“Question authority” was the self-defining cry of the baby boomer generation. A half century on from the adoption of that credo, their children and grandchildren see no need to question it, for they believe that authority resides in themselves. In an age where truth is relativized, it is back to the mindset of the Judges’ epoch: “…everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg. 21:23.) Personal opinions are considered sacrosanct and may not be questioned. Any unpopular viewpoint – such as biblical truth – is branded “intolerant” and is rejected outright without any consideration for truth. Truth is pliable and is no longer deemed absolute. Yet the early church shows us that real authority is only found in God’s word, which was delivered to the church through the apostles and prophets who wrote under the Spirit’s control (2 Pet. 1:21; Jn. 16:13-15).
What Is Truth?
In the mid twentieth century, British preacher D.M. Lloyd-Jones diagnosed the West’s relativistic malaise this way: “There is no authority; there is no sanction at all. One person’s opinion is as good as another’s. And not only that, these ideas are always changing. There was a time when everybody would agree in condemning sexual perversion, but not today – it is glorified. That is public opinion with respect to morality. You never know. A view that is right today may be wrong tomorrow. You are never certain of anything; everything is moving and shifting. Where are you? What are you to do? There is no standard. What is the use of condemning this proposed magazine? What authority have you got? Perhaps it will be all right tomorrow – perhaps the philosophers will all be on that side. You do not know; you have nothing on which you can rest. No, no, there is only one standard, and that is the standard of God’s law, which is eternal and unchangeable . . . No other beginning is of any value. You have to come here. This truth is eternal; it is absolute. Let philosophies come and go; let climates of opinion change; let winds of change blow in every sense—moral and ethical as well as political. Here is the only thing that abides.” 1
Three decades later, D.A. Carson similarly noted the postmodern attitude in modern America writing: “Exclusiveness is the one religious idea that cannot be tolerated. Correspondingly, proselytism is a dirty word. One cannot fail to observe a crushing irony: the gospel of relativistic tolerance is perhaps the most ‘evangelistic’ movement in Western culture at the moment, demanding assent and brooking no rivals.” 2
The past few years prove the accuracy of these analyses. Of late, the prestigious universities of America are struggling over the preservation of freedom of speech (even freedom of thought!) as the mob shouts down any dissenting voices. In May 2017, a respected Roman Catholic professor resigned from Duke University, after subjected to vociferous bullying when he dared question racial equity training suggested by the faculty. As he explained his reason for leaving, he singled out the pressure-filled climate of the school, where true thought and sincere conviction are pressured out of the public square. In his words: “Harsh and direct disagreement places thought under pressure. That is its point. Pressure can be intellectually productive: forced to look closely at arguments against a beloved position helps those who hold it to burnish and buttress it as often as it moves them to abandon it. But pressure also causes pain and fear; and when those under pressure find these things difficult to bear, they’ll sometimes use any means possible to make the pressure and the pain go away. They feel unsafe, threatened, put upon, and so they react by deploying the soft violence of the law or the harder violence of the aggressive and speech-denying protest. Both moves are common enough in our élite universities now, as is their support by the powers that be. Tolerance for intellectual pain is less than it was. So is tolerance for argument.”3 In such a climate, debate is suppressed and the loudest – often the most violent – opinion wins.
The Only Opinion That Matters is the Lord’s
Man’s relativism and intolerance of truth stems from rebellion against his creator. Like all of the other human “isms,” postmodernism is just another variation of the old lie: “…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Man becomes his own arbiter of truth and morality by rejecting the actual Lawgiver. But this revolt will fail, for the God who revealed Himself in the Scriptures will one day call mankind to account for rejecting His word. (Acts 17:31).
The early believers based their belief and practice on the teaching that the Spirit of God delivered to the apostles; as Acts 2:42 describes: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” They did not invent the proper order for their meetings, nor the proper subjects for their worship and praise; instead, they received God’s truth and steadfastly continued in it. Every generation of believers must go back to the source of all truth by prayerfully learning His word and practicing what they discover therein.
But why trust the apostles? How do we know that they did not just capriciously invent things according to their preferences? Paul counters this by declaring that his apostleship was not of human origin, nor was it of man’s ordination; instead it came directly from the Almighty: “Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)” (Gal. 1:1, emphasis mine.) His commission as a divinely sent messenger and teacher of God’s revelation came directly from the Father and the Son (see also Gal. 1:10-17). The risen Christ gave this deposit to Paul and the other apostles (Jn. 14:26; 1 Cor. 15:3-11), and Christ’s credentials and the reality of His redemptive work are validated by the resurrection itself (Rom. 1:4). Through His sacrificial death and powerful resurrection, Christ defeated death, paid for sin, upheld the Father’s righteousness, triumphed over spiritual principalities and powers, and demonstrated God’s gracious incomparable love for sinners. This is truth vindicated by the empty tomb, bearing witness to the risen Savior!
The Church’s Manual
The modern church sometimes looks to the world for truth: business techniques are copied, psychological principles are imbibed, and compromise with scientific naturalism and worldly entertainment affects her teaching and practice. But we must shake off these foreign influences and cling to the One who is the truth (Jn. 14:6). His truth is declared in the Bible, and though men suppress it (Rom. 1:18), we must unashamedly proclaim and live it (Rom. 1:16).
1. D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity, Vol. 1. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 123.
2. D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 33.
3. Paul Griffiths, “To the University with Love: Why I Resigned from Duke,” in Commonwealth Magazine, 5/18/17.