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Beware False Balances
(Talk 1 of 3)
by Dusty Peterson
(This is the transcript of a talk Dusty recently gave at a fellowship in England)
morning. My sermon today has the rather un-snappy title of ‘Beware False
Balances’ and I intend to allow some time at
the end for any questions, but here’s a quick question for you - to get the blood pumping:
Who can tell me roughly how many denominations are officially
thought to now exist within professing Christianity?
Any estimates? 50? 100?
in 1986 a volume was published called The
Christian Sourcebook which reported that 21 thousand
denominations existed, with 270 new ones expected to emerge each year.
But that was inaccurate. Many
more than 270 per year have since
formed. Just eleven years later, in
1997, there were reportedly seven thousand additional denominations, and a U.S.
Census Bureau study in 2001 found that there were indeed over 30,000 in
Yes, 30 thousand separate
denominations, most (if not all) apparently developing different
beliefs on Christianity but still referring to themselves as Christian.
Do mull that over for a moment, for it is a truly astonishing thought.
Why So Many?
people will ask how this extraordinary state of affairs could have been reached
– especially given that no other religion sees anything like that degree of
fracturing as far as I’m aware. (Every religion will see some fragmentation, simply because fallen humans are often not
terribly good at getting on with each other. And certain religions are
inevitably divided doctrinally because
they claim that there is no such thing as objective truth. But I’ve
never heard of a faith which does
believe in objective truth that comes close to the splintering seen within
one obvious possible explanation is that the Bible is true – and therefore
that the Devil, about whom the Christian Bible teaches, is rather more
interested in dividing and undermining Christians
than in expending his efforts on pagans (because the latter are already serving
him). Of course, we Christians
believe that this is a correct conclusion, but it can only be part of the explanation for this colossal amount of division…
factor is that, since the Reformation, folks in many countries have had
increasingly easy access to the Bible and have reached a huge number of distinct
interpretations of the scriptures. But
if one stops to think about it, this fact alone doesn’t tell us why it should be possible
to reach up to 30,000 contradictory doctrinal outlooks from the same
if we make the (utterly ridiculous!) assumption that no doctrinal differences
are present within
any of these 30 thousand denominations, and if we also assume that that no new
denominations have formed since 2001 and that there are actually 30
denominations per doctrinal outlook
(i.e. like-minded sets of denominations are only divided from each other because
they are unaware of each other’s existence or because of personality clashes
or gross sinfulness), it still means there are over one thousand
contradictory views of God and His Kingdom within professing Christianity – and
most, if not all, of these world-views are
derived from the same source. How
does this come to be??…
Answer: Ambiguous Verses
fact is that there exist a very large number of ambiguous
portions within holy scripture. Now,
these ambiguous sections usually just comprise individual verses (or even just
parts of verses), but each can be interpreted as pointing readers in different
directions to the rest of God’s Word. (As
I will explain later, this is anything but
a criticism!) If we were to pause
for a moment I’m sure we would all be able to think of examples of such
verses. I’ll just mention a couple
at this stage:
Firstly, although there are many passages in Scripture which plainly call the
Lord God “Almighty” or “omnipotent”, and although this is obviously the
thrust of the Bible when seen as a whole, according to Genesis He “rested”
on the seventh day. Of course this
simply means that He ended the work He
had been doing (as a way of showing us that we are to work for six days and to
take a day off per week). It is not
saying that He spent the seventh day recovering
from that work. But if a
denomination would prefer to believe that God is not
Almighty then there is a little bit of ammunition like this available to them.
Next, holy writ is clear that God is all-knowing, or ‘omniscient’.
But there are also a tiny handful of verses which, on the surface, imply
otherwise – such as Hosea 8:4 where God talks about the time when
While we are looking at some of God’s attributes, let’s finish this small
set of examples by citing His omnipresence.
Scripture makes plain that, although God is totally holy and has
therefore had to separate Himself from this fallen world, nevertheless His
presence is, in a sense, everywhere (e.g. see Psalm 139).
