People often determine what they believe in religion and morality based on the consensus, majority, or "mainstream" thinking, especially experts, scholars, or scientists. This occurs in government, media, education, denominations, etc. Is truth determined by polls and surveys or by the Bible?
People often defend their views by appealing to the majority: “the mainstream.”
* Young people and women want to wear what everyone else wears because it is in style.
* Kids often say, “Everybody’s doing it. All my friends dress this way. The whole gang is going.”
This has been called the “band wagon approach.” Today it may be called “consensus thinking.” Such thinking is an appeal to majority opinion or the mainstream. We are expected to accept the view of the majority, especially the majority of scholars, experts, or influential people.
The purpose of this study is to examine efforts to appeal to the consensus, the mainstream, the majority regarding spiritual and moral issues.
Can we know what is right or wrong based on consensus or majority opinion?
How important is it to be “in the mainstream?”
Modern Examples of Consensus Thinking
Consider examples where people are urged to accept the majority view.
Politics and Government
The American concept is majority rule. We take a vote and whoever has the majority gets their way. Political views are often defended or opposed on the basis of popularity polls.
This may be fine for many laws, but problems come when this thinking carries to areas of spiritual or religious or moral significance (abortion, homosexuality, divorce, etc.).
The media bombards us with polls and approval ratings. Such polls are often biased or inaccurate, but the basic assumption is that the majority must be right.
Even when surveys relate to spiritual or moral issues, the implication is that the majority is right, so everyone should just “go along with the crowd.”
Science and Education
Such approaches even carry over into science where many people would never expect it. Evolution is defended on the ground that so many scientists accept it. Defenders of creation are accused of being unscientific because they are out of step with the majority of scientists. Most scientists study areas having nothing to do with evolution but just take the word of others.
“…rarely are appeals to subjective scientific consensus exploited as actual evidence for truth in areas where objective experimental evidence is strong.” – Randy Guliuzza, Acts & Facts, August, 2021, page 4. People who have good evidence do not need to appeal to majority opinion.
Clothing styles often reveal what ought to be covered. People might never wear such indecent clothing if they were the only ones. But as the fashions become popular, many people participate because it is accepted.
Sexual immorality – A generation ago only small minorities of people would get a divorce or an abortion or live together without marriage or defend homosexuality or transgenderism. But today many people participate or defend such practices because so many are involved.
Rioting and looting – Most people would never break into a store and steal. But when hundreds of people are involved, many people join in who would never do so by themselves.
“The Jesus Seminar was organized in 1985 … the goal of the Seminar was to review each of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels and determine which of them could be considered authentic. … Eventually more than 200 professionally trained specialists … joined the group … trained in the best universities in North America and Europe.”
Deeds and teachings of Jesus were rejected or accepted by majority vote. Other people are supposed to accept the majority views of educated scholars.
Many denominations have councils or governing bodies consisting of religious leaders who meet and vote to determine church doctrine usually by majority rule.
Religious groups or doctrines are often criticized as “extremists” “out of the mainstream” of religious thought. “You think just your little group is right and everybody else is wrong?”
Churches of Christ
Churches of Christ that support institutions, recreation, etc., refer to themselves as “mainstream” churches, meaning those who do not share their views are in the minority.
A member criticized me as holding “extreme” positions, “out of the mainstream” of conservative churches of Christ. He offered no Scripture to prove I taught error but said, “Most teachers at Florida College do not share your view.” Then he wanted the men to write to a list of preachers to see if they agreed with my teaching. Consensus of scholars.
I fear that this kind of thinking had far too much influence regarding what churches did regarding the COVID virus.
All these are examples of consensus thinking: the majority, especially of scholars, is right.
Examples of People Who Were Not “in the Mainstream”
I am increasingly impressed that the people who make a real difference for good are those who are willing to go against the flow of popular belief.
People like Washington, Lincoln, Churchill and others are today viewed as great heroes. But their success required willingness to stand against overwhelming opposition.
True heroes are those who are willing to oppose popular thinking and work against great odds, not because they want to be different, but because they are convinced the majority view is dangerously mistaken and improvement will come only from following a different course.
The Bible is filled with examples.
Genesis 6:5-8; 7:21-23 – Because of sin, God brought a flood to destroy all the people on earth except Noah and his family. Only eight people were saved. Was Noah in the mainstream in his day? Was the consensus for or against him? Was he wrong to oppose the majority?
