Assembly Truth: Back to the Basics8 min read
Relativism is the assertion that truth is relative and not absolute or objective: at one point in history this was actually frowned upon by local churches in North America and Europe. One easily saw its folly by seeing the simple logic trap of asserting absolutely that absolute truth did not exist, thus being a contradiction in and of itself. Since then much has changed. Theological liberalism was adopted as “evangelical,” ecumenism began to pervade, the hippie mentality of the ’60s began to question the reverence due to God’s house, the Charismatic movement arose and gained 500 million members, the prosperity gospel came along with that, easy-believism replaced repentance, and the seeker-sensitive church movement came as well. Thus general evangelicalism today is fairly pragmatic in its attitude: if something works, do it. I do what is best for me; you do what is best for you. Make your church services into rock concerts to evangelize the youth. Make the world feel totally comfortable and at home so you can be more popular amongst the community. It is practically assumed throughout modern Christianity that doctrine divides, truth is only absolute in regard to salvation, and judging between right and wrong is legalistic. With that being said, we should feel threatened amongst God’s assemblies, because it is very rare that majority opinion does not affect the next generation, regardless of how conservative a background it possesses. What one generation assumed to be Biblical and obvious will be what another generation relinquishes and condemns as being “old-fashioned.” Why? Because an attitude of relativism will pervade if we don’t make the effort to reclaim God’s assembly God’s way. But where must we start if we are going to progress in studying assembly truth? Sadly we have to start at the bare beginning: we must ask if truth exists at all. The answer cannot but have tremendous implications.
The Existence of Truth
“But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.” Ephesians 4:20-21
Truth and its affiliate words are mentioned in the Bible over 300 times. Scripture does not apologize for using the word, it does not disclaim the use of the word, nor does it feel the need to prove truth’s existence. Why? Because the very assumption of God’s existence necessitates the existence of truth. We as believers understand by faith “that the worlds were framed by the word of God.” There should be no question of that in our minds. If there were, we wouldn’t be studying about the assembly. But there is more to our claim of belief than just God’s existence, for if we believe in the God of the Bible we must believe in a God of truth. That is who He reveals Himself to be, and to reject that is to believe in a false god by default.
This brings us to our verse, which says “the truth is in Jesus.” Lukewarm Christianity would have us love Jesus apart from truth; however, in reality, that Jesus doesn’t exist. It is impossible to separate truth from the Person of Christ: He embodies it. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Dear believers, it cannot be any other way. True Christianity must believe in truth which is absolute, unwavering, and unmovable. Otherwise, the Lord Jesus just becomes a nice-sounding sage of history that associates with the ranks of Buddha, Muhammad, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and history’s popes. We all know this is absolutely and unquestionably wrong. But this is what is at stake in the debate for truth’s existence.
The Knowability of Truth
“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.” John 16:13
John lived to write the fulfilment of that promise in 1 John 2:20, “But ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.” Again, this is very basic but very essential to lay out as a foundational principle. Many Christians would say truth exists, while in their attitude making it seem as if it were unknowable. When faced with a simple right-or-wrong question, they would respond “It’s not my place to judge,” implying there was no real way to assess the situation. 1 Corinthians 2 plainly states “He that is spiritual judges (discerns) all things… For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” We can be confident, despite the misunderstood accusations of “being judgemental,” that Scripture commends our taking an absolute stance on what it plainly says. Truth is knowable. We have both the mind of Christ and the guidance of the Spirit. It would be an insult to disregard these factors in suggesting that truth is unknowable. Let us not be afraid to see what Scripture says, interpret what it plainly means, and stand upon it without reserve. It is only consistent to do this if we claim belief in a God of truth.
The Importance of Truth
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24
“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” – John 17:17
These verses present to us a couple vital facts to grasp, and they will act as representative for the centrality of truth in the entirety of Christianity. One is that without truth we cannot worship properly. The other is that without truth we have no basis for holiness. Both of these are emphasized in the Old Testament Law – God’s standards of holiness for approaching Him in worship and service. If in reading Leviticus you didn’t have too many devotional thoughts, at least understand this one point: all that and more was essential to properly approach the one true God. Such should emphasize to us His inestimable holiness. That is why personal sanctification and worship are so vital to understand and have the correct basis for. But what does this have to do with the importance of truth? Just this: the extent to which God emphasized absolute holiness in worship is the same extent to which the Lord Jesus emphasized the importance of absolute truth by applying it as being fundamental to both those things. Thus to deny the importance of truth is to diminish the holiness of God as well as the core of our Christian profession. Be it far from us to say truth is a secondary thing! Otherwise, if truth is not for us, neither is Christianity.
Applying this to the Assembly
Now that a foundation has been laid regarding truth’s existence, ability to be known, and importance, we need to ask ourselves “Can I apply these principles to studying the assembly?”
First of all, does God have a way of doing things in His house? Well 1 Corinthians 14:37 would answer with a resounding “yes!”: “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” Even so, are they knowable? The obvious answer is indeed “yes” since God’s way of assembly practice has been written down. Since the answer to both of those questions is “yes,” why does it suddenly become arrogance to say “This is God’s pattern for the assembly”? Many would say we can’t be dogmatic about assembly truth, because there are just so many people who do things differently. But wait, aren’t there many people who do things differently in regard to salvation? Does this mean we should forsake Christ as the only way just because there are so many other people who reject Him as such? Obviously not. Why? Because God’s truth always ends with a period: it is absolute at all times and at all levels. And so with salvation, it is not about us, but about God’s authority. Now we need to ask “Does it become any less absolute when it comes to the assembly?” If we are honest with Scripture and with logic, we will need to say no. And if the answer is no, it becomes just as legitimate to advocate one way of assembly practice as it is to advocate one way of salvation. Why? Because when God speaks, He speaks. And we really have no right to say some words are optional based on the reasoning that they don’t affect our salvation. Consistent Christianity finds no problem finding God’s pattern for His house, standing on it, and practising it. This isn’t arrogance: it is just being consistent. In fact, one could argue that true arrogance is trying to categorize God’s own words into “essential” and “non-essential.” It really isn’t about us, but about what our attitude towards God’s truth is going to be. Our study on God’s assembly must begin objectively just like any other discussion about truth. To say we can’t be sure about assembly practice as laid out in the New Testament, we might as well say we can’t be sure about salvation as laid out in the New Testament, or any absolute truth for that matter. If God doesn’t mean what He says about His house, why would He suddenly mean what He says about salvation? Assembly truth is just that: truth that we must find and follow. Biblically and logically, we just can’t have it any other way.