NOHIOS and NOIOWAS go about their business, otherwise being good citizens, abiding laws and respecting the beliefs of others, does it hurt for them to spread their falsehoods?
It hurts those who don't understand and are too ignorant to know who to trust. Those individuals are seeking the truth, and a NOHIOS evangelist approaches them, with the best of intentions, and convinces them there is no Ohio. The unwitting seeker of truth accepts the falsehood and spends the rest of their lives believing this falsehood and spreading it to others. It may escalate to the point someone presents them with substantial evidence that Ohio indeed exists, yet the evidence is ignored or passed off as a falsehood from someone who is not a true believer. There is no effort to discover the truth on their own. The hapless individual sinks deeper into the falsehood and cannot escape.
Do you see the parallelism with the Catholic Church and the break-away congregations?
For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has been the guardian of the truth. Many challenged some Catholic doctrines, much like the NOHIOS challenged the truth above, but were recognized as heretics, and they and their followers eventually dissipated. In the early 1500's, Martin Luther and other heretics broke away from the Catholic Church because they didn't believe the truth as taught, and they founded their own church, and it has been splitting with its own break-aways ever since. There are several thousand Protestant denominations at last count.
The truth is in disarray with many who believe the falsehoods presented by the break-away congregations. Each of those organizations has its own version of the truth. And just like the NOHIOS and NOIOWAS, the denominations will not accept evidence to the contrary to their beliefs.
Looking for God's Truth
All Christians agree the Scriptures are divinely inspired. This search starts there. In the Bible, we find some of the following verses on truth:
God want us to come to knowledge of the truth, thus He does not want us to ignore it. The truth is important. He does not want to keep it a secret. He has a plan to reveal it to us. One can also assume God would not make it too difficult for the average person to comprehend.
God seeks people to worship Him in Spirit and truth. Those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth. The truth is important.
Jesus is the truth. In fact, He is the way and the truth and the life. If we know Jesus, we know the truth. The truth is important.
Truth comes through Jesus Christ. The truth is important.
Jesus testifies to the truth. If we belong to the truth, we listen to His voice. For this (truth) He was born and for this He came into the world, to testify to the truth. The truth is important.
We will know the truth if we remain in His word; not if we ignore His word or twist it to our own destruction. The truth will set us free from the bondage of sin. The truth is important.
Jesus sanctified Himself for His Apostles so they may also be sanctified in truth. Dictionary.com online dictionary defines 'sanctify' as "to make holy; set apart as sacred; consecrate". Jesus consecrated Himself to the truth so His Apostles may be consecrated to the truth. The truth is important.
The Spirit is also truth, as we might suspect from the theology of the Trinity. The truth is important.
The Holy Spirit will guide us to all truth as told to Him. The truth is important.
- To recapitulate:
- God wants us to come to the knowledge of the truth. He seeks people to worship him in Spirit and truth.
- Jesus is the truth. In fact, He is the way and the truth and the life. If we know Jesus, we know the truth. Truth comes through Jesus Christ. Jesus testifies to the truth. If we belong to the truth, we listen to His voice. We will know the truth if we remain in His word. Jesus consecrated Himself for His Apostles so they may also be consecrated in truth.
- The Spirit is also truth. The Holy Spirit will guide us to all truth as told to Him.
- The truth will set us free. The truth is important.
We can see the Bible considers the truth crucial. It is not a casual concept in the background of Christian thought, somewhere between the concepts of good/evil and right/wrong. It is emphasized over and over. It is not enough to have individual concepts of truth; we must know the truth.
Many Christians today, Catholics included, are content to know the basics. They have some of the truth, and seek no more. It is either too difficult, or too cumbersome to seek the whole truth, so they accept what they know and invent the rest. As we shall see later, this is a dangerous practice in faith. If you find yourself claiming something to be true because it seems to make sense to you, with no supporting evidence at all, or especially despite evidence to the contrary, you are one of these dangerous practitioners. I strongly encourage you to look further.
How Do We Know the Truth?
So, how do we know the truth? Let's return to the Bible.
Here, the Bible tells us all scripture is inspired by God. Although it does not directly state as such, this offers credibility to finding truth in the Bible-if it is inspired by God, it must be true.
A problem arises, however, when we sit down to read the Bible to find truth. Some of it we don't understand. Some of it appears contradictory. We read it, and draw conclusions about what we have read, only to find others like us have also read it, but have drawn differing conclusions. We can't all be right. All but one of us must be wrong, but we might all be wrong.
God knew the people would need someone to interpret Scriptures. God knew we would each draw our own conclusions as to what Scripture says, and parts of it we would not understand altogether. The Scriptures give an example of God sending someone, (in the case above, several people) to interpret for the Jews returning to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile. Does God send someone even today to interpret for us?
So, we go to others to see what they concluded. Perhaps we can get a consensus on the truth. We quickly discover there are many conclusions drawn, all differing and all certain of the truth. This is evidenced by the thousands of Christian denominations, all formed because each founder had a different conclusion of the truth.
