My dear wife often asks in frustration, “How do we know who’s right, even among Christians?” And that becomes especially onerous when discovering someone you’ve depended on for truth and good answers turns out to be wrong or that someone equally “educated” to our heroes has a very different interpretation of Scripture.
But we live in an era in which truth doesn’t matter. Or that the only truth that does matter is one’s own version of it. Truth, therefore, is what one personally perceives as truth. “My truth” now becomes “the truth,” and it’s such a strong emotional glue that it’s next to impossible ungluing oneself to accept new facts that come to light.
So is there really a “gospel truth” that all Christians can agree with? Or is even gospel truth an emotional truth Christians are glued to, such as water baptism being required, or meetings in a church building on Sunday being a must, or that Christians go to heaven when they die? But not all Christians agree on those things either, just like some Christians believe alcohol is wrong, or only eating a plant-based diet is right, or that we should always finish prayer with an “Amen.” Or dare I mention it, whether it’s Christian or not to be jabbed with a Covid vaccine, or that God is or isn’t going to save everyone in the end?
All these can become sensitive subjects in what is now called the post-truth era that we are now living in, “in which,” the Cambridge English Dictionary states, “people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts.” With that definition in mind, then, how on earth are we Christians going to preach a “gospel truth” that doesn’t interfere with or contradict what people only emotionally believe and accept as truth?
And looking back in church history this seems like a good question to ask and get answered because differences in what Christians believe has created thousands of separate denominations, each claiming to know “truth” better than all the others, and some even going to war over their differences.
In the book of Acts, however, we find Christians not only getting along together, but also willing to discuss differences until everyone agreed, as in Acts 15 when some “believers” (verse 5) were utterly and emotionally tied to Gentiles having to be circumcised like Jews to be Christian. But instead of separating into pro-circumcisers and anti-circumcisers, they “met to consider this question” (verse 6), they listened to evidence (verse 12), turned to Scripture for an answer (verses 15-18), leaned on the Holy Spirit to guide them (verse 28), and came up with an answer that made everyone who heard it “glad for its encouraging message” (verse 31).
Wouldn’t it be great if we could do the same today? Where the willingness to discuss with an open mind, the desire to reason together, gather evidence from experience and Scripture, and not quit until it’s clear by consensus that the Holy Spirit has been guiding us as well? Taking into account a wonderful purpose of the Spirit too, of placing it on our hearts to respond to the truth when we hear it (Acts 16:14).
So we’ve been given this gift as Jesus’ church to figure out truth. And it’s the same process whether large or small groups, or different denominations in a city, because Jesus promised to be with us, even if it’s only two or three gathered together. That would include families too, then, which explains why whole households responded to the gospel in Acts.
So where does one start in seeking truth? According to Paul in 2 Timothy 2:15 it’s studying to show ourselves approved. It’s not emotion, therefore, that decides truth; it’s thorough research, “doing our homework.” The pandemic has also shown us how shallow our thinking can be, and how ludicrous our conclusions and decisions become when emotions rule instead.