Freedom to tell the truth
‘Freedom’ writes the hero Winston in his illicit diary in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, ‘is the freedom to say 2+2=4’. That’s pretty banal, you may think, but a climax in the book comes when the rulers force him under torture to say that 2+2=5, because they say so. Truth in that world is simply what the highest authority, backed up by force, says it is.
The time is coming and is already here when Christians in the West will have to fight for the freedom to tell the truth. We shall be in the forefront of protests against censorship. Christian proclamation is not a propaganda campaign on behalf of one minor deity amongst a host of competing claims. That is what the world thinks it is, but we must remember that our calling is higher.
The truth is God himself, incarnate in Jesus Christ. Jesus, the eternal Word made flesh, told Pilate that he had come to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37). The truth is committed to propositions in Scripture, God’s Word written. To preach the Word is to tell the truth that comes from beyond this material sphere. It is not a sales pitch to grow our churches, or to goad people into decisions to join ‘our team’, or give them a comforting story by which to live, or enticing promises by which to hope for better days ahead. It is to say, at a level more basic than mathematics,‘2+2=4’. This is what is. We say it on an authority infinitely higher than any human government. In the end it will mean saying ‘We must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29).
To a culture besotted by lies it will mean saying firmly, clearly, gently, ‘But the Emperor has no clothes.’It will mean telling people they are slaves to the Father of lies whose first lie was that there is no judgment (Genesis 3:4); telling them that only the truth will set them free – the truth as it is in Jesus (John 8:31- 44; Ephesians 4:21). It will mean believing the truth as the way of salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13) and being prepared to die for it (Revelation 12:11). It will mean remembering that we worship, love, serve and preach the God who never lies (Titus 1:2).
‘Having bought truth dear’, wrote Roger Williams, ‘ we must not sell it cheap, not the least grain of it for the whole world; no not for the saving of souls …’ Mission, in the end, is telling the truth – for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, certainly, but it is telling the truth. That is not going to get any easier in the lie-intoxicated Western world.
In the beginning, God. 2+2=4. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Pastor of Welwyn Evangelical Church and former lecturer in Doctrine of the Church at the School of Biblical Studies