Speaking the Truth or Keeping Silent -- WHICH?
Do you agree with every teaching of the church organization where you attend? If not, are you tired of being told you can't openly discuss doctrinal differences? What do the scriptures tell us to do?
If a church organization believes that its members should only discuss the Bible in a way that confirms official church doctrines, is that allowing the congregation to speak the truth? The organization would say yes. Those in charge of the organization believe this is applying Paul's admonition of "speaking the same thing" in 1 Corinthians 1:10. They believe they are keeping unity and preventing division within the church organization.
Church leaders believe that anyone finding an error in a doctrine being taught by that church organization should remain silent, in order to protect the brethren from being "confused." Their main concern is apparently not that someone believes something different than the official church doctrines, but that they will speak about it. Keeping your opinions to yourself is the approved way to deal with doctrinal differences. The leaders tend to believe that anyone who sees an error in a doctrine may have a motive of gaining a following, which in turn would draw members out of the organization, either (1) into error, or (2) away from the group.
BUT AREN'T WE TO PROVE ALL THINGS?
Some church organizations believe the proper procedure for exposing error in their doctrine is to write a paper, which is then submitted to the ministry for evaluation. There are several steps in this procedure, which could take as long as two to three years to be completed. In the meantime, anyone who questions doctrinal truth must remain silent to others in the spirit of "speaking the same thing" and keeping unity.
Is the organization correct in this belief? When anything is taught to us by an organization of men regarding God's truth, the thing we all must do is to prove it! As Paul admonishes in 1 Thessalonians 5:21: "But test and prove all things [until you can recognize] what is good; [to that] hold fast" (Amplified Bible throughout unless otherwise noted).
If we are to prove what we are being taught by a church organization, where should we start this proving process? We must begin by examining why we are attending with a particular organization. A few reasons are: We may like the people. We may like what it teaches. We may believe it is the "right place to be." We may believe it is doing "the Work." Whatever the reason, we must examine it by asking ourselves: Is our reason for being there our own or God's?
We must also ask ourselves, if we are worshipping God within a church organization, do we worship according to the rules of that organization (this is not referring to administrative details such as the time of services, the place, etc.), or do we worship God according to His standard? The answer is found in John 4:24: "God is a Spirit (a spiritual Being) and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (reality)."
In our proving process, we have established that the standard for worshipping within an organization is worshipping in spirit and truth. But whose spirit and whose truth -- the organization's or God's? God's, of course. "Then Peter and the apostles replied, We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Even though the organization believes it is teaching God's truth, it must be proven against what is in the Bible, and the truth of the Bible must always prevail.
THE MEANING OF "TRUTH"
To obtain a clearer picture of what the Bible means by the word "truth" in John 4:24, we must look at its meaning in Greek. The Greek word for "truth" in John 4:24 is aletheia. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words states this noun "is used (a) objectively, signifying ‘the reality lying at the basis of an appearance; the manifested, veritable essence of a matter’ (Cremer), e.g., Rom. 9:1; 2Cor. 11:10; especially of Christian doctrine, e.g., Gal. 2:5, where ‘the truth of the Gospel’ denotes the true teaching of the Gospel, in contrast to perversions of it; Rom. 1:25, where ‘the truth of God’ may be ‘the truth concerning God’ or ‘God whose existence is a verity;’ but in Rom. 15:8 ‘the truth of God’ is indicative of His faithfulness in the fulfillment of His promises as exhibited in Christ; the word has an absolute force in John 14:6; 17:17; 18:37,38; in Eph. 4:21, where the R.V., ‘even as truth is in Jesus,’ gives the correct rendering, the meaning is not merely ethical truth, but truth in all its fullness and scope, as embodied in Him; He was the perfect expression of the truth; this is virtually equivalent to His statement in John 14:6; (b) subjectively, truthfulness, truth, not merely verbal, but sincerity and integrity of character, John 8:44; 3John 3, R.V." (Words in bold are the writer's emphasis.)
