Monday, February 13, 2012

RELIGIOUS TESTIMONY: PART 3. HOW TO CONFIRM WHAT YOU BELIEVE








To declare the deep-down religious testimony of what you believe can be spiritually and emotionally rewarding. The caution is, however, that you should make every effort to confirm what you believe, so that when you verbalize your testimony you can know it is true beyond the shadow of a doubt.

If you follow the three points in this post, it should remove any doubt about what you believe and rid those nagging negatives that often buzz around in the back of your head. For many, confirming what you believe will be a defining moment. You must, however, be totally truthful with yourself.

In Parts 1 and 2, you discovered:

  • What a testimony is
  • The problem with claims of "heaven-sent" testimonies
  • For Bible believers, what God will and will not spiritually testify to
  • Twelve traps that blind one in assessing the truth of one's religion
  • How to counter the traps —invaluable insights and safeguards
(If you missed Parts 1 and 2 of this series, scroll down)

The problem with admitting being wrong. No one likes to admit that they have been wrong—especially when it comes to one's faith. For some of you who have already found this out, perhaps it was because you fell for one of the twelve traps discussed in last week's post. Self-deception and discovering you have been wrong is a difficult and painful pill to swallow, as Sinclair B. Ferguson notes:

As we grow as Christians [and as human beings] we come to the painful recognition that we have an almost unlimited capacity for self-deception.1

There were times in years past where I said to myself, "I know without a doubt such and such is true, because . . ." But I discovered that my "because" fell into one of the deceptive traps mentioned in last week's post. I have read of others, more specifically those in the fringe religions and cults, who have had their belief rug yanked out from beneath them. It is a devastating experience. For that reason you may be reluctant to follow the three steps below, fearful of what it may reveal.

Your moment of truth: the process. Confirming beliefs involves a process. That means it won't be instantaneous. Yet, that is how we learn. No one can jump from kindergarten to college and skip the in-between process. W. Edwards Deming said, "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you are doing.(2)" Certainly, you want to know what you're doing in this process, and this post will tell you what to do. It will consist of critical thinking, questioning beliefs (even if you don't want to), evaluating evidence, looking at the facts, making assessments, and arriving at a conclusion. Therefore, your mission, should you decide to accept it, is as follows.


THREE STEPS TO CONFIRM WHAT YOU BELIEVE


"Without a standard [yardstick] there is no logical basis for making a decision
or taking action."3

STEP ONE

Establish a yardstick! Truth and error cannot be ascertained unless there is something to measure it by. For example, if you want to know the accurate size of a piece of plywood you automatically reach for a yardstick. This is because it has been established as the official standard for measuring. If you hold a totally different yardstick up to the plywood, the measurement will be false and you will be deceived.

It works the same for religion. If one is to assess the truth of one's testimony about Mormonism, the Moonies', even a denomination within Christianity, a yardstick, or standard of measurement, is crucial. Even Groucho Marx realized this necessity when he said, "I was going to thrash them within an inch of their lives, but I didn't have a tape measure." (A bit of humor . . . I couldn't resist.)

"If you can't measure something, you can't understand it."
H. James Harrington4

What is the yardstick? You thought I was going to say right off … the Bible. Well, yes and no. First, no, because in today's world everything should be suspect, and that includes the Bible. Don't take it on faith. But yes, the Bible is my yardstick—but only because I did my homework following the three steps.

You cannot proceed to confirm your beliefs until you decide upon what your standard of measure will be. However, the choice of yardsticks rests with you; but what you choose must necessarily relegate other measuring sticks as irrelevant and non-effective. You can only have one yardstick.

Are there other yardsticks besides the Bible? Of course. You may choose from any of the "sacred" texts of the world as your yardstick. Here are a few examples. Most, not all, claim to be revelation from God or an angel:
  • The Kitab-I-Aqdas, Bahai's "Most Holy Book"
  • Theravada Buddhism's Sutra and Pali Tipitaka
  • The Analects of Confucius
  • Hinduism's Vedas
  • Islam's Koran
  • The Argams of Jainism
  • The Tao-te Ching of Taoism
  • The Bible
  • Mormonism's Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price.
  • . . . the list could go on.
Believers in every one of the above texts exhibit fervent testimonies that effectively convert others (mentioned in Trap 1 of previous post). But the spiritual testimonies of "followers" are not based on physical evidence. They are subjective; therefore must be considered suspect. One might suggest that the personal testimonies of the New Testament writers fall into this category; but the testimonies of Peter, James, John and the other apostles were based on eyewitness accounts of the physical Jesus, although they later received a second witness from heaven (Mt. 16:14-17). That's the significant difference.