If someone had said to him, “I suppose you think just your little group is right,” would that have proved he was wrong? (1 Peter 3:20)
Joshua and Caleb
Numbers 14:1-10 – The whole nation of Israel was convinced they could not capture Canaan, so they determined to reject Moses as leader and return to Egypt. Joshua and Caleb stood alone in opposing them. As a result, of hundreds of thousands who left Egypt, only these two from the older generation entered Egypt. The rest perished in the wilderness (14:26-30).
Were Joshua and Caleb in the mainstream in their day? Was the consensus in their favor or against them? If you had been alive, would you have been better off being like Joshua and Caleb or following the mainstream?
1 Kings 18:21-24 – Elijah stood alone against 450 prophets of Baal (plus many others) and challenged them to prove who served the true God. The people in general refused to take sides till God answered Elijah and consumed the sacrifice he prepared.
Was Elijah in the mainstream in his day? Did the consensus support or oppose him? If you had been alive, would you have been better off being like Elijah or following the mainstream?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
Daniel 3:13-15 – Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, decreed that all who would not worship his image would be thrown into a fiery furnace. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego alone refused and were thrown in. They survived and became great heroes.
Did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego believe in following the consensus? If someone said, “I suppose you think just your little group is right,” should they have given in? If you had been alive, would you have been better off being like them or following the mainstream?
Daniel 6:11-13 – King Darius made a decree that anyone who made petition to anyone except him would be thrown into a lion’s den. But Daniel “prayed and gave thanks before his God” three times daily as was his custom. He was thrown into the lion’s den, but God protected him.
Did Daniel follow the consensus in his day? Did the fact he opposed the majority prove he was wrong? If you had been alive, would you have been better off being like Daniel or following the mainstream?
Matthew 26:56; 27:21-26 – When Jesus was arrested, all His disciples forsook Him and fled. The whole multitude of the Jews called for His crucifixion. So He was crucified for you and me.
Was the consensus for Jesus or against Him? Did the fact He stood alone prove He was wrong? If you had been alive, would you have been better off following Jesus or the mainstream?
In these and many other cases the consensus was clearly wrong. The ones who refused to stand in the mainstream were in the right.
(Moses – Hebrews 11:24-26)
Mainstream Consensus Constitutes Human Authority.
Appealing to the majority view makes human beings our standard. It assumes the collective wisdom of humans is greater than wisdom of God revealed in Scripture.
Human Authority Does Not Determine Right or Wrong in Spiritual Matters.
Proverbs 14:12 – There is a way that seems right to man, but the end is death. People like to think we are smart, and “two heads are better than one.” So we think our collective wisdom can be trusted. But we are often mistaken. And in spiritual issues, we simply don’t know what is best.
Luke 16:15 – What is highly esteemed by men is an abomination to God. Even when the consensus of great majorities approves a thing, that proves nothing in determining God’s will.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 [2:5] – Human wisdom often leads men to reject the wisdom of God. Bible examples repeatedly demonstrated this. The same is true today. We must submit to God’s will regardless of human wisdom.
2 Corinthians 10:12,18 – We should not measure ourselves by how we compare to others. This is irrelevant. The question is: whom does the Lord commend?
One lesson we learn from Old Testament prophets is that this is not just a New Testament concept. God has always demanded that His people obey Him even when in the minority.
Following human wisdom in religion is not just foolish or unwise. It is not just dangerous. It is forbidden! Yet depending on human consensus or the “mainstream” to evaluate our religious beliefs and practices is simply following human wisdom.
(Acts 5:29; Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 3:5,6; Matthew 15:9,13,14; Isaiah 55:8,9)
The Majority Is Often Wrong in Religion.
Exodus 23:2 – You shall not follow a crowd to do evil. Yet that is exactly what happens when people determine what they believe by consensus.
Matthew 7:13,14 – Many people are on the road to destruction and only a few on the road to life. Have God’s faithful servants ever been the mainstream? Has there ever been a time when the majority of people were doing what pleased God? Jesus says not. So what will happen if we follow the majority? We will end up where they will: destruction.
Romans 12:2 – This is why we are commanded to not be conformed to the world but be transformed. We must not allow people around us to determine our standards.
Acts 28:22 – The early church was everywhere “spoken against.”
It follows that the very act of appealing to human consensus to determine right from wrong in spiritual matters is a sinful act of itself. It assumes that fallible humans can pool their ignorance and achieve greater truth than what God revealed in Scripture!
This does not mean we should lightly reject the views of others. We should honestly consider if others are right and we are wrong. But we must never appeal to the views of others as the standard by which we determine our views. To please God we must be willing to forsake the mainstream whenever it is not following God’s will.
