There is an emerging trend across the digital space, particularly social media and television, regarding what some people call the “Common Sense Family,” a movement that repudiates and ridicules Christianity under the guise of interpreting the scriptures. This movement is against biblical orthodoxy and seeks to sway the youth from total dependence on God’s objective Word and divine providence. Considering the alarming rate at which some people are buying into this ungodly ideology, there is the need to strengthen our faith in Christ and to respond promptly and intelligently to their activities. Our silence will encourage them to operate under the false impression that they were doing the right thing.
The focus of this article, therefore, is to deal with this unchristian ideology and to forestall the inherent danger of it indoctrinating innocent people as well as its ripple effect on today’s Christianity. I intend to discuss the characteristics of common sense as against divine grace extended to God’s creation universally. The problems and claims, biblical nature of God’s grace, and how Christians should respond to the whimsical effect of the common sense family will also be highlighted. While we do not intend to completely reject the application of common sense as a fundamental principle of society, the actual problem being addressed in this article is the position of the common sense movement that seeks to undermine the truth of God’s Word.
The Fundamental Concept of Common Sense?
The use of common sense indicates the practical judgement or rational thinking concerning issues that affect humanity on a daily basis. The phrase “common sense” originated from the reflection of Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) based on the scientific perspective in the use of the five senses (taste, sight, smell, touch, and hearing) in animals to develop their sense of thinking. This was picked up by various schools of philosophical thoughts, including some Christian philosophers, prominent among whom was Thomas Reid, the proponent of the Scottish Common Sense Realism. In his Essays on Intellectual Powers 4.6 (1785:412), Reid states that common sense is “necessary to all men for their being and preservation, and, therefore, is unconditionally given to all men by the Author of Nature.” From Reid’s reflection, one could say that he uses the concept of common sense not to argue against Scripture, but to support it, noting that it is given by God.
Others, however, who oppose the common sense philosophy criticise it as a simplistic interpretation of the phenomenon. Emmanuel Kant, in his criticism, says that, “seen in the light of the day, this (common sense philosophy) is nothing but an appeal to the judgement of the crowd-applause.” The lure of science and common sense influenced the interpretation of Christian doctrine during the years of enlightenment, with some cults holding on to the philosophy. It then became an agenda in later years for those who intended to undermine Christianity in favour of modern and post-modern ideologies. It became an excuse for sections of society to resist Christianity and to indulge in whatever they desired. While the scope of this article does not cover the exploration of, the Aristotelian theories of common sense, it intends to postulate the fact that the phenomenon of exploring common sense has been an age-long praxis in both academia and human development in general.
It is felicitous to say that common sense may not necessarily be an evil thing for humanity, because we are naturally prone to apply common sense in making decisions. However, it becomes a concern in Christianity if common sense is projected as a prevailing ideology independent of the biblical understanding of knowledge and wisdom, particularly when its application vehemently rejects the authority of God. The import of this view is that the knowledge and wisdom espoused may be rational, good judgment, and sound practical sense, and yet in complete disagreement with the precepts of the scriptures.
Sadly, the common sense family has subtly adopted logical, practical sense as their premise for the interpretation of the scriptures. However, Christians must not live by any concept of common sense that is independent of God’s grace as provided in His Word. For any attempt at such an unguarded lifestyle defeats the concept of obedience to God’s Word in its totality. Further, any rational thinking Christian must of necessity recognise and uphold the authority of God’s Word while at the same time speaking to the issues raised by those who implore others to undermine God’s authority.
The Common Sense Family
The proponents of the common sense movement constitute a group of avowed critics of the Holy Scriptures. How do they conduct their activities? Apart from distorting the scriptures through the prism of worldly “wisdom,” they also urge their followers to throw away their Bible and embrace “common sense” as a substitute for the scriptures. By their rational thinking, they reduce critical Christian doctrines such as the creation account, Jesus’ teaching on miracles, etc., to logic and fallacy.
The common sense family is like secular humanists, who think human survival can only be obtained through rational thinking and sound practical sense, in neglect of any aspect of religion, particularly Christianity. A cursory observation shows that the target of this “common sense family” is not all religions per se but Christianity. They mistakenly assume that their activities can pull down the architecture of Christianity, but that is not possible. The Christian church has survived the onslaughts of stronger ideologies than those espoused by the common sense movement.