Whatever standard of measurement you choose, whether the Tao-te Ching, the Vedas, the Book of Mormon, or the Bible, it must reign as "Supreme King" in your life and be acknowledged by you as God's ultimate Word. Then, it follows that your personal testimony cannot contradict that text's contents.

For example, if you choose the Bible as your standard of measurement, your testimony must consist of the Bible's core messages (mentioned under Trap 2 of the last post), with no extra doctrines or beliefs added. Logic then dictates that any other text you might "want" to include must first be held up to the Bible and measured. If it falls short and contradicts, you can't switch standards simply because you can't face it.

If, as another example, a Mormon chooses the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) as God's measuring standard, that member's verbally claimed, heaven-sent testimony must jibe with its contents . . . but, out of necessity, the Bible must be relegated to a lower status (which the LDS Church has done), because there cannot be two standards of measurement, especially when they differ from one another—and the D&C conflicts with the Bible. This is the reason the LDS Church states that the Bible is full of errors. They use their literature as the standard yardstick, and measure the Bible against it.

However, the Bible, though written by men, is not faulty as some churches may claim, as Dr. Travis Kerns, Asst. Prof of Christian Worldview and Apologetics at Southern Seminary points out:

Though God's word to humanity was given through fallible human authors, the message was given through the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and the text is, therefore, without error (inerrant) and does not fail in what it teaches (infallible)."5

Is he prejudiced? Of course. But Dr. Kerns, like myself, has already put the Bible to the test and found that the Bible's trustworthiness is the grounding foundation to measure all religious beliefs and testimonies by.

What convinced me? What first opened my eyes as a Mormon, was when I was teaching the Gospel Doctrine class on the Dead Sea Scrolls. I believed, as LDS leaders dictated, that the Bible was faulty, full of mistakes and unreliable; whereas the Book of Mormon was the pure word of God. But when I discovered that 95% of the words from the Isaiah scroll were word-for-word identical with the Hebrew text (Masoretic) in our present KJV Bible, and the other 5% consisted of minor slips of the pen and variations in spelling, I could reach no other conclusion but that the Bible was not faulty. My leaders were wrong! More study convinced me that God had seen to it that His scriptures were preserved down through the centuries as a safeguard to measure truth and error by. This way, His children wouldn't be "tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine that sounds like truth." (Eph. 4:14).

Any text that doesn't measure up to the standard of the Bible will, out of necessity, need to be rejected as false.

The Holy Spirit, concerned over how easy it is to embrace false beliefs, inspired Paul to issue a warning about anyone, or any text, claiming extra-biblical revelation:

"Though we, or an angel from heaven, or a man, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we [the apostles] have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8, 9)

Since the majority of those who read this blog are Christians, Mormons and ex-Mormons (although there may be a few agnostics, atheists, even existentialists), and they accept the Bible on some level, this next step will use the example of the Bible as the chosen standard of measurement; but if you have chosen another text as your standard, for example, the Book of Mormon, you can apply these same steps.

STEP TWO

Read and study the genuine first! If you are going to measure what you believe and hold it up to the yardstick you have chosen, in this instance, the Bible, then you must study it first. A bank teller is not taught how to detect counterfeit bills. Rather, he or she is taught how to detect the genuine first. Then, when a counterfeit bill goes through their hands they immediately recognize it. Similarly, when one studies the Bible first, the false can more easily be detected.

STEP THREE
Examine objective (material) evidence. "Prove all things; hold fast to that which is true" (1 Thess. 5:2). Don't take the Bible on faith alone! Now, I'm not saying, don't take God on faith. We have to do that. But, there are many who have faith in God who believe the Bible is so faulty that it isn't worthy to be relied upon. In those cases, I say, switch over to your intellectual mode and consider examining all objective evidence on the Bible. Do the same for whatever other book you are considering. However, you will find that in the case of the Bible, the continual discovery of ancient manuscripts and archaeological discoveries provide hard evidence that prove its reliability (versus, for example, the Book of Mormon that has no archaeological evidences or gold plates to back it up).