The standard of right and wrong is determined by the Creator who rules the universe, not by the people whom He has created. If we are going to be servants of God we may as well accept the fact there will be many times when we cannot do what “everybody’s doing.”
God’s Word Is the Ultimate Standard in Religion.
In a world where people surround us with appeals to polls and opinions of “experts,” how can we know what is true in religion and morals?
God’s Will Is Recorded in the Bible to Guide Our Lives.
Ephesians 3:3-5 – What Paul wrote had been made known to him by revelation. Formerly these things were not known but were then revealed to apostles and prophets by the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 14:37 – So the things he wrote were the commands of Lord.
2 Timothy 3:16,17 - All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching and furnishing to all good works.
2 Peter 1:20,21 - No Scripture ever came by will of man, but men spoke as moved by the Holy Spirit. This includes the New Testament, since Peter also refers to it as “Scripture” (3:15,16).
When people follow the standard of human wisdom – even pooled human wisdom – they are belittling the standard God gave. They are saying God’s revelation is not good enough for them; they have a better way. To follow human consensus is to imply that fallible, created humans can improve on the revelation of the infallible, all-wise Creator.
(John 16:13; Luke 10:16; Matthew 15:4; 22:29-32; 10:19,20; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Timothy 4:1; Galatians 1:11,12; 1 Corinthians 2:11-13; 4:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,12,17; John 20:30,31; 10:35; 1 John 1:1-4; Luke 1:1-4; 1 Timothy 4:11; Jude 3)
The Scriptures Are A Complete Revelation of God’s Will.
Sometimes people claim the Scriptures are not adequate to completely guide us in religion. They think somehow the Bible does not tell us everything that we really need to know. But the gospel says that it completely reveals everything that God views as being good and approved.
Acts 20:20,27 – Paul preached the whole counsel of God, keeping back nothing that was profitable.
2 Timothy 3:16,17 – All good works are recorded in the written word. As a result, the inspired Scriptures are profitable to teach and instruct men in righteousness, etc.
2 Peter 1:3 – In Peter’s lifetime, people received all things that pertain to life and godliness. Peter then wrote these things down so that, even after he died, we could be reminded of the words of Jesus’ apostles and prophets (1:12-15; 3:1,2).
The Bible does not reveal everything in the mind of God (Deuteronomy 29:29). But it does reveal everything that is necessary to a godly life and to salvation. We need no additional revelation or authority, because the Bible completely reveals all God’s will for man.
Since the Bible contains all truth, all good works, and everything that pertains to godliness and righteousness, it follows that every man-made doctrine not found there is not true, not a good work, and does not pertain to life or godliness. How then can we practice these things and expect to please God?
(John 16:13; 14:26; James 1:25; Matthew 28:20; Colossians 4:12; Jude 3; Hebrews 13:20,21; John 20:30,31; 1 John 1:1-4)
So We Must Follow God’s Revealed Will Without Human Changes.
Colossians 3:17 – Everything we do, in word or deed, should be done in Jesus’ name. But Jesus’ authority is completely revealed in the Bible. So practices based on human wisdom, but not included in Scripture, cannot be done in Jesus’ name. To practice them would be sinful.
Galatians 1:6-9 – If men teach practices that differ from the gospel, they are accursed.
2 John 9 – Whoever goes beyond and does not abide in Jesus’ teaching, does not have God. To have God we must abide in Jesus’ teaching. So to follow the “mainstream” or consensus of human wisdom, when it departs from Jesus’ teaching, would separate us from Him.
(Revelation 22:18,19; Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6; 1 Peter 4:11; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Romans 10:1-3; Colossians 2:8)
Since we do not think like God does, we cannot possibly know His will unless He reveals it. Knowing this, God completely revealed His will for us in the Bible, then He warned us not to follow human wisdom to participate in anything different from the Bible!
So when we study about a certain practice, we should not ask, “Does this view harmonize with the consensus of scholars?” or “What do the majority of religious people believe about this?” – not even the practice of other “churches of Christ.” The very act of appealing to such standards to prove what is right or wrong is a sinful attitude!
Our standard must be simply and entirely the word of God. When God’s word teaches us what to believe and practice, then like faithful people throughout the Bible, we must follow God’s word at all costs, regardless of what others may do.
This does not mean we should be different for the sake of being different. Nor should we conclude that the smallest group is always right. The lesson is that we should not accept or reject a view simply because of the number of people who believe it. The standard is God’s word and we must let it teach us right from wrong.
Are you following the word of God or the opinions of men?
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2021