|Volume 18 Number 11 November 2016||
Absolutism versus Relativism
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Someone inquired about the two words “absolutism” and “relativism.” Merriam-Webster defines “absolutism” as “2 : advocacy of a rule by absolute standards or principles. 3 : an absolute standard or principle.” Dictionary.com says of “absolutism” that it is “any theory holding that values, principles, etc., are absolute and not relative, dependent, or changeable.”
On the other hand, “relativism” is defined thusly. “Relativism is the belief that there’s no absolute truth, only the truths that a particular individual or culture happen to believe. If you believe in relativism, then you think different people can have different views about what’s moral and immoral” (vocabulary.com/dictionary/relativism). “The theory that value judgments, as of truth, beauty, or morality, have no universal validity but are valid only for the persons or groups holding them” (thefreedictionary.com/relativism).
As an example of the contrast between absolutism and relativism, the American Constitution and its Amendments are viewed by the Judiciary in the United States in accordance with relativism and not according to absolutism. As such, the Constitution and its Amendments are seen as a living, not fixed document that is subject to the interpretation and application of Federal judges and the U.S. Supreme Court, which may and often varies widely from what the framers of those documents clearly intended in the beginning of the United States of America when they were adopted.
Religiously or theologically, many professing Christianity view the Bible – God’s Holy Word – in the same way – not fixed, not absolute and changeable per the whims of contemporary people. Almighty God, through divine inspiration by the Holy Spirit of human penmen, amply expressed Himself as to the absolute and final nature of the Word of God – the Bible. Inside the Bible, God unequivocally affirmed that His message to humanity is not subject to editing, amending, alteration, adding to, taking from or substitution with humanly devised directives. The theory of relativism is grossly misapplied to the Bible. The Bible is the absolute, final, complete and inerrant Word of God Himself.
“You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2 NKJV). “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32). “Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:6). “‘As for Me,’ says the Lord, ‘this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,’ says the Lord, ‘from this time and forevermore’” (Isaiah 59:21). “And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9).
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)
“For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever… But the word of the Lord endures forever. Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23, 25). “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 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 22:18-19).
The New Testament is God’s final revelation to mankind. “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Furthermore, with providing the New Testament to humanity, divine revelation is complete. “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).
Every soul who ever lived will be judged absolutely by the Word of God under which he or she lived (i.e., Patriarchy, Judaism or Christianity, Revelation 20:12). Before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), no one will be able to negotiate one’s eternal habitation in an appeal to relativism (Matthew 7:21-23). “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
Only God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8) and mercy (1 Titus 3:5) will soften Final Judgment for those who have obeyed and continue to obey (1 John 1:7) the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “…He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). “…When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
The Spirit of Truth
vs. the Spirit of Error
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Someone inquired how can one know the difference between “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Doubtless, the question arises from 1 John 4:6, which reads, “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (NKJV).
The first part of 1 John 4:6 defines the difference between references to “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” in the latter portion of that verse. There are two opposing personalities and sources respecting “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” – God and not God or respecting the initiator of opposition to God – Satan. Likewise, spokesmen for God derive their message from God and thereby represent “the spirit of truth.” Doctrines put forth, teaching and preaching contrary to God and His revealed Word are proclaimed by spokesmen for Satan, thereby representing “the spirit of error.”
Several New Testament passages serve as divine commentary on the thoughts and principles that are embedded in 1 John 4:6.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:12-14)
When the apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:6, “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us,” he referred to the other apostles and himself. His statement and line of reasoning was such that could not have been said by any uninspired teacher or preacher. As an inspired apostle, though, and backed up with miraculous validation (Mark 16:20), John’s words and argument were forceful. No contemporary preacher or teacher could make the same argument and with the same force legitimately. Present-day preachers and teachers have neither personal, divine inspiration nor miraculous powers.
From the inception of the Lord’s church, it “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). Decades after the birthday of the church on the first Pentecost following Jesus’ Ascension, Christians were still directed to “…be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:2). The same basic directive was sounded by various inspired writers of the New Testament. “But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit” (Jude 17-19). Especially this passage contrasts godly children of God with unrighteous folks – in its own way distinguishing between “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
Similarly, the apostle Paul called for Christians to discern the God-authored, Spirit-given Gospel from everything else (Galatians 1:6-9). He, too, called upon Christian brethren to acknowledge “the apostles’ doctrine” when he wrote, “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37). The apostle John forever charged each child of God to identify the distinctive Word of God in the mouths of God’s preachers in contrast to anything else heralded by “false teachers.” “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Although references to “the spirit of truth” appear in New Testament passages besides 1 John 4:6 (John 14:17-18; 15:26; 16:13), the phrase “the spirit of error” does not occur anywhere else in Scripture. The closest resemblance to “the spirit of error” would be “deceiving spirits” (NKJV), “seducing spirits” (KJV) in 1 Timothy 4:1, which reads, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” Notice the “deceiving spirits” offer “doctrines of demons” in opposition to “the faith” – the Word of God or Gospel of Jesus Christ. Lamentably, some Christians, the verse informs us, will turn from Christianity to essentially “the spirit of error.” They and others do not “…receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10).
In conclusion, a couple of standard commentaries make some useful observations regarding 1 John 4:6. “They who do not receive the plain doctrines laid down in the word of God, whatever pretensions they may make to piety, or whatever zeal they may evince in the cause which they have espoused, can have no well-founded claims to the name Christian. One of the clearest evidences of true piety is a readiness to receive all that God has taught” (Barnes’ Notes). “Spirit of truth – the Spirit coming from God and teaching truth. Spirit of error – the spirit coming from Satan, and seducing into error” (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary).