Each year, Oxford Dictionaries will pick a word to describe the trend or sentiments of that year. And it has just been announced that the Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth, an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
The prefix post- used to refer to a time after a specified situation or era. However, in recent years, it has been modified to mean ‘unimportant’ or ‘irrelevant’. In other words, post-truth literally means that truth is no longer important; or worse yet, no longer relevant.
Although mostly associated with Brexit and the recently concluded American elections, one cannot help but wonder if this sentiment is applicable beyond the arena of politics? In community? In relationships?
What about the Church?
Noticeably, in the past decade, there has been a steady departure from the Word of God. This is not to say that preachers do not refer to the Bible for their messages. They still do. However, the focus and emphasis on sound doctrine is considerably much less. Theology is regarded as boring and too complicated, so let’s not waste too much time on such academic stuff. And so, messages today tend to major on addressing issues of self-esteem, positive thinking and personal pursuits of health, wealth and happiness. Simply, as long as it makes you feel good, then that’s fine. After all, God is a good God and He loves you very much. And since the truth hurts (and it does), let’s not dwell too much on that.
This type of thinking is so pervasive in the Church today that many are willing to disregard truth and discard doctrine. Feelings and emotions, although subjective, are considered more important and better indicators of a relationship with God, than that which is objective and true. Have we not heard this before: “I know it contradicts the Bible, but I have been so blessed by that person’s teaching and ministry.” Even if some of these fringe on being heretical, believers are willing to accept it on the basis of it-feels-right-so-it-must-be-right reasoning. Besides, if it’s wrong, the Holy Spirit will prompt me accordingly. True?
Anyone who has not experienced the same experience is deemed to be less spiritual, or spiritually dead. To not go with their flow is seen as not being led by the Spirit. What is worse is that any attempt to question is seen as legalistic, judgmental and Pharisaical! And soon, we’d have to add Bereanic to the list too because the searching of Scriptures is no longer relevant (Acts 17:11).
This does not mean that the Bible is no longer needed. Not at all. For sure, Bible apps are cool and will continue to be used. It’s easy to find verses and really good for creating image posts on Facebook and Instagram. Bible studies will continue to be well attended too. After all, that’s what Christians do – gather in groups, read a passage, and then give personal opinions of what it means to them. But to consider it absolute Truth, to live out the Word and be totally submitted to its authority? Does God require that at all? Surely not, since we are no longer under the law, right?
You may think I’m being a bit extreme here, over-reacting perhaps. I assure you, I am not. Truth be told, the Church is struggling to understand what it means to remain relevant in a society that is post-modern, post-Christian, and now, post-truth. To the post-modernist, truth was relativised and each decided what was true or not. In a post-Christian climate, Christian fundamentals were challenged and done away with. Alternative worldviews slowly but surely replaced the Christian worldview, both in the society and in the Church. In a post-truth world, anything goes. It no longer matters what is true or not, because truth is neither important nor relevant. Whatever works and produces the results, that’s cool. Yes, the end justifies the means.
As in the case of the recent elections, Christians were divided as Christianity became more politicised. It mattered not if the candidates told the truth or lied. Moral conduct was of no consequence. Truthiness, “the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true”, instead, was the order of the day. Why? Because truth is totally irrelevant in a post-truth era … as long as we get what we want and are allowed to continue to have church as usual.
But is it really church as usual? We have already seen denominations split over doctrinal disagreements. Some have embraced LGBT in the clergy and in key ministry positions. Others have endorsed same-sex marriages. In the name of grace and love, sins are glossed over. One day, a prominent minister confesses sexual misconduct, the very next day he is re-instated and no one bats an eyelid. Oh, I am sorry. Who am I to judge? And on what basis? Truth? What’s that?
But seriously. Church as usual? Let us not be so naive.
I suppose the Apostle Paul saw this day coming when he wrote to Timothy: “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living, the pillar and ground of the truth.” 1 Tim 3:14-15 NKJV (emphasis mine)
Yes. The Church is to be the pillar and ground of the truth. Whatever the world says, whichever era we may be found to be in, we are people of the truth. However, more and more, we can expect that truth will be resisted and even rejected (2 Tim 3:8-9). There will even be those who regard themselves as Christians, who talk and sound Christian, but never come to a knowledge of what truth really is (2 Tim 3:7)!
As the pillar and the foundation of the truth, the Church is not there to just talk about truth, teach about truth, or have lofty philosophical discourses about what truth is or is not. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy was that the truth would be clearly demonstrated and seen through their conduct. Along the way, false apostles, prophets and teachers will appear. But the Church is never to compromise, holding steadily to the Word of Truth (2 Tim 3:16-17), paying careful attention to doctrine (1 Tim 4:16), led by the Spirit of truth, who guides us into all truth (John 16:13).
I am fully aware that come 2017, there will be another Word of the Year. But this does not mean that truth will necessarily be returned to its rightful place of importance or relevance. Our Lord Jesus Christ has already warned about the increase of deception in the last days, that many will be deceived. The post-truth era merely opened the door of deception even wider.
May all who profess to know Jesus – the Way, the Truth and the Life – continue to hold fast to Him and His Truth. And may we, His Church, also be found to “be diligent to present [ourselves] approved to God, [workers] who [do] not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Tim 2:15