Restoring Truth

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How to Evaluate Truth Claims

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Learning how to evaluate truth claims has never been more important than in the 21st century.

COVID-19 may be on the wane but theories of its origin, purpose and composition are still circulating as fast as airborne viruses. In the past, we only had to contend with flat-earth poppycock, faked moon landings, and so on. Now we are faced with conspiracy theories and misinformation that would make Joseph Geobbels envious.

It would be OK if the tidal waves of misinformation washing through our brains via social media were just entertaining distractions, but they aren’t. They confuse, increase insecurity, raise tension levels and can cause both physical and mental harm.

In May 2020 I wrote an article titled So Pass It On where I gave some advice on what information not to pass on to others, and why we shouldn’t. Since then I have been obliged to view dozens and dozens of posts and videos covering such things as why all COVID-19 vaccines are actually deadly venom injections, how a cabal of all-powerful people are taking over the entire world, how the end of the world will come in a matter of months, and so on. During a recent discussion regarding these matters, I was asked why ‘the church’ had not taught us how to evaluate such claims. Now, I am not ‘the church’, but I accepted the challenge to write something on evaluating truth claims … so here it is.

Logic versus Emotion

If it were only a matter of applying logic then it would be relatively easy to filter out the, well you know what, from the media posts, but it isn’t.

Emotions play a big role in whether a person will accept disinformation as valid and unfounded theories as truth.

There is an interesting article on sciencefocus.com where the author sets out a few researched emotional reasons why some people are more prone than others to conspiracy theories. I think that the prime culprit is fear, specifically the fear of not being in control and of being helpless in the face of impending catastrophe. Ironically, the thing that eases the fear of not being in control comes from buying into the idea that a shadowy elite group is in control. They then find a sense of worth and validation by passing on information to like-minded people and warning sceptical friends of the impending doom. Of course, this just increases the general level of stress and anxiety and fails miserably in providing practical help and solutions.

Emotions aside, what we all can and should be doing is applying critical thinking to truth claims that come our way.

Critical Thinking Skills

Two essential preliminary steps to take when exposed to new information are;

  1. Test the premises: A premise is the base of an argument or theory and a good way to identify it is to a work backwards to a previous statement or proposition from which it is inferred. What you are doing here is checking the validity and connectedness of the statements made. i.e. If this is true then that would also probably be true. For example, I recently read a claim that an un-named ‘Spanish lab’ had tested the Pfizer vaccine and found that it was 99% Graphine Oxide. The person spreading this ‘fact’ across the world went on to state that this particular chemical was lethal. So the ‘logic’ is that Pfizer is attempting to kill off millions of people by injecting them with deadly venom. There is reliable evidence that Graphine Oxide in substantial doses can be harmful, so the main premise in this media post is not the claim that it can be toxic, but the claim that it is a major component of Pfizer vaccines. This premise can be tested by scanning the list of contents on a vaccine label, consulting the Food and Drug Administration list, or accessing the research of an accredited laboratory that has analysed the vaccine (not an un-named Spanish lab).

However, here is the problem for us ordinary mortals:

To adequately check the validity of a false truth claim such as the one I have just presented requires both access to the right kind of information and a level of expertise that most of us do not possess.

So, we refer to time-honoured reliable sources such as reports by well-known medical faculties at major universities available on the internet, or to articles in accredited news or fact-checking sources such as Reuters , Associated Press , Factcheck , and so on. But here comes the rub – the advocates of the theories we are testing immediately claim that our ‘reliable’ sources are not reliable at all because they have sold out to big pharma, big tech, or a shadowy cabal of supermen … and so the conspiracy deepens and widens and presents itself as unfalsifiable.

  1. Evaluate the argument logically:
    1. Falsifiable: Is there enough valid evidence to prove it wrong or are the claims made too general, vague or unsubstantiated to find against them. The idea here is that new truth claims must earn their right to be accepted by demonstrating that they can be tested, evaluated, and found to be truthful.
    2. Probable: What are the chances of this being true? For instance, most of the world conspiracy theories require that almost every authority and expertise source in the world is in cahoots – The British government colluding with the Iranian leaders, the American with the Chinese, The North Koreans with Japan, and subject matter experts all singing off the same out-of-tune hymn sheet.
    3. Generalisable: To use an old example, spotting three dogs that are black does not mean that all dogs are black. Some adverse reactions to a vaccine do not mean that everyone will experience adverse effects.
    4. Convergent: Are there several lines of research and reasoning that are all coming to similar conclusions or is the evidence emanating from just a small number of similar-minded people?
    5. Credible: Is the source of the information credible? Does it come from a well-known and generally well-regarded institution? Is the person promoting the ideas suitably qualified and experienced in that field?

