In the September 11, 2001, Special Edition of Time, Nancy Gibbs wrote: "If You Want to Humble an Empire it makes sense to maim its cathedrals. They are the symbols of its faith, and when they crumple and burn, it tells us we are not so powerful and we can't be safe. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center . . . and the Pentagon . . . are the sanctuaries of money and power that our enemies may imagine define us. But that assumes our faith rests on what we can buy and build, and that has never been America's true God."
Gibbs is right in her implication that America was founded on basic trust in the God of the Bible
For over a century the Bible was part of every public school curriculum, and all institutions of higher learning were founded for the purpose of training ministers. Engraved over the entrance to Harvard are these words: "You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free." Do Americans "know the Truth" today, when the Bible cannot be a part of our schools, and when our institutions of higher learning foster doubt of God's Word? Could it be that our enemies are perceptive when they think money and power have become our sanctuaries? Witnessing the terrible attacks of September 11, we could not help being reminded of a time described in Revelation 18: ". . . that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come. . . . For in one hour so great riches is come to nought" (vv. 10, 17). We know the complete fulfillment of this Scripture is yet in the future, but were we not given a preview of how it will happen? Our two outstanding American symbols of power and prosperity were smitten in one hour. This reminds us that when everything that can be shaken will be shaken, only that which is built on the solid Rock of Truth will remain (Heb.12: 26-29; Matt. 7:24-27).
Truth has to be absolute, eternal, and unchanging, or it is not Truth!
Only infinite God can give us Ultimate Truth and He has done so, both in a Person and in a book. Jesus is Truth Incarnate (John 14:6). The Bible is Truth written (John 17:17). It is the Word of God, inspired, inerrant, and "forever settled in Heaven" (Psa. 119:89).
The Bible tells us that we can know the Truth: (1) propositionally as it is written in understandable terms; (2) personally because Jesus is Truth; (3) pneumatically because the Holy Spirit brings the personal and the propositional together for us; (4) practically because what we believe determines what we do.
Propositional truth is the standard by which all of our experiences are judged. At the same time, propositional truth is not given in order to make documents; it is given because God wants to have a personal relationship with us. The Holy Spirit brings the propositional and the personal together in our knowledge and our experience. When either is neglected, there is loss of truth.
Knowing Propositional Truth
Every revival movement is the result of new apprehension of Truth, both in knowledge and experience. Since the closing of the Canon, there is no new truth; there are, however, sovereign moves of God to restore truths that have been neglected or lost. The Assemblies of God is the result of such a move at the beginning of the twentieth century. Organized in 1914, we adopted sixteen "fundamental truths" as tenets of faith. The adoption of such tenets is based on the belief that, since the Bible is Truth, we can derive propositional truths from it. Two things are occurring today that motivate us to re-examine the state of our Movement theologically. First, some of our leaders are calling for a reemphasis of the truths as they are written. These leaders know that when the members of a denomination fail to experience what their creed describes, that denomination is destined to decline, failing to fulfill God's purpose.
Secondly and conversely, there are some who are telling us that our tenets of faith are negotiable in order to have unity with all denominations
Some even say it is impossible to formulate propositional truths. They tell us that readers can never know the author's intention, and that the words of Scripture have no objective meaning. When I hear such theories, I am reminded of the little boy who was stopped by a group of men. They inquired if he knew the location of the chamber of commerce; he did not. Asked if he knew the way to the courthouse, he did not. One of the men, thinking to have a bit of fun at the little fellow's expense, said, "You just don't know much, do you?" Unruffled, the little fellow replied, "No, sir, but I'm not the one who's lost!"
God has given a book that simple readers can understand and yet the wisest scholar can never know exhaustively. That is why we need statements of truths.
Jesus placed His seal of Truth on the Scriptures, assuring us of their inerrancy (Matt. 5:18) and their immutability (Matt. 24:35). He spoke truths that all could understand. Only those who rejected truth would not understand. He said, "Father . . . Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes" (Matt.11:25). The Gospels are replete with propositional truths that were well understood by all who desired Truth.
We see propositional truths in the Epistles. Paul wrote to Timothy, "These things I write to you . . . that you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the pillar and ground of Truth." Then he gave a short paradigm of "the mystery of godliness": "God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up to glory"(1 Tim.3:14-16).
Paul then warned that some would depart from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1) because they do not love the Truth (2 Thess. 2:10). He went on to say, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle" (2 Thess. 2:15).
Scripture makes clear that we certainly can know "the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:6). John stated a valid test of Truth versus error; he said, "Whoever does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God" (3 John 9). Some sell out for money, "teaching contrary to sound doctrine, destitute of Truth" (1 Tim. 6:3-5). Some are "ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the Truth" (2 Tim. 3:7). The servant of the Lord must be able to teach, so "that God will grant repentance unto Truth" (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Truth is non-negotiable! John warned his readers: "If you bless those of Truth you do well" but "if anyone does not bring right doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor wish him well. If you bless him you share in his evil deeds" (2 John 6-11).
Having seen that our Lord and the apostles contended for propositional truths, let us now consider the application of those truths to us personally.
Knowing Truth Personally
Jesus declared that He Himself is Truth. He said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). He identified Himself as that Truth: "If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed" (8:36).