It is interesting to note that, in the Greek, "truth" can be either objective or subjective.
To receive more understanding from Vine's definition of the usage of the word for "truth" (aletheia), we must clarify the meaning of the words objective, reality, subjective, sincerity, integrity and character as they relate to the subject of this article.
(1) Objective: having real, substantial existence external to an observer.
(2) Reality: the state or quality of being real or of existing in fact.
(3) Subjective: seen from the point of view of the thinking subject and conditioned by his personal characteristics.
(4) Sincerity: utterly honest and genuine.
(5) Integrity: moral soundness.
(6) Character: the total quality of a person's behavior, as revealed in his habits of thought and expression, his attitudes and interests, his actions, and his personal philosophy of life (New Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus of the English Language, 1992 edition).
With these definitions in mind, let's look at Vine's definition of "truth" (aletheia) again. In the objective usage, Vine's states that Christ embodied truth or personified it. In fact, He is all truth, real, actual. But if we let Christ remain in the objective personified form only, we lose part of the total picture. It was the subjective part of Christ that manifested the truth for others to see, to hear, to experience, and to know. Christ not only embodied the knowledge of the truth but was the knowledge in action. It is what we are thinking that becomes our actions. It is our sincerity and integrity of character that shows others how we live the truth of the Bible.
Worshipping God in spirit and truth is not only teaching, preaching and believing the true doctrines of the Bible, but is expressing, through God's Spirit within us, these truths with sincerity and integrity of character. David H. Stern writes in the Jewish New Testament Commentary, page 168, regarding John 4:24: "The Torah opposes legalism and the mere performance of acts and routines without true spiritual involvement" (writer's emphasis). This being the case, we must not only prove whether or not the organization's official doctrines and beliefs are based on the truth, but also if the organization's sincerity and integrity of character are based on the truth as well.
WAS THE CHURCH DIVIDED?
First we will examine whether or not an organization's belief about "speaking the same thing" is based on the truth in the Bible. The organization's scriptural foundation is 1 Corinthians 1:10, which states, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no division among you, but you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment" (New King James Version). An organization could contend that this scripture clearly shows the members cannot freely share their views about scriptures with others unless they are in line with official organization teaching, because doing so would cause division. Such doctrinal discussions would only be acceptable if they were to occur between a member and the minister, in private, for the protection of the flock.
1 Corinthians 1:10 definitely says, "...all speak the same thing," but should a belief, or an administrative approach, be based on only one scripture? Does the above interpretation, on which the organization's belief is based, remain consistent with other scriptures in the Bible? Or might this one verse be taken out of context, which makes it appear to say something Paul did not have in mind?
It must be as Isaiah 28:10 reads: "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little" (New King James Version).
To apply Isaiah 28:10 in our proving process, we must do as Paul admonished Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15: "Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth."
To honestly study 1 Corinthians 1:10, we must examine the context to find out why Paul was telling them to speak the same thing, what it was they were saying, and why it was causing division. Some church organizations use this scripture to establish that "speaking the same thing" means only talking to other members about what is in agreement with the organization's official doctrines. Is that what Paul is talking about?
In verses 11 and 12 Paul explains what they were doing that was causing division: "For it has been made clear to me, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions and wrangling and factions among you. What I mean is this, that each one of you [either] says, I belong to Paul, or I belong to Apollos, or I belong to Cephas (Peter), or I belong to Christ."
There is nothing in these verses that says they were speaking different things about what they saw in scripture. Their contentions were over who they were following as a leader. The reason they weren't speaking the same thing and were not in harmony and full agreement was that they were arguing over who was the best minister! The Jewish New Testament Commentary states, "The Corinthian leaders wrote asking questions (7:1) but said nothing of this much more important matter, schisms rending the community asunder. Rather, it took some of Chloe’s people to make this known to Sha’ul [Paul]. The implication is that the leaders should have reported it themselves.... The Gospel has been perverted into a cult of personality; but loyalty to leaders, thinkers or denominations must not supersede loyalty to the Messiah" (page 442).
