By Ron Bartanen
The Christians in the city of Thessalonica had among them those who possessed the spiritual gift of prophecy, and Paul admonished the people, “Despise not prophesyings” (1 Thess. 5:20). At the same time, he then cautioned, “Prove all things: hold fast that which is good.” Some could claim they had a message from God, but anyone could make the claim. Any message should be subjected to verification. In other words, there must be on our part a willingness to listen to what is claimed to be God’s word, but at the same time putting it to the test. For churches in the days of the apostles, that verification was through the gospel and “apostles’ doctrine”. (See Acts 2:42; Galatians 1:8-9). For us today, while we no longer have the apostles with us bodily, we have a sufficiency of their teachings in our New Testament scriptures by which we can “prove all things.”
When Paul would write the young evangelist Timothy, he would give such warnings as in 1 Tim. 4:1 (NKJV): “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” In light of this prophecy, as well as others, we can never take for granted that what we believe is truth without verification from Scripture. All congregations and religious groups should welcome investigation. In fact, God’s word makes all responsible for checking out what we may assume to be truth, testing it with God’s word. No church is infallible. No preacher or priest or pope is infallible. The apostles were to be led by the Spirit into “all truth” (John 16:13-14). What they have written and verified stands as a Constitution by which all teachings and practices should be examined and determined to be true or false. We should recall that the Bereans were declared to be noble in that not only did they listen with an open mind to Paul’s preaching, but verified it by searching the scriptures “to see whether these things were so” (Acts 18”11). This would be the Old Testament scriptures at that time, which prophesied of the coming Christ whom Paul preached. We would be noble to do the same.
As Paul warned, numerous departures from New Testament standards have occurred. Many who claim to be Christian have called into question, and even denied, the deity of Christ and the blood atonement, Jesus’ bodily resurrection and the inspiration and authority of Scripture. There are multiple departures from what the apostles of Christ required of people that they might be saved. Departures have occurred in church government, worship, divisive names and doctrine. Many are choosing political correctness over Scripture to approve of such moral offenses as abortion and homosexuality, even approving of same-sex marriage.
We are encouraged when any group will compare its teachings and practices with those of the New Testament church, as they were led by the apostles. We who teach and preach should ourselves to open enough to test all things by God’s word, admit departures where found, and to teach and preach the faith even when it may conflict with tradition. We all need to ask ourselves, “What do I believe simply because that’s the way my parents or my preacher taught it?” and “What do I believe because I’ve taken the time and trouble to ‘prove all things and hold fast to that which is good”?
- Ronald Bartanen preaches for Arthur Church of Christ, Arthur, IL. He may be contacted through the congregation's website