by Dick Wamsley
In a 2020 survey conducted by Ligonier Ministries, 3,000 demographically balanced American adults, including 582 who identified as evangelicals, were asked to respond to the statement “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” Fully 30% of evangelicals agreed with that statement. In response to the statement, “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature,” 46% of evangelicals agreed and another 5% were not sure. In response to the statement, “Gender identity is a matter of choice,” 21% agreed and 6% were not sure. The survey also found that 54% of all Americans believe that truth is relative, including 25% of evangelicals.
I find those results very troubling when it comes to evangelicals, who supposedly believe the Bible is God’s inspired word, which says that Jesus was God in flesh and that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I also wonder what the churches where those who participated in the survey attend are teaching about Jesus, the Bible, and the church.
For many people today, the question is not “Is it true?” but “How do you feel about it?” Someone may feel very strongly about a belief, even be willing to die for that belief, and still be very wrong! In the survey cited earlier, 42% of evangelicals agreed with the statement “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.”
What’s at stake is that age-old question Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Leaders of churches need to be aware of the cultural pressure to accept the proposition that truth is relative, that there is no absolute truth, especially when it comes to religious beliefs.
Paul warned the church about those who will “turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:4). Peter had similar concerns when he wrote that false teachers will “bring in destructive heresies” and “because of them the way of truth with be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:1-2). John told his readers “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us … By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6). Jude issued similar warnings in his brief letter (verses 17-19).
Church leaders must always be on the alert in their role as protectors of the flock entrusted to them. That protection sometimes requires confrontation of those who oppose the truth, and that’s not easy. If you’ve ever had to confront someone who was in the wrong, you know what I mean. The need for confrontation is reflected in a popular ad series some time ago that said “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.”
Perhaps you’ve put off confronting someone about a moral failure because you’re afraid of alienating them. For the sake of the flock, it may be time to sit down, face to face, and have a serious talk about a lifestyle that contradicts the moral standards for church leaders. Or maybe a teacher or small group leader has been endorsing a doctrine that is counter to what your church teaches. Two or more leaders may need to confront that person about the endorsement of that doctrine, communicated in love. It was John R. Stott who said, “Love without truth is sentimentality. Truth without love is fanaticism. Love balanced with truth is Christianity.”
Our zeal to stand for absolute truth in a whatever culture must be communicated in love. To have strong convictions and not waver where the Bible speaks is good, but we also need a spirit of love and compassion for people. As the apostle Paul wrote the Ephesians, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
By the power of God’s grace, you can remain faithful to the truth of God’s Word in the midst of a culture whose foundations for truth are crumbling. As church leaders, the moral survival of the next generation may depend on the stand you take for truth today.