Continuing my series on Church Conflicts Often Overlook Some Basic Truths About Truth (click here for part 1 and part 2), today I consider how the second exchange between Pilate and Jesus recorded in the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of John reveals another truth about the nature of truth. In verse 35, Pilate asks:
“What is it you have done?”
Similar to Jesus’s response discussed in my previous post, again, Jesus doesn’t answer Pilate’s question; He doesn’t merely continue a line of presupposition based on the actions and beliefs of others. Rather, Jesus speaks truth by saying:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18:36
Pilate hears words of eternal truth but they must have seemed very strange to him. His world was one dominated by the concerns and pressures of temporal life, not of eternity. As an unbeliever, Pilate has no philosophical or other worldview that would allow him to put the words of Jesus into the context of eternity, but that doesn’t prevent Jesus from speaking them anyway. The real issue that Pilate can’t grasp is that there is another kingdom, an eternal one that will outlast the Roman Empire and all other kingdoms ever established by man.
In church conflicts we often see a similar dynamic at work; a disconnect over the real issues that prevents meaningful discussion and dialog. Too often one group pursues a divisive issue on the basis of their preference or opinion (grounded often in their fears) while another seeks to follow broader principles and not mere personal preference. Usually, the first group doesn’t even see a connection between “their issue” (their agenda), and the broader principles advocated by the second group. An “issue” cannot be discussed in any meaningful manner when one group fails to move from what is frequently labeled “the pragmatic solution” (the press of temporal concerns), to a principled basis of discussion because it seems irrelevant to them. Just as Pilate was thinking of worldly realms and unable to discern the truth that there is a heavenly kingdom, many people in conflict stay so focused on the issue as they have defined it they are blinded to any other possible option.
Eternal truth, as Jesus demonstrates, cannot be compromised simply for the sake of peace. Just because Pilate cannot make a proper evaluation of Jesus’s words of truth doesn’t prevent Jesus from speaking the truth to him. By unabashedly proclaiming his kingdom and his kingship, Jesus does more than speak eternal truth; he shows us that when we are confronted with conflicts in His church we cannot compromise truth for peace simply because we can’t move our discussion of temporal concerns to the application of eternal principles. In speaking truth to Pilate, Jesus confronts Pilate’s understanding of the issue before him. In the church, we must be ready to do the same and that means being ready to help others see issues from God’s perspective so that God’s principles revealed in the Scriptures can then be turned to for answers. We have been called to be “speakers of truth” after our Lord and that means we must know how the truth is to be applied, even when an issue at first may seem to be merely a matter of only temporal concern. God’s Word is sufficient for all of faith and life but that means we must discern, even at the point of just defining what the issues really are, what principles of eternal truth will apply. That is how we begin to define truthful issues and move away from false ones.
Even the 17th century rationalist philosopher Spinoza acknowledged:
“He who would distinguish the true from the false must have an adequate idea of what is true and false.”
Our ability to define true issues assumes our ability to know the truth and Jesus assures us that we can know truth:
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32
Truth distinguishes real issues from false ones. We cannot be satisfied in our quest to redeem church conflicts for God’s glory by allowing our discussions to be driven by the formulation of issue statements that disconnect us from the principles of eternal truth. In our book Redeeming Church Conflicts we quote our friend Dr. Paul Tripp:
“Insightful people are insightful not because they have the right answers but because they have asked the right questions. If you do not ask the right questions, you will never get to the right answers.”
This is true because redeeming church conflicts requires the reframing of the conflict into eternal (best) questions. The search for truth begins by asking truthful questions. We help those in the church trapped in conflict when we help them formulate their concerns into meaningful issue statements that can be the subject of discussion around the application of Scriptural principles. To do less is to not speak the truth in love as we have been commanded to do as Christ’s disciples. We are really his disciples when we practice this aspect of the nature of truth.
Tara here: Just a note to wish Dave a very happy birthday today! Thanks for these great posts, Dave. We appreciate you so much! With love from the Barthels—Fred, Tara, Sophia & Ella