Truth, Propositional and Relational

February 14, 2013

The excellent article below was written by Cecil May, Jr. who currently serves as a Dean at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. Brother May is a highly respected scholar of the Word, educator, and preacher. The article first appeared in the February 2013 publication, Preacher Talk. It is presented here with his permission. Brother May’s email is cmay@faulkner.edu if you would like to contact him about the article. 

A frequently heard postmodern statement is “Truth is not propositional; it is relational.

It is worthy of notice that much of postmodern writing and conversation, including this sentence, is self-contradictory. “Truth is not propositional; it is relational,” is itself a proposition. Is it true?

It is important to understand that Christian truth is personal and relational. Jesus is a person and he is truth personified (John 14:6). Jesus said in a prayer to his Father, “And this is eternal life, that they know you are the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

In order to know “the only true God and Jesus” we must know what Scripture tells us about them; or better said, what they tell us about themselves in Scripture. But an unbeliever can know everything Scripture says about Jesus and still not have eternal life. It is one thing to know about him and another to know him. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). There is a real person to whom the facts in Scripture speak, and we know him, the living Christ by faith. Christian truth is relational. It also brings us into precious relationships with others who by faith follow Jesus Christ to eternal life.

Christian truth is also propositional. Any sentence intended to state a truth is a proposition and that describes  many Christian truths. Jesus’ statements, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), are often cited to show truth is relational. But they are propositions, and if they are not truth, there is no basis for saying truth is relational.

Simon Peter’s statement to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), is a proposition. If it is not true, any relationship people may think they have is not with Jesus, but with an invention of their own subjective imaginations.

“Jesus is Lord” and “God raised Jesus from the dead” are propositions. They are true and they must be believed and confessed if we are to have a relationship with Jesus and God. “Because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9)

Jesus himself asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Propositional truth  becomes relational truth when we trust and obey.


We Are All in it Together

September 20, 2012

From the archives:

 

To say that the Corinthian church had problems would be more than a slight understatement. Even though they were God’s church, they weren’t acting much like it. They allowed personalities, noncritical issues, and jealousies to divide them. They forgot the wonderful and imperative principle of unity. They were splintered and hurting. They needed a strong dose of spiritual medicine and the Apostle Paul provided it.

In 12:12-26 he reminds them of a crucial and basic truth. It is all about unity. In essence his message to them was “We are all in this together.” We still are:

  • Everyone is Extremely Important. By using the human body to analogize, Paul demonstrates the essentiality of every member. The weak, the feeble, the struggling are just as significant and necessary as the strong and vibrant. The church cannot function in the fullest sense without any of them. Every single person is needed in God’s church. We don’t dare think otherwise. Instead of allowing our weaker parts to fall away, we should be fighting for their souls.
  • We are Not in Competition. Our eyes do not compete with our ears. They each have their place and function and both contribute vitally to the well being of the body. Shouldn’t it be this way in the church as well? Our ministry efforts should support one another. Each of us should be in the glorious business of encouraging one another. Why should anyone ever feel threatened by the good work of others? Rather we should be rejoicing and giving God all of the glory and praise for the fruitful labor of those in Christ’s body.
  • God Put Us Here. Just where he wanted us to be (vs. 18)! Who are we to question his wisdom? It is an arrogant act to bind where God has not bound and draw lines of fellowship and acceptance that have never existed. To mistreat or turn away from our brothers and sisters because of jealousies or pettiness (or any reason) is totally out of place in God’s church.
  • We Need Each Other. No one should ever be so presumptuous as to think or say otherwise. In this context Paul emphasizes that even the weakest  among us is “indispensable.” Yes, some among us will struggle and stumble, but God wants us to allow them space to grow and encourage that process within them. We will not make heaven alone. We need each other and we need to express it. Let’s love and encourage our brothers and sisters all along our journey together to heaven!
  • Let Division Never Be! This was Paul’s foundational message to Corinth. Division on every level is damaging. Are personalities, jealousies, pride, prejudice, and issues really worth the hurt and pain of division? The wounds and scars of division run deep and call for long recovery. It ought not ever be in God’s house. We are all one in Christ Jesus.

Christ paid the ultimate price for this unity. We do not have the right or authority to tamper with it. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” is how Paul states it in this text. We are all in it together. What a marvelous blessing. Let’s demonstrate it!


When Church Makes You Sick

February 21, 2012

Ephesus was a tough assignment. The church was broken. False teaching poisoned the atmosphere. There was an intimidation factor among the leadership. Young widows were being manipulated, creating havoc in benevolent efforts and overall church affairs. They dressed scandalously and spent their time gossiping while on the church dime. The church treasury was being plundered by greedy preachers who also served as elders. In fact it was they who were stirring up the women and poisoning the church- guys like Alexander and Hymenaeus.

Into this mess Paul sent young Timothy.

In reading the two letters that bear his name, you get the impression that he was not quite ready for it. Repeatedly Paul had to prop him up. Paul knew of the fire-pit Timothy had been thrust into and knew the tremendous task that awaited him- as well as the great need for Timothy to succeed in leading this church back to good health. (Just read 1 Timothy 1). But Timothy seemed to struggle.