The Cardinal Claims of the Common Sense Family
Four cardinal claims with their associated problems can be identified with the ideology and philosophy of the common sense family. Firstly, they base their ideology on human reasoning with its limitations. They think the Bible does not give space for a scientific and philosophical understanding of life, forgetting that humans by their nature can only interpret issues based on their experiences and knowledge, and do not always completely understand their environment or accurately predict the outcome of events.
Secondly, they claim the use of common sense, rational laws, theories, and interpretations are the fundamentals of a peaceful life. Yet, natural activities are not infallible as the Bible, because they may be based on human misconceptions and wrong interpretation of phenomena. Even when humans think they have it right with their intelligence, the flaws are still obvious. Thirdly, this ideology attacks issues of faith and proffers answers to unexplained issues that amount to fiction, though they denounce the objective nature of God’s Word and label it as fictitious.
Fourthly, their definition of what is good and moral is oscillatory and does not have any firm basis. They subject God’s Word to several interpretations, thus negating biblical orthodoxy and praxis to the realm of mere human reasoning. They use scientific approaches such as observations, experiments, and hypotheses to make their case against Christianity while the Bible deals with faith as a fundamental principle in its communication. Science and Scripture are, to some extent, at odds with each other because the Bible does not submit to scientific interpretation; it supersedes every knowledge borne out of human philosophy and worldview.
It is worth noting that while some scientists try to use science to disprove the scriptures, godly scientists argue that the inability of science to provide evidence for many things in nature, is real proof that science has its limitation while God’s supremacy over His creation is incomparable to anything. There are things that science and common sense can never understand in this world. The caveat is that Christians should be wary of any scientific knowledge and disposition that reject the authority of the Bible. Of course, those who study science and have encountered the Lordship of Jesus Christ do not repudiate the objective truth of the scriptures and that should be borne in mind in a discussion of this nature.
The Fundamental Belief of Christianity
Christians believe that the world is sustained under the impulse of God’s common grace extended to His creation. Writing on “The Goodness of God and Common Grace,” Storms (2020) defines ‘common grace’ as “an expression of the goodness of God, is every favor, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God; this includes the delay of wrath, the mitigation of our sin-natures, natural events that lead to prosperity, and all gifts that human use and enjoy naturally.” From Storm’s definition, the concept of God’s common grace gives us an idea of the goodness of God which is available for every person to explore.
God’s common grace in terms of rain, sunshine, prosperity, life, and natural resources is provided to all persons, irrespective of their religion, race, or culture (Matt. 5:45). This grace is for everyone and that is what sustains the world. While, rational thinking may be needed, to some extent, to manage prudently the resources contained in the common grace of God, it must not be the basis of repudiating the authority of God over His creation. Rational thinking, in this context, is not an end on its own, but a means to appreciating the goodness and favour of God as well as upholding God’s creation as stewards.
It must be noted that God’s common grace is different from the saving grace in Christ. But what is clear is that it is not borne out of sound practical sense or the effort of humans. For a person to receive eternal life, they would need to accept the Lord Jesus as their Saviour. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6ESV). God requires that every person is introduced to His saving grace through His Son Jesus Christ and that is why Jesus keeps knocking at the door of every person’s heart: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20, ESV). The idea here is to draw a dichotomy between common grace and the saving grace of God. While God’s common grace is unconditionally for every person, His saving grace can only be obtained through faith in Christ. The essence of common grace offered to humanity is for us to appreciate God’s providence in the affairs of humanity and not the other way round by kicking God out of our way.
The salvation found in Jesus Christ is not only for our existence in this transient world but principally for our existence in eternity. If all we need from the Lord is for our comfort and prosperity in this transient world, as is, unfortunately, being taught by the common sense family, then we agree with Paul that, “…If only in this life we have hope in Christ, we should be pitied more than anyone” (1 Cor. 15:19, NET). From this biblical passage, we are confronted with the question: What at all do we need by following Christ? Is it for earthly achievement or eternal gain? There are enough biblical passages to substantiate the claim that every genuine follower of Christ must focus on the eternal life in Christ as the main reason for their Christian lives.
Jesus queries: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mk. 8:36-38, ESV). The import of this is that the life of a Christian is not necessarily dependent on the successes of this world, but substantially on the securing of eternal life in heaven. Those advocating the common sense family ideology may have to bear in mind that life without Christ can lead one to eternal damnation. Jesus clearly states that “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36, ESV). Thus, the belief of Christians in Jesus as the Saviour and God’s Word as the foundation for victorious Christian living is not meant for the temporary and transient life of this world, but eternal life.
