By Edgar J. Dye
Our text, 2 John 6-11, furnishes the suggestion for our study in the series on the question: What should be our attitude toward error? In the first lesson of the series we noted several things which capture our attention in this text and why it serves as an appropriate basis for the study.
As we noted there we are hearing a great deal about the necessity of having a proper attitude, which is fine if used properly and in harmony with the Bible. All of us agree, we need the right attitude toward all things. Certainly we need the right attitude toward truth and error. But I am amazed and deeply saddened at the lax attitude of many members of the church toward error both in and out of the church. In some problems we face, some members will shrug it off with a statement or an attitude somewhat like the following: “You have your opinion and I have mine! ” Then they refuse to study the issue and hang on to what they already believe without knowing whether it is right or wrong.
All too many have the spirit of compromise, are entirely too soft, and display a “jelly-fish” backbone in matters of truth and error. This kind, we have suggested, may spend all week trying to “white-wash” what the preacher says on Sunday. If you do not watch them, they will apologize for the Bible. They are so afraid of offending someone with the truth they constantly accuse the one who preaches the truth with conviction and plainness of speech, as well as openly and boldly exposing error, with not possessing the proper spirit or attitude. Such is a sign of modernistic tendencies and the P.M.A. syndrome even though they may deny it.
Having the proper attitude, we repeat, does not give anyone the right to be mean-spirited, to misrepresent, or deliberately to abuse another. But many think we are mean, abusive, offensive and harsh when we preach as the apostles of Christ and Jesus himself preached.
In three previous articles, in order to learn what our attitude toward error should be, we have examined the position of the people of God – the church – in the world, the attitude of the Spirit-filled and Spirit-guided apostles of Jesus Christ and other inspired messengers of the Lord toward truth and error. We continue the series by reminding you that if ever a man had the proper attitude, he was the apostle Paul as indicated in such passages as Philippians 3:1-14; 4:10-13; et al. One’s attitude is the well out of which his actions are drawn. With the proper attitude one can “stand” poverty or plenty; persecution or praise; gladness or sadness without any change in his general actions or thinking, with no ill effect upon either, and ever keep his eye upon the goal of heaven itself and all necessary things along the way.
The right attitude is a responsibility of all and is in the reach of all responsible beings.
Inseparable From Proper Attitude Toward Truth
The proper attitude toward error will be recognized only when we have learned, cultivated, and maintained the proper attitude toward the truth. We must realize that truth in the religious realm is not something indefinite, flexible or pliable; it is definite and fixed. Truth can’t be “bent” to fit any situation or condition. It can’t be “stretched” to cover or justify any situation or condition. It does not teach one thing this year and something entirely different next year. It is always up-to-date and never obsolete because truth is eternal and never changes; it is divine; it originated with God, came forth from God, and to God one is responsible for the way he handles it. Not so with error; it is indefinite, flexible or pliable; it must constantly undergo change; it originates with Satan; comes forth from Satan; and one who believes it and obeys it must reap the wages of sin. Truth does not depend on us for its veracity but it does for its propagation and makes us responsible for the refutation of error both inside and outside the body of Christ.
The Supreme Importance of Truth
The paramount importance of the proper attitude toward error is evident when and only when we recognize the supreme importance of truth.
Truth alone will make men free (Jn. 8:31,32; 2 Thess. 2:9-12). Nothing else has that power (Rom. 1:16). Ignorance and error will only enslave and condemn. “Buy the truth and sell it not” is the charge of Proverbs 23:23. Men should be willing to pay any price truth demands of them and when once they possess it they should never be willing to part with it, no matter what the consideration which may be offered. Until truth becomes more important to us than any other consideration, we are mixed up in our values. Every heart should determine to know “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” The only substitute for truth is error and the condemnation it brings to one and all who embrace it.
Truth in religion can be determined by only one standard. Standards are necessary in determining anything. We have them for time, measurement, law, etc. Law determines the stan0ard in every field and authority stands behind the law. In religion authority inheres in God. His word, divine law, is the standard for measuring truth. What we teach, believe, and practice in religion must be in harmony with the Word of God, or it is wrong, untrue, and will condemn instead of save, no matter if it is being taught by the nearest and dearest one on earth to me or you (1 Thess. 5:21). Jesus, in John 17:17, has settled the matter of a standard for truth in religion (cf. Psa. 119:89). If by any other authority a thing is established, it is not truth. Creeds of men may teach it; honest sincere people may accept it; councils, conclaves, and conventions may legislate, authorize, and approve it; but if the Word of God does not contain or authorize it, it is error and therefore wrong (cf. Rom. 3:4).
I like what Bill Crews of Baton Rouge, LA said in his bulletin on “Truth and Error.” “In the religious realm, truth is determined to be the truth: not by what one already believes or thinks to be the truth; not by what one wants to be the truth; not by what one’s parents believed before him; not by what is popular or accepted; not by what the majority believes; not by established custom or longstanding tradition; not by the religious creeds that men have drawn up; not by the writings or pronouncements of recognized scholars or great men; not by what some church teaches. But by what the Bible says and means by what it says. The truth is contained in and revealed by the Bible. Every principle from God taught in the New Testament is part of it. Read Jn. 8:31,32; 14:6; 17:17; 2 Pet. 1:3; and 2 Tim. 3:16,17.
