Written by: Edward O. Bragwell, Sr
We are living in a culture given over to subjectiveness. It depicts truth as relative or subjective – it is whatever each person perceives it to be. One of the results of this way of thinking is that no one has the right to say another’s view, which may be “truth” to him, is wrong. The net result is chaos because everyone becomes his own authority. It is like ancient Israel in the days of the judges: “… there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Before going further, we need to define two basic words to help us understand our subject – “subjective” and “objective.” I copied the following definitions from an internet site powered by Oxford Dictionaries:
based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions: Contrasted with objective.
‘his views are highly subjective’ ‘there is always the danger of making a subjective judgment.’
synonyms: personal · individual · emotional · instinctive · intuitive
not dependent on the mind for existence; actual: ‘a matter of objective fact’
synonyms: factual · actual · real · empirical · evidence-based · verifiable
One of the tragedies in church history is that of professed Christians basing their faith and hope on subjectivism. Legions follow their own subjective feelings and/or the subjective testimony of others about what is right or wrong, truth or error, without a grain of objective evidence. One of the problems with this approach is that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV). Anyone can make a subjective claim about anything, but without objective evidence, the claim cannot be proven one way or the other.
In recent years, among those of us who have, for generations, rejected the subjective approach, there has been a growing trend in that direction. It is becoming more and more how one “feels” about a spiritual matter rather than “what saith the Scriptures?” (Cf. Romans 4:3; Galatians 4:30). Some are regarding their day to day subjective feelings as divine guidance. Sometimes sermons predominately consist of the speaker’s personal subjective spiritual “journey”; and/or relaying the subjective “journey” of someone else. The problem here is not whether these claims are true or false, but that they are presented without objective proof.
Not even Jesus of Nazareth asked people to accept his claim of being the Christ based on his subjective claim alone: “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.” (John 5:31 KJV). The idea being that people should not accept his deity on his subjective testimony alone. They should look at other testimony (objective evidence) to verify his claim. Anyone could claim to be the Christ.
In Matthew 9 and parallel passages, our point is vividly illustrated :“Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.’ And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, ‘This Man blasphemes!’ But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? ‘For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Arise and walk”? ‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’ – then He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’ And he arose and departed to his house.” (Matthew 9:2-7 NKJV)
Here Jesus claimed power to forgive sins on earth – a trait of deity. It was a true claim, but those present could not observe sins being forgiven. They needed objective proof to verify his claim. Jesus gave it by telling the paralytic to “Arise and walk” (an obvious miracle) that they might know the truthfulness of his claim to forgive sins. This they could see. It was more than just a man’s claim to being deity with the power to forgive sins on earth. It was objective and verifiable proof.
When Jesus sent his disciples forth, both on the “limited” and “great” commissions, claiming to be speaking for him, he gave them the power to perform miracles (objective evidence) to confirm their claim (Matthew 10:1; Mark 16:15-20). So, in the case of Jesus and his apostles the objective proof was either in the form of observable miracles or the citing of scripture references. (Cf. Matthew 22:29-33).
After the completion of New Testament revelation and cessation of supernatural spiritual gifts (Jude 3; 1 Corinthians 13), Christians are limited to scripture for objective proof of their spiritual teachings. How powerful is this evidence? We get an idea of its power from Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In the story, the Rich Man wanted Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his wayward brothers. He was told if they would not believe Moses and the prophets, which they had (in the form of scripture), they would not believe one risen from the dead. (See Luke 16:19-31).
If Jesus and his apostles did not expect people to turn to the Lord merely based on their subjective testimony, but insisted on giving objective “infallible proofs” to verify their claims; why should we expect people to “just take our word for it” without citing the infallible proofs available to us – the apostolic/prophetic message written and preserved for us.
So, it is a very dangerous practice to form a view about spiritual matters without verifying it by the scriptures (objective proof). It is easy to conclude that an unusual inner feeling is God speaking to us – especially if we have been conditioned to seek such an experience. It is likewise dangerous to accept a view(s) of another on a spiritual matter without objectively verifying it by the scriptures. It is either naïve or dishonest to expect another to accept our subjective view of spiritual truth without objective scriptural proof.
We need to be like those of Berea. While we are willing to receive the word of another, rather than rejecting it out of hand, we refuse to believe and act upon the word received without searching the scriptures (objective truth) to see if the things are so.
“These (Bereans) were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11 NKJV)