So Paul urged him to “fight the good fight.”  He reminded him to live up to the anointing he had received. He counseled him not to be intimidated because he was younger than the treacherous Ephesian church leadership. He encouraged him to overcome his shyness and fear to speak boldly and fearlessly for God. He repeatedly used words like “command” to nudge Timothy to be more forceful in carrying out his work as an evangelist- while at the same time providing him meticulous instructions on how to proper handle himself to best guard his reputation in the volatile climate of that church.  Paul even continually reminded Timothy of the kind of healthy teaching he was to share in order to counter the popular but unwholesome fables which were wrecking that church- almost as if Timothy was himself in danger of being sucked into these controversies.

Among all of this advice, instruction, reminders, warnings, and encouragement is this:

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and frequent illnesses- 1 Timothy 5:23

So Timothy had stomach problems. Really? It should come as no surprise considering the pressure he was under. The church had made him sick!

Outrageous? I don’t think so. If you have ever been involved in anything like what he was dealing with- you can relate. Could it be that Paul’s teaching to men about “raising holy hands” in prayer was meant not only just to teach a prayer posture, but to prevent them from using their hands to harass and hurt each other?

Yes, the church can make you sick,  Not the beautiful bride of Christ in all of her splendor and glory, but the weak, misguided, flesh-bound folks who, by grace, make up this church. We can make that much of a mess- and when we do it ain’t pretty. Timothy lived it in Ephesus.

So what did he do?

He hung in there. He endured hardship. He did the work of an evangelist. He continued to emphasize healthy teaching. He avoided being sucked into foolish and empty discussions. He demonstrated a better leadership model than previously seen in Ephesus. He worked to squash quarrels. He unashamedly testified about Christ. He knew Jesus was the answer to make that church whole again. He leaned on what he had known since his infancy- God’s Word. He never gave up, quit, ran away, or considered a job change. He guarded what Paul had entrusted to him. He gave it all he had- for the kingdom’s sake. Ephesus was, after all, still God’s church.

It wasn’t easy for him. Who likes to be sick? But he endured and by the time we read about Ephesus again- it was a healthier church.

So remember Timothy if the church ever makes you sick. Don’t give up. Rather work to bring healing. It may be why you are there.

“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”


“We Will Understand It Better By and By”

March 14, 2011

The melody still echoes vividly in my memory. I was in college and visiting the Tipton Street Church of Christ in Kosciusko, Mississippi. The rich voices and harmony of my brothers and sisters singing:

Trials dark on every hand,
and we cannot understand
all the ways of God would lead us
to that blessed promised land;
but he guides us with his eye,
and we’ll follow till we die,
for we’ll understand it better by and by.

With tsunamis crashing down; gas prices skyrocketing up; crises in the Middle East; civil unrest in the States; cancer being diagnosed in my family and friends; and consistent attempts to marginalize the message of Christ, it is certainly a time of “trials dark on every hand.”  Part of me desires immediate answers and solutions- just like Job. But- just like Job- those answers are not for me to wrestle with now. (See Job 38-42.) Instead I am called upon by God to live by faith.

I recognize that this seems a poor solution by some- maybe even a uninformed substitute for reality. But to me it is the only context through which to process life with any hope at all.  Outside of faith, the answers often still do not add up- leaving more questions. Plus there is nothing to hope for beyond what we have. God promises more. In him there is hope beyond our trials.

Consider Paul’s counsel in Romans 8:16-39. God promises:

  • Sonship- The Spirit testifies that we are God’s children. We are the sons and daughters of God. Amazing to consider, but true. He adopted us (Ephesians 1:5) and placed us into his family (1 Corinthians 12:18). No matter how dark the trials get we are assured the blessings of God’s family.
  • Inheritance- One of those joys is our promised inheritance which is equal that of Christ himself. Imagine the immense riches awaiting all God’s children! But also know this- it may also mean an equal share in the suffering of Christ. Heaven, however, Paul next reminds us- will be worth it.
  • Future Glory- Compared to the glory of eternal treasure that awaits- our trials are truly minimal (see also 2 Corinthians 4:17). Granted, this is a faith perspective. Job did not think his trials minimal, but eventually through faith was able to realize a greater perspective and rediscover his ability to trust God.
  • Victory- We are “more than conquerors.” Only through a faith perspective can we comprehend this. In Christ we have resources and certain promises that disasters, recessions, terrorism, injustice and disease cannot diminish. Nothing can separate us from the wonderful, eternal consequences of God’s love.

I freely admit. I do not understand it all now, but I put my faith in him who does.

By and by, when the morning comes,
when the saints of God are gathered home,
we’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome,
for we’ll understand it better by and by.


Endeavor to Keep the Unity!