To these five criteria I would add the matter of Rhetorical Malpractice:

  • Does the source attack the opposition to the idea and not the ideas themselves?
  • Does it capitalize on the fear of possible adverse consequences?
  • Does it beg the question by assuming that the conclusion is true without proving it to be true?
  • Is it peppered with inconsistent and self-contradictory statements?
  • Does it argue that because it happened after X it must have been caused by X? Does it exclude any other reasonable proposition other than the one it is promoting?
The Bottom Line

All well and good, but at the heart of the issue are some fundamental choices we all have to make:

  1. Are we prepared to do the hard work of researching and evaluating truth claims?
  2. Are we determined to allow logic and careful thinking to prevail over emotional and sensational appeal?
  3. Are we committed to refusing to pass on fear and confusion-inducing theories until we have personally verified them and satisfied ourselves that the recipients can do something positive with the information?
    Do they encourage, hearten, and fill us and others with faith. Do they point us to Jesus?
  4. Are we prepared to abide by the scriptural principles that we can easily deduce from the Word of God? For example:
  • Exodus 23:1 ‘Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness’.
  • 2 Timothy 2:16-17 ‘Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene.
  • 2 Timothy 4:3-4 ‘For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
  • 2 Timothy 1:7 ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment’ HCSB.
Conclusion

I am convinced that most of us have the mental capability and basic skills to test truth claims, but I am not convinced that most of us are prepared to do the time-consuming and mentally challenging work that this requires. I am equally sure that some people find comfort in emotional validation rather than logical deduction. I also believe that most disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ want to help others, but some do not appreciate that the way to do this is not through imbibing and passing on conspiracy sewerage but by drinking and sharing the pure water of Jesus and his word.

 

How to Evaluate Truth Claims Read More »

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Jesus’ Letter to us Bergamites

I must confess right off that I created the title ‘Jesus’ Letter to us Bergamites’ to pique your interest.

Revelation Chapters Two and Three record seven letters that Jesus dictated to seven existing churches in Turkey. The third letter was to the church of Pergamum, but the modern name for that city is Bergama. In addition, all seven letters address issues and conditions found in today’s church. So his letter to Pergamum AKA Bergama is equally to us.

You will find the letter in Revelation 2:12-17 and it reads as follows:

12) “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13) I know where you live — where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city — where Satan lives. 14) Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. 15) Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16) Repent, therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 17) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it”.

What the name means

Each of the names of the seven churches has significance. For instance, the first letter was to Ephesus which means ‘desirable one’ and it is to a church that in many ways was a model church, but which had lost its first love. Pergamum means ‘Married’ and is a combination of two Greek words, ‘Per’ meaning ‘wholly’, and ‘Gamos’ meaning ‘wedded’. This gives us an immediate clue to the condition Jesus addresses… I will leave this hanging for the moment but it will become obvious shortly.

Jesus’ self-description

In this letter, the Lord Jesus draws on the symbolic portrayal of himself in Chapter One where he is described as having a sharp double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. We don’t need to leave scripture at all to determine the meaning of this. In Revelation 2 verse 16 Jesus refers to a particular section of the congregation with the words: “Repent, therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth”. Then Revelation 19:15 describes Jesus Christ as a warrior king striking down the ‘nations’ with the sword from his mouth. In Ephesians 6:15 the Apostle Paul writes about ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God’. Finally, Hebrews 4:12 has, ‘For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword’.

So, the sharp double-edged sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth is symbolic of the Word of God, which is in essence the bible, and more specifically, the Lord’s words as conveyed by the scriptures. It is this Word of God, which defines, judges, and corrects error in doctrine and lifestyle.

