Monday, March 24, 2014

Human Reasoning

What does the term "human reasoning" mean to you? What do you think of when you hear someone use that term?

It is a loaded term. By that, I mean it is loaded with meaning and implications that go beyond what the words actually state, and it can mean different things to different people. It can also mean different things depending on the context it which it is used.

In the Church of God, the way it is often used, it usually has a negative connotation. It is often used in conjunction with the Bible verse "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12, 16:25).

Human reasoning is often contrasted with God's revelation to show that human reasoning is faulty and therefore wrong. And in comparison to God's revelation, it is faulty and inferior, and when it is used to excuse behavior that is contrary to God's instruction, or to come to conclusions contrary to God's revelation in the Bible, it is wrong.

But human reasoning, in the sense of using our human minds to think, to put facts together, to solve problems, and to reach conclusions, is not always wrong. God gave us minds to think with, minds far superior to animal brains, and He intends us to think and to reason in a right way.

In fact, the way God put the Bible together, you have to use reasoning, and since we are human we can call it human reasoning, to correctly put verses together to understand the Bible. And unless you are able to correctly put verses together to understand doctrine, you will not be able to know God's revelation, for God reveals the truth through His word, the Bible. You also have to use reasoning to know how to apply God's truth to the decisions you have to make every day. You also must use reasoning to know how to do God's work and how to serve others.

Without human reasoning, we would have no more mental ability than animals.

Where human reasoning is wrong is when we substitute it for God's revelation. When our human reasoning tells us one thing, but God's revelation in the Bible tells us something different, we have to choose between two conclusions. If we choose our human reasoning over God's word, we make a wrong choice, but if we choose to believe God's word over our own reasoning, we make a right choice. Yet we have to use a certain amount of reasoning to even understand what God is really saying in the Bible. And once we have understood God's word, we sometimes have to use reasoning to know how to apply it to our lives.

Human reasoning can be correct or incorrect, but God's word is always correct.

The part that God's Holy Spirit plays in helping us to understand God's revelation in the Bible is to help us to reason correctly when we put verses together to understand the Bible. Without the help of God's Holy Spirit, Satan will deceive us by influencing our reasoning, causing us to make errors in our reasoning and causing us to put verses together wrongly and to reach wrong conclusions.

The law of the Sabbath can be an example to illustrate what I am saying.

Someone may read the scriptures that say, "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work..." (Exodus 20:9-10, Deuteronomy 5:13-14). But then, he may reason, "Well, I know the Bible says we should rest on the seventh day, but the way I see it, we should only rest when we need to rest, and if we have a lot of work to do, we should keep working", and he may have many reasons in mind for his conclusion. In other words, the person is not trying to understand and believe what God says in the Bible, but is using human reasoning to decide if he agrees with God's word or not, and in this case, not. That is the wrong use of human reasoning.

Reasoning should never be used to determine whether or not we agree with what God says. It should be used to help determine what God says by putting verses together correctly for the purpose of understanding, believing, and obeying what God says. It should never be used to form a conclusion contrary to God's revelation. And once we know God's revelation, it should be used to understand how to apply it to our lives.

So in the matter of the Sabbath, we should start with a willingness to believe and obey what God says in the Bible. Then, we should get all the scriptures on the subject to understand what God is saying. Some of those scriptures will be about Jesus's sacrifice - His death, burial, and resurrection, because one of the things one may research is the idea that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday to honor the resurrection of Christ. So in doing this research, those scriptures should be included. You can find the scriptures that say that Jesus said He would be in the grave for three days and three nights. You can count from Friday evening to Sunday morning and know that that is not three days and three nights. Then, you can consider the argument some have made that the term "three days and three nights", in the original Greek, was a figure of speech that means parts of three days. But you can also put this together with Jesus's statement that He would be in the grave for three days and three nights like Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, and you can confirm in the Hebrew text of the book of Jonah that Jonah was in in the belly of the fish for three days and nights, and Greek figures of speech would not apply in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, so Jesus must have been in the grave for three days and three nights.

You would also need to ask the question, and find the answer in scripture, about when a day begins and ends (not at midnight as our modern society counts days).

In other words, there is a great deal of research, of study, of thinking, of analysis, of putting facts together, to know what the Bible really says on the subject, and all this can come under the label of human reasoning. It is simply using the human mind to process information in a way that animals cannot do. It the use of the human mind God has given us to put facts together to gain understanding of a matter.

Mr. Armstrong took six months of research, study, thinking, and reasoning to finally understand that the Bible teaches the seventh day Sabbath, according to his autobiography. This was before he was converted. He was using human reasoning, but he was using it the right way, to honestly examine the issue of which day of the week the Bible teaches is the Sabbath.

