Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Repost: Does Personal Faith Create Truth?

This is a post I made on my blog, Dr. Rob's Podium, on 30 April 2013.

30 April 2013

Does Personal Faith Create Truth?

In light of people talking about the personal faith of NBA player Jason Collins, it occurred to me that there is a false presumption underlying such discussions. I often hear people refer to one's faith as being personal, but they do so in a way that suggests that their personal faith creates truth. This implies that what is true for me is not necessarily true for you. Furthermore, it implies that we must not challenge each other's faith because it is personal. So, toleration becomes a denial of truth.

Well, I agree that we must respect each others beliefs. There is no place for disrespect or bullying when trying to persuade someone about the truth of a matter. I absolutely believe toleration is a characteristic of civil society. Yet, to suppress the truth is not healthy or right.

Yes, we all can and will differ on questions about the answer to the question, "What is truth?" For example, Jesus said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." Pontius Pilate replied, "What is truth?" (John 18:37b-38). This was Pilate's personal standard in judging Jesus.

I argue that faith, while being personal, does not create truth. Why? Because God exists, and is active in human affairs no matter what our individual faith about Him is, or what we think He requires from us. We in the United States often prefer "salad bar" faith where we pick and choose what we want to believe from our respective religions. Yes, that is personal faith, but it is not truth.

Christ suffered and died for our sins. That is truth whether I acknowledge it or not. My faith does not create a Christ who suffered for me (John 1:1-5). His Lordship over my life is not created by my faith in Him. He is the sovereign God even when I do not understand why He allows somethings to occur and does not prevent other things from occurring. He is sovereign when I do not agree with Him. Just ask Job (Job 42:1-6).

So, the Lordship of God has no place for salad bar Christianity, which is a personal faith where we each make my our own decisions about how to live our individual lives.

I am so glad this is the truth, because if the meaning of my life depended upon what I create through my faith, then I am in real trouble. Too often I make bad judgements, my motives are self-centered, and I know I do not understand God's entire purpose. My rationality is bounded by my human limitations, my human nature, but God is unbounded. So, I also know I need my Savior, Jesus Christ, so I can be in an eternal relationship with God. Indeed, God can be fully trusted even when I do not trust Him, and is faithful even when I am not faithful to Him.

So, if my faith does not create truth, what is faith? The writer of Hebrews in the Christian Bible said, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1, New American Standard Bible (NASB) (Kindle Locations 38146-38147). The Lockman Foundation. Kindle Edition.) These "things" which are not seen actually exist. So, these things are not dependent upon my faith, nor are they created by my faith.

Truth exists because only God can say, "I AM" (Exodus 3:14 & John 8:58). Truth originates in Him because He is the only Creator (Genesis 1:1 and John 1:3-5).

So, Jason Collins certainly has the right to his personal faith. The question still remains in this discussion, "What is truth?"

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pastors: an endangered species

Psalm 95:7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

John 10: 1-6  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
- Crossway Bibles (2011-02-09). The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition. 

Several years ago after my mother-in-law died, I was honored to speak at her church in Culver City, California representing our family. Her pastor was a real pastor, and was present in the hospital with her when she died. I was able to thank him being there for her. In this, I also commented that today we have many preachers, but few pastors. I thank God my mother-in-law had a pastor.

Years ago my aunt was suffering from cancer, and near the end fell into a coma from the painkillers she had to take. Her pastor came to the hospital room while she was in the coma, and family and friends gathered around her as he read from the Bible and prayed. It was very moving. He knew my aunt personally, and I later found out he had lost his wife to cancer some years before. So, this was something he had been through, as well. Another pastor had come to the hospital room the day before, but he did not know my aunt or any of the family and friends gathered there. His intentions were good, and I appreciated him coming to see her and be there for us. However, the personal touch was absent because he did not know her well.

I have known many a "pastor" who was like this. They work very, very hard, putting in long hours most every day of the week. However, they do not know their church members personally. These "pastors" are there when a crisis occurs and are available for council and comfort, but they are not well known by their people.

Most clergy I know are preachers, builders, managers, and some are scholars, but few are pastors. A pastor is one who shepherds a people. As the above passages from Psalms and the Gospel of John note, pastors know their sheep by hand, the sheep know their shepherd by his voice. Pastoring is personal, while preaching, building, and managing are all personal at best only to a few in the church who work with the pastor in these endeavors.

Tonight my wife and I were talking about pastors, and something came to me: pastoring does not begin with a crisis. You see my mother-in-law's pastor was already shepherding her. He knew her personally and was involved in her life. My aunt's pastor likewise knew her personally before she was diagnosed with cancer. Then when the crisis hit, they were their as a shepherd in the mode of the Shepherd, Jesus. He is the true shepherd.

Like I noted above, we have many preachers. We also have many builders, managers, and some scholars. Yet, we have few pastors. They are an endangered species.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Quote by Edmund Calamy the Elder

“They that delight in the Word, will be at any cost to bring the Word to their congregations; they will part with thousands of gold and silver, rather than with the Word. He that esteems the Word above thousands, will be willing to part with hundreds for the Word’s sake. He will account a famine of the Word more bitter than a famine of bread; by how much the soul is better than the body, by so much will he be more troubled for a soul famine than a bodily."
- Calamy, Edmund, The Godly Man's Ark (Kindle Locations 1305-1311). Puritan Publications. Kindle Edition.”

Edmund Calamy was faithful to his word. He was kicked out of the Church of England as a minister in 1662 rather than compromise against the Word. For such men, ministry is not simply a vocation, but a calling by God. When I think of leadership in the Church eternal, I think of men such as him.