|Volume 18 Number 8 August 2016||
David R. Kenney
In Bible class, I asked whether or not barbeque sauce on hotdogs was good or bad. One of my children loves barbeque sauce on hotdogs; the other finds it repulsive. You may hear people say, “What is true for you is not true for me,” or “You have your truth, and I have my truth.” Well, no further proof of the validity of such statements was needed than the facial expressions of my two children as to which one accepted this truth. This is the nature of subjective truth. Subjective truth varies from person to person. Subjective truth is variable and can cease to be true under various circumstances.
Objective truth is different from subjective truth. Objective truth is true for all individuals, always. Objective truth does not change under varying circumstances. Some may prefer the terms “absolute truth” and “relative truth,” but the concepts remain the same. Objective truth, or absolute truth, is true across individuals, circumstances and other variables.
If one can grasp the definitions, differences and implications of objective and subjective truths, then one can easily see that the same applies to the religious world as well. People say, “Join the church of your choice” with the authority of subjective truth that “One church is as good as another.” One fundamental principle needs to be understood that is often dismissed – subjective truth never trumps objective truth. In fact, the only time that subjective truth truly rules is when there is no objective truth to contradict it. In this case, not all churches are the same, so they cannot be “one as good as the other.” Let me give you an example.
In our local paper, The Wadsworth Post, there was a “Christmas Worship Directory” with a listing of several services from various religious groups to celebrate Christmas in a type of religious worship setting. All those religious groups’ schedules of services were different from each other. Were any of them right or wrong in comparison to the others? Not if there were no absolute or objective truths in contradiction. Subjective truth would rule.
It was interesting to review the religious groups’ schedules with the students in class. One organization had a “Quiet Christmas” service for December 23, a “Family Christmas – Christmas Eve” service for December 24, “Traditional Christmas Eve” service also for December 24, “Saturday after Christmas” service for December 26 and, finally, “Sunday after Christmas” service for December 27. Some only had various Christmas Eve services, and one had a single Christmas Eve service. (I found it interesting that none had services for December 25.) I asked the students, “Which group is more spiritual than the other?” “Which group is more correct than the other?” “Which of these groups is true?” How would a person searching for the truth be able to determine the answers to these questions? If there was only subjective truth on the matter, then one could rightly hold that all are equally good and valid. However, there is objective truth, which makes such subjective truth invalid and consequently merely subjective.
We do not know exactly when Jesus was born. To focus our attention on December 25 is merely subjective because we cannot know. Also, there is no command or example of the early church celebrating December 25 as the birth of Jesus Christ. It was not celebrated as such until A.D. 336. The Old Testament was very clear on the Jewish Holiday Calendar, both as to the when and how of various observances. Yet, there is no such Christian Holiday Calendar in the New Testament designating the birth of Jesus, commanding its observance or instructing how to observe such. It may come as a surprise to some that various other days have been postulated as the birth of Jesus including, January 2, January 6, March 28, April 18, April 19 and May 20. When one looks at the evidence for the date of the birth of Christ, it becomes apparent that December 25 is subjective rather than absolute truth. The various services that some arrange to celebrate this subjective date are subjective as well. I am confident if you asked the other religious groups if one was more spiritual than the other based on their “Christmas Worship Directory,” their answer would be that all are equally true and spiritual. If it were not for these objective truths, their subjective estimation would hold. However, their subjective standards are insufficient.
Christians are commanded to “Test all things, hold fast what is good”(1 Thessalonians 5:21 NKJV). Keep in mind that the term “test” means to approve or disprove. Such would be impossible if there were no objective truths to measure, to compare or to test, but contrary to political and religious correctness of our day, there is objective or absolute truth – the Scriptures. When we examine the text, we find no command or example in the New Testament to celebrate the birth of Christ. So, can we honestly say we have held fast to what is “good”? Some will say, “Well how can celebrating the birth of Christ be bad?” Interestingly, Jesus said just before using the illustration of the foolish man who built his house on the sand versus the wise man who built his house on the rock, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). It may be easier for some to understand the sin of not doing what Jesus commanded, but it is also wrong to do what the Lord has not commanded, too. Keep in mind the Scripture that warns about taking away from what is commanded also forbids adding as well. “And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:19). Some may attempt to dismiss the force of this by claiming it only applies to the Book of Revelation, and yet, the same is found in Deuteronomy 4:2. Who can imagine that one cannot add or take away from one of God’s books, but he can do so with His other books? Keep in mind, the Bible is a collection of books. The wise man stated, “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-7). As Christians, we follow what Christ has authorized. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). It ought to be clear that we cannot do just anything and call it “good” merely by assigning Jesus’ name to it. Jesus’ name is only joined with our worship and our service by doing what Jesus has authorized in the New Testament. It is not a matter of subjectivity but of authority.
While illustrating the difference between subjective truth and objective truth, I cautioned the students that because something may be subjective does not mean that a person is not passionate about and emotionally committed to it in absolute terms. In our tolerant society, people become most intolerant when their subjective truths are rejected, based on the existence of objective truth that reduces what they hold as subjective truth to being merely subjective. We must be kind and gentle with people as they sort out the differences between the subjective and the objective. If I wanted to select an illustration of emotional igniter greater than Christmas as an example of the differences between subjective and objective truth, I am uncertain as to what illustration is more flammable (except maybe Easter).
We all have subjective truths, including those of us in the church. Subjective truths may hold provided they do not violate the absolute truths of God’s Word. For example, when Jesus said for us to “Go into all the world…”, He did not specify the manner of going. We are free to subjectively choose by which method we go, but we are not permitted to allow our subjectivity to negate the absolute truth of going “…and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). These matters are not always easy to detect and require serious thought. We must be kind and gentle as to what the Lord commanded. “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool’” (Isaiah 1:18). We must reason together with God, and the only way to so reason is to reason with His Word as objective truth.
May we help others to be able to reason these matters through properly with the love in our hearts toward them as Christ loved them and died for them as well. We should be tenderhearted toward those who have not thought about these matters. We certainly do not intend to embarrass but to encourage others to surrender their subjective truths for the absolute truths of God’s Word.