All true Christians have had the experience of bumping up against some Scriptural truth that runs totally contrary to our line of thinking and which threatens some long held and cherished assumption, presupposition, or denominational dogma. Such times can be disconcerting, to say the least.
Psychologically, no one likes to admit they have been wrong, especially about beliefs that are deeply embedded, in which they have much invested, and on which they have based the course of their life and pinned their hopes for eternity. Then there are the personal consequences associated with changing one’s beliefs to consider. How will this impact my relationships, associations, friendships, and even possibly my livelihood? We might have to leave a church, even an entire denomination in which we were raised. Such implications can be terrifying.
Voices from Past Saints
While recently reading a biography of Adoniram Judson, the first American foreign missionary, I was impressed with his commitment to biblical fidelity, no matter where the truth may lead him. His commitment was sorely tested on his trip from America to India. During the six-month long sea voyage, Judson decided to study the Greek word for baptism. As the son of a Congregationalist pastor, his theological tradition had ingrained in him the practice of baptism by sprinkling. However, the more he studied, the more he began to doubt the doctrine in which he had been raised, and even more, the doctrine held by his wife, the three other missionaries with him, and the mission board that had sent him. His wife Ann was horrified. She recorded in her diary, “If he should renounce his former sentiments, he must offend his friends at home, hazard his reputation, and, what is still more trying, be separated from his missionary associates.”
Out of self-defense, Ann began to study for herself. As she pored over her Bible she confided, “I must acknowledge that the face of Scripture does favour the Baptist sentiments. I intend to persevere in examining the subject, and hope that I shall be disposed to embrace the truth, whatever it may be. It is painfully mortifying to my natural feelings, to think seriously of renouncing a system which I have been taught from infancy to believe and respect, and embrace one which I have been taught to despise. O that the Spirit of God may enlighten and direct my mind — may prevent my retaining an old error, or embracing a new one.”
Adoniram and Ann came to the same conclusion at about the same time. He stated their conviction “that the immersion of a professing believer is the only Christian baptism … . Feeling, therefore, that we are in an unbaptized state, we wish to profess our faith in Christ by being baptized in obedience to His sacred commands.” They were both baptized in Calcutta by a member of the William Carey mission. After the ceremony, Ann wrote, “Thus we are confirmed Baptists, not because we wanted to be, but because truth compelled us to be. We have endeavored to count the cost, and be preparing for the severe trials resulting from this change of sentiment. We anticipate the loss of reputation, and the affection and esteem of many of our American friends. But the most trying circumstance attending this change, and that which has caused us the most pain, is the separation which must take place between us and our dear missionary associates … . We feel that we are alone in the world, with no real friend but each other, no one on whom we can depend but God.”
The Berean Christians
Such devotion to truth, even at the risk of great personal loss, is totally foreign and almost incomprehensible to most professing Christians today. But this is precisely the commitment for which Luke commends the Bereans in Acts 17:10-13. Sadly, it is a commitment which very few professing Christians have any taste or time for, much less any experiential acquaintance with. Most are content to remain blissfully and willfully ignorant of truth. Such self-imposed ignorance simply betrays a heart that has no love for truth and therefore no real love for God.
At best they are like the Jews to whom Elijah issued the challenge, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him, but if Baal follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). Their response was predictable, “But the people did not answer him a word.” They were tactfully noncommittal and unobjectionably vague. They had enough religion to be respectable but not enough to be offensive.
Arguing with Truth vs. Wrestling with Truth
Others, however, will argue with truth. There is a great difference between arguing with truth and wrestling with truth. Arguing rejects or reinterprets truth and is hostile to truth when it conflicts with a person’s fleshly desires, presuppositions, or mistaken principles. Wrestling examines truth when it conflicts with our own views, then submits the mind and actions to truth. The Jews of Berea “were more noble-minded than” the Jews of Thessalonica (Acts 17:10-13). The Bereans wrestled with the truth, comparing the truth as taught by Paul with the testimony of Scripture, even though everything they were hearing from Paul was contrary to many of their presuppositions concerning the Messiah, Messianic doctrine, and even the nature of salvation. They were noble-minded because they submitted their minds and presuppositions to the authority of Scripture rather than reject or reinterpret truth to fit their preconceived understandings, traditions, and denominational dogmas.
The Jews of Thessalonica on the other hand argued with truth and were hostile to truth, so much so that they incited a violent mob to oppose the truth (Acts 17:5, 13). The same three responses are found today within the church whenever the truth of Scripture is preached with any depth, precision, authority, and clarity. Some will be confronted with truth that runs counter to what they had always assumed to be true or contradicts previously held assumptions and convictions; or they hear the meaning of Scripture explained within its context which overturns their traditional understanding; or they hear doctrines they have never heard which shed a whole new light on the nature of salvation, the nature of man, and the nature of God. And some of these people will wrestle with these new concepts, perhaps for a lengthy time.
They may at first reject what they hear, but soon they will open their Bibles and compare what they have heard with Scripture. They will ask questions, seek clarification, consider the implications, and even perhaps lose sleep thinking about what they have heard. But after they have wrestled with the truth, the Holy Spirit brings them to the conclusion that these things must be so, and they submit their mind and embrace the truth as treasure found in a field and as a pearl of great price. They order their thinking and life accordingly. A genuine Christian wants to know the truth, they are hungry for the truth, they yearn for knowledge even at the expense of their own presuppositions, denominational attachments, personal relationships, and greatest desires, because more than anything else they long to know and please the Object of their affection.
But other people will have a knee-jerk reaction to anything that conflicts with their presuppositions, or that threatens to undermine some false assurance, or exposes a deeply-held conviction as mistaken, or conflicts with their chosen lifestyle and some personal desire. Their immediate reaction will be, “you can’t make the Bible say that,” and that is as far as they will go. An unsaved person has no desire to have a deficient knowledge of Scripture corrected. They are enamored with their own wisdom, proud of their own discoveries, satisfied with their own crude and mistaken understandings, and resistant to having their beliefs tested by the standards of Scripture. They make no attempt to examine the Scripture to see if these things are so, or only an insincere attempt, and only so they can find enough evidence to refute what they do not want to believe. They will pick and choose passages they think support their presupposition and reject or ignore those that contradict their presupposition. Their primary goal is to defend their presupposition, not make an honest attempt to arrive at truth, and when they encounter the truth all they do is argue. They set themselves up as the ultimate determiner of truth. Hypocrites argue, saints wrestle, and dead fish simply go with the flow.
Four years after hearing of his son’s renouncement of the Congregationalist doctrine of baptism, Adoniram Judson, Senior, after wrestling with God’s word and at the age of sixty-seven, came to the same conclusion as his son. He resigned his pastorate of a Congregationalist church in Plymouth and was baptized the last day of August, 1817, in the Second Baptist Church of Boston, along with his wife and his daughter, Abigail. So, are you a wrestler, a disputer, or do you just float downstream with the rest of the dead fish? I pray you will wrestle with the answer.