The right use of our powers of reasoning is to try, as best we are able, to understand what God is revealing to us in the Bible, NOT to decide if we agree with God or not. Once we know what God says, we should never reason around it to decide that God is wrong and we are going to believe something different.

Then, once we know God's revelation, that we should rest on the Sabbath, we have to use reasoning to apply it. For example, we may plan ahead, with reasoning, to get things done ahead of time on Thursday or Friday so we can begin the Sabbath in a restful atmosphere. We might reason, "I don't have enough food in the house for the Sabbath. I better get my groceries purchased and also clean the house Thursday evening because this is winter time and I have to rush to get home just after work on Friday to be home by the Sabbath and I won't have time for shopping or cleaning. And I better put gas in the car so I can drive to Sabbath services. But I won't have money for the food I need till I get paid Friday, and that would be too late, so I have to take money out of the bank. I better do that at lunchtime on Thursday when my bank is open, so I better not make plans for lunch that day." That is planning ahead and it is human reasoning - it is thinking. But it is not wrong reasoning because it is using our minds to plan and reason how to obey God, not how to disobey God.

I can use the example of unclean meats. A man may read the scriptures that command that we not eat the flesh of unclean animals, and he may notice that pork is included as meat to avoid. The wrong use of human reasoning is to say, "Well, men have been eating pork for centuries, and scientists do not find anything unhealthy about it, so I think it is ok to eat pork." The right use of human reasoning is to get all the scriptures in the Bible on that subject to see if this command is still in force. He then will find that Peter, even after the Church had started, did not eat pork, as evidenced in the account in Acts in which Peter had a dream about it. He can then reason correctly that the command against unclean meat was not abolished for the Church.

But because "human reasoning" is a loaded term with a negative connotation in the Church, it can be used to attack any kind of reasoning one does not agree with.

Suppose you do some Bible research and learn something you think the Church of God does not know, but something you think would be valuable. Suppose you write it up in a study paper, trying the best you can to put scriptures together correctly and base your conclusions on the Bible, and send it to the headquarters and leadership of the fellowship you attend. Do you use reasoning in your paper? Yes you do. Is it wrong? Not necessarily, but because we are human we can make mistakes, so the conclusions of your paper may be correct or incorrect. If you have made a mistake, headquarters may see your mistake and write back to you showing you your mistake. And in showing you your mistake, they also use reasoning. But if they agree, they may use your paper.

But if you are sincere and trying to believe and understand the Bible, it does not make sense for someone to accuse you of using "human reasoning", as if the use of reasoning is a sin just because you put together a study paper and submitted it, because those who evaluate your paper also use reasoning, and they are human too. They have to use reasoning to put the scriptures together to find what the Bible is really saying.

Using the human minds God has given us to think, to put facts together, to reach conclusions, to put scriptures together and understand what God is saying on a subject, and to put facts together in our lives to understand how to apply what God says to our daily decisions, is not wrong whether someone labels it "human reasoning" or not. It is only wrong when it is used to disbelieve and disobey what God says. It is wrong when we use it to reach a different conclusion than what God tells us and when it is used to decide that God is wrong and we are right.

Where does God's Holy Spirit come in?

God's Holy Spirit opens our minds to help us understand scripture correctly. In other words, God guides our reasoning, helps it, aids it, and helps us to be correct in our reasoning. But God doesn't do it all for us. We still need to do the work of research, and we still have to use our minds to think, to reason. God's Spirit doesn't speak into our ears or into our minds and say, "You are researching the Sabbath question in the Bible, but I will give you the answer - no need to flip through the pages of the Bible, no need to look up terms in a concordance, to try to get all the scripture on the subject. You don't even have to count how many days it is from Friday to Sunday - I will save you all that work, so here is the answer: rest from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset - that's it." God wants us to do the work. He has given us human minds for that purpose. Can we make mistakes in our research? Yes, but if we are obeying God and are led by His Spirit, God will help us see our mistakes a little at a time.

God's Spirit also helps protect us from Satan's deceptions, otherwise, we will be deceived like the rest of the world. Satan can influence men's thinking, leading them to make mistakes in their reasoning so they cannot understand the Bible correctly.

God also helps us to understand His word, to put scriptures together correctly, in proportion to our belief and obedience. The more we believe what He says and strive to obey it, the more He will help us reason correctly in putting scriptures together and understanding the Bible. The more we obey him, the more God will help us think correctly and reach right conclusions, the more God will protect us from mistakes, and the more God will correct the mistakes we have made. The more we believe and obey God, the more He will help us see our errors. But that process does not work in the world because the world does not believe what God says. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments" (Psalm 111:10).

Because the world is not called, and because the world does not believe what God says, God allows Satan to deceive the world, and among religious people in the world who read the Bible, God allows Satan to lead people into making such serious mistakes in the way they put scriptures together that they cannot come to the knowledge of the truth of the gospel.

