I have a friend who married a farmer from Iowa. A few years ago, she called me in frustration because her husband kept bringing her rotten, wormy, overripe applies that he had picked up from the ground, and expecting her to make something delicious with them. He had been taught as a child that apples are ripe when they fall from the tree. My friend grew up in Michigan, where there are many apple orchards, and she KNEW that apples ought to be picked from the tree, not the ground, but her husband wouldn’t listen to her. He could have easily searched on the Internet to learn the truth about when to pick apples, or he could have called an owner of an apple orchard, but he knew what he knew, and he wasn’t going to change.
I find it is a human tendency to do this. People hold on to childhood training and to personal beliefs, rejecting anything that challenges their beliefs, refusing to consider whether their beliefs are actually true or not.
I believe that truth is absolute, not relative. That is, there are things that are absolutely true, whether or not I believe it. Truth is not relative, meaning it is true if I believe it’s true, and something can be true for you and not me. I also believe that while I can pursue truth and know truth, I do not know all truth. It is conceivable that some of my beliefs could be wrong. The trick is to separate my personal thoughts, perspectives, and beliefs from the absolute truth. I believe I need to seek to cling to truth, but also be willing to consider that my beliefs might be wrong, and to let my beliefs go if they are proven to be wrong. I don’t want to make the truth conform to my personal beliefs, but make my personal beliefs conform to the truth.
One of the truths that I absolutely cling to is the truth of the God of the Bible. (Check What I Believe at the top of this page for a full description of the truth I am absolutely convinced of.) I will never let go of the truth of the Bible because I am utterly convinced that it IS true. But there are other truths I grew up with that I am or am in the process of letting go.
For example, I was taught that women were to be under the authority of men, and that they were not allowed to teach men. I never questioned this believe until we attended a very small church of less than 20 members with a very controlling pastor. At that church, women were allowed to speak from the pulpit or leading singing if there were men in the room. However, I often spoke up in Sunday school class (which met in the sanctuary) with men in it, unofficially “teaching” them, and my friend, the best singer in church, sometimes “led” our singing from the pew. I wondered why it was considered ok to teach/lead from the pews but not from the pulpit. What difference did a few feet really make? The most godly people in the church were women. Many of the men were new believers, and they struggled with profanity, drug abuse, and spousal abuse. I wondered if God really considered gender to be more important than godliness in leadership. I also wondered under what conditions women were to be in submission to men. For example, should a man order someone else’s wife to do something? What if a man told a woman to do something wrong? These and other questions made me search for the truth about women in the church. I searched HONESTLY, meaning that I was willing to conform my belief to what I discovered to be truth, without preconceived beliefs. I thought that if women really were under submission to men and ought not to teach men, then I ought not to be allowed to speak in Sunday school class, my friend ought not to be allowed to lead singing from the pew, the pastor’s wife ought not to tell a man to complete a task, and the pastor ought not to be reading books written by women—because being taught by a woman author is still taught by a woman. I saw that there was a lot of hypocrisy in the teaching about women in the church. It seemed to me to be at the whim of the pastor more than anything. I really prayed and studied this issue, and concluded that the teaching about women was not Biblical. Women are to be in submission to their HUSBANDS, not to every man in the church, which meant that women can teach. Being submissive to our husbands was not to be an abusive thing forced unto a woman by her husband, but she was to voluntary be under his authority like a vice president is under the authority of a company president. A book by Loren Cunningham called Why Not Women? Helped me a lot, and I let go of what I had been taught about women in the church.
Another teaching I ended up letting go involved the meaning of church ministry. The pastor of that small church we attended dismissed my encouragement of hurting friends as “not ministry” and told me that my ministry was doing the church bulletin each week was ministry. Our church was very poor, and the bulletin was, in my opinion, a waste of time and money. There was no reason for a bulletin. We had only one service a week (Sunday morning) and, at most, 20 members at that church. The only information that changed from week to week was the names and page numbers of the songs we sang. I wondered if the church ministry was really more important in God’s eyes than encouraging hurting friends. I didn’t think so. At a previous church, I used to meet in the fellowship hall on Sunday mornings with a friend who was going through a very difficult time of suffering. Sunday mornings were the only times we could get together. I heard later that some people were bothered by this. They felt we should be in Sunday school and the morning service. Yet, they had no problem that my son was the only student in his Sunday school class. I questioned why it was acceptable for my son and his teacher to meet one-on-one but not acceptable for my friend and I to meet one-on-one. I know my friend was getting more from our talks then my son was in his Sunday school class. Could it be that people consider “ministry” to be only what was “officially” sanctioned through a church? But is that how God defines ministry? I concluded not. I came to believe that the Church is actually the people, members of the Body of Christ, and not members of an organization. As part of the Church, the Body of Christ, any time I reach out to others I am doing “Church ministry.”
In both these cases, I let go of a teaching I had been taught all my life to grab hold of the truth. Grabbing hold of these—and other—truths has changed the course of my life. I recognize, now, that women are second class citizens in God’s Kingdom, but we are fellow-heirs and fellow-servants. I also recognize that anything I do for Christ is church ministry—whether it occurs inside or outside of a church. I look for opportunities every day, with every encounter, to reach out.
If we seek honestly for the truth, instead of trying to conform truth to our own personal beliefs, there’s no telling where it lead us. I believe it is ok to challenge beliefs because if we honestly seek truth, we will find truth.