June 2018 Member Letter
June 7, 2018
On the day Jesus Christ was crucified, Pontius Pilate asked Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Pilate did not wait for Christ to answer but proceeded to tell the Jews that he found no fault in Him. This question really summarizes an age-old dilemma that we all face today. How do you know when someone is teaching the truth as opposed to error?
In a world of confusion it seems everyone has his or her own brand of truth. In politics it is virtually impossible to determine who is telling the truth. We hear the accusation of “fake news” regularly. We have fact-checkers for anything spoken by a government official or a politician. And no one, it seems, ever tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Having just observed the Day of Pentecost and the anniversary of God’s granting His Holy Spirit, also called the “Spirit of truth” (John 15:26), to His disciples, as described in Acts 2, this question of truth is very much on my mind. This was also an important topic during the international leadership conferences that we conducted throughout Latin America. Leon Walker, the international liaison for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, gave a presentation titled the “Basis for Doctrine,” which he subtitled “Or the Basis for Non-Doctrine.” I titled one of my presentations “Truth, Teaching or Tradition—Which?” Both messages focused on the fact that everything we teach and practice as a Church must be based on truth and not on personal opinion. Truth is found in the Bible, not in man’s opinions!
It is my belief that one of the greatest challenges facing the Church in any age is how to maintain or hold on to the truth. Our understanding of the truth and the depth of our knowledge may change, but the truth itself does not change. Over the years in the Church we have seen some changes in how we administer or apply a doctrinal understanding. We handle third tithe differently today than we did 30 years ago, but we still believe in third tithe. We just observed a Sunday Pentecost. It was 44 years ago, in 1974, that the Worldwide Church of God officially changed the counting of Pentecost from an exclusive count to an inclusive count, thus assuring a Sunday Pentecost as the 50th day from the morrow after the Sabbath, the Sunday of the wave-sheaf offering. But we still believe in keeping Pentecost.
The Bible speaks of the “spirit of truth” and the “spirit of error” (1 John 4:6) and the need to know the difference. We have references in the Bible to “the lie” as opposed to “the truth” (Romans 1:25; 2 Thessalonians 2:11). We have references to “light and darkness” (Acts 26:18), and we are told that in the end time there will be a falling away based on an “unrighteous deception” among those who “did not receive the love of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 10-12). James writes about an individual who “wanders from the truth” and is brought back (James 5:19).
For the past 18 years, I have taught a class on the fundamental beliefs of the Church, which are revealed in God’s Word. My goal each year is to emphasize that our fundamental beliefs are not all that we believe, but they form the foundation of what we believe, and that foundation supports our other beliefs. Paul instructed Timothy that the Church is to be “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
It isn’t wrong to desire new truth or to seek a deeper understanding of truth, especially in the area of prophecy. We are all interested in knowing more, but we must not lose sight of the real challenge that faces all of us in the end time—whether we will hold on to the truth and not whether we will find new truth.
Having worked with the Doctrine Committee of the Church since the mid 1990s, I continue to be amazed by some who are “carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men” (Ephesians 4:14). There are many of these winds blowing today, such as the various alternatives to the Hebrew calendar, the use of sacred names, the Passover on the 15th instead of the 14th, the belief that Pentecost pictures the first resurrection and a secret return of Jesus Christ, the rejection of the modern-day identity of Ephraim and Manasseh, and the belief that Jesus Christ was a created being and not God “manifested in the flesh” as Scripture states (1 Timothy 3:16; John 1:1).
Paul instructed Timothy about the proliferation of false doctrine. “But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Timothy 3:13-14). He instructed Timothy to do two things to fight heresy: “continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of” and know “from whom you have learned them.” Why is this second part important? In our day anyone can write a doctrinal treatise and publish it or post it on the Internet. One must ask, Who is this would-be teacher, and what is his or her history? Some are okay with learning “truth” from questionable sources that may be off the track in other teachings. They fail to see these errors as warning signs to help them evaluate whether they should believe this source or not. Paul’s advice to Timothy was simple: (1) continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of and (2) take into account who taught you the truth to begin with.
Paul also warned of a time when people will lose sight of the truth. “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 from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Notice that Paul warned Timothy about choosing teachers who are not sound in doctrine. I realize that we all enjoy studying and learning new things. Thanks to the Internet, we currently have access to the greatest store of books and knowledge that the world has ever seen. But there is a downside to all of this—exposure to great numbers of private interpretations of Scripture, which Peter warned about (2 Peter 1:20). Before I take anything seriously on the Internet or from anywhere else, I want to find out as much as I can about its origin.
Winds of doctrine will continue to buffet the Church, and different heresies will continue to be propagated. Pilate’s question to Christ is a good one for us today: what is truth? But we know the answer from Christ Himself, who said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Once we have learned the truth, we should do as Paul admonished Timothy: “continue in the things you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them.”
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,