Jesus Knows

Revelation 2 v13 records Jesus saying, “I know where you live, where Satan has his throne.” Later he speaks of “your city where Satan lives’. Here is where secular and religious history helps us to understand what Jesus meant by this. Pergamum was a centre of Emperor Worship, for in those times the Roman Emperor liked to be thought of as a god. In addition, the city contained temples to Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, Athena, Demeter, and Zeus.  The city was built at the foot of a great conical hill and halfway up that hill was the altar to Zeus. It looked like a giant throne and it belched the smoke of its sacrifices day and night.

However, the chief god of Pergamum was AEsuclapius, the serpentine god of healing and enlightenment, and his emblem featured on their city flag: It was a snake wrapped around a pole. This serpent god was said to have died and been resurrected and he was renowned, or I should say notorious, for his occult gifts of healing and enlightenment. Apparently, Pergamum was the world seat of Satan-worship after the cult moved there from Babylon.

Now, where have we encountered this slippery customer before? In the Garden of Eden of course, where Satan appeared to Eve as a serpent at the foot of the ‘tree of the knowledge of all things’. He promised her enlightenment and god-like status if she would only obey him.

This malign being is still active in the world of our day and he is still offering “enlightenment.” Demonic healing is his greatest enticement to believe his dark doctrines – as it was in the days of Pergamum, so it is today.

Persecution

The second half of verse 13 describes how most of the members of the church of Pergamum did not lose their faith or deny the name of Jesus despite the insidious satanic infection within their body. A man named Antipas had paid with his life for resisting the cult of AEsculapius.

What’s in a Name?

Verses 14 and 15 go on to address the heretics in the congregation. Jesus equates them to Balaam and then labels them as Nicolaitans. It seems that these are just two names describing the same group. The word Balaam can be broken down into two Hebrew words meaning ‘the people’ and ‘conquer’. The word Nicolatia can similarly be broken down into two Greek words meaning exactly the same thing. Both constructs describe a group within the church who were seeking to overcome the members.

Now a little Old Testament context. Balaam was the priest whom King Balak employed to curse the Israelites who were encroaching on his territory as they journeyed towards the Promised Land. God had prohibited Balaam from doing this, but when the king put pressure on him, he disclosed another way to conquer the Israelites. Balak should conscript the most desirable young women from among his people, and instruct them to seduce the Israelite men. They were to marry them and bring their idols and pagan worship rites into the very camp of Israel. These pagan religious practices featured banquets where participants ate food dedicated to idols and engaged in illicit sexual acts. In his letter to the church, Jesus described Balaam as ‘enticing to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality’.

Fast Forward to Today

In ancient Israelite times and in the days of Pergamum, the infiltration of the satanically enabled world into the church took the form of idol worship and orgies, but in our day it is a lot more subtle. Here are some of the infiltration tactics used today to weaken the church:

  • An ‘easy to believe’ Gospel, sometimes known as Hyper-Grace. God loves you too much to change you and Jesus has dealt with all your past, present, and future sin. So, just believe this and live in his blessing.
  • Business strategies that appeal to a consumerist society and position the church to attract people to their offerings.
  • Compromised values regarding marriage, gender, sexual behaviour, and being WOKE.
  • Acceptance of relative rather than absolute truth where anyone’s opinion can carry as much authority as the Word of God.
  • New Age healing practices and philosophies including occult signs and wonders.
  • The deadly mantra of ‘Jesus is good but not God’.

Repent

The call to the cultic sect in the church of Pergamum is the same as it is to such members in our churches – Repent!  The simplest way of understanding this command is… Stop what you are doing, turn around, and return to pure devotion to Jesus.

Reward

The Lord Jesus never brings judgement without at the same time promising reward to those who heed his voice and obey. This is what he promises:

Vs 17) “I will give some of the hidden manna”. This is a reference to the bread-like manna that appeared on the desert floor to sustain the Israelites on their journey. Jesus is the living bread from heaven. He is our sustenance and life. He also said, “I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”  White stones constituted entrance tickets to those invited to the orgies of AEsalapius. The stones likely bore his symbol of a serpent wrapped around a pole. However, God invites all who are true to the name of Jesus to the great wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven. Revelation 10:9 reads, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to attend the wedding supper of the Lamb’. This supper is prefigured by what we call The Lords Table, or Holy Communion.

You, of course, know the name inscribed on the white stone given to true believers? Yes, the name is… Jesus!

