This is the last artricle in this series. As usual, you can download the full essay at the bottom of the page. Thank you for reading.
The Truth Shall Set You Free
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
In the last 12,000 words, I have done my best to present what the Bible and the early leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement had to say about various aspects of unity: what are the essentials, who is a Christian, and what role does doctrine play in one’s salvation? Hopefully this has been eye opening to you and at least causes you to compare where we are now in the Churches of Christ and how it all started.
While this history is fun to study, at least for me, I also recognize that Alexander Campbell and all the rest are not my standard for how I ought to live and worship God. That standard is, and forever will be, the Word of God—Jesus. This last section, then, is dedicated to showing how I reached similar views to Campbell and Stone without ever reading their writings. I did not obtain my copy of their material until August of 2021 whereas I have been publishing similar conclusions to what I have presented in this paper for several years now.
In other words, I hope to show what the Bible says about truth, faith, opinions, and unity without appealing to any other source besides the Bible and our common sense. John’s account of the gospel and his epistles teach that there are two things needed for Christian unity: belief in Jesus and love.
In the trial of Jesus, Pilate asked, “What is truth?” It is this question I will seek to answer in this subsection. First, we must ascertain why truth is important. First, in John 8:32, as quoted above, we see that it is truth that sets us free. In John 17:17, Jesus prays for the disciples to be sanctified in God’s truth. Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:21 that the one who practices truth comes to the light. And in 1 John 2:4 warns that the truth is not in those who refuse to keep the commandments.
This brings us back to our question, what is truth? Perhaps the reason people are so divided over this question is because it is the wrong one. Perhaps Pilate didn’t have the right foundation, so he asked the wrong questions. The question isn’t “what is truth” it is “WHO is the Truth?” That answer is simple and comes from John 14:6: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
Jesus is the Truth that sets free, for He said in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.” Jesus is the Truth that sanctifies, for John began the book, “And the Word became flesh…” The one who practices the Truth follows Jesus, for John wrote, “If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light…” (1 John 1:7). And the Truth is in everyone who keeps the commandments, for Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love…” (John 15:10).
Jesus is the Truth. Our interpretations of the Bible, doctrines, and methods of worship may be “true” in the sense that they are technically correct, but to believe in the Truth means to believe in Jesus, not one’s party doctrines. To really see this, let’s look at John 20:
So then, many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that by believing you may have life in His name.John 20:30–31
Where did John mention baptism? Instrumental music? Fellowship halls? Lord’s Supper once a quarter? Or any of the things the Church has split over? What is necessary for life? He plainly says it is belief in Jesus, who is the Truth, the Word, the Life, the Light, and the source of salvation. Like we saw in the section on Galatians, the gospel is Jesus.
In the book of first John, John tells us plainly who is practicing truth versus who believes a lie:
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever follows His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says that he remains in Him ought, himself also, walk just as He walked.1 John 2:3–6
What are the commandments? This is another one of those passages used to bash anyone who disagrees with the minister giving the sermon. One preacher said on his radio program, “Baptists are liars! Presbyterians are liars! Methodists are liars!” Now if John here means that we must be perfect in our understanding of doctrine and worship, then who among us can be saved?
Luckily, we do not have to look far in 1 John to know what he means by the commandments:
This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments remains in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He remains in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.1 John 3:23–24
Belief in Jesus and love for one another are the commands we must keep. If we keep these, John tells us, then we are walking in the light, remaining in Jesus, and have the Truth within us. Is this not, in essence, what the first twenty-six pages taught? If we truly know someone has Jesus within them by their profession of faith and love for one another, then why do we cast out those who have Jesus within them by demanding that the follow the Bible in the way we see it?
John, in his first epistle, is not alone in this. Jesus said the same thing in John’s account of the gospel: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12). If I find a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or a member of the Churches of Christ who believes in Jesus and loves their neighbor, I don’t have to interrogate them about their method of worship, ideas regarding salvation, or their concept of the Trinity. Those discussions can happen in time (and are quite fun!), but they are not to come between brothers and sisters in Christ.
This paper is a plea for restoration, not restoration of the church, but restoration of the goal of unity prayed for by Jesus, the apostles, and great men like the Campbells and Stones of the world. Let’s allow Christian unity to be our polar star and understand that the work of Christian unity begins within ourselves. Father, help us to let go of the self-imposed obstacles and consent to you working within us to accomplish within our generation what Your Son prayed for two thousand years ago.