The apostle Paul told the saints living at Thessalonica, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21), but what exactly does that mean? How do you "prove all things" and who defines what is good? Furthermore, before a person can prove something they first have to question that which they want to prove because if they don't have a question about something then there is nothing to prove. For example, in school we were taught that that the earth is spherical in shape. In order for us to prove to ourselves that this statement is true, we would first have to question or have doubts about that assumption, otherwise there is no reason to prove it because we would just accept it as fact.
However, when Paul says that we should "prove all things" he is not speaking about earthly things so much as he is referring to spiritual matters. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the reason why Paul makes this statement is that he is addressing questions the saints had about the second coming of Christ.
It seems there was a contention among the saints over this issue and in his letter Paul was trying to clarify what the truth was on this matter. It was in relationship to his answer that he made the statement that they should prove all things and hold fast to that which is good. His meaning was that Christians will hear many different doctrines from many different people, but the way they are to determine which doctrine is correct and which is false is to put them to the test and see which one proves true. Then, once they have discovered the truth they were to hold fast to it.
If we are to follow Paul's advice then it would appear he is telling Christians that they need to question everything (i.e., all things) about what they believe and only after they have received such proof are they then to put their faith in what it is they claim to believe. Therefore, it seems that Paul is advising us to always be questioning our faith. However, to some, such an idea seems heretical and just the opposite of what they feel the Bible teaches.
The very basis for salvation is to have faith in Jesus Christ and faith is defined as believing in something we can neither see nor prove. Furthermore, the Bible repeatedly tells us that we are to "trust" God, and trust is simply another word for having faith. So are we to first "prove" that God exists before we have faith in Him or are we required to put our faith and trust in Him before we have proved His existence?
Nearly all Christians believe that no one can see God because He is "invisible" (see 1 Col 1:15, 1 Timothy 1:17) and that God no longer speaks to man as He did in the Old Testament times, so the only way we have of knowing that God even exists is what the Bible itself says about Him. So are we then supposed to question even that assumption and prove "all things" that are contained in the Bible before we put our trust in it and hold fast to our convictions about the Bible?
Yet that is not what the early apostles did as they went about preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, and neither do today's preachers ask people to prove all things before believing in their words. In fact, nearly all ministers ask their listeners to accept their message based solely on what they say the Bible teaches about how to achieve salvation.
Does that then mean we should never question what our particular faith teaches? Should we just unquestionably accept whatever our church leaders tell us? And what do we do when questions do arise in our mind to which people aren't able to give us a satisfactory answer? Do we ignore those questions and continue following the teachings of our particular church in spite of our questions, or should we not believe anything they tell us until we have proved what they say is true?
This problem tends to be more relevant to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than in most other churches because of its many critics. It may be safe to say that there are more people devoted to disproving the beliefs of the LDS Church than of any other Christian faith. Through pamphlets, books, films, audio recordings, and meetings specifically held to discuss the "evils" of Mormonism and ways to combat its spread, members of the LDS Church are regularly asked to question the teachings and beliefs of their faith.
The most common approach the critics use is to say to a Mormon, "Did you know this about your church?" or "You're only hearing one side of the story. Let me show you the other side that your church doesn't want you to know about," or "You can't make an informed decision unless you know all the facts, so let me show you the real facts about Mormonism."
Since most LDS members want to be fair and reasonable, they are often willing to listen to the critic's anti-Mormon information. Then, after showing this information, the critics will generally quote Paul's admonition to "prove all things" thereby challenging the LDS member to prove that everything they believe is true. If they can't do that then this is supposed to be proof that the LDS faith is false. Interestingly though, the critics don't apply that same standard to their own beliefs.
Then what are we to do? Should we ignore any criticism of what we believe or should we look at each and every criticism leveled against our church in order to prove that what we believe is true? Should we never question anything our church teaches and simply accept on blind faith that everything we are taught is true, or should we question everything our church tells us? If we do have questions does that signify a lack of faith on our part or are we supposed to follow Paul's counsel to "prove all things?" Does questioning what we believe help increase our faith or does it undermine and helps destroy it?