Jesus is the living Word incarnate. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory . . . full of grace and truth" (John 1:1,14). Truth, the Person, is received. "As many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become the children of God" (John. 1:12). The little child who knows Jesus is wiser than the philosopher who does not know God. As Truth incarnate, He reveals hearts by His presence. To Pilate He said, "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the Truth. Everyone that is of the Truth hears My voice" (John 18:37). Pilate had a priceless opportunity to receive Him, but he mockingly replied, "What is truth?"
Paul said, "I know Whom I have believed" (2 Tim.1:12). His was no mere "intellectual conversion" nor "emotional experience" nor simply an act of his will making "a decision." The whole person is involved in conversion, and "he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit" (1 Cor. 6:17). As Truth in Person, Jesus divides all who are of the Truth from those who are not. He told the unbelieving Jews, "If God were your father, you would love Me; you are of your father the devil . . . a liar . . . and father of lies. Because I tell you the Truth you do not believe Me" (John 8:42-45). Jesus could not compromise Truth; if He had been ecumenical He would have escaped the cross, and we would be lost eternally.
Because He died and because He lives, we can know Truth personally and propositionally. Let us now consider the Spirit of Truth Who is active in the earth to make these truths ours.
Knowing Truth Pneumatically
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16-17). It is He Who takes the objective, propositional truths of Scripture and makes them real to us in personal experience. Peter tells us, "You have purified your souls in obeying the Truth through the Spirit . . . being born again . . . by the Word of God" (1 Pet.1:22-23). Only the Holy Spirit can bring a proper integration and balance of propositional and personal truth in us. It is impossible to know Truth apart from the help of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-16); He guides us "into all Truth" (John 16:13).
In John's first epistle, he writes some very powerful truths. Speaking of those who had an antichrist spirit, he said, "They went out from us, for if they had been of us they would have continued with us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the Truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the Truth. . . . The anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; the same anointing is true and is not a lie" (2:20-21, 27).
We may not fully understand all these verses mean. One thing we can know is that the readers knew the Truth. Likewise, we can know the Truth. The Holy Spirit leads all who will allow Him to do so. If we are sincere, He checks our spirit when we hear error.
"We can know the Truth."
The Holy Spirit also helps us in the communication of Truth. Paul told the church in Corinth that we proclaim the Truth "in words taught by the Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:9).
Knowing Truth Practically
Our apprehension of truth will be revealed in our behavior. Jesus said, "He who does the Truth comes to the light" (John 3:21); John tells us, "If we say we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the Truth" (1 John 1:6).
Paul asked the Galatians, "Who bewitched you that you should not obey the Truth?" (Gal. 3:1). John was glad to see the children of the elect lady "walking in Truth" (2 John 4) and stated to Gaius that he had "no greater joy than to hear my children walk in Truth" (3 John 4). Our theology will determine our practices.
Pragmatism denies that there is objective truth, but says instead, "Whatever works for you is truth for you." We sometimes hear the same fallacy in the church: "Well, it must be all right; it is working. We will have to accept more diversity in doctrine and more pluralism in practice as time goes by." We can be pragmatic about the color of carpet or the brand of clothes we wear, but we dare not be pragmatic about doctrine. Our apprehension of Truth will be revealed in our actions.
It was Peter's practice, contrary to Truth, that Paul rebuked severely and publicly at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-16). Peter received the rebuke, knowing Paul was right; he then brought his practice into line with the Truth God had revealed to him (Acts 15:7-11).
How signally blessed we are to know Truth: propositionally, personally, pneumatically, and practically! We know the Truth both objectively and subjectively–objectively because we have it written in a book and subjectively because we know Jesus personally.
We also recognize that Truth is retained at great cost. Jesus' witness to the Truth took Him to Calvary. Truth is no more popular today than on the day He was crucified. As I have pondered our responsibility in this trying hour, I have been reminded of the words of a great American poet-statesman, James Russell Lowell (1819-1891). In "The Present Crisis," urging the overthrow of evil in our land, he wrote:
One death-grapple in the darkness ‘twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne.--
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own (ll. 36-40).
On September 23, 2001, we saw a spectacle of high treason against the Truth of the Word. In the "Prayer Meeting" in Yankee Stadium, ministers who claim to know Jesus Christ joined with Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus under the umbrella that all have Truth. I shuddered as I wondered if God might send instant judgment on such mockery of Him. God told us He will "send strong delusion that they should believe a lie" because they did not believe and love His Truth (2 Thess. 2:11-12).
Truth requires the constant teaching of sound doctrine. A knowledgeable leader said to me, "Our ministers are not interested in theology today; they just want to know how they can get people to come to their church and how to keep them coming. And the people do not want to hear doctrine." I hope he is mistaken! The Truth simply is not user-friendly until hearers align themselves with it. We are tempted constantly to compromise Truth for the sake of Unity based on "love." To quote Lowell again, in "The Present Crisis,": "They enslave their children's children who make compromise with sin" (l. 45).
When we are tempted to keep silent while biblical doctrines are being discarded, let us think of our posterity. More importantly let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Paul knew Him; he feared being unfaithful more than he feared death. Shortly before his imminent martyrdom, he wrote, ". . . the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine . . . they shall turn away their ears from the Truth. . . . [but] I have fought a good fight . . . I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:3-7).
We are at a crisis of Truth. Now is the time to let America and the world know there is only one foundation for our faith: the eternal, immutable Truth of the Word of God--written in a unique holy BOOK and revealed in the only begotten SON OF GOD, our Lord Jesus Christ!
Originally published in the CBC Theological Journal, Fall 2001.
Republished by permission for Network 211, 2005.