Does the Bible Teach What You Believe?
False beliefs, by the clergy’s own admission, abound in Christendom. What popular beliefs crumble under the test for truthfulness?
“PEOPLE will go to any church,” admits a Honolulu clergyman, “without suspicion as to false doctrine.” Thus in this age of deception and falsehood millions of persons are uncritical even when it comes to the vital sphere of religious beliefs; they accept what they hear without investigation, even though doctrines of the various churches conflict with one another. Yes, and even though the Bible foretold an abundance of false religious beliefs for this time: “There will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled, and they will turn their ears away from the truth, whereas they will be turned aside to false stories.”—2 Tim. 4:3, 4.
Does the Bible teach what you believe? Many people do not know whether the Bible teaches what they believe, because they are not taught or encouraged to follow the Scriptural rule: “Make sure of all things.” (1 Thess. 5:21) An educator recently pointed out why people are not taught to test their beliefs and why people often accept even implausible doctrines. Professor Walter Kaufmann of Princeton University, in an address at Colby College, Waterville, Maine, spoke on the moral and intellectual failure of organized religion. Reporting on the educator’s address, the Portland (Maine) Press Herald of February 24, 1959, said:
“Asserting that critical thought is still discouraged, he pointed out that even in the United States today one rarely hears anything of that nature on radio, TV, or mass circulation magazines. Prof. Kaufmann suggested that the desire for social approval prompts the verbal acceptance of religious beliefs in many instances. . . . Affirming that many religious leaders privately concede the implausibility of their doctrines, Prof. Kaufmann denounced hypocrisy which prevents them from stating as much in public. ‘If these leaders said what they really believed,’ he commented, ‘organized religion would crumble, and we would wind up with individual religions.’”
Should the crumbling of what is false be feared? Of course not, for Jesus Christ said: “The truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) Falsehood cannot make one free. But because of the desire for social approval, the desire to please the crowd, people accept many doctrines without testing them for truthfulness. Because it is easier to go along with the crowd than to explain to the crowd why one cannot go along with it, many persons will believe whatever the crowd believes; but popularity has never proved a reliable means for judging the quality of a belief. As one writer has put it: “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”
Jesus never accepted a doctrine or belief because the crowd did; Jesus did not found a please-the-crowd religion. The Christian should please God.
FALSE BELIEFS “QUITE BEYOND NUMBERING”
The very fact that clergymen admit privately and sometimes even publicly that many doctrines are implausible and false should make one want to check his beliefs with the Bible. Some years ago Dr. W. L. Pettingill of the First Baptist Church in New York city said: “Religious teaching that is dished out now is a curse and not a blessing. . . . Most of it is false religion which ignores the teachings of Christ. . . . Ninety-nine per cent of religion in this city should be scrapped because one cannot believe man and God at the same time.”—New York Times, October 10, 1949.
Another clergyman, Dr. Daniel A. Poling, answered a question in the March, 1957, issue of the Christian Herald in the column “Doctor Poling Answers Your Questions.” To a questioner who had heard that there were at least eighty false doctrines in popular religion this clergyman writes: “As to false doctrines there may be 80 or there may be a thousand. I am sure they are quite beyond numbering, but since you know the Lord and have been within His grace all these years, surely you have the witness in your heart day by day. You have everything that is required for your peace of mind now and for your eternal salvation.”
But does Jehovah God talk this way? Does his holy Word, the Bible, whitewash false doctrines, dismiss them as something trivial, as if the Christian is under no responsibility to know whether or not he is believing truth or error? What are we to think of a Christianity with false beliefs “quite beyond numbering”? Said Jesus Christ: “There is not a fine tree producing rotten fruit.” False beliefs are rotten fruit that identify religious organizations according to the rule stated by Jesus: “Each tree is known by its own fruit.”—Luke 6:43, 44
Instead of saying that beliefs do not matter, God’s Word declares: “Keep testing whether you are in the faith, keep proving what you yourselves are.” (2 Cor. 13:5) There is nothing to fear by making this test, by proving our beliefs by the only standard for judging religious teachings—the Holy Bible. Indeed, we should fear not to make this test. Christians must not be man-pleasers but God-pleasers.
Using the Scriptures to test doctrines is the course commended in the Bible. When Paul and Silas went to Beroea, they preached to the Jews. How did these Jews respond to this Christian preaching? They “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with the greatest readiness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) The Beroeans were not being fanatical or unreasonable. They did not rely on the word of man alone. The Beroeans made sure of all things. How? By “carefully examining the Scriptures.” This is the way Christians should test religious beliefs. Let us, then, carefully examine the Scriptures to test some common beliefs.
Take the belief called universal salvation. Does the Bible teach that all persons will be saved despite their course of action? Let Jesus Christ answer: “He that exercises faith in the Son has everlasting life; he that disobeys the Son will not see life.” There is a penalty for willfully ignoring and disobeying the revealed will of God. That is why the Lord Jesus, at God’s war of Armageddon, “brings due punishment upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. These very ones will pay the penalty of everlasting destruction.” No, the Bible does not teach universal salvation but, rather, that those who gain everlasting life must not only exercise faith in the Lord Jesus but also be his obedient followers.—John 3:36; 2 Thess. 1:8, 9.