But if a denomination is not willing to believe this, then one or two
passages once again exist which do superficially oppose this doctrine:
instance, Scripture speaks about the Lord’s presence ‘going with Moses’
Applies To All
of us will undoubtedly have come across many other examples of this feature of
the Bible. Indeed, from my own
reading of the scriptures over the years, I have yet to notice a correct
doctrine which cannot superficially be
undermined using bits of the Bible. (For
any who doubt this I’ll give a few more illustrations in a moment, but the way
in which professing Christians around the world seem to disagree on virtually
every aspect of the faith surely backs up my position.)
It has often been said that it is possible to prove anything from the
Bible. In the past I’ve claimed
this myself. But in fact that’s
not correct. For example, you
cannot, as far as I know, show that King Hezekiah was a ten-foot-tall circus
contortionist who also went by the name ‘The Great Bendini’.
But it does seem to be true
that you can ‘DISprove’ anything
from the Bible – i.e. it appears that you can oppose any
true doctrine via passages from holy scripture itself…
turns out that there are some very good reasons why we should actually expect
this to be the case. I’ll come on
to those later. For now though,
let’s just say that this feature of the Bible patently ought to encourage us,
prayerfully, to respect and study the whole
of God’s Word, rather than limiting ourselves to pet books or favourite
are some promised further instances to help bolster my general assertion.
However, you need to be aware that I am constrained from offering many of the
examples I would like to. This is because I want this talk to be as widely circulated as sensibly possible but I know of
numerous sincere believers who have fallen for one or more of the cases I might
otherwise have given here (and who would probably thus walk away from the rest
of my material if I did include such).
anyone uncomfortable with the fact that the Holy Spirit is a Person?
Well, He appears to be called an “it” on occasion in the Bible.
(See Part Five of the book identified in this footnote:
for a very simple resolution to this seeming difficulty.)
Is anyone opposed to the teaching that the Messiah is the only true way to God?
Do they need to find some scriptures they can exploit to gainsay this
truth? No problem!
(What I mean is, no problem in the sense that some ambiguous verses, and
various OT passages, enable people to do just this.)
anyone not want to believe that we are saved by grace alone (despite the rest of
the gospel making little sense otherwise)? Let’s
see, we’ve got the “sheep and goats” passage in Matthew, along with two
verses in James, that we can take out of context to question this teaching.
(Please don’t misunderstand me. All ‘problem passages’ need
to be honestly explained rather than merely swept under the carpet, and it is
unwise to teach on a given doctrine until one can
resolve the ‘difficult’ passages on it.)
◄ Are we none-too-prepared to believe that Christ was infallible?
Well, the Lord chose Judas Iscariot as a disciple didn’t He?
This fact must undermine His standing in the eyes of some who don’t
know Scripture and don’t realize that the Lord had
to choose Judas in order to fulfil prophecy.
could readily go on and on with examples of this feature of the Bible.
(And it’s important to note that this feature applies to our practices as well, not just to our
doctrines. It applies to the ways in
which a Fellowship is run, for example.) It
seems the old saying ‘The exception that proves the rule’ is not such an odd
expression after all.
an aside, if you find you are unhappy with any doctrinal statements I give in
can I urge you to make sure that you
haven’t inadvertently fallen for the ambiguous minority over the unambiguous
majority? If, after checking this,
you find that it is I who am in the
wrong, then please do let me know.)
me to summarise this section. If you
or I would prefer to reject any true
doctrine, then a small, but noticeable, amount of the evidence within God’s
Word appears, on the surface, to deny that particular teaching and thus enables
us to “believe a lie” (2 Thess. 2:10).
just as with
every doctrine, if any of us want to
have a false view of the Bible itself
then holy writ again allows us to think we are justified in doing so.
In other words, despite all the irrefutably miraculous features of
God’s Word, from its staggering quantity of precisely-fulfilled prophecies and
its completely unrivalled – and totally accurate – histories, to its
unmatched beauty and its awesome power to transform lives, if anyone would like
to disrespect or even reject the
Bible, then God seems to have arranged for a modest, but non-negligible,
proportion of the evidence to superficially support that wrong attitude:
Does anyone not want to believe that the Scriptures are complete (despite the
fact that it would be a deeply
unimpressive God who was not able to protect His own Word and make it
available)? Alongside all the
evidence for the completeness of holy writ, you can indeed find a small amount
of evidence which can be made to support the opposite stance.
Do you know people who are not prepared to believe in Sola Scriptura – i.e. that the Bible is sufficient for all matters
of faith and practice (despite God warning us not to add anything to the Bible,
and since we have no way of being certain what is true unless we have an objective basis)?
Again, no hassle: A quantity of ambiguous evidence is available to defend
such a notion.
Ever come across a group uncomfortable with the idea that the Bible is infallible
(despite it being God-breathed and despite Christ Jesus Himself saying
“Scripture cannot be broken”)?
We’ve already seen that verses exist which appear to negate others.
It is precisely when people do
such verses properly
that they feel the Bible contradicts itself and thus that it is fallible:
Lord has arranged, for instance, for the gospels to appear
to have an amount of disharmony.
Now, I’ve studied a fair few cases and I have yet to locate a
single occasion where a genuine disharmony can be shown.
(Differences between accounts are either due to the same event being
expressed from different, but complementary, angles, or because the accounts
refer to separate, but similar, events. As
I say, none of the differences I have
yet seen are irreconcilable.)
a bit of a digression, I know a young chap who is the unsaved son of a friend of
mine. Now, this young man has a truly brilliant intellect. He
gained a double-first at
he started investigating each of these problems, and, after checking the
original Hebrew / Greek, or determining the full context of the relevant
passage, or looking into the culture in the
is a vivid example of where mental capacity is no substitute for wisdom.
This young chap simply refused to see the pattern in front of his nose.
For, there were all these supposed problems in the Bible, most of which
were not hard to spot, and which all disappeared
when properly studied. What’s
more, there were far too many of them, and most were far too conspicuous (especially given the intricate construction of
the Bible) to have been included by accident,
yet my friend’s son could not see the likelihood that they were thus present deliberately.
If this is true, as I contend it is, then no matter how many of these
‘problems’ a person is able to reconcile, it follows that God has ensured
the presence of enough further instances such that anyone who wants
to have reasons to disbelieve the Bible’s divine nature will find
(Obviously I’ve written
talks on the basis that the Bible is the truth. If anyone doesn’t
agree with this view I would simply ask that they be prepared to see the Bible
as a candidate for being the truth and to consider the content of all
three of my sermons before drawing any firm conclusions and before deciding whether or not
the worldview I am positing is internally consistent.)
appreciate that what I’ve been saying today may lead you to believe I think God
deceives people. Actually that’s not
what I’ve been claiming. What
I’ve said is that God enables people to deceive
themselves, which is not the same thing. I also need to
clarify that God hates all lies and cannot Himself lie (for this would go
against His nature). But an
outright lie is not the same as, say, using ambiguous wording which people can
take in the wrong way if they so choose. Let’s have a proper look at
what the scriptures say regarding this
whole matter of misleading without lying:
start out with God’s handling of His enemies. On more than one occasion,
God’s tactics for
the Lord sometimes sent a deceiving spirit into the mouths of the ‘prophets’
(e.g. in order to destroy King Ahab in 1 Kings 22).
And God warned
some will say these were only deceptions against the Lord’s enemies, but they were still
deceptions from God. Besides,
let us consider what constitutes an enemy of the Lord.
Does it always mean people implacably opposed to God’s ways?
We need to remember that the Lord allowed a man of God to be deceived via
the old prophet in 1 Kings 13 only a very
short while after the former had faithfully been doing the Lord’s work and had
healed someone in God’s Name. And
Jeremiah once said, regarding God’s backslidden People: “Lord GOD! surely Thou
hast greatly deceived this people and
it goes beyond this, and I’d urge folks to hear me out. I realise what I
am about to say is seldom taught, but if you’ll bear with me I’ll supply
solid biblical proof. Specifically,
and only for the good of His Kingdom, God could even be said to fool His faithful servants at times. For
instance, Jeremiah cried out “O LORD, Thou hast deceived me”
(Jer. 20:7), and God employed deception in order to reveal to Solomon’s court
the true mother of the disputed baby in 1 Kings 3:23-28 (i.e. by having Solomon
deceptively order the child to be cut in two). Let’s also recall that
God misled His own people in order to bring Jacob and his family to
another, particularly apt, example I want to mention at this stage.
God deceived Abraham to test him regarding his son (Genesis 22).
God never intended for Abraham to kill
Isaac, but He certainly gave Abraham that impression!
This was to test Abraham’s devotion to God, and it’s an important
clue as to why the Lord would deceive
people – or why He would enable people to deceive themselves.
(We’ll come back to this point shortly.)
some of us may know of a verse or two in the Bible indicating that God is
opposed to all deception. But
once again we are talking about a tiny fraction of the relevant verses, so we
need to make sure we interpret them in the light of the rest of the Bible rather
than the other way around. As I say, God is totally opposed to all lying,
but a person can be misled without being lied to, and it is the latter we are
looking at in these talks.
The fact is that there are numerous places in the Bible where the Lord
unambiguously utilizes the method I have been discussing. (Please
see the footnotes of
this transcript for numerous further examples and for more explanation of this
particular issue if it is troubling you. I would also
recommend anyone who may be upset by the material in my talk to
look up all the various Bible references I have cited before dismissing my
other words, please don’t think I am misrepresenting the Lord.
He can, and does, allow us to mislead ourselves if we prefer that to
loving (i.e. seeking and obeying) the truth regardless of the cost.
sensible question at this stage is: Why on earth would God do this?!
I will look at that issue more fully in just a few minutes, but, at the
very least, this pattern we have identified should encourage us all to be really
open to correction (and should encourage all teachers to be extremely
open to correction and to be prepared to learn from the doctrines held by
denominations other than their own). It should also lead Christians to
develop a good working knowledge of the whole
Bible, and to take care that they do so in a seriously respectful way.
some would use
this surprising feature of the Bible as an argument for ignoring
the Bible. For example, certain
folks say “We can effectively forget the Bible, for Jesus said He is the truth – so all
we really need is Him”.
But this is yet another example of the very thing I am looking at –
i.e. taking just a portion of one verse and interpreting all other verses in the
light of it. If we don’t genuinely
need the Bible, what are the epistles (which, let us remember, were all written
to believers) doing there?
If we do not truly need the Word then the highly unambiguous words of 2 Timothy 3:16-17
(which formed part of our second reading this morning), become a nonsense. As you
will recall, that passage says: “All
scripture is given by inspiration of God,
and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in
righteousness: That the man of God
may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all
good works.” So, at least until
you or I are “perfect”, we still
need to be reading our Bibles!
the explanation for Christ calling Himself
“the Truth” is straightforward. I
want to return to this matter in my second talk, but for now let me note that our Lord Himself
stated, in John 17, that God’s Word
[Greek: Logos] is truth. Now,
the Lord Jesus is God’s Word in human form – and can therefore rightly call
Himself the truth, but the Bible is
God’s Word in written form – and
is therefore also the truth.
When He was here on Earth, Jesus Himself repeatedly encouraged us to know
the scriptures. He did so: in Luke
not, at this stage, going to say a great deal regarding the amount
of the relevant evidence which will appear misleading on a given doctrine.
I plan to look at that properly another time. But what I will say is that
the misleading proportion always seems to be enough to convince those folks who
do not put the truth first. If someone prefers to side with the minority,
ambiguous, part and ignore the great bulk of the evidence which unambiguously
points in the correct direction, then
God seems to have made sure that this ambiguous part is adequate to fool such a
should clarify this.
In my experience, the exact proportion of ‘misleading’ evidence varies
between topics. In other words some doctrines have a smaller quantity of data ‘pointing’ in the wrong direction than
do others. But they always, I find, include evidence which is
significantly more compelling, so the
overall effect seems unchanged. This leads to an interesting situation.
Let’s imagine a particular doctrine is supported explicitly, or at least
reasonably directly, by the vast
majority of the Bible, and that its negation is only supportable by a tiny
set of passages. In order to achieve
the necessary ‘effect’ discussed, some of these few passages will seem
remarkably compelling at face value.)
principle we have been exploring (i.e. that the truth can be obtained by being
fully open to it and by respecting all
the evidence, but that a non-negligible proportion of this evidence will
superficially point away from the
truth) seems to be a fundamental
spiritual principle. If this is so,
it applies to everything in this life
– not just to the Bible and its contents…
example, it applies to questions regarding Creation and the age of the Earth.
It also applies to the question of Bible versions and the manuscripts
which underlie them. It applies to
the issue of whether a given person’s ministry is of God or not.
It applies to every aspect of
the truth. I plan to take a closer look at this point in my next talk
where, God-willing, I will also uncover the extremely important ramifications of
this principle. For
now though, I do need to return to this matter of why
God would ever mislead people (or why He would allow people to mislead
themselves). I believe there are two
I think God allows it because any temptation to focus on a subset
of His Word should disappear when we realise that we need to read and reverence
the whole of the Bible if we are to
determine the truth about a given doctrine.
second reason I believe God sometimes ‘misleads’ people is related to the
above, but is even more profound. I
think God allows those people who are not properly
devoted to the truth to be deceived because God aligns Himself so completely with the truth that He takes it as a major personal
affront when we don’t love the truth – and, as such, He’s hardly going to
bless such an attitude. I plan to
develop this crucial point in my second talk,
but another perspective for the time being is to see these ambiguities as being
akin to battlements around a castle. On the one hand they discourage (or
stop) the half-hearted person because
they will require care and effort to overcome, but, on the other hand, they will
the valiant-hearted person –
because they tell him that the treasures within are even more precious
and priceless than might previously have been supposed.
Matthew 13:10-15 is very instructive here.
idea (i.e. that we really must love
the truth) is reinforced by the
first Bible reading we had this morning, from Proverbs 2. I’ll just
remind us of verses 3 to 5 before I close. Listen
out for how thoroughly committed we need to be to the truth:
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest
up thy voice for understanding;
seekest her as silver, and searchest for
her as for hid treasures;
Then shalt thou understand the
fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
God makes plain here, this involves heartfelt
desire. It requires us to seek the
truth with the same degree of application and determination with which we would
search for hid treasures.
(It also involves obeying the truths that we have already found.)
Are we not now beginning to see why
so many different denominations – with so many different worldviews developed
from the same book – have appeared?
any folks don’t agree that this is a very major reason for the existence of
such immense divergence of doctrines within professing Christianity then they
need to locate a better explanation and
they need to explain away the ambiguous Bible verses we have discussed (as well
as all the other ambiguous verses they know of).
(If anyone is experiencing serious doubts about the contents of the
current talk, they can obtain a sneak preview of the second one by visiting the ‘Honey’ section of our website
I am confident in the Lord that this will deal with all such doubts.
If this proves not to be the case then please do contact me via that website.)
any folks are tempted to reject my argument on the basis that it doesn’t fit
with their existing doctrinal framework, I would humbly suggest that they are in
danger of doing exactly what this talk
warns about – i.e. putting something before truth. I urge
them to consider what I have to say in the second talk before dismissing what we have covered thus far.
of us who still thinks he is immune from the problem I have identified this
in my view, dangerously naive. I would argue that he is being even more
naive than the newly-wed man today who, in a society which now sees more than half
of all marriages end in divorce,
lets himself imagine that he will never suffer with any marital problems himself. (I recommend we all pause for a
moment to consider the unspeakable foolishness of such an expectation.)
feel I should end this talk by simply encouraging each one of us – myself included – to
reconsider all our doctrines and to make absolutely certain that none
of them is founded on the sand of the ambiguous minority of verses, nor on the sand of a subset of verses taken out
of context, but on the solid rock of the majority evidence God has supplied
which is pointing us in the right direction.
you for your time.
Much of the data for this paragraph was obtained from http://killdevilhill.com/biblechat/messages2,
although I cannot endorse the rest of the article nor the site on which it
The book in question is Alpha – the
Unofficial Guide: Church (a preliminary version of which has just been
released by St Matthew Publishing). Please see the ‘Rubies’
section of bayith.org for availability.
(Note that identifying a seeming
error is not the same as spotting a cast-iron error that is utterly
logically irreconcilable no matter what assumptions are made.)
A good example of ‘disharmony’ in the gospels revolves around the
respective records of the Lord’s burial and resurrection.
My argument is that there are too many such ultimately-resolvable
‘discrepancies’, many of which are too conspicuous, for them all to be
there by accident. This is the
case with the Easter ‘discrepancies’.
More exist than ought to have been the case if the accounts were
written by serious people; they are often more conspicuous than ought to
have been the case if they were written by serious people; and all are able
to be reconciled by the single book ‘The Easter Enigma’ (with the
arguable exception of one). Is
there not a bit of a pattern here? My
theory would predict that the Easter passages would have a substantial
number of seeming inconsistencies. It
would further predict that these ‘discrepancies’ would vary in
‘conspicuousness’ and also vary in difficulty of resolution.
I would expect there to be one or two which were very hard indeed to
resolve such that anyone who refused to recognise this consistent pattern in
the Bible would have something to cling to which allowed them to side-step
the Bible and its challenging message.
There are one or two verses which may be worrying some of us.
For instance, Proverbs 24:28 says “Be not a witness against thy
neighbour without cause; and deceive
not with thy lips”. We may
think this verse proves that God opposes all
deception and that He would therefore never use it Himself. But the
first half of the verse refers to people witnessing to a thing “without
cause” – i.e. lying. (It’s a similar story with Psalm 101:7.)
God is not saying here that all
deception is wrong – rather that deception by lying (plus deception for
evil motives) is wrong. Thus we see God blessing,
rather than chastising, the Hebrew midwives for deceiving Pharaoh; and we
see God blessing, rather than
cursing, Rahab for deceiving the men who were looking for the Jewish spies;
and we see God blessing, rather
than condemning, Abraham for deceiving his servants into thinking he hadn’t been told to sacrifice Isaac. There are a surprising
number of other such instances (so much so that I plan to turn them into a
talk in their own right), but for now here are some confirmatory Bible
references: Judg. 3:15-26; Jer. 38:14-27, esp. vv
14-15,24-27; Luke 24:28; and 1 Sam. 20:5-6. Please note: there
is a lot more evidence I could bring to bear here, beyond all the places in
holy scripture where God hides things from His people, or where He blinds or
confounds people such that they cannot see the truth. God can and
does use deception when it is
necessary for the sake of His Kingdom.
Specifically, Alpha – the Unofficial
Guide: World (available from CWM).
Once believers recognise this arrangement God has put in place, it should
encourage the wise among us to take the Bible even more seriously than we
These battlements are the tools by which God separates the ‘wheat from the
chaff’ in terms of commitment to Him.
These battlements are principally inserted as a stumbling block to
reveal (to us) those souls who don’t genuinely love the truth, just as the
Lord’s parables were designed to. Consider
what God says in Isaiah 6:8-10: “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed,
but understand not;
and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of
this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut
their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and
understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”