It is stated unequivocally that one can only access the eternal life of Christ by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. The belief in Christ is also appropriated by hearing and obeying God’s Word in its totality. Unfortunately, that foundation is what the so-called common sense family seeks to dismantle so that their victims “shall not see life” and be exposed to the eternal damnation in hell (see Rom. 8:1,2). In the book of Revelation, John states that those who do not believe in Jesus, whose names are not found in the “book of life,” will be thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-13). However, whoever repents of his sins will be saved (Ac. 2:37-38). If eternal damnation will be the predicament of the ungodly, it is a great disservice for a person if they allow themselves to be deceived to denounce Christ or repudiate God’s Word. The truth is that whether one believes in God’s Word or ridicules it, the judgment of God upon His disobedient creation is inevitable (see Heb. 9:27), so Christians should not allow any person to corrupt their faith.
Biblical Response to Common Sense or Rational Thinking
In the midst of the attacks on Scripture and Christianity, there are many passages in the Bible addressing the situation. In 1 Corinthians 3:19, 20, Paul says: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’;and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile”’ (NIV). Paul’s response to some crafty people in the church in Corinth who attempted to use worldly wisdom as the basis of salvation indicates that even way back in the first century, some people worked, just as the so-called common sense family in today’s world are doing, to undermine the authority of God’s Word. They lay premium on the use of rational thinking and intellectual ideologies to understand God without recourse to biblical principles of godliness.
The enthralling aspect of Paul’s response to these people is that there is a vast gap between earthly wisdom and godly wisdom; God’s Word can only be appraised and appreciated by Spirit-filled people. The procedure towards the obedience of God’s Word is neither by logical fallacy nor speculative interpretation of the Word. Whenever humans read their minds into Scripture, they either become confused or tend to mislead other people into embracing heresy, because the human mind, by its natural disposition, is corrupt and limited. Ignorance is an intrinsic characteristic of the human mind and cannot fully interpret even its own life situation, let alone God’s revelations. It is rather the overwhelming grace of God in a person’s life that is fundamental to their appraisal of God’s Word as the absolute truth and foundation for victorious Christian living.
Where do we go from here?
The phenomenon of false teachings and attacks on Christianity has always been a major battle of the Church and our forebears never rested in addressing that issue. They never allowed the enemies of the gospel to have their field day. Now it is our turn and the beaming light of the gospel must repel the billows of darkness. Responding to the trend and being resolute with our faith are essential factors in overcoming this situation. We cannot afford to be silent in such a time as this when ungodly people are twisting God’s Word to draw attention to themselves. For example, in the Bible, Mordecai admonished Esther not to remain silent when the Jews were under attack from the diabolical schemes hatched by Haman to destroy the Jews (Esther 4:14). When Esther accepted the charge and acted decisively, she was able to save Israel from destruction.
As Christians, we need to understand that we, and not any other agency, must always be ready to ruthlessly repel any ideological and philosophical attack against our faith. The church must be well-equipped with the Word of God to respond to the threats of emerging ungodly ideologies and philosophies. Much as we believe that the incessant threats of worldly ideologies and philosophies cannot, in any way, destroy the church, it is equally important to consider specific responses to any critical issue raised by members of the common sense family. Allowing them to perpetuate their falsehood over a long time may sound in the mind of some people as factual.
Christians who are adequately equipped should use communication platforms like social media, radio, and television that are used in churning out the falsehood to respond to them. The church should not be passive about the threats that this movement poses to its members. Christians must use every opportunity to address the situation by way of explaining how to address the ungodly agenda perpetuated by some people. May Christian apologists arise in defence of the sacredness of Scripture and against its subjection to science-based scrutiny.
All Scripture is Inspired by God
Apostle Paul notes that, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Tim. 3:16, NLT) in the sight of God. The reflection of Apostle Eric Nyamekye (Chairman of The Church of Pentecost) on this text enhances our argument that God’s Word is unique and can only be understood by inspiration from the Holy Spirit. He remarked during a broadcast on the Pentecost Hour series on Pent TV that, “There is nothing out there that can be compared with Scripture…. Scripture is good because it is worthy and genuine.” From the import of this observation, Christians need not strive for any other source of knowledge that contradicts God’s Word, no matter how philosophical it may appear. Chairman Nyamekye argues that the Word of God is good because it has been tested and tried on humans and every situation in the world and it has proven authentic and effective in totally transforming everything it encounters.
