ARThe Search for the TruthHow should we approach the study of God’s words? What are some misconceptions and how do we go about the search for God’s truth?The Holy Spirit is the key to unlocking the gospel of truth, whose revelation is in accordance with God’s will. Therefore, we need the Spirit’s guidance so that it will lead us into the Bible’s mysteries and message.
VISIBLE WORKS VS. INVISIBLE TRUTHS
In any quest for knowledge, devotion to the thorough study of the subject guarantees success. The truth contained in the Bible, however, is unlike any field of learning on this earth.
[Human] eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the [mysteries] which God has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Cor 2:9)
For they far exceed the limits of human wisdom. Regardless of how vast and profound mankind may presume its knowledge to be, it is an irrefutable fact that “the world through wisdom did not know God?(cf. 1 Cor 1:21).
Yet, neither can we assume that those who are guided by the Holy Spirit gain complete understanding of the truth if it is not the will of God.
Moses did not know the name of the Father was Jesus; king David, an anointed of the Lord, did not know that God would descend in the flesh to save mankind; nor did the prophet Jeremiah, who knew the temple of God would be rebuilt 70 years after its destruction, ever suspect that the true church would rise from its very foundations in the latter days.
The truth comes from God and is understood through revelation. God gradually reveals the truth in His own time, depending upon man’s worthiness (cf. Rev 5:1-10). Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the path to the truth would lay hidden.
Therefore, not all who have received the Holy Spirit will receive all the mystery of God’s truth. Even for the apostle Paul, much of his deep understanding of the doctrine was gained through his suffering for the Lord and through the trials and tribulation he encountered during his ministry because God called him worthy to proclaim the gospel.
Therefore, when the Spirit works powerfully to open the way to the truth, it is not an assurance that believers in Christ will naturally comprehend all the mysteries of salvation.
And when the work of the Spirit takes a downturn, believers should not eliminate all possibility that the truth will be revealed—the prophetic books, for instance, were written during the decline of the chosen nation, and Revelation was completed as the early church began to stray from the truth.
CONFLICT OVER CIRCUMCISION
According to the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit worked mightily in the early church, and the apostles performed many wonders and signs.
However, the facts show that, in the years spanning the descent of the Holy Spirit to Jerusalem, the apostles must’ve heard about Peter’s ministry to Cornelius?family (Acts 11:1) and their acceptance of the gospel, but they did not address the necessity of circumcising gentiles.
For over a decade, the Gentile churches, which had been established through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, dealt with the issue of circumcision locally because policies were never established.
It also took over ten years for Paul, since his conversion from persecutor to an apostle serving the Gentiles, to come to a true understanding of why “the Gentiles who [were] turning to God?were freed from the Mosaic laws. Apparently, even Paul, though filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17), did not immediately understand the truth behind circumcision.
Circumcision is like any other profound teaching in the Bible (e.g., baptism, footwashing, Holy Communion). If the steps 1) believe in the Lord, 2) abide in His word, 3) become His disciples, 4) know the truth, 5) be made free (Jn 8:31, 32) are followed, what starts out inexplicably as “knowing what to do but not knowing why?will evolve into total understanding in complete accordance with the Bible.
REASON THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT
The details of how the Jerusalem council resolved that Gentile believers were free from the law, recorded in Acts 15, provide readers with an infallible method of seeking the truth. Paul and Barnabas were the first to understand Gentiles did not need to keep the law of circumcision, but they were unable to support their claims using the Scriptures.
Consequently, their debates in the Gentile region with the men from Judea were inconclusive. The church finally determined that Paul and Barnabas and several of the men should go up to Jerusalem and bring the question before the apostles and elders.
At the council, even the apostles and elders, all of who were filled with the Holy Spirit and loyal servants of God, held different perspectives and were unable to reach an agreement after long hours of debate (though pillars of the church and moved by the same Spirit, the level of understanding received by each apostle and elder varied).
When they reached an impasse, Peter reminded them of how the Holy Spirit had worked at Cornelius’s house and reasoned whether circumcising gentiles might be a form of testing God (Acts 15:10-11). The multitude kept silent upon hearing Peter’s words, though he did not support his views with verses from the Scriptures.
Then, Paul and Barnabas declared how God worked through them among the Gentiles. Finally, James spoke to the men and brethren gathered at the council using a passage from the Bible and declared what he “judged?they should do.
Since his view of the matter agreed with the words of the prophets, the apostles and elders set aside their differences and agreed that “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to [them]?the Gentile believers could remain uncircumcised.
James quoted the following passage:
After this I will return
And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen down.
I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up,
So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says the Lord who does all these things. (Acts 15:16f)
No analysis of this passage would give an interpretation that the church “should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who [were] turning to God.?But the apostles and elders were able to deduce from these insignificant verses the great grace of salvation and resolve that their conclusion was “good to the Holy Spirit.?/p>
Beyond the words and phrases of each verse, the Holy Spirit, a power so great it can bring people to life, must be present in the search of the truth. We must be able to determine whether or not the “reasoning?behind the interpretation of a verse is led by the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 7:25; Acts 16:10).