The first thing we have to realize is that man has a divine quality to be curious. From the time we are children we ask such questions as, "Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green? How come birds can fly but we can't? Where do babies come from?" And as we get older we never outgrow our need to ask questions because that is how we learn. In fact, just about every invention came about because someone was curious or had a question about how something could be done better.
In the case of Joseph Smith, many of the revelations he received came as a result of him asking questions of God, and the Bible is filled with instances where men of God asked questions, including the apostles when Jesus was with them. So it is clear that there is nothing wrong with seeking answers to the things we are concerned about, and the LDS Church encourages its members to know the truth of all things for themselves. So the real question is: How should we question our beliefs in a way that strengthens our faith rather than weakens it by instilling doubts and skepticism in our mind or in the minds of others?
There are two types of questions that confront us. The first type are those deliberately designed to cause us to doubt what we believe with the intent of turning us away from our faith. This can be done either by people directly challenging us with accusations about the church or by the devil whispering doubts in our ear. Ever since the Church was established in 1830 the critics have made every kind of effort imaginable to keep the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from spreading its message and winning converts.
In the early days of the Church the allegations were new and fresh but in a short time the critics began to run out of new things to say and simply began re-circulating the same charges over and over again. It didn't matter that the LDS Church had successfully answered every claim against it. It didn't matter that nothing they claimed ever proved that the LDS Church was built on a false premise or that its leaders were men of immoral character. What the critics are hoping to do is find people who have never heard of these old, worn out allegations before and instill in them enough doubt so they can be lead away from Mormonism and then be lead to accept a different religious belief.
In this kind of a situation, there are answers to every one of these allegations. If someone is faced with questions of this nature, all they have to do is find out how the LDS Church has responded to it. Then they have truly heard both sides of the story. However, that is not what the critics advise doing. They want a person to look only at their side of the story and hope the person doesn't investigate their claims any further, or they try hard to discourage people from hearing what the Church's answer is.
For example, one of the newest accusations is that DNA scientists have examined the mitochondrial DNA of those living in Central and South America and have not found any traces of Jewish ancestry. Since the Book of Mormon clearly states that Jews from Jerusalem came to this continent and had a thriving civilization for a thousand years, then, if this book were true, we should expect to find a sizable portion of the population in Central America who have Jewish DNA in their system. Since scientists haven't discovered any such evidence, the critics claim that this is scientific proof positive that the Book of Mormon is a false history.
If we listen to just their side of this allegation, it sounds as though this is pretty conclusive evidence, but if we then look at what the Church's response is, we find there are huge holes in this theory. (For an in-dept look at this subject see "Believing in the Book of Mormon" . However, what they don't realize is that this argument is worse for them than that it is for us.
If we are going to use the science of DNA to prove that the Book of Mormon is not true then, to be consistent, we should use that same science in regards to the Bible. The problem this creates is that DNA scientists have also concluded that native Americans came from Asia over 10,000 years ago, and they have also traced DNA back more than 100,000 years to people living in Africa, thereby giving evidence that Darwin's theory of evolution is correct. Since the Bible says that Adam and Eve were the first humans God created 6,000 years ago, then those who want to use the DNA approach to prove the Book of Mormon is false are also proving that the Bible's story of human creation is just as false.
When confronted with questions that seem to cast doubt on the truthfulness of what the LDS Church teaches, it is always wise to hear both sides of an issue before deciding what is the truth and to use critical thinking. It is also good to keep in mind that since 1830 not one claim against the LDS Church has ever been proven to be true.
In these kinds of questions the answer is already known, but there is a second group of questions where the answer is not known. For example, the Bible states that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth "and God said let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament" (Genesis 1:7). It later says there were "lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night" (verse 14).
It is obvious that "the firmament" is either our atmosphere or the universe where the "lights" of heaven are located, meaning the stars, moon, and sun. Therefore, according to the Bible, first there was water and then God put "the firmament" (i.e., the universe or the earth's atmosphere) in between the waters to divide it. However, this is completely at odds with what scientists believe about how the earth was created. This then raises the question of how do we reconcile these two very different accounts of creation?
The Bible states that God created the first man approximately 6,000 years ago but most paleontologists say that the first actual human (homo erectus) came about through evolution between 200,000 to 400,000 years ago. How do we resolve that difference? The Bible tells us that the entire world was flooded yet there is no archeological evidence of a worldwide flood. And there are many other statements in the Bible that are at odds with what science knows today.
