Publication: Pastoral Letter, May 2016
Dear Friend in Christ:
I grew up with lots of labels; there were racial, religious, political, geographic and all kinds of labels and stereotypes. It has taken me awhile to grow past trusting labels that have led to a lot of stereotypes. Early on, I even labeled myself as not only Christian, but pre-millennial dispensational Southern Baptist from Alabama. Almost every word in that sentence is a label and stereotype!
Something happened to me in 1964; I received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and that put me in another group, “Charismatics.” That too has become a label and is often stereotyped. But that grouping led me to meet people who did not fit my previous labels. Over the years, I have realized that people neither fit all of their labels nor do they like them. People want to be known for who they really are and so do I. Most of us have worn some uncomfortable labels and found them inadequate. We are more than whatever group with which we identify.
Labels and categories may be useful at times but they are often inaccurate and even dangerous. They can blind us to the truth about a person, create conflict … they have even created violence and wars. “Don’t call me a ______________!” That is the response to some labels or “That is not what or who I am!” Categories can and do create barriers.
It is my opinion that while labels are still prevalent, they are losing their value. Knowing someone personally or knowing for ourselves is becoming more and more the accepted norm. We have much more access to information and people than we did just a few years ago. Society is going through some amazing changes that seem to be producing a measure of chaos; some of it is dangerous if we do not know our own foundation.
I attribute much of the changes that are taking place in our culture to digitalization. Advances in technology always affect society. The printing press is a prime example as is the revolution in transportation. Each change seems to produce more information, interaction, speed, and flexibility.
The digital revolution has accelerated all of the above. I am not an expert on this, but I use it all the time—so do you. “Digital” is the new way to store and communicate data and information; it is highly mobile and flexible. Digits are numbers. For instance a clock tells us the time by numbers rather than with hour or minute hands (analog). Cameras are now digital rather than the old method of capturing an image on film.
The digital method has become the motor for all kinds of information and communication. Because it is capable of storing so much data and transmitting it more rapidly and clearly, it has changed how almost everything works from our phone to our car. I can use my cell phone to access any information or contact any person. My library is now sadly almost obsolete.
Digitalization has done something else. It has empowered the individual in unimaginable ways, for good or bad. Along with our technology, we become more mobile, able to collaborate, able to move rapidly, and be more informed. “Empowered” is the word. But to do what? Never before has it been more important to know the truth; to know our own core character, beliefs, and purpose in life. Because we have access to so much that may be true or false, the ability to discern the difference is critical!
Have you ever heard of someone who took a medicine and later it was pulled from the market because someone or numerous people died? Have you known of someone who received bad advice and got a bad result? Many more people die from bad ideas than any other reason. Yet, bad medicine, bad advice, and evil ideas are still out there to be consumed. Knowing the truth is a precious ability.
Truth has been the quest of theologians, philosophers, scientists, economists, and other seekers for millennia. “What is truth?” That was the question that Pontius Pilate asked Jesus as Jesus stood before him on trial. Jesus had just said that He had come into the world to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37-38). Jesus had said a lot about the truth—that He is the truth; that knowing the truth would set us free (John 14:6; John 8:31-32). He said that His truth (Gospel) would go into all the world (Matthew 24:14; Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus’ mission was to create a new race of people who would be born of Spirit and truth (John 3:1-8; John 4:21-24). Knowing Him in the Spirit would set us free from destructive error.
So how can we know truth? Truth is not a subjective feeling. Often people feel good about a lie. Truth exists outside of us. We can see it in creation, it is tangible; it is objective. Truth can be verified as fact. Our legal system is based on facts. Theologically, we believe that Jesus rose again after crucifixion. The apostle Paul did not “feel” that it was true; he said that over 500 people saw Jesus at one time (see 1 Corinthians 15:6).
If something is true, the results can be replicated. It works no matter who says it or uses it. For instance, two plus two equals four. That is an objective fact which can be demonstrated and replicated by anyone, anywhere. No one owns it. Gravity is not the province of a particular group of people. It belongs to no nation or denomination. It works for everyone everywhere and penetrates cultures.
I believe that the Gospel of Jesus is true; it can be verified, demonstrated, and replicated anywhere in the world. Wherever, and by whomever it has been received, it produces morality and liberty. It is for everyone to accept or reject. When rejected, bad things happen. There is plenty of history to demonstrate that. For instance, Pilate and Jewish leaders rejected the truth that day when Jesus was on trial. They chose Barabbas, a thief, to be released. On the way to the Cross, Jesus said, “Don’t weep for me, weep for your children.” History amply demonstrates the truth of what He said. The Romans made a choice to crucify Him. It was a terrible choice.