February 22, 2011

Such was Paul’s divine mandate to the Ephesians (4:1-6). But the original source of this idea is even above Paul’s head. Remember Christ’s unity prayer in John 17:20-23? Unity is a precious biblical commodity. Division discredits the Christian message and disqualifies Christians as credible messengers of Christ. A unified people are a strong people. A unified church is a mighty force for God. Little wonder why Paul repeatedly emphasized it (see 1 Corinthians 1:10).

The Psalmist had it right, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity” (133:1)

Some points to consider about unity:

  • Unity Takes Effort.  This is why Paul instructs us to “make every effort” or to “endeavor.” Developing and maintaining unity among even people who have much in common often takes an intentional effort. To do it- our hearts must be filled with humility, gentleness, patience and love (4:2) and our focus must be upon what holds us together (In the text Paul’s provides” seven ones” around which we should unite).
  • There is Unity in Diversity. Actually it can’t be found any other way. Beyond the “seven ones” of the Ephesian text there was great diversity in New Testament churches. Even as Paul instructed the Corinthians to “speak the same thing” he allowed for differences on certain matters. Jewish Christians and Greek Christians came to Christ’s with vastly divergent backgrounds and expectations. In the book of Romans Paul teaches them how to find unity in this diversity.  It wasn’t easy. It takes a certain amount of  accepting each other just as we are. Remember unity takes effort- especially in diversity, but it is well worth it. We have an old saying about unity in Churches of Christ which states it well: “In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things, love.”
  • Unity is My Responsibility. I must do my part to maintain it. Never should I assume I have the right to tamper with it. God has clearly mandated that no division should exist within Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:25).  It is in fact unity created by his Spirit and he absolutely “hates” it when this unity is threatened (Read Proverbs 6:16-19). If this unity is disturbed I am to make every effort- “in the bond of peace”- to restore it.
  • Unity Reflects Heaven. How can we be a credible witness for the unity of the Godhead and their mission to unify us to them through the blood of Jesus (Ephesians 2:14-18) if we are a divided people? Division, divisive attitudes, factions, fear, splits, continuousness, polarization do not reflect heaven. Seeking unity through peace, patience, grace, humility and the wisdom of God does.

There is nothing quite as beautiful and satisfying to the Father than to see his children working, worshipping, and living together united. By the way, there is nothing quite as threatening to Satan either.

So take up this “endeavor” and make every effort to promote unity and peace in and out of God’s church. Let’s all strive to be one as Christ and the Father are one.


“Blessed Are the Peacemakers”

February 17, 2011

So says the Prince of Peace (See Matthew 5:9). He knows whereof he speaks- having himself brought peace and reconciliation to the Creator and the creation through his blood (Ephesians 2:14-18). Now he seeks a people of peace. Disciples who will share it, honor it and promote it. Who will let this “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7) reign and overflow to others. Peacemakers are blessed. “They shall be called sons of God,” Jesus says.

This peace stems from the very person of God (1 Thessalonians 4:23). Strife, divisiveness, arguments, dissention, turmoil, factions, grudges, confusion, etc. have no place where he reigns. (God “hates” such- Proverbs 6:19). Nor should any of these define God’s people.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. – Romans 14:19

This is what peacemakers do and their ministry is just as urgently needed now- in and out of the church- as ever.

Peacemakers:

  • Seek Solutions.  Like spiritual ambassadors always seeking out a way to let peace rule. Problems always exist. Peacemakers seek to peacefully solve them.
  • Promote Harmony.  This is at the heart of peacemaking. Like Scripture teaches, “Finally all of you, live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8).
  • Generate Goodwill.  The atmosphere created and encouraged by peacemakers is a joy. That is why it is a “beatitude.” It is spiritually healthy and conducive for growth and goodwill.

God blesses all who seek and promote his peace. All who do are lights shining a dark world. All who do are invaluable to God’s kingdom. All who do are sons and daughters of the King!

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18

With this blessed attitude we can’t go wrong.  Praise God for the peacemakers!


Does He Mean Me?

February 9, 2011

Just the text: 

Matthew 25: 32-46 (The Message

32 Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, 33 putting sheep to his right and goats to his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. 35 And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, 36 I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? 38 And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ 39 40 Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. 42 And why? Because – I was hungry and you gave me no meal, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was homeless and you gave me no bed, I was shivering and you gave me no clothes, Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’ 44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’ 45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me – you failed to do it to me.’ 46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”

 Now, just some questions:

  1. Is Jesus really saying that I am to do these things personally- does he mean me or is this some general parable that I can take figuratively?
  2. How do these things fit into what I have prioritized as most important in my Christian walk?
  3. Who are the “overlooked and ignored?”
  4. Are these kinds of people really worth our effort?  (After all in terms of contributing to the church they seem to offer little.)
  5. Is Jesus really in these kinds of people?
  6. What difference would it make if we believed he was? Why?
  7. Will we really be sent to our “eternal doom” if we fail to do these things?
  8. What kind of difference can we make if we do them?
  9. Is there any significance in the placement of this story in the timeline of Christ’s ministry? What might that be?
  10. Why do you think Jesus reacts as he does to those he calls the “goats?”