Saturday, June 07, 2008

Truth in the Church

For the last month I have struggled with truth. Specifically, what truth will God reveal to the community of believers. A review for the book “Paradigms on Pilgrimage ” triggered this internal debate. Among other things the reviewer states:

"Let us assume God did use evolution to create the world. Why does he allow so many Christians to think he didn't?"

This question, and its generalization struck a nerve in my psyche. Christian friends whose walk I trust are on both sides of the evolution issue. Is one side or the other in disobedience to God on this topic? I don’t think so—but then I must face the logical conclusion—that God knows what He did and He chooses to not reveal this truth in general to His Church.

This debate, and others like it are repetitions of earlier controversies. Forty years ago believers fought about rock music, five hundred years ago believers argued about whether the sun moved around the earth or vice versa, nineteen hundred years ago there was dissension on whether the new Gentile converts should be subject to circumcision, and other aspects of Mosaic law.

This first century debate, chronicled in Acts 15 included elders of the Jerusalem church, the apostles Peter, Paul, and James; Barnabas, the prophets Barsabbas and Silas, as well as a group of believers that were Pharisees. This account makes a couple of things clear:

· There was a respected group of believers involved—the leadership of the Church

· There was much debate on the subject

· They respectfully listened to evidence (e.g. Paul and Silas relating God’s signs and wonders among the Gentiles)

· God did not supernaturally reveal the answer

In the end they adopted a position, validated by the Holy Spirit:

"For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

The writer of Hebrews refers to this period as “the time of reformation.” [chap 9:10] It was the beginning of a new covenant where some regulations imposed by God were cancelled. Some sins became not sin. But the transition in community was gradual. Even Paul, no enemy of the absolute, writes in Romans: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” and “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

But this was not the end of it. Paul in Romans 15, 1 Cor 8, and Colossians 2 makes it clear that the final solution is that no thing is unclean in itself, and that idols have no impact on the true suitability of food. The statement adopted by the group in Jerusalem was transitional—eventually almost all Christians accepted Paul's later position on the matter, and today most of these issues seem quaint.

As individuals we are called to love, freedom, and confidence in our walk with God. But when it comes to truth in the Church, God does not call us to proofs of knowledge, unanimity, or judgment of other believers. Instead we are to "pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding"—truth in that context can wait.