The Jewish leaders were locked into a category: “We are Abraham’s descendants, we have never been slaves of anyone.” Reality was that they even at that moment were enslaved by Rome. The labels that everyone carried blinded and destroyed them. They are certainly not alone in their ultimate sorrow. Think about the fruit of atheism in Russia or Nazism in Germany. Freedom comes through the Gospel; tyranny and slavery come through lies and deception.
So What is the Problem?
It should be simple: just seek, find, and believe the truth; then we can be free. But there is a problem; truth is expensive! Jesus was crucified, the apostles were martyred. All of our freedoms have been secured by blood and treasure.
Remember that word “witness.” Jesus stated that He came to be witness to the truth. He told the apostles that they would be witnesses unto Him in all the world. The word for witness comes from the same word that is translated “martyr.” Over and over, Jesus warned of persecution and all manner of evil would be said against them (see Matthew 5:11, Matthew 10:22; John 15:21; John 16:1-4). History proved Him right. What Jesus’ Cross and the subsequent persecution of believers tells us is that truth is both very costly and very precious. Those who secure it are penalized long before they are idealized.
I grew up hearing the names of the apostles, as well as Justin Martyr, Polycarp, William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, and many others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Jim Elliot are more recent additions to the list. Why were so many persecuted or martyred for the Gospel? It is because there is an evil enemy and he hates truth; he is the deceiver. When we become casual about truth, we become unworthy of it, unworthy of the Lord, and of the apostles.
The Apostolic Task
I often go into our backyard to look at the plants. It is surprising how unwanted weeds or vines grow right up in a wanted shrub. The alien plant often imitates the desired one in the way it presents itself. Left alone, the good plant can be choked out by the alien deceiver. I hate weeds!
The apostles were sent forth with the Gospel to plant churches in truth and tend them in order to preserve the truth of Christ. Lately, I have been reading the three letters from John the apostle and the letter of Jude. These letters give us a glimpse of how vigilant the apostles were to preserve the truth and how hostile they were to deception. The Church was to be a citadel of truth and a light in the cultures of darkness. Jude says, “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary for you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints for certain men have crept in unnoticed who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 3 and 4; see also Galatians 1:1-24).
I believe John and Jude are typical of how seriously all of the apostles took the Gospel and truth itself. The gospel is not a “one note piano”; it is “all that Jesus began both to do and to teach” (see Acts 1:1). That was how they viewed their task without regard for their lives; they loved the truth.
We have received the greatest legacy of all the legacies ever left to generations. We have received the Gospel of Jesus Christ purchased by His blood and faithfully transmitted by martyrs. Those who translated the Gospel were often killed. Those who smuggled copies of the Bible were jailed, beaten, and threatened. We have inherited liberty from those imprisoned; received it freely from those who found it costly.
We need to grow some backbone. Our culture, like others, is being destroyed by lies that have never worked. Thorns have grown in untended gardens, children, churches, schools, and most institutions. But we cannot win with truth alone, we must speak it in love. Truth without love can only condemn. Remember, Jesus wept over Jerusalem. In spite of it all, He loved and loves it. In fact, John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” He came not to condemn but save. The Cross was, and is, the beginning of breaking down of all cultural categories. He broke the barrier between God and us, between us and others.
We have the truth; we have amazing tools to tell it. The question is, what will we do with it? Shall we embrace it with our lives and tell it through our lives? Shall we confront the deception that grows in our fallen world? Will we sit passively and soon weep for our children? That day has arrived already for too many. I pray that we will not put truth on trial as it actually is trying us. Seek it, find it, believe it, live it, tell it. If we have failed the truth as we all have—repent of that. We can be grateful for amazing grace. True gratitude is to tell someone else what truth and freedom mean to us.
Please continue to pray for CSM and remember us in your giving as we seek to sow truth among the nations. Visit csmpublishing.org to give online or shop in our online store. Also, pray for our upcoming May 11-13 CSM Gatlinburg Leadership Conference. Thank you!
Scripture References: John 18:37-38,John 14:6; John 8:31-32, Matthew 24:14; Matthew 28:18-20, John 3:1-8; John 4:21-24, 1 Corinthians 15:6, Matthew 5:11, Matthew 10:22; John 15:21; John 16:1-4, Galatians 1:1-24, Acts 1:1