What are we to do? Again, let's turn to the Bible to see what it has to say on the subject.
Peter says, the Holy Spirit says, the word of God says there are some things in Paul's letters that are hard to understand. How can this be? Why would the Holy Spirit make the Bible hard to understand? Didn't He realize we would struggle with these things? The verse also says the ignorant and unstable twist Paul's words to their own destruction. How many of us (especially novice Bible readers) can truly say we are not in some way unstable or ignorant? How many of us are ignorant about the fact that we are ignorant? This scripture warns us if we read the Bible in ignorance, we may twist the message and lose our stability.
After Jesus was baptized, he was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. See Matthew 4:1-11. The devil tempted Him the second time thus:
This is an example from the Bible where Scripture is twisted. Satan twisted Psalm 91:11-12 to make a seemingly good, Scripture-based argument for Jesus to trust angels to protect Him, even if He willfully throws Himself down. After all, Scripture says He will not be harmed. Jesus counters by quoting another Scripture passage, Deuteronomy 6:16, which states you should not put God to the test.
Jesus was well-versed in Scripture. He could not be accused of being ignorant. He knew Satan's twisted reading was taken out of context and He countered with an appropriate Scripture verse in context. But, how many of us would know how to respond to Satan's proposal? Scripturally, the proposal makes sense, but as we just saw, in this context it is twisted. How many of us read Scripture and think we know the meaning, only to be challenged by someone else who read the same verses and got a different meaning? How much of Scripture are we twisting without knowing it?
Let's explore more Scriptures.
Philip met an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home. This eunuch was not an ignorant man. He was the Treasurer of all of Ethiopia. He knew how to read, probably several languages (?Ethiopian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek?). This educated man, who was reading the Bible on his own, needed instruction to understand it. The word of God says that simply reading the Bible may not be enough. You may also need instruction.
We saw in 2 Tim 3:16-17 (shown above) that Scripture is useful for teaching. This implies teachers can use Scriptures to help teach. Paul tells the Corinthians:
It would appear God intended to use some of us to teach others of us, as Philip taught the Ethiopian. Combining that with 2 Tim 3:16 provides a good argument that God wants us to learn Scriptural truth from the apostles, prophets and teachers He designates in the Church. That is God's plan for us to learn the truth.
One may argue that God also designates teachers outside the Church to teach the truth. Although there is no Scripture verse to support this contention, it is logical. God wants us to know the truth. He wants us to worship Him in truth. It makes sense He would provide as many teachers as possible to do it. But this brings us to the point mentioned at the start of this chapter-there is no shortage of Christians either claiming to be a designated teacher of God or claiming their version of truth is correct. If God really wants us to know the truth, would He not provide a way for us to know who to trust? The easiest and most sure way to do that is for Him to work through the Church. Consider:
Where Do We Find the Truth?
A pillar upholds things. A bulwark protects things from external danger. Here, Paul says the Church is the upholder and protector of truth. The Bible says, the Holy Spirit says, the Word of God says the Church is the pillar and bulwark of truth. God designated teachers in the Church. The Scriptures are useful for teaching. If we want to seek the truth, if we want to know the truth, Scripture says we are to go to the Church. Search as we may, there is no verse in Scripture that states the Bible is the source of truth. The Bible states we must go to the Church.
So, we are seeking the truth. We go to the Bible to find truth. We learn the Bible has truth, but we need teachers to explain some of it and to prevent us from twisting it to our own destruction. We learn (from the Bible) that the truth is found in the Church and God has designated teachers in the Church to teach us the truth.
The obvious advantage of this plan is there is some authority to confirm an interpretation. Without the Church to rule on varying interpretations of Scripture, how is anyone to know for certain what is right? We've already seen that with good intentions, and after praying for guidance by the Holy Spirit, any two readers can still come to differing interpretations, sometimes widely different. Both are sure they are correct, that the Holy Spirit led them to their personal conclusion, and the other is wrong. Who is so arrogant as to believe the Holy Spirit is favoring them alone? Each one of us? Each Christian? Multiply that by the couple of billion Christians in the world today, and you discover the number of different interpretations of Scripture out there. God provided an authority to conclude such things, an authority led by the Holy Spirit. As Paul told Timothy, the Church is the pillar and bulwark of truth.
Those who state there is no need for an authority to interpret the Bible ignore history. In a little less than 500 years since the Reformation, non-Catholics have developed upwards of tens of thousands different Christian denominations-each with its own interpretation of Scripture; each claiming the Holy Spirit is guiding them in their interpretations. Simple logic declares this can not be so. The Holy Spirit can not be guiding all to differing interpretations.
2 Tim 3:16 states Scriptures are useful for teaching, refuting, correcting and training in righteousness. Teaching is only one part in four. As we come to a greater understanding of Scripture, we need to use it for refuting, correcting and training of our own.
We seek the truth. The Word of God tells us we find the truth through the Church. The Church gave us the Bible. Church teachers help us interpret and understand Scripture.
How else might we find truth through the Church? Did God give us another means? In the next chapter we learn of how God provides the fullness of the truth to us.
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