The Bible clearly records, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out grain,?yet Paul loudly asks, “Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes??(1 Cor 9:9, 10) Paul’s argument is irrational if taken literally, but who can argue against the power of his spiritual judgment?
“Reasoning?is a form of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, which is integral to the search for the truth. This is the main reason why services, meetings, and debates involving two or more people must be held in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
SAME CHURCH, DIFFERENT POLICIES
In actuality, the policies that Paul implemented in the Gentile churches were different from those observed by the other apostles serving the churches in Judea: the Gentile believers did not keep the law of Moses, but numerous believers in Judea were zealous for the law (Acts 21:20).
This was not a matter of right or wrong but of the time at which understanding of the truth was received. Because of this, we cannot say that Paul was more spiritually uplifted than the apostles who followed Jesus.
We can only go so far as to say that time and circumstances allowed Paul to gain more insight on this controversial issue. After all, the problems that Paul faced in the Gentile churches concerning the Mosaic laws differed greatly from the problems encountered by the apostles in Judea.
Circumstances forced him to think about issues that would never have crossed the minds of those living in Jewish circles. He may have understood the truth behind not imposing circumcision on the Gentiles, but he could not provide Biblical references to convince the council.
Peter and James, on the other hand, who had not had the opportunity to think about this matter due to the cultural environment in which they lived, quickly gained enlightenment and were able to settle the conflict in a way that was both suitable for the Gentile churches and in accordance with the Bible.
They resolved to “not trouble those from among the Gentiles who [were] turning to God?(Acts 15:19). The Jerusalem council may have exempted the Gentiles from “trouble,?but circumcision was a Mosaic law still observed by the Jews who believed in the Lord (cf. Acts 21:21, 22).
If, in the future, a person of the Jewish faith were to accept the gospel, should he or she be required to keep the Mosaic laws—to be circumcised? Most of us our answers would be a definite “no!?though we may not be able to find specific support from the Bible (which actually provides more evidence to the contrary that one should be circumcised).
How else can we defend ourselves from accusations that the teachings of our church exceed the bounds of those taught by the apostles than by “reasoning?
BIBLE MYSTERIES GRADUALLY REVEALED
From the conflict over circumcision we can see how differing environments caused the Gentile and the Jerusalem churches, even though both received the same Spirit, to observe the Mosaic laws differently.
Hypothetically, within the true church established by the Holy Spirit, believers should not deny the validity of past decisions or oppose the provisions each general assembly must add to resolutions in order to adapt to its social or cultural environment.
It is true different policies between the assemblies, however temporary, inconvenience the believers. But did Paul not also encounter the same problem? After the council, Paul, who firmly insisted at the council that circumcision was not necessary for salvation, circumcised his companion Timothy while they traveled through Lystra and Iconium because of the Jews in that region (Acts 16:1-5)!
Would this type of spirit and sense, if found in the true church today, also garner the same understanding and praise?
When Moses asked God what His name was, God answered, “I AM WHO I AM. Moses, unhappy with this reply, said that the children of Israel would not believe he was sent by God to deliver them (Ex 3:13-4:1).
This incident shows that the mysteries of the Bible are gradually revealed, no matter how anxious we may be to speed up the process. Those who serve God, who love Him and seek the truth, can only make the best decision possible at the time through the guidance of the Spirit given the circumstances and how much the Bible has been revealed.
No one should judge past teachings to be wrong based on present knowledge. How can the local churches and the church as a whole mature into adults without traversing the trial-and-error stage of childhood?
Paul very clearly states: “the [imperfect] law was our tutor to bring us to [the perfect] Christ?(cf. Gal 3:23-25). The law is far from the grace of salvation, but it is a necessary step toward understanding God, just as a child lacks understanding but is a stage that all adults must go through.
Just because Jesus Christ was born of the Holy Spirit and was the Holy Father in the flesh did not mean that He could skip the learning process and wait for revelations to drop down from the sky.
After Jesus Christ fulfilled His purpose on earth and returned to heaven, Luke, in his letter to Theophilus, wrote: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature?(Lk 2:52). What message does this convey to us?
UNITED IN ONE FAITH
In our search for the truth, we need to be aware that the Scriptures become clearer as it is opened by God. If the church is making a concerted effort to unify our faith in consistence with the truth, individuals and local churches should not cling to past decisions that were made according to the small portion of the Bible that was revealed.
Furthermore, what each individual (or region) receives spiritually may differ, but what is received usually is in the spirit of, or is founded in, the Bible. Under these circumstances, we should display the same attitude as that of Paul in his encouragement to the church in Philippi: “Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you?(Phil 3:15).
May the Spirit guiding us in our understanding of the truth continue to lead the true church down the path of the truth, so that we may soon be adorned and be prepared to meet the Lord of “the way, the truth, and the life.