“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21)
We live in an age that has a lot of ideas about a great many things even when it comes to matters of theology. Peruse many of the latest titles in your Christian bookstore and you will find series of books that compare and contrast various viewpoints on any number of theological issues with scholars presenting their position and then commenting on the pros and cons of the assertions made by their fellow scholars. I will admit that I do enjoy these types of books at times, especially when they are on a subject matter that peaks my interest.
With that said, what is of greater interest to me is the variety of positions that continue to remain on a great many biblical subjects. For example, if we take the issue of the beginning portion of Scripture (i.e. creation), one can find a variety of positions on the when, why, and how of creation to include Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution, and many other combinations. How is one to select which viewpoint to take? There are after all passionate pleas by scholars on all of these viewpoints and since most if not all positions use Scripture, how does one go about selecting a position, if any of them? Perhaps this is the reason far too many believers fail to engage in theology as a whole and leave the Bible study to their pastor and academics, hoping that what they are being taught is biblically sound.
Is the throw your hands up in the air and hope what you are being taught is biblically sound how Scripture desires us to approach our understanding and application of Scripture? Are we just supposed to read Christian books and blogs under the impression that what we are reading is correct? Are we supposed to affirm everything our denomination teaches or what a particular church creed asserts as being completely correct?
I do not see anywhere in Scripture that states we are to accept the words of finite man as the final arbiter of truth. Conversely, what we do find are commands such as found in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 which states, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” So what does this mean to prove all things? Is “all” really “all” when it comes to the need to prove the validity of a position?
The word translated prove is the Greek verb dokimazō which means “to test, examine, prove, scrutinize (to see whether a thing is genuine or not); to recognize as genuine after examination, to approve, deem worthy”. Since this is a verb, it connotes the reality of action on the part of the individual. As we move to the next word in this verse we find the word translated all which is the Greek adjective pas meaning “each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything”. So clearly we have the command to investigate and test every single thing we hear, read, or think.
The standard by which we are to investigate everything is not what our favorite Christian author, pastor, denominational creeds, or what some scholar has stated at some point in church history. Certainly such individuals and writings are informative on matters of truth; however, they are not the ultimate source of truth as that honor resides with God’s Word. Thus, we have to be quite careful as to how we conduct our examination. The setting aside of presuppositions and personal opinions, much of which has been impacted to a large degree by our experiences, where we worship, what we have read, and what we have heard over the years, is arguably one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish. Even so, it is absolutely necessary. If we are commanded to prove all things, our presuppositions also fall into the category of all the things which must be scrutinized.
The end goal is to find out what is genuinely true and what is not. That which is truth and only that which is the truth is what we are to hold fast. To hold fast is to “to hold fast, keep secure, keep firm possession of”. Anything that does not pass muster must be jettisoned. It is not deemed worthy according to Scripture as being truth and thus should not be something we keep secure.
This process takes effort and an honest assessment of the things we hold dear as being the truth. Furthermore, this is a constant process of refinement. What I find more often than not with believers is the willingness to allow for ten different views on a theological matter as all being equally correct. Returning to the aforementioned example of the Genesis creation account, all of the various positions noted and the many I did not note cannot all at the same time be all equally valid positions. The universe cannot be both old and young at the same time. There is a single correct position to be had that perfectly aligns with everything revealed in the pages of Scripture.
Now I am a firm believer in Young Earth Creationism. I believe based on the approach of proving from the pages of Scripture that such a position is most closely aligned with Scripture. There are likely elements of this position that will continue to need to be refined. Certainly scientific discovery plays a part in the overall analysis, but ultimately the decision on whether this view can continue to be stated as being genuine after examination rests on whether it consistently aligns itself with God’s Word. Again, there is the constant need for refinement and evaluation. That which continues to be true can continue to be held fast to, and that which is proven to be false needs to be rejected.
I have found over the years that after serious reflection and investigation, there have been a number of positions I have taken on matters of Scripture that have been refined and adjusted. As I have come to realize this reality, it has done much to spur further investigation of Scripture and analysis of my beliefs in many areas. Many things I continued to hold onto, at least for the time being, and many things I have had to let go in favor of a more consistent approach to Scripture. In my humble opinion, this is what being a Berean and growing in the Word of God is all about. To simply accept everything you read or hear as being the truth without going to the Word of God and doing serious Bible study to prove all things is not what God demands. In fact, taking that approach could make you susceptible to falsehood given you have not done the requisite investigation to obtain an understanding of that which is good and that which is false.
We live in an age where falsehoods abound. The tickling of the ears has become the sad hallmark of the day in many corners of Christianity with little pushback or research being done on the part of the hearer. Does this mean we should never trust that our pastor or favorite author is preaching or writing the truth? In the words of former President Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify” as that is what Scripture demands of us. Church creeds, the writings of many wonderful men of God and most certainly the passionate preaching of your pastor are all great and definitely can be a starting point for further Biblical study. They are all just that – a starting point. The end point must be Scripture and the fervent examination of whether such things meet the ultimate standard of God’s Word. Don’t take my word for it. Dig into Scripture and find out for yourself under the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit.