We rejoiced together in our previous article in the fact that God has given us as Protestant Reformed Churches the one thing churches need more than anything: the knowledge of the truth. It is only by God’s grace that we have this precious gift, but how blessed and privileged we are to have it! For we also saw that many other churches are lacking in this today, are unwittingly suffering the consequences of this lack, and are attempting all sorts of things to counteract the consequences of their ignorance of the truth. And all of this will be unsuccessful. For God alone can determine what His church needs and He has determined that her greatest need is knowledge of the truth.
But how shocking is the breadth and depth of the lack of knowledge of the truth in churches today. The author of a recent article in Christianity Today, in referring to a sociologist’s book on American religion, says that “doctrinal ignorance is one feature of American religion” that amazes this sociologist the most. The author says, “He sites familiar statistics: 58 percent of Americans cannot name five of the Ten Commandments, and just under half know that Genesis is the first book of the Bible.”1In another article, Charles Colson reports “that most church and lay leaders—90 percent, according to one survey—have no understanding of worldview.” He also notices “signs that the church is dumbing down, moving from a word-driven message to an image—an emotion-driven message.”2
There are others, of course, in the modern church world who do know a bit more doctrine than is reflected by these statistics. But even among these, how many can clearly explain basic historic truths of Christianity? How many are there who cannot correctly explain, and therefore do not understand the Trinity, the Atonement, Predestination, the Origins of the universe, etc.?
Why does this ignorance exist in the church world today? There are especially two reasons. The first is that the church simply does not value intellectual knowledge anymore. The culture in which we live places more importance on an individual’s feelings, emotions, and experiences than on seeking and finding an absolute and logically knowable Truth. (This phenomenon is known as postmodernism.) To its shame, the church has allowed itself to be infected by this worldly philosophy rather than living antithetically opposed to the thinking of the culture in which she lives. Being infected with this thinking, then, churches do not value intellectual knowledge of the truth, and therefore do not bother to learn and at the same time are not taught by their ministers.
The second reason for this ignorance is the reality of false doctrine, false teaching in the churches. With widespread and rapidly increasing progress the lie is displacing the truth in so many churches today. And this despite the fact that the Scriptures are replete with texts (and even whole chapters) which explicitly warn the church against false doctrine and false teachers. One of these clear passages is Matthew 24:11 and 12, “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” In another place we read, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies…” (II Peter 2:1). And referring to only one more, a text which describes exactly what we see in the church world around us today: “… the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine…and they shall turn away their ears from the truth” (II Timothy 4:3, 4).
But is it really so simple? Is it true that simply a knowledge of the truth is what churches need today? Is it true that the churches’ lack of knowledge of truth is what is causing them to shrink rather than grow? Is a knowledge of the truth really the only thing churches need to regain in order to grow and thrive once again? It is. It is, with but one point of clarification. When we speak of a knowledge of the truth, we mean a believing knowledge of the truth. This means that first of all, and very importantly, one must have an intellectual, mental acknowledgment that the facts presented in Scripture are true. But then, also, for this knowledge to be real knowledge of the truth, one must also have a firm confidence that those truths mean something personal to him. A real knowledge of the truth is always this kind of knowledge, a knowledge of faith.
Having said this, we return to the question, is it really true that this knowledge of the truth, this believing knowledge of the truth, is so vital to churches today? Answer this: would you say that it is important for churches today to know Jesus? Of course it is. Since it is true, then, that it is vital for churches to know Jesus, it is equally true that churches must know the truth. For Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6.) Jesus Christ Himself is the Truth of God embodied. Everything He thinks is truth. Everything He does is in harmony with the truth. Everything He says is truth. So Christ is Truth, and because He is such, He reveals Truth (John 1:14, John 18:37). The Truth reveals the truth. Christ reveals the truth, and in doing so, reveals Himself. Knowing the truth, one knows Jesus.
You see then, knowledge of the truth is this fundamental, this serious. One who doesn’t know the truth doesn’t know Jesus. He simply cannot. This is so because one who doesn’t know Jesus, doesn’t know Him because he doesn’t know the truth with a believing knowledge. If you, as a believer, know Jesus, then you know the truth. And, if you, as a believer, know the truth, then you know Jesus. And the more you grow in the knowledge of the truth, the more you will grow in the knowledge of Jesus.
This truth that Jesus displays reveals Himself to us and also reveals God Triune to us. To Philip’s request, “Lord, show us the Father,” Jesus responded “…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:8,9). He that “sees” or knows Jesus with a believing knowledge, “sees” or knows the Father; and the Father here refers to the Triune God. He that knows Jesus knows God. So knowing the truth, the truth of the Scriptures, the doctrines of the Word of God, we know Jesus. And knowing Jesus, we know God.
This knowledge of God that is ours through our knowledge of the truth is a knowledge whereby we not only know about Him, but we know Him personally, as a Friend. And knowing God in this warm and personal way is life eternal, is salvation. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God” (John 17:3). This deep, warm knowledge of God gained only through a knowledge of the truth is what churches need so desperately today. And by God’s grace, this saving knowledge of God is what we have in our churches. May we be faithful to it and thankful every day.
1Christianity Today, October 2003, p. 34.
2Christianity Today, December 2003, p. 72.