“In the religious realm error is determined to be error: not by whether we like or dislike the one teaching it; not by whether we like or dislike those who have embraced it; not by whether we agree or disagree with it; not by whether we like or dislike it; not by whether or not some denomination accepts and declares it; not by how many believe it or reject it; not by whether or not it seems to be good or appears to work; not by whether most churches accept it or reject it; not by the decisions of the church councils, the decrees of popes, the conclusions of conventions, or the pronouncements of church leaders. But by the fact that it is not taught in the Scriptures or is in conflict with the truth found therein. Read Deut. 4:1,2; Isa. 8:20; Gal. 1:8,9; 1 Thess. 5:21,22; Heb. 13:9; 1 Jn. 4:1; 2 Jn. 9-11 and Rev. 22:18,19.” He said it well!
There are some very definite obligations which every man owes the truth. Every responsible being is held responsible for knowing the truth (Acts 17:30; 1 Tim. 2:3,4; Jn. 8:31,32; 1 Chron. 28:9). It is accessible to all and we can learn the truth if we will (Jn. 7:17; Eph. 5:17; 3:4). If we will rid our hearts of their idols, all inherited traditions, and every bit of self-will and honestly hear what God has to say, we can know the truth God wants us to know on any and all Bible subjects. The only man who cannot know the truth is the one who willfully closes his ears, and shuts his eyes to the truth because something else is more important to him (Matt. 13:15; 2 Pet. 3:5). We need not even depend on the priest, preacher or prelate to interpret the truth for us. God means what he says and if we can learn what he has said, we will know what he means without difficulty. The will of God, that which he requires us to know and do to be saved and go to heaven, is not revealed at such a level that only the “greatest minds” of the ages can understand it; it was designed for the understanding of “babes” (Matt. 11:25,26; see Deut. 29:29).
All responsible people must believe the truth. Only the believers of the truth can be saved. He who believes not is condemned already (2 Thess. 2:12; Jn. 3:18; Mk. 16:16; Jn. 8:24; 2:48). All must love the truth in order to be saved (2 Thess. 2:9-12). This is the reason more do not understand and obey the truth. Then we are held responsible for obeying the truth (Rom. 2:4-11; 2 Thess. 1:6-10; 1 Pet. 1:22,23; Matt. 7:21; 1 Cor. 15:1-3; Heb. 5:8,9). There is, therefore, no salvation without learning, believing, loving, and obeying the truth. Without these obligations being fulfilled we have no promise of forgiveness or a home eternal in Glory. In view of this, can you doubt the supreme importance of truth? And if you recognize its supreme importance, you will have the right attitude toward error!
I repeat, our attitude toward error will be determined by our attitude toward the truth. We either love the truth and obey it or follow error (2 Tim. 3:16-4:5). The one for which we have the greatest love will determine our actions (Jn. 3:19-21). If one loves truth, he hates all false ways (Psa. 119:104,127,128) – not the people, but the false ways. Some say, “O, I’m against all error, but I don’t dare say anything because it might cause trouble” (cf. Matt. 12:30; Acts 17:16,17; 15:1-7; Rom. 1:14-16). Any trouble you cause while practicing and speaking the truth has God’s blessings. This can’t be over emphasized! Who are you trying to please with such an attitude? God or man (Gal. 1:10)? You don’t fool anyone but yourself with that approach. Can you imagine an apostle of Christ saying such?
There is no way to harmonize truth and error or be justified in trying to hold to both at the same time. Truth and error can’t be mixed and retain the purity of truth. When mixed it’s no longer truth! Rivers of clear and muddy water converge and every time the muddy waters destroy the purity and clearness of the clean. Water mixed with poison does not quench thirst. No strength is to be gained by eating poison food. There is absolutely no saving power in error, only condemnation!
The cause of Christ makes rapid and healthy progress with the right attitude toward truth. Proof of this is the Restoration Movement which begin and moved like a giant army across the country conquering the enemy. As it gained momentum denominationalism slowed down, thousands were converted to Christ and saved from its errors. But as compromise and digression came the “stream” became ,’muddy” – division came as an inevitable consequence. Today, as compromise, worldliness, and false doctrines creep in, history is repeating itself!
Today the Lord and his apostles are not here in person as they once were; but we are his lights, disciples, and soldiers. Lights are to shine, not be put under a bushel. Disciples are to be learners and followers. Soldiers are to do battle with the enemy. Upon us depends the conversion of people from error and maintaining the purity of the church by faithfully, lovingly and boldly preaching the whole truth and exposing all error. You show me a person with the right attitude toward truth and I will show you a person who is diligently engaged in such work – spending his time, ability and money for the cause of Christ, not on himself. Elders, deacons, preachers and faithful saints are to lead the way (Acts 20:28-32; Heb. 13:17; Tit. 1:9; 2 Tim. 4:1-5; 1 Tim. 4:12-16; Tit. 2:15; 2 Tim. 2:1,2; Acts 8:1-4; 11:19-21). But many of these are often “sound (?) but silent!”
Unity is good and desirable (Psa. 133:1; Jn. 17:20,21). But there is one thing worse than division in the body of Christ and that is unity in apostasy! Fanning Yater Tant once wrote, “I had a thousand times rather see the church divide, and a remnant of the faithful be saved, than see the whole church united in apostasy.”
Our greatest threat is “within” not “without.” Remember this, the right attitude toward truth and error can only come with a right attitude toward the Bible, God’s written word.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 7, pp. 203-204, 214
April 5, 1990