Putting it to the test
I coincidentally came to 2 Corinthians Chapter 4 in my reading this evening, in which we read that "even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." Put these two things together, and it got me meditating.
Christians like this verse. It so clearly explains why the "unbelieving" don't believe us when we tell them about Jesus. It's not us, of course - it's the devil working in them.
However, we might be blipping over an important condition. A little before this, Paul writes, "We have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" - which is to say, not in our own self-serving, rationalizing sight.
Well, and how do we know when we are in fact meeting this condition? Indeed it's as objective and indisputable as the balance in the doctor's office, and it works like this.
Our listeners can't come up with an honest reason - in their terms, not ours - for not believing what we say. If they do, somehow we are very wrong. No excuses. The log is definitely in our own eye. So let's look at some common obstacles that we bring to trip them up.
For starters, there's our behavior. If we aren't living the gospel of Jesus, people have no reason to listen to us. In fact, if 2 Timothy 3 describes our attitude and conduct, Paul's advice is to turn away from us, so if they do, they're just doing what the Bible says. You can't blame such obedience on the devil, even if they don't know the verse they're obeying.
Christians from ancient times have considered themselves orthodox in doctrine even when they're behaving badly, but the Bible is having none of that malarkey. Jesus cleared that up in John 8:31-32 - truth sets free, so if we're not free, we're not in truth. Again, James wrote that faith without works is dead, which is to say that if our faith is alive, this live faith will behave accordingly. There is no orthodox doctrine apart from faithful behavior, because dead faith is not orthodox doctrine. It is, as James wrote, the "faith" of demons.
Then there's the way we reason with people. If we are guilty of any of the logical fallacies that anybody can look up and study on the internet, then we are not commending ourselves to the consciences of honest people - and so our gospel is not the gospel that Paul referred to as "our gospel." It's "another gospel," as Paul described it later in 2 Corinthians - and not favorably!
Often resorted to is "begging the question," which is to say, assuming what you're trying to prove. The most common way that's done, maybe, is to assume the authority of the Bible when trying to prove to someone that he ought to believe what the Bible says. But I can prove that Donald Duck is your Lord and Savior if I'm allowed to start with the premise that Donald Duck is your Lord and Savior. Begging the question, in any form, is simply dishonest. No serious person ought to listen to us if we do that, so if they don't, it's not the god of this world that has blinded their eyes, but we ourselves - or shall we say that it's the god of this world working in them through our dishonesty? Now, Christian, that's something to think about.
Another common logical fallacy, a form of dishonesty actually promoted as a virtue in religious circles, is argument from authority. Never mind how ridiculous you may find it - sear your own conscience with a hot iron and believe it because some authority says so. Stripped of religious blather, this vaunting of religious authorities over people's consciences is really naked bullying, and make no mistake: the effect on people's minds and consciences is probably as destructive as the trauma inflicted by bullies in school. In fact, this religious doctrine, which has been close to universal in Christianity for around 1800 years, is probably the doctrine of the Nicolaitans ("victors over the people") that Jesus denounces in the Revelation. There's nothing apostolic about it. It is religious authorities beating their fellow servants, which does not end well for those doing the beating (Matthew 24:45-51). It is lording it over people's faith, an act of arrogance bound to lead to stumbling, as pride always does. That Christians are so often more stupid and irrational than others, even more inclined to believe lies even though they supposedly believe in the God of Truth, is strong evidence of real spiritual trauma and mutilation resulting from this bullying.
Another very common logical fallacy that Christians resort to is ad hominem attack, which is to say, attacking the person instead of his argument. It's true that bad behavior means that someone's doctrine is impure, but that doesn't mean that any particular thing he says is wrong. It may well be the word of God - Christian, consider Balaam the son of Beor (Numbers 22-24), or Pharaoh Neco (2 Chronicles 35:20-24), among many others. If someone is mistaken, you can prove that on his argument, not on himself.
Humility comes in here. We know that everyone around us is mistaken about a great many things. We are not better than other men, so we are also mistaken about a great many things. If we don't get this, we are arrogant to the point of madness. God has a way of sending us those that we esteem least to straighten us out - a very slick way to make sure that if we humble ourselves we will acquire wisdom, and that if we don't we will stay stupid, or in fact get even worse. Thus it is fulfilled that wisdom is with the lowly, while God hides himself and his wisdom from the proud, no matter how much they study the Bible.
Of course lowliness will make us think that others might be smarter than ourselves, so that their arguments may well be better than our own. Christians are afraid of that, thinking that such lowliness will compel us to abandon our faith in Christ in the face of persuasive argument, so that we have to vaunt ourselves above unbelievers to protect ourselves from being led astray be them. But think how stupid that is - is our faith really to be protected by our arrogance? That kind of "faith" is certainly not the gospel of Jesus and the apostles. It is therefore "another gospel" which we actually need to lose.
In fact, lowliness of mind is not to abase ourselves before anyone that comes along, even if his argument appears sound. It's abasing ourselves before the truth, which will actually cause us to put everything to the test including our own thoughts, as Jesus and the apostles charge us to do. That means requiring the sort of honesty I've written of here from anybody. Anybody that resents that is in rebellion against the truth - the fruit is bad, and so the tree is bad, said Jesus. And so, like the sentry whose job it is to shoot the general who tries to pass without showing his ID like everyone else, it's our job to put everyone to the test on everything and bounce him if he flunks the test, whoever it is. That's not insolence or arrogance; it's our job.