Berean cogitations

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Being too picky about the truth?

One of my friends recently said, "I think that sometimes, Christians can be like the Pharisees. They can be so picky about the truth that they become unloving."

I reflected on that and said, "I don't think that's accurate. The problem with the Pharisees wasn't that they were TOO picky about the truth. Quite the opposite, really. They didn't care enough about correct doctrine, and so they deviated greatly from God's Word."

To illustrate this fact, consider the following encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees:

At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath through the grainfields, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Behold, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath." (Matthew 12:1-2)

On the surface, one might think that the Pharisees were correct. However, consider Christ's response:

But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did, when he became hungry, he and his companions; how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are innocent? But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, 'I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

I do not wish to digress into the theology of the Sabbath right now, as that would merit its own discussion. Rather, I want to call attention to Christ's response: "Have you not read...?" Jesus didn't say, "Oh, lighten up! You folks are just way too picky about doctrine!" No, he castigated them for failing to consider Scriptures carefully. Jesus meticulously emphasized the nuances of God's Word, whereas the Pharisees lacked that careful attention.

In fact, I count three specific instances on which Christ rebukes the Pharisees by saying, "Have you not read...?" (Matthew 12:3, 12:5, 19:4). Apparently, Jesus didn't think that the Pharisees were very good about discerning the truth at all!

You can NEVER be too picky about the truth. Now, there may be times where the truth is not entirely clear, and we must acknowledge these instances. However, that is vastly different from saying that we musn't be too picky when it comes to correct doctrine. (In fact, in such situations, I daresay that the truthful approach would be to say, "I don't know for sure"!)

Now, it is indeed true that Christians can sometimes be unloving toward people with different views -- including fellow believers. However, I don't think this is due to being "too picky" with regard to truth. Rather, I think it's caused by a failure to understand the other person's view or situation, or a lack of desire to do so.

Additionally, I daresay that a lack of attention to truth is often unloving in itself. It basically amounts to saying, "I don't particularly care if people believe correct doctrine or if they fall into error." It's a subtly unloving attitude.

Finally, let us note how Paul urged believers to "test all things" (! Thess 5:21). He also commended the Bereans for testing every doctrine against the authority of Scripture. At no point did the Apostle Paul say, "Oh, you Bereans are just way too picky when it comes to truth! Lighten up. It's just not that important." No, Paul emphasized the need to fastidiously check the truth of each doctrine... and so should we.