Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Narrow Road of Truth – Part 2

By David Barnett

Thus the distinction between truth and errors is amplified clearly: straight and narrow and singular is that way which leads to everlasting life, that way which is encompassed in the teaching of Christ and the apostles; and on the contrary: broad and many are those ways which lead to everlasting misery, those ways which are proposed by false teachers and prophets.

This is all very important for our day, because the age in which we live is one of ‘pluralism’; which is to say, there are more truths than one truth; or to state the same negatively: there is no singular, perfect, harmonious unit of truth; or, to rephrase the same but in a more personal context (as it is usually heard today): ‘no one can lay claim to knowing the truth, especially if that truth says every other belief system is wrong’; i.e. no one today can claim what the New Testament writers claimed two-thousand years ago about the truth of Christianity. So prevalent is this idea in our society, that anyone who does believe in one substantial, objective system of truth - regardless of his world-view or religion - is seen to be ignorant, intolerant, and arrogant. The greater part of our post-modern society likes to believe in subjective truth, or a ‘plurality’ of truths; and even if they do not and can not consistently practice their profession, they will proclaim it till they die.

Perhaps this is no more clearly expressed than in the discussion about ‘religious tolerance’, where the irreligious obstinately insist that those who do have religious beliefs hold them less firmly, and be more accommodating of other peoples’ religious beliefs. Once upon a time, ‘tolerance’ was generally defined thus: whilst a person held strong views, they insisted that others had the right to dissent from those views and argue their own case. There was a threefold assumption under this old view of tolerance: 1) Objective truth is out there, and it is our duty to pursue that truth. 2) The various parties in a dispute think that they know what the truth of the matter is. 3) Nevertheless, they believe that the best chance of uncovering the truth of the matter is by the unhindered exchange of ideas; regardless of how wrong those ideas seem to other parties. Perhaps this was best summarised by Voltaire, who famously said, ‘I do not agree with a word that you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Narrow Road of Truth – Part 1

By David Barnett

N.B. Much of the discussion on ‘tolerance’ was derived from a sermon preached by D.A. Carson entitled ‘The Intolerance of Tolerance’. I’m sure you could find this sermon - free to download - if you googled it. For further discussion on ‘antithesis’ and the implications for a culture that shuns it, I would recommend the book ‘The God Who Is There’ and/or ‘Escape From Reason’ by Francis Schaeffer.
When the writers of the New Testament speak of the truth of Christianity, and that particular doctrine which encompasses it as an entity or system, it is always in the singular, i.e. ‘the truth’; that is, a unit - a perfect, harmonious, consistent and singular unit of truth. This is how the New Testament writers refer to the solitary truth of Christianity:

‘Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them’ (Rom. 16:17). ‘Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine’ (1 Tim. 4:16). ‘There is... one faith’ (Eph. 4:17). ‘If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine’ (Jn. 7:17). ‘And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ (Jn. 8:32). ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness’ (Rom. 1:18). ‘The elder, to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also those who have known the truth’ (2 Jn. 1:1). ‘But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude...; And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way...; But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets’ (Acts 19:9, 23; 24:14). ‘...not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things’ (Titus 2:10). ‘He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy’ (Gal. 1:23). ‘My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality’ (Jam. 2:1). ‘Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him’ (1 Jn. 9, 10). ‘ do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith’ (2 Tim. 3:8). ‘...contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3).

Though the terms used to describe the embodiment of the teaching of Christianity are varied in each context (such as ‘faith’, ‘teaching’, ‘doctrine’, ‘way’, ‘truth’, etc.), it should be obvious that they all, with the preceding definite article, encapsulate the single sum of the Christian faith as a whole. There was no plurality in truth or way or doctrine in the Christianity taught by either Christ, or His apostles. Conversely, when the inspired writers of Scripture warned against false doctrines and teachings and prophets, it was always in the plural sense:

‘But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies... And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed’ (2 Pet. 2:1, 2). ‘...Which all concern things which perish with the using - according to the commandments and doctrines of men’ (Col. 2:22). ‘...not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth’ (Titus 1:14). ‘For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away form the truth, and be turned aside to fables’ (2 Tim. 4: 3, 4). ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 Jn. 4:1). ‘Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons’ (1 Tim. 4:1).

That is, deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, plural; in contradistinction to the blessed Spirit of Truth, who alone teaches the believer all things (1 Jn. 2:27; Jn. 14:26). And so it goes...