Stanton has altered the meaning of so many words, it’s hard to keep track; hence the new glossary. One of the terms that has been severely misused is the word “prove,” as in “prove all things.” I’m not saying that the word is always misused, because I’m not there to know. But it’s apparent that it’s at least misused when it’s convenient. The following is a portion of a talk at the Labor Day 2013 meeting:
“We put a lot of stock in you brethren that are very, very young in faith. Very young in faith. We put a lot of hope in you, that not only are you going to be able to carry the mantle, you’re going to turn around and you’re going to improve what it is that you have learned. Not disprove, and not try to challenge it, or turn around and make it so where it is you find that it’s false, and its flaws and its errors, but to where it is that you prove it, and strengthen it and strengthen it and strengthen it. You hear in my voice I’m passionate about this. I’m very passionate about it.”
The speaker goes on to talk about how young Christians would be tested by challenges to things they’ve been taught (by this blog, perhaps?), but they are apparently not supposed to subject their teachings to any sort of test at all, not even to the point of getting answers “to their own satisfaction.” They are to accept whatever level of understanding God has granted them and put aside the rest:
“It’s got to be what God has granted you to understand, to his satisfaction, and he may only give you just so much. And so much, that you must develop a faith around what it is that he reveals and conveys to be able to sustain you and how you may be able to endure as well as how you may be able to continue to respond.”
This teaching is downright dangerous, because it teaches new converts and old to set aside their own critical thinking that God gave them, and let others do their thinking for them. I would suggest that subjecting what we’re taught to the scriptures “to our own satisfaction” is exactly what God asks and demands. In fact, to accept something that is not “to our own satisfaction” is a violation of our conscience.
Doing this repeatedly sears our conscience and trains us to rely on our teachers’ regurgitation of the Word rather than our own processing of it. How is that any better than Christians who rely on whatever their pastor says in the sermon on Sunday morning? Short answer: it’s not. It’s accepting the doctrines of men based on their own human authority. By contrast, testing what we’re taught against our understanding of scripture is exactly what the Bereans were commended for.
With that in mind, let’s look at Paul’s instruction to “prove all things:”
1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 – Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
In proper 17th century usage (when the King James translation was published), “to prove” meant “to test.” If you were to prove a horse, it was not to offer an irrefutable argument as to why the horse was a horse, so that no one could deny it, but to test the horse to find out its capabilities. If it didn’t meet up to your requirements as a beast of burden, for instance, you could decide not to buy it.
It’s with this meaning of the word in mind that King James’ translators correctly chose the word “prove” to translate 1 Thessalonians 5:21. To set the stage even further, we have to understand that some in the first century had a spiritual gift of prophesysing—in other words, a gift of publicly speaking the words, or at minimum the ideas, given to them by the Holy Spirit. The tricky thing was that not everyone who had the gift of prophesying also had the ability to perform miracles to “prove” (modern usage, to offer convincing arguments) they were speaking by the Spirit. Therefore, some might claim they had the gift who really did not.
Paul’s instruction, interestingly enough, was to ask the hearer, not the teacher, to “prove all things.” Test it. See if what this person is saying holds up to scriptural scrutiny. The burden of “proof” (modern usage) may have been upon the teacher, but the responsibility to “prove” the teaching (archaic usage, to test) was upon the hearer.
This is simply a case of words changing meanings over time. Yet the correct meaning of the verse is still very apparent. Paul is saying to “test” all things and hold onto the good parts. This necessarily means discarding the bad parts. By this we know that some of what they would be taught would be good, and some of it would be bad. That’s why they were supposed to test it, discard the bad, and keep the good.
So let me ask you: if the first century church was expected to evaluate the teachings they were hearing, and they had people walking around who were able to prophesy miraculously by the Spirit, shouldn’t we all—Stanton members included—be expected to do the same? Is it too much to ask that every believer prove, i.e. test, the teachings they hear against the Word itself? Or are Stanton’s teachings somehow exempt from scrutiny?
It makes a mockery of Paul’s words if we distort them as if he’s saying to “prove” the teachings of the church to oneself, repeatedly trying to offer yourself convincing arguments to keep yourself on board with the prevailing teaching du jour. That’s the opposite of critical thinking. It’s the opposite of proving all things and holding fast that which is good. Paul was not interested in producing a crop of young Christians trained to blindly follow their leaders. He wanted young Christians who were willing to think for themselves critically and discard erroneous teaching before it could establish itself in the first century church.
I’ve never asked anyone to accept my opinions without scrutiny. All I’ve ever done on this blog is ask my readers to test what they read here, and discard what they can’t find in scripture. May Stanton’s teachers one day be bold enough to do the same.
Excellent post Kevin! Taking a deeper look into what was actually taught at this Labor Day event it is very revealing. How does one “improve” on what you have learned according to scripture other than by improving oneself by obedience to the Word of God? You can’t improve the Word of God because His Word is perfect and will remain so. You can put to the test the Word of God all day long and it will remain true. The only time falsehoods, flaws and errors enter in are when you add and take away from His Word by instituting… Read more »
I agree with Anonymous 7:36 – Excellent post! Thank you and God bless you.
I agree, another excellent post. I thought the same thing as I listened to the Labor Day talk. Stanton CoC's definition of prove is to memorize church doctrine and to review it as often as necessary to have a strong belief in it. Another impression I got was the speaker (and this seems to be a Stanton CoC belief) that it is more important to hold on to your pride (of being the only true church) than it is to possibly consider that church could be wrong.
Thank you for your post Anon 7:36. I agree with your post as well.
Anon 7:36, I thought the same thing about the "improving" comment, that seemed a little bizarre to me. And yes, tradition is exactly what all these rules and regulations are. You certainly can't find them in scripture.
Exactly, Wendy. Their doctrine that they alone are the one true church is central to their entire culture, and it must be protected at all cost, it seems.