Motivate yourself in this step to ask questions (make a list), dig for answers; establish the truth or falsehood of what you have chosen as your standard rule of measurement. Since we are using the Bible as our example, you can start with this question: "Is the Bible really reliable?"

Here are a few questions to ask about it:
  • Does the discovery of ancient manuscripts corroborate the accuracy of today's Old and New Testaments?
  • Do the nearly four thousand year-old statements in the Old Testament about the universe match today's scientific facts? (If not, this certainly makes the rest of the Bible suspect.)
  • Do archaeological digs confirm the Bible and its characters as a reliable, historical document?
Can you refute the following claims of Bible critics?
  • The Bible is nothing more than a book of poetic mythology, comparable to Homer’s Iliad.
  • The Israelites, Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, David, and some of the kings mentioned in the Bible never existed.
  • The JEPD theory proves that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible.
  • The Old Testament books are not contemporary records, but Jewish fables and folklore fabricated centuries after the events took place.
  • The Bible is unreliable as a historical document.
Now, don't sweat about how you're going to dig up all this information! I've done it all for you in my article, "Is the Bible Reliable?" In it, I present the discoveries and analyses of ancient Biblical manuscripts that verify the accuracy of NT text transmissions, list scientific statements in the Old Testament and match them with today's science, and itemize archaeological digs that verify the history of the Bible and its major characters. It's all being dropped in your lap with my compliments!

For your final check, ask yourself:
  • What yardstick have I chosen to measure the beliefs that I so fervently testify to? Have I considered the Bible?
  • Am I honestly willing to study it first, and then measure my beliefs against it?
  • Have I objectively and thoroughly investigated all physical evidence to substantiate the text I have chosen as my yardstick? What if there isn't any?
  • Does the content of my religious testimony about my church's beliefs match the Bible's content, or does it contain contradictions?
  • If my church claims extra-biblical books, are there historical or archaeological evidences to substantiate them?
  • Is love for my church blinding me to the possibility that my beliefs and personal testimony might be based on untruths?
  • Can a Moonie's, a Mormon's, a Christian's, or any other fringe religion's members' personal testimony all be given by the Holy Spirit as claimed, if they conflict? If they do, how do I reconcile this?
  • Do my personal objections to confirming what I believe, fall into any of the ten traps listed in Post No. 2?
God bless you in your search for confirmation. And don't forget to check out my article, "Is the Bible Reliable?" I urge you to do this. For those of you who have already chosen the Bible as your yardstick, it will reaffirm your faith in how well God saw to the preservation of His Word. For those who believe in God, but still struggle over whether to keep the Bible in a lower status compared to other sacred books you may previously have chosen, the article will dispel that notion. It will also change your view on any Biblical criticisms you may have been influenced by, will verify the Bible's authenticity, and confirm its validity as the only yardstick to measure truth and error by.

I leave you with this:

"Nothing is more shameful than to affirm before knowing."

Until next time,

Janis Hutchinson

Footnotes:
1.  Sinclair B. Ferguson, in Healthy Christian Growth, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA. 1991, p. 5.
    Cited at http://thegracetabernacle.org/quotes/Deception.htm. [brackets mine]
2.  W. Edwards Deming, American Statistician. Cited at http://thinkexist.com/quotation/ [brackets mine]
3.  Joseph M. Juran 1904-1908. Cited at: http://corpslakes.usace.army.mil/employees/perform/quotes.cfm.
4.  H. James Harrington. 1611 – 1677. Cited at http://www.littlethingsmatter.com/blog
5.  Dr. Travis Kerns. http://drtraviskerns.blogspot.com/ (with permission)

Click on "My books" on the dashboard to read the synopses.



2 comments:

  1. The Latin word "Canon" that we use to describe the books of the Bible means "measuring rod." So in a very real sense, the Bible is our yard stick.

    ReplyDelete

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