These people had attitude problems about ministers that affected what they were saying. Paul drives the point home in 1 Corinthians 4:6-7: "Now I have applied all this [about parties and factions] to myself and Apollos for your sakes, brethren, so that from what I have said of us [as illustrations], you may learn [to think of men in accordance with Scripture and] not to go beyond that which is written, that none of you may be puffed up and inflated with pride and boast in favor of one [minister and teacher] against another. For who separates you from the others [as faction leader]? [Who makes you superior and sets you apart from another, giving you the preeminence?] What have you that was not given to you? If then you received it [from someone], why do you boast as if you had not received [but had gained it by your own efforts]?"
The above scriptures, as well as several Bible versions that have chapter outlines before each book, make it clear that 1 Corinthians 1:10 through 4:21 is not dealing with division caused by people who are not all speaking the same thing about doctrines. The division Paul was dealing with was caused by members in the Corinthian church looking to favor men as their leaders instead of Christ. Could the church organization's interpretation of 1 Corinthians 1:10 be forcing their members, who want to remain in its fellowship, to do exactly what Paul admonished against? Could those in charge of the organization actually be teaching members to follow them instead of the Embodiment of Truth (Christ)? Yes, if members believe the leader's interpretation of scripture and not what the Bible actually says!
HOW TO ALL SPEAK THE SAME THING
Even though it has been shown that 1 Corinthians 1:10 cannot be applied the way the church organization has applied it, Paul is still talking about "all speaking the same thing." What is this "thing" that we are to be speaking so there are no divisions among us? How can we be "speaking the same thing" without following men but Christ? Using the principle in Isaiah 28:10 once again, "precept upon precept," we can find the answer in another one of Paul's epistles -- the book of Ephesians.
Before we look at Ephesians, let's restate Paul's instructions to the Corinthians: "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (New King James Version).
Ephesians 4:14-16 complements 1 Corinthians 1:10 beautifully. It states, "So then, we may no longer be children, tossed [like ships] to and fro between chance gusts of teaching and wavering with every changing wind of doctrine, [the prey of] the cunning and cleverness of unscrupulous men, [gamblers engaged] in every shifting form of trickery in inventing errors to mislead. Rather, let our lives lovingly express the truth [in all things, speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly]. Enfolded in love, let us grow up in every way and in all things unto Him Who is the Head, [even] Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). For because of Him the whole body (the church, in all its various parts), closely joined and firmly knit together by the joints and ligaments with which it is supplied, when each part [with power adapted to its need] is working properly [in all its functions], grows to full maturity building itself up in love."
The Greek for "express the truth" in verse 15 is aletheuo which, according to Vine's, "signifies to deal faithfully or truly with anyone." If we are admonished to speak the truth by Paul, how can we be told by a church organization to conceal it for the good of all?
How does Ephesians 4:14-16 complement and deepen the meaning of 1 Corinthians 1:10? There are three areas in which this occurs: (1) to not be children any longer, (2) speaking the truth in love, and (3) being knit together.
The first area of application is "no longer being children." Wasn't that the root cause of their problem with factions? Paul confirms this in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3: "However, brethren, I could not talk to you as to spiritual [men], but as to nonspiritual [men of the flesh, in whom the carnal nature predominates], as to mere infants [in the new life] in Christ [unable to talk yet!]. I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet strong enough [to be ready for it]; but even yet you are not strong enough [to be ready for it], for you are still [unspiritual, having the nature] of the flesh [under the control of ordinary impulses]. For as long as [there are] envying and jealousy and wrangling and factions among you, are you not un-spiritual and of the flesh, behaving yourselves after a human standard and like mere (unchanged) men?"
Paul wants those who follow Christ to be fed the meat that results in spiritual maturity and not remain on the milk that results in spiritual immaturity. Studying and discussing the scriptures is part of our spiritual growth. How can we go beyond spiritual immaturity if a church organization does not allow open discussion of scriptures?