Tithing is a widely accepted belief in Christendom, churches tithing parishioners ten percent of their income. Does the Bible teach this as a Christian doctrine? Tithing was part of the Law of Moses. But Christians are not under that Law, as Christ’s apostle writes: “You are not under law but under undeserved kindness.” When sending his disciples out to preach, Jesus did not instruct them to tithe people. He said: “You received free, give free.” The Christian way to raise funds for God’s work is by voluntary contributions. A need is made known and then Christians voluntarily give. There must be no compulsion, no pressure, as Paul says: “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”—Rom. 6:14; Matt. 10:8; 2 Cor. 9:7.
Does the Bible teach the widespread belief that the planet earth will someday be destroyed? When the Bible speaks of the end of the world, it is not referring to the end of the planet earth, but rather to the end of this system of things. A world once came to an end in Noah’s day. The earth that was destroyed then was not this planet but the wicked human society of that time. Wrote the apostle Peter: “There were heavens in ancient times and an earth standing compactly out of water and in the midst of water by the word of God, and by those means the world of that time suffered destruction when it was deluged with water. But by the same word the heavens and the earth that are now are stored up for fire and are being reserved to the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” To destroy the society of ungodly men, God does not need to destroy this planet, as he proved in Noah’s day. Of the planet earth the inspired psalmist wrote: “He has founded the earth upon its established places; it will not be made to totter to time indefinite, nor forever.” True Bible belief is that “the meek ones themselves will possess the earth” and that the earth will become a global paradise.—2 Pet. 3:5-7; Ps. 104:5; 37:11; Luke 23:43.
IMAGES AND IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL
What of the belief that images are aids to Christian worship? A careful study of the Bible and history shows that the early Christians carefully avoided the use of images. Says the Encyclopædia Britannica, Vol. XII, page 750 (1907 edition): “It was a common accusation brought against Christians by their enemies that they had ‘no altars, no temples, no known images’; and that ‘they set up no image or form of any god’, and this charge was never denied.” To justify the use of images by saying that the honor given them is only relative is not supported by the Bible. God told the Israelites not to bow down to any image. (Lev. 26:1) When the Israelites worshiped the golden calf at Sinai, they intended to make an improvement in their religion. They said: “There is a festival to Jehovah tomorrow.” God did not approve the use of an image in proper worship. Had it not been for Moses’ entreaty Jehovah would have destroyed the entire nation of Israel. Bible principles rule out the belief that images are a Christian aid to worship. Said Jesus: “God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.”—Ex. 32:5; John 4:24.
What of the belief so widespread in Christendom—the immortality of the soul? It is popularly accepted, but does the Bible teach this belief? Commenting on the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures do not teach this doctrine, historian John Lord writes in Beacon Lights of History: “This fact is so remarkable, that some trace to the sages of Greece and Egypt the doctrine itself, as ordinarily understood; that is, a necessary existence of the soul after death. And they fortify themselves with those declarations of the apostles which represent a happy immortality as the special gift of God,—not a necessary existence. . . . If immortality be not a gift, but a necessary existence, as Socrates supposed, it seems strange that heathen philosophers should have speculated more profoundly than the patriarchs of the East on this mysterious subject. We cannot suppose that Plato was more profoundly instructed on such a subject than Abraham and Moses.”
The truth is that the immortality of the soul is a pagan doctrine. “It crept into the Church,” once said British prime minister William Gladstone, “by a back door—the back door of Greek philosophy.” True Bible belief is that man is a soul; he does not have a soul. Describing man, the human soul, Genesis 2:7 says: “Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.” This human soul is not immortal but dies. Examine the Scripture at Ezekiel 18:4. It says: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
ETERNAL TORMENT AND TRINITY
Eternal torment in a hot hell is a belief that crumbles when it is realized that its foundation is the false immortality of the soul doctrine. True Bible belief is that hell is the common grave of mankind. It is not eternal. Jesus Christ went to the Bible hell, and he was raised out of it. (Acts 2:31) Hell (or Hades) is even to be destroyed by its being emptied of its dead occupants through the resurrection of the dead: “Death and Hades gave up those dead in them, and they were judged individually according to their deeds. And death and Hades were hurled into the lake of fire. This means the second death, the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:13, 14) Instead of hell being a fiery place, it is destroyed by being hurled into the symbolic lake of fire, that is, a state of everlasting destruction. That hell is a place of torment is a false belief: “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.”—Eccl. 9:5.
And what of Christendom’s popular doctrine—the trinity? It should not surprise one by now that this is of pagan origin. The doctrine, besides being implausible and unreasonable, is unscriptural. No scripture teaches a trinity.a According to the trinity, the Father and Son are coeternal; but of Jesus Christ the Bible says that he is “the firstborn of all creation” and “the beginning of the creation by God.” Neither are the Father and Son coequal, for Jesus declared: “The Father is greater than I am.” As for the holy spirit, it is not a person but the invisible active force of God.—Col. 1:15; Rev. 3:14; John 14:28.
So the trinity is another of the false beliefs in Christendom that are “quite beyond numbering.” Why take a chance with false beliefs? Prove what is false and reject it. Prove what is true and hold to it. Only the truth can set one free and enable one to bring forth the fine fruit of right religion that is acceptable to God.
a The text at 1 John 5:7 in the King James Version is used to support the doctrine, but the words do not appear in the reliable and oldest manuscripts of the Greek Scriptures; thus most modern versions leave the words out entirely.