While taking the message of Jesus to the towns of his world, Paul came to Berea, and went to the synagogue there. The people's dual response is perfect: " … they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11).
The Bereans had an open attitude, but wanted to check out what was being communicated. Paul said this Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, so they compared what Paul said to what God had said. A wise decision.
Like the people Paul taught, we need to commit to the ongoing process of examining all of our beliefs, values, and opinions through the filter of Scripture. Add to that our own quirks, what we're taught by pastors and others, and ideas that pop up in small groups. We don't want to be obnoxious, but we do want the freedom that comes with knowing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
If we truly desire to grow in Christ, we need to distinguish between beliefs that will help us grow and beliefs that will hinder our growth. How do we make that distinction?
Let's look at three questions we can use to evaluate the truthfulness of any message.
1. Is it consistent with the entire witness of the Bible?
Keep this slogan in mind: "A text without a context is a pretext." Linking the context with the words of the passage or verse helps us avoid "proof-texting," pulling one verse out of context to prove a point. The broader the context; the greater the understanding.
Writing my second book provided one of my greatest challenges. I wanted A Passionate Pursuit of God to present the awesome privilege we have of knowing God as well as to give practical steps to do that. At first, I was quite intimidated by the task. How do you summarize the transcendent Creator of the universe in 150 pages? How do you blend brevity and accuracy? I started by using my computer Bible search program to discover every verse in the Bible that dealt with knowing God or Jesus. Every one. I didn't mention all those verses in the book, but I used every one in my thinking and writing. I didn't ignore a single verse. Why? I wanted to pass on truth about knowing God. I didn't want any of my words to contradict or confuse even one verse of Scripture. I wanted to express truth.
If all Scripture is true, then it won't contradict itself. We need to understand all that God said about the subject before holding on too tightly to a conclusion.
2. Is the message consistent with historical understanding?
I don't mean that "tradition" stands on the same level of authority with God's Word! The phrase "If it's new, it isn't true" summarizes a generally wise approach—if we don't take it too far. But if the "new idea" contradicts the historical understanding, then realize that the burden of proof lies with those proposing the new slant. If the idea is true, that can be done.
The historical church hasn't always believed only the truth. Martin Luther proved that. More recently, some churches taught racism and bigotry. Overcoming these teachings required changes in our understanding of truth.
Take the time to cautiously evaluate "new" ideas.
3. Is the message important enough to be considered an "essential" truth?
Is this a hill you're willing to die on? Or is it something that Christians can validly disagree on, and still be solid Christians and love one another? Too often we've battled and separated over different interpretations of "truth," when in reality we separated over opinion. Paul warns us against that in Romans 14:1-3