The second area of application is "speaking the truth in love," or "lovingly express truth." Paul wanted them to speak the same and be unified regarding Christ, not glorifying themselves or their leaders. They were thinking and speaking about who was the best leader and by doing so minimizing the Head of the body (Christ). Ephesians 4:15 gives the solution to speaking the same thing and putting the right One (Christ) first: "Rather, let our lives lovingly express truth [in all things, speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly]. Enfolded in love, let us grow up in every way and in all things into Him Who is the Head, [even] Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One)." We are to grow up into Christ. How can we grow if a church organization restricts open communication about the truth?
The third application is "being knit together." In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul said he didn't want any divisions, but he wanted them to "be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (New King James Version), or as the Amplified Bible reads, "but that you be perfectly united in your common understanding and in your opinion and judgments." Ephesians 4:16 shows how this can be done: "For because of Him the whole body (the church, in all its various parts), closely joined and firmly knit together by the joints and ligaments with which it is supplied, when each part [with power adapted to its need] is working properly [in all its functions], grows to full maturity, building itself up in love." Being knit together is a process of each part growing in maturity through love. If a church organization shuts down open communication about the scriptures, it interferes with the spiritual maturing process of the body of Christ. By hindering this process the body cannot be "firmly knit together," and it is the organization that actually causes the division between members, not the open discussion.
As stated above, speaking the truth in love is a process of growth for each Christian. If we are to grow into Christ and "no longer be children," then we have to stop being afraid to be adults. As Paul admonishes us in Hebrews 5:12-14: "For even though by this time you ought to be teaching others, you actually need someone to teach you over again the very first principles of God's Word. You have come to need milk, not solid food. For everyone who continues to feed on milk is obviously inexperienced and unskilled in the doctrine of righteousness (of conformity to the divine will in purpose, thought, and action), for he is a mere infant [not able to talk yet]! But solid food is for full-grown men, for those whose senses and mental faculties are trained by practice to discriminate and distinguish between what is morally good and noble and what is evil and contrary either to divine or human law."
Paul also shows clearly in 1 Corinthians 2:15-16 that there is no need to be afraid of someone openly speaking something different than official organization teachings. The spiritual man will be able to know what is or is not truth because he "tries all things [he examines, investigates, inquires into, questions, and discerns all things], yet is himself to be put on trial and judged by no one [he can read the meaning of everything, but no one can properly discern or appraise or get an insight into him]. For who has known or understood the mind (the counsels and purposes) of the Lord so as to guide and instruct Him and give Him knowledge? But we have the mind of Christ (the Messiah) and do hold the thoughts (feelings and purposes) of His heart." The organization should have no fear of division if it is teaching members to study and examine the scriptures. They will be "speaking the same thing," because it will be what scripture says: it will be the truth.
WHAT ABOUT A CHURCH GROUP’S APPROACH?
We have seen that the organization's interpretation of 1 Corinthians 1:10 is not based on the truth as revealed in scripture. Now we must examine whether the organization's sincerity and integrity of character is based on the truth. Is its belief that remaining silent about what a person believes, if it differs from official doctrines, based on the truth of the Bible? Is it scriptural to direct that a person should remain silent about what he/she believes, if it differs from what the organization teaches?
On the surface, this teaching may seem acceptable. After all, no one who is worshipping God in spirit and truth wants to cause division among the members. But can we only look on the surface when sincerity and integrity of character is subjective? Surface reasoning says, "If I don’t say anything, then no one will know what I think, everyone will live in peace, and it will appear that everyone is speaking the same thing." This is also the way a child thinks when he/she conceals the truth about doing something wrong -- "if no one knows what I did, then I can’t get in trouble!"
But is this reasoning correct? Not at all. The parents must explain to the child that telling the truth is always the right way. Somehow the wrong will be found out and the truth will become known. The parents must tell the child that concealment of the truth is only a form of deceit, and any form of deceit comes from the devil (John 8:44). They help the child to realize that God loves for us to tell the truth.
