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Topic: Knowing and Being Right

Just the Facts?

by Darrel Cline

I was reading a certain church's catechism the other day in which the claim was made that only they had the infallible interpretation of the true God's Word to man. Being a dissenter from that church, I naturally disagreed. There are millions of Islamic followers of Allah who also disagree (can so many be so wrong?). And besides them, there are millions of Shintoists, Buddhists, Taoists, and renegade, unorthodox, Christians (not to mention all the other religions in the world) who also disagree. The disagreement doesn't mean the claim is not true. It just means that there are many who don't accept it. However, true or not, it does raise an important question: why would any church--Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or other religion--claim to have an exclusive ability to interpret the one true God's Word infallibly?

I think I know. They want to be right.

I sure don't fault them for wanting to be right. Hell is forever and being wrong about forever is scary. But, is their thinking correct?

In the thinking of those catechists, in order to be right, they have to be sure their God is the One who inhabits eternity and is the Un-caused Causer of all that is. Then, once they are sure they actually are worshiping the right God, they have to be sure they have correctly understood the revelation He has given. So, the best position to take is the position of the sole possessor of infallible interpretation.

But, is that the only possible way to know ultimate realities? Since everyone believes his perspective on Heaven and Hell, or Nirvana and Annihilation, or Reincarnation and the Eternal Circle, is the correct perspective (who doesn't believe he is right?), how can anyone be sure that his is the correct perspective?

Interestingly, Jesus never promised His Church they could have an infallible understanding of His Word. Even the catechists didn't appeal to Scripture (the record of Jesus' words) to validate their claim. This means two things: 1) the claim of being the sole possessor of infallible interpretations is simply a claim that people can take or leave (it has no historical, rational, biblical, or psychological validity); and 2) Jesus obviously felt that the issue of a person's need to know he is correct in his religious convictions could be produced in a better way. That's why He spoke in terms of knowing God rather than knowing facts. Infallible interpretations would lead to the sure knowledge of facts, but it would not automatically lead to the sure knowledge of the person behind the facts.

For example, one infallible conclusion that the church mentioned above has drawn is that God often forgives people their sins. But the fact does not make a person know his sins are forgiven by the God Who is the Judge and final arbiter of destiny in Heaven and Hell. That God often forgives is counterbalanced by the fact that He also often sends people into an endless, fiery torment. Knowing the facts isn't the final basis for deciding whether one's religion is correct.

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This is article #010.
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