The nature of truth, from a biblical perspective, is highly relevant to the topic of redeeming church conflicts because most church conflicts are about a clash of opposing beliefs, opinions, preferences, and worldviews. One person or group believes they are right and others are wrong. Usually, when we believe we are “right”, we believe something is “true.” (Most people don’t back causes they believe to be false.) And for Christians? All too often, it is a small step from believing we have “the truth” (and are therefore “right”) to believing that “God is on our side” and “God Himself must be defended” because “it is His truth that is at stake.”
So, what is a biblical perspective concerning all of these claims about truth?
Consider the account of Jesus before Pilate found at John 18:28 through 19:16. In just a few short verses, we find two statements concerning the nature of truth that will help all of us to be wise in the midst of church conflict. The first statement we see is Jesus’s response to Pilate’s question at verse 18:33:
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
In context, it is quite possible that Pilate’s attitude was sarcastic and even sneering as he asked this accusatory question. Knowing the governmental hierarchy of his day, Pilate knew that the Jews, being a “religious” people, were governed through their high priest and not a king. Thus, it is quite possible that his question was not an honest question, but one rather intended to trap and condemn.
Sadly, in too many church conflicts, those are the kinds of questions being thrown around: sarcastic, sneering accusations intended to trap and condemn. Truth is neither the motivation nor the goal.
The way Jesus responded to Pilate’s question is the key point here. Jesus did not answer Pilate’s question. Rather, in verse 34, he asked Pilate:
“Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?”
By responding thusly, Jesus challenged the presuppositions inherent in Pilate’s question, the manner in which Pilate had formed his thinking, and how Pilate’s present mindset was being communicated. Such steps are necessary in any serious conversation about truth because presuppositions leading to beliefs must be challenged if truth is to be grasped.
Consider how this applies in our church conflicts. As mediators, over and over again, Tara and I have (hopefully gently!) helped people to think about what they think. Our prayerful hope is that we can help them to rightly discern how they have formed the perspectives they hold. Only then, can communications among conflicted people be honest and productive. Of course, we often must work very hard to overcome the relativistic thinking predominate in our culture (and our churches) wherein even the existence of any absolute truth is questioned. Without the plumb line of the Word of God (and the Word of God Made Flesh—Jesus), Christians in conflicted churches become mired by bias, presumption, presupposition, rationalization, compromise, self-serving pride and self-righteousness.
We honor truth by not answering “loaded” questions but instead, by gently and graciously questioning questions through a gentle exploration of what really lies behind the current thinking of those making statements and asking questions that are loaded with presuppositions.
As Pilate looked into the face of Jesus and asked “What is truth?” little did he realize that he was looking upon the greatest expression and manifestation of truth ever known:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6
As we look into the face of Jesus we can find truth even in the midst of our conflicts if we know what we are looking for and how to go about the search. We have been called in the church to be the manifestation of truth:
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ephesians 3:10
Paul precedes this passage with an explanation of his call to preach “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” and to make known the administration of the gospel. In the church today we are called to display the manifold wisdom of God. Having been called to that task we also know that God has given to us all we need to be wise and to be found faithful because he has said:
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 1 Peter 1:3-4
God has enabled us to be wise. We may participate in the divine nature and be found faithful in our search for truth because God has enabled us through his divine power and promises. We have no excuse. Redeeming our church conflicts is an assignment and we can do it. We have His Word on it.
For the glory of the Lamb,
Note: Some commentators take a position that Pilate’s question was actually sincere because of the various rebellious plots and talk of a forceful overthrow of Rome by the Jew’s but there is little historical evidence that Pilate, at this time, was fearful of such an event.