The understanding is that the Scripture is powerfully sufficient for the survival and development of humanity. There is no substitute for Scripture when it comes to the development of godliness. Stressing this, the Lord Jesus says: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (Jn. 15:7, NIV). The emphasis in this passage is the call to remain in God’s Word as the basis of tapping into the treasures of God. Remaining in Christ and His Word is the only certain ground to ensure that the Christian bears fruit, because without Christ we can do nothing. What can be so refreshing than this?
A Charge to Keep I Have!
In spite of the responses of various Christians to false teachers, there is still room for more Christians to keep their charge as apologists – defenders of the faith. There is a charge for Christians to keep, which is the readiness to defend our faith in the Lord in order not to be misled by false teachers and their allies who seek to cause divisions in God’s Kingdom.
Let us examine how Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley, handled some challenges facing the Methodist Church at its beginning. Charles affirmed his call and commitment to the Methodist or Wesleyan tradition when some persons in England attempted to cause divisions in the Church. Instead of compromising his position, he was rather inspired to read Leviticus 8:35: “At the entrance of the tent of meeting you shall remain day and night for seven days, performing what the Lord has charged, so that you do not die, for so I have been commanded” (ESV). The inspiration he drew from this Bible passage impassioned him in his defence of the church as a gatekeeper. He wrote the following song in response to the situation and also to affirm his resolve to fulfil the divine task given him towards the development of the church:
- A charge to keep I have,
a God to glorify,
a never dying soul to save,
and fit it for the sky.
- To serve the present age,
my calling to fulfill,
O may it all my pow’rs engage
to do my Master’s will!
- Arm me with watchful care
as in Thy sight to live,
and now Thy servant, Lord, prepare
a strict account to give!
- Help me to watch and pray,
and still on Thee rely,
O let me not my trust betray,
but press to realms on high.
Author: Charles Wesley 1762
Charles’ position resonates very well with Peter’s charge for Christians: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). As Christians, we have a charge to keep in obeying God’s Word, defending our faith in Christ; a charge to explain the reason for our faith, to witness about Christ to humanity, and to respond to the ploys of those who distort biblical orthodoxy for their personal reasons and interest. If their aim is to distort the biblical truths upon which the church is built, then their premise is wrong from the outset and it is our task to correct it and establish the truth.
Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16:18 does not only assure the church of its firm foundation but also sends a strong caution to those who rise against the church to understand that the foundation of the church is rooted in Christ Himself. He states, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18, ESV). Anytime people rise against the church, they forget this Scripture, living under the false impression that their schemes and orchestrations can overrun Christianity. But this is an exercise in futility. It is an impossibility, bearing in mind who they have to deal with. Jesus Christ, as the owner and builder of the Church, is not a constitutionally-elected leader as we have in the corporate world; He is the sovereign God – the One whose grace and mercy sustain the entire world. His Kingdom rests upon His shoulders, and the living faith of the saints, the solid rock upon which His church stands, can never be destroyed.
Mortal man must understand that, apart from this saving faith in Christ and His infallible word, all other grounds upon which we stand is sinking sand. We are not as strong as we think we are. We exist only by God’s grace. The Psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1, NASB). Thus, whatever be the intention and modus operandi of enemies of Christianity, God’s authority over His creation and the church cannot be contested by any person – it is absolute and so is His Word.
Although the negative influence of the common sense family may have a toll on the lives of some Christians who are not immersed in the Word of God, it has been established that the threats are not new to Christianity, similar schemes of the ungodly ideology failed to prevail against the early church. The writer calls on Christians to know the angle from which every Christ-opposed ideology and philosophy emanates and to equip themselves to respond passionately and with conviction with the gospel, though with decorum and peace in order to win those destined to be saved.
It has been realised in this article that the common sense movement does not even have the premise to judge Scripture so long as its proponents reject divine revelation and depend solely on science-based approaches and models. They have missed the argument from the start since the art of biblical interpretation must fundamentally recognise the authority of God. The Bible is irrevocably the unique sacred book by which we can get an accurate account of how God reveals Himself and His mind to humankind.
The premise of the Bible is divine and objective in its rendering. It does not derive from any human conception and contains the complete account of how God created the world and deals with those who believe in Him and those who reject His authority. The Scriptures are not just a collection of library books; they are sacred to the extent that they minister to the souls and hearts of people who access them. It is in the light of this that the discussion in this article calls on Christians to reject the fallacies and ideology churned out by the common sense family and to develop a theological response to affirm the authority of God’s Word.
Vincent Anane Denteh (Rev.)
Director, Pentecost Men’s Ministry (PEMEM)