In Mr. Orchard's sermon last Sabbath, he said that in UCG and COGaic he received many doctrinal papers submitted to the Church. In reference to doctrinal papers, he said that the openness of COGFC is not openness to human reason but the openness of the indwelling presence of God's Spirit. This made me think. What kind of papers does he refer to? He said they were papers on doctrinal matters. Does that not imply that most of them, since this is the Church of God, discussed doctrine in terms of scriptural teaching in the Bible? Were these papers that only reasoned around the Bible, saying, well, I think the Bible is wrong on this doctrine because of these reasons. Were they papers that ignored the Bible and tried to establish doctrine apart from the Bible, not even quoting scriptures? Or were they papers that tried to use the Bible to know God's teaching on a subject?

Probably most of writers of the papers COG organizations receive at least claim, and some make sincere attempts, to base their conclusions on the Bible. Many try, as best they are able, to understand what the Bible says, though they may make mistakes. And as I pointed out, using the minds God has given us to understand the Bible is not in itself wrong, though understanding the Bible may require the work of research, analysis, and thinking, what some would call "reasoning".

So it made me wonder, is it the Bible Mr. Orchard is not open to? And then, if he is open to God's Spirit, how does he think the Holy Spirit communicates to him on doctrinal matters if not through the Bible which was inspired by that same Spirit of God (2 Peter 1:20-21)?

God speaks to us through His Spirit. How does His Holy Spirit speak to us? God, through His Spirit, has inspired the prophets and the apostles to write the Bible, so the primary way God's Spirit speaks to us is through the Bible. God has inspired the Bible to be written in such a way that it takes a certain about of work, of effort, to put scriptures together on a subject to know what God says. God wants us to be willing to do that work, to make that effort, to find the truth. He doesn't make everything easy for us. He wants to know if we are willing to make an effort to know the truth and seek God's will. God has also inspired the Bible to be written in such a way that certain passages can be hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16). We can understand them by letting the Bible interpret the Bible, by letting easy scriptures interpret the hard ones. But this is a process that takes work, effort, and time. In fact, it can take a lifetime in the sense that we should never stop learning and being corrected by God's word, the Bible (2 Peter 3:18).

God's Spirit also talks to us by helping us to understand the Bible, by helping us reason correctly, to put scriptures together logically and rightly. The world does not have that help, and God allows Satan to lead men to put scriptures together wrongly, to make mistakes in their reasoning. But God gives us that help in proportion to our willingness to believe and obey Him. When we disbelieve what God reveals to us, it becomes harder for us to understand the Bible correctly. We become more prone to mistakes as we reason to put scriptures together. When we believe God, God gives us more help to see our errors. But we still have to put work and effort into the study of the Bible.

And finally, God's Holy Spirit helps us to apply God's word to our daily lives and the decisions we have to make. God helps us by bringing scriptures to our minds when we are faced with a trial, a temptation, or a decision. "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:26). It was by scripture that Jesus countered Satan's temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). How did Christ know the scriptures to use to answer Satan's temptation? He had the Holy Spirit without measure (John 3:34-35, 1:32-34). God's Spirit helps us reason correctly when we have to make a decision on the best way to apply God's word to the decisions we make. So, for example, we know from God's word we are to serve others, and God's Spirit can help us understand the best way we can serve, depending on our abilities, talents, and opportunities.

But though God's Spirit gives us help that the world does not have, and helps us understand spiritual knowledge (1 Corinthians 2:10-16), there is no promise in the Bible that God will totally protect us from making any mistakes in our thinking, our reasoning, and our conclusions. But if we are growing in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), those mistakes should become fewer and less serious over time. We should be letting the Bible correct our mistakes all our lives.

I do not think COGFC ministers have been emphasizing submission to the Bible and looking to the Bible to know God's will. I get the impression, from their published sermons and Bible studies, that they believe God's Spirit leads them apart from the Bible, even to conclusions that the Bible does not support.

As for me, I prefer to go by the Bible.

Those who have read my book, Preaching the Gospel, and those who have been longtime readers of this blog, know that there are three main things I emphasize: zeal for preaching the gospel, hierarchical government in the Church, and willingness to believe the Bible first and to base our beliefs and doctrines on the Bible more than anything else. In this regard, I have been disappointed in Church of God, a Family Community on all three counts, though I originally had hoped they would be an improvement over COGaic.

Here are links to other posts in this blog related to this subject:

"Brian Orchard's Bible Study on Repentance", dated March 16, 2014, link:

"LCG Announcement of Hiring former-COGFC Ministers - Wrap-up with COGFC", dated March 18, 2014, link:

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