How do we find the truth? Some things are determined to be true because you observe them to be so. For example, if you walk out your front door and see clouds in the sky, you can say with certainty, “there are clouds in the sky.” You know that’s a true statement because you objectively observed the clouds.
Spiritual truths and prophecies are somewhat more difficult to figure out. It has often been said to me by wise persons that the Bible, while being the written Word of God, can be “made” to say whatever you want it to say. In other words, if you read the Bible with your mind already made up about what it means, you can take verses out of context and “make” it say what you want it to say.
Many years ago the Reverend John Wesley developed what we now call the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” As a diagram, it’s a box with four sides. Inside the box is the truth, how we know God. Each side of the box represents a means of knowing: Scripture, Experience, Reason and Tradition.
Scripture, taken in context and studied with the aid of the Holy Spirit, reveals the truth of God. But though it reveals truth, we still study through the veil of our own prejudices and inadequacies.
I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at interpreting the scriptures, but through the years I have changed my mind about a number of “truths” I held. Having been spiritually raised in churches of the baptismal regeneration tradition, I believed for a long time that in order to have a right relationship with Christ, one had to be immersed in water in order to obtain the forgiveness of their sins. Then, in 1981 while studying late one night, I came to believe that isn’t the case. I read the same Bible but came to a different conclusion.
Every disciple of Jesus experiences answers to prayer and a sense that God is “leading” him or her. Sometimes, people have some pretty radical experiences. How do we know they’re from God? It may be “true” that the experience happened, but that doesn’t mean the experience taught divine truth. The devil loves to mislead us.
A dear friend of mine began having spiritual experiences. He told our pastor and me that God told him to do some rather bizarre things. The one that concerned us most was the “leading” to quit working and just study the Bible all day long. He had several small children at home and we pointed out that the Bible teaches us to provide for our families or we’re worse than an unbeliever. He told us, “This is bigger than the Bible.” It felt right to him, but he was wrong as could be and it was a costly mistake. Experience alone is inadequate.
The church of Jesus Christ is 1,978 or 1,981 years old, depending on whether you use the Julian or Gregorian calendar. That’s nearly two millennia! It only makes sense that our faith has not come to us in a vacuum, but has evolved in the life of the church. To ignore the overall testimony of Christian history is a mistake.
For example, the majority opinion of the church through the centuries has been that God is a holy trinity in divine unity. That is, there is one God who exists simultaneously as three persons. Of course, a majority can be wrong sometimes. But the vast number of Bible scholars in agreement through the ages offers us some comfort.
At the same time, one cannot wholly rely on Church tradition to teach us because the motives of some historical figures are suspect. And we remember that Jesus said to the religious leaders of His day, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” (Mark 7:8 NIV)
Reason is the ability to think rationally and logically. Reason is concerned with that which is objective, but faith is a subjective commodity. Hence, reason alone is inadequate to determine spiritual truth.
However, reason can take the results of our studies of scripture, our personal spiritual experiences, and the testimonies of Christian tradition and draw logical conclusions. And those conclusions are likely truth.
An Exercise with Wesley’s Quadrilateral
Recently, Harold Camping of Family Radio predicted the rapture of the church on May 21, which fell through. He now says Jesus will come on October 21. How might Harold and his followers use Wesley’s Quadrilateral to find the truth?
First of all, look at Scripture. Jesus said, “But of that day and hour knoweth no [man], no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” (Matthew 24:36 KJV) Side one of the box says you can’t predict the day or hour of his return.
Secondly, look at experience. Did the Holy Spirit lead you to think that someone who falsely predicted Christ’s return before was a false teacher? I think most Christians probably experienced something like that. Red flags sure went up for me! Side two of the box says you can’t predict the day or hour.
Thirdly, let’s take a look at the tradition of the church. Have there been predictors of Christ’s return down through the centuries? Yes, and they were all wrong. Plus, the greatest minds in the church for two millennia say you can’t know when Jesus shall return. Side three of the box says you can’t predict the day or hour.
Lastly, look at reason. Does it make sense that a mortal man would be able to figure out when the Father will send His Son back when Jesus said even He did not know? Of course, it doesn’t. And combining this bit of logic with the other three sides of Wesley’s box causes us to conclude that you can’t know the day or hour of Christ’s return!
If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck…IT’S A DUCK!
If Scripture says you can’t know the day or hour when Jesus is coming back, and experience leads you to believe you can’t know the day or hour when Jesus is coming back, and the tradition of the church teaches that you can’t know the day or hour when Jesus is coming back, and reason makes you believe you can’t know the day or hour when Jesus is coming back…THEN YOU CAN’T KNOW THE DAY OR HOUR WHEN JESUS IS COMING BACK!
Score one for Wesley’s Quadrilateral. I encourage you to use this tool to help you determine the truth. I sure wish Harold Camping would use it.