For this reason, there are many, many questions that biblical scholars have for which there are no factual answers, and it is questions such as these that atheists love to pose and then challenge Christians to provide real, tangible proof that what they believe about the Bible is true. There have been many Christians who have put forth their own answers to these questions but they cannot provide any actual, authentic proof that what they say is correct. As such, they're so-called "answers" are really only theories or possibilities. Therefore, the most valid answer to all these kinds of questions is: We don't know what the real answer is.
Then what do we do when confronted with questions for which there are no provable answers? The only thing we can do is continue believing what we do based on our faith.
The Bible tells us that "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Most people are of the opinion that faith is merely believing in something we can't know for sure and for which there is no evidence to prove that what we believe is actually true. In other words, to them faith is defined as believing in something we can only hope is true, but that's not what Paul said.
It is true that our faith gives substance to the things we hope for, but that faith is based on some kind of "evidence." Blind faith is not based on anything. It has nothing supporting it except hope. On the other hand, real, genuine faith comes about because of something that gives us a reason to believe. Although Christians believe in a God they can't see, they nonetheless genuinely believe He exists, not because they merely hope He does, but because something has led them to conclude that He is real.
For example, most people have never seen an atom, with its electrons whirling around a center made up of particles called neutrons and protons, yet they firmly believe such things exist. But that belief doesn't come from hoping it is true. Instead we believe it on the evidence of what credible scientists have reported. In the same way, Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross to redeem us from our sins and that He actually rose from the grave because of the testimony of credible eye witnesses who claim to have lived with Him, heard Him speak, saw Him perform miracles, and who touched and handled His resurrected body with their own hands.
There are many questions Christians have about what is recorded in the Bible but that doesn't diminish their belief in it as the word of God. However, that belief is based on some sort of evidence that convinced them of its truthfulness. More often than not that evidence was spiritual in nature rather than physical. It may have come because of an answer to a prayer, a spiritual experience, a miracle, divine inspiration, or some other form of a heavenly manifestation.
The apostle Paul explained that the natural man doesn't accept the things of God because he considers them to be foolish, and neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). Therefore, in order for someone to gain a knowledge concerning the things of God, most generally they have to have that knowledge revealed to them by the Holy Spirit in some supernatural way (Ephesians 3:5). Moroni echoed this when he said "And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (Moroni 10:5).When that happens, that experience then becomes the evidence which produces the kind of faith that can withstand any kind of a challenge.
In math we know that if A is the same as B and B is the same as C then A has to be the same as C. In the same way, if A is that we know for sure Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and B is that the Book of Mormon is truly the word of God, then we know with absolute certainty that any questions we have has to have an answer that agrees with A and B, even if we don't presently know what that answer is.
Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable to have questions, even hard, probing questions, as long as we always rely on our faith which was produced from evidence that was divinely sent. This is why atheists have a hard time drawing Christians away from their faith despite the number of flaws, illogic, or contradictory statements they say exists in the Bible. Faith is like cement in that it is very difficult to break once it has had time to harden, especially the thicker it is, but until it has set, it is easy to damage and tear apart.
Those whose faith is weak can easily be "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Ephesians 4:14) or, as the Amplified Bible renders it, "may we no longer be children, tossed like ships to and fro between chance gusts of teaching and wavering with every changing wind of doctrine where they prey on the weak by the cunning and cleverness of unscrupulous men in every shifting form of trickery in inventing errors to mislead." Paul told the Corinthians, "I have fed you with milk and not with meat for hitherto ye were not able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 3:2), and we should follow the same advise when it comes to our questions. There are simple milk questions and there are hard meat questions and we should not worry about answering the hard questions when our faith can only handle the simple ones. This is especially true concerning the kinds of questions posed by those who deliberately seek to prey on weak members of the Church by cunningly inventing erroneous stories meant to mislead and deceive. But even when our faith is strong, we must constantly nourish it rather than looking for reasons to weaken it. When questions arise in our mind, as they will, hold fast to that which we already know to be good and true because of the witness we received from the Spirit, and then patiently wait on the Lord until He is ready to give us the answer.
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