Does God want appearances of truth or the "real thing"? Does He want us to appear honest for the sake of unity or does He want us to be honest for the sake of Christ Who is in us? Does He want us to express sincerity and integrity of character only when it doesn’t conflict with the organization's beliefs, or does He want us to be honest, free from hypocrisy and morally sound all the time?
It is dishonest to allow others to think you agree with them when you do not. It is also dishonest to allow the organization to think we believe as they do just for the sake of unity. The organization wants us to live in peace with each other by living in fear of punishment for telling the truth. It forces us to reason as a child ("If no one knows I disagree, then I won’t get in trouble").
Isn’t it time we stop thinking like children? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:11, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (New King James Version).
We who are worshipping God in spirit and truth do not want to cause contention or division among the members by what we think or speak. All we want is to believe the truth, be taught the truth, live the truth, and speak the truth. That is what Christ did; that is what He personified. If we are to be like Christ, are we only to appear truthful? Vine's answers this question: Christ was the perfect expression of the truth; this is virtually equivalent to His statement in John 14:6: "Jesus said to him, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life...’" To be like Christ, we must have His mind ("the perfect expression of the truth") in us (Philippians 2:5). Was Christ’s mind concerned more about appearances of truth or unity, or about the deep spiritual truths of God? Isn’t it the Spirit that enables us to know the "deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10)?
If we are to live the example of Christ in our lives, having His mind (Spirit) within us, isn’t it evident that we must be more concerned with the deep truths of God rather than superficial appearances of the truth? We must be living examples of sincerity and integrity of character.
There should be no need for concealment, which is immature behavior and a trademark of Satan. It is the devil who is afraid of the truth. It is Satan who is afraid of us speaking the truth in love, not the Spirit that dwells within us. As scripture testifies, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7). It is that love that "rejoices in the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6, New King James Version).
The simplicity in Christ has always been there for us to see. Why then has 1 Corinthians 1:10 been explained out of context to support beliefs that affect every member within the organization? It is unfortunate for all concerned that the organization does not see the deeper and far-reaching consequences of its belief.
Some consequences of this practice include:
(1) It squelches the Spirit within each member from expressing itself and creates an atmosphere of fear rather than love.
(2) People are taught to be dishonest instead of open and truthful with other members.
(3) Because there is no openness on biblical topics, people become involved in social chit-chat instead of the things of God.
(4) It allows for an environment in which people look to the minister for biblical understanding instead of edifying themselves and others with their studies. It should be pointed out that looking to ministers for biblical understanding also allows for minister favoritism, the very problem 1 Corinthians 1:10 is really addressing.
(5) The most unfortunate and damaging consequence of all is that it instills loyalty to the church organization before loyalty to God. The primary focus of the organization's belief to "all speak the same thing" is not, "What does the Bible teach?", but rather, "What does the organization teach about the Bible -- whether it is right or wrong?"
THE CHOICE IS YOURS
What must we do when an organization's belief conflicts with worshipping God in spirit and truth (aletheia -- absolute truth)? It’s simple: Speak the truth (aletheuo -- deal truthfully) in love. As Paul states in Ephesians 4:25: "Therefore rejecting all falsity and being done now with it, let everyone express the truth with his neighbor, for we are all parts of one body and members one of another." Each individual must make a choice: Follow God and deal truthfully with everyone, or remain silent to appease the church organization.
If the organization continues to restrict open communication, there can be no true fellowship within it any longer. Since we cannot stop speaking the truth in love, the next choice to make is whether we wait for the organization to ask us to leave, or we leave on our own to live in peace.
God has made it clear. The truth (in both its objective and subjective usage) cannot be compromised in our lives. Christ cannot be compromised in our lives.
Let’s all seek diligently to have open, honest communication with everyone so we can always "speak the truth" with the greatest gift of all -- love.
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