Jesus’ Letter to us Bergamites Read More »

Restoring Truth to the Church

Recently I attended a wedding where the minister was a pleasant young man from a traditional denomination. He conducted the service well enough but he made no reference whatsoever to the Bible, and the name of Jesus came up just once in a casual aside.

WeddingA Christian marriage is based on the covenant between God and man as fulfilled in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is described and prescribed in the Bible. How then can a minister of the church conduct a Christian wedding without reference to either the Lord Jesus or the Bible? This is by no means an isolated incident but is rather indicative of the sad lack of connection between Jesus and the Bible evidenced in much of the church of our day. This central ‘truth’ connection needs to be restored and I am committed to playing a meaningful role in the process.

This statement demands an answer to at least two questions; what do I mean by truth, and why does it need to be restored? To many the idea seems nonsensical.It is popular today to regard truth as relative and individually or group determined. If this is so, then truth isn’t an absolute that would ever need to be restored.

However, I believe that truth is a person rather than simply personal, and eternally established rather than relative and transient.
What do I mean by truth being a person? Well Jesus claimed to be truth itself when he declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). On many occasions he used the phrase “I tell you the truth”, but here he went beyond that to proclaim that he was the embodiment of truth. This was a central idea in early Christianity. The first century disciples were more followers than learners. They witnessed to a relationship with the Son of God and sought to emulate him rather than just study his teachings. But then things started to change.

By the middle ages, Christian maturity was gauged by knowledge of doctrine and church protocol instead of the quality of a living relationship with Jesus Christ. And things haven’t changed much since then. In traditional churches the priest, pastor, minister is required to hold a bachelor of theology degree. This is good in itself but surely a mature relationship with Jesus is of greater importance? The answer to that question is often negative because the criterion for ministerial success has become what you know rather than who you know.

Ask an average gathering of Christians if they are currently discipling anyone and a typical positive response would be one in a hundred. Jesus commissioned his followers to go into all the world and make disciples but so few of us do. Why is this? Again, ask a typical congregation this question and one of the most common responses is, “I don’t know enough”. What they mean by this is that they don’t have in-depth knowledge of the doctrines of the Christian Faith and nor do they have answers to the many objections they imagine others will raise. But Christianity is not a knowledge-based religion; it is a word that describes a relationship with Jesus and with other disciples. It is not a system to be sold, but a life of relationship to be offered.

A central truth that needs to be restored to the church is this; Jesus is the truth and Christianity is about a relationship with him and his followers. Paul captures this central idea when he writes about ‘God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.’ (1 Tim 3:15). Then, in the next verses he writes; ‘Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.’ The truth… He (Jesus) appeared in a body. Jesus is the truth the church is to uphold.

Of course we only know of Jesus through the Holy Spirit’s illumination of the scriptures.
If Jesus is the incarnate Word of Truth, as He is, then the Bible is the written Word of Truth. But here is another central concept; we can only really understand the Bible with reference to Jesus. The written word is not so much a collection of propositions as it is a revelation of the person, nature, purpose, and teachings of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, because of the misconception that Christianity is a knowledge-based religion, the Bible is regarded by many as a sort of theological dictionary. Of course it does contain commands, concepts, and principles. It also contains guidance for daily living, but it is first and foremost a revelation of Jesus (Revelation 1:1). This too needs to be restored to the church.
Doctrine is important, but it needs to be Christ-centred doctrine. Holy living is important but this too must be Christ-motivated and Christ-pleasing. Healthy church practice is important but here again the focus needs to be on Jesus, not on protocol, ritual, or tradition.
Would we see the sort of maniacal antics on display at many of the so-called ‘revivals’ of our day if we were centred on Jesus and His ways? I don’t think so, and in any event we would not flock to these displays like confused sheep if we knew the real shepherd! And how could the great divides between Calvinists and Arminians, cessasionists and charismatics, and so on, continue to exist if both sides were thoroughly Christ-centred in doctrine and practice? Perhaps I am naïve, but I am convinced that we won’t even  make real progress in these areas until we embrace the restoration of the centrality of Jesus.

So, when I hear the Lord’s voice calling for the restoration of truth to his church, I don’t think of a particular doctrine or tradition, I think of Jesus, for Jesus is The Truth.

 

Restoring Truth to the Church Read More »

About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.