I’ve been a Beatles fan since I was a kid. I discovered my mom’s albums quite by accident while leafing through my parents’ collection when I was about nine years old. She had both the red and blue albums and I must have listened to each of them a hundred times. It helped that some of my closest friends were also Beatlemaniacs. As we got older we went to Beatles conventions, saw a Beatles cover band, and even collected some of the Apple label Beatles albums. Then one day, I read about this strange conspiracy theory that Paul was really dead. According to the theory, he had been replaced with a guy named “Billy Shears,” the name mentioned in the song “With A Little Help From My Friends.” In fact, all of the clues about Paul’s death came straight from Beatles songs, lyrics, and album covers, most specifically Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. There were a lot of clues in that one. You could almost here John whispering in a creepy voice “I buried Paul.” And when you played the song “Revolution 9” backwards, John could be heard saying, “Turn me on dead man, turn me on dead man.” It was FASCINATING! Paul McCartney was REALLY dead!
But of course he wasn’t.
He’s still alive and well, appearing on television and making new music. His Carpool Karaoke with James Corden was fantastic! And he even just released his 18th solo album this past Christmas season – McCartney III – which made it to number one on the Billboard top rock albums charts. If the guy we think is Paul McCartney isn’t really Paul McCartney, he’s done one heck of a job channeling his talent. After all, this is the guy who wrote “Hey Jude.” So how in the world were so many people convinced it was all a cover up? Why would they believe there was this massive conspiracy that one of the most popular artists the world has ever known would be dead and no one would know except through cryptic messages left on album covers and backward tracking? I don’t know. Maybe Marjorie Taylor Greene would however. She seems to have cornered the market on outrageous, outlandish, and downright false conspiracies. She believed the shootings at Sandy Hook were a “false flag” operation. She believed there is no real evidence for the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. She believed there is a cabal of powerful Democrats and Hollywood celebrities who practice satanism and pedophilia. And my favorite, she believed the California wildfires were started by a Jewish space laser. By the way, that’s only a few of the many outlandish conspiracy theories she has peddled.
But Marjorie Taylor Greene is just the extreme version of what exists in our daily lives.
Many of us hold onto beliefs that are just plain wrong. But we believe them. Without any factual evidence. We just “believe” they are true. For proof we only have to go back as far as a few weeks ago when thousands of Americans stormed the Capitol building with the belief that the election was stolen from then President Trump. It wasn’t. There was plenty of evidence it was a free and fair election. And absolutely none that it was stolen from him. But people believed that pack of lies so whole-heartedly they defamed our nation’s symbol of freedom and democracy. The long list of things we have believed to be true that absolutely were not is too long to list on a Sunday morning. Whether it’s about race, religion, or politics, there is a conspiracy theory about everything. So how can we protect ourselves from getting caught up in falsehoods and misinformation? How can we make sure we do not become part of the mindless mob and do or say something we will only regret later?
We can take a lesson from the Apostle Paul.
If you think conspiracies are limited to the present day, you need to know they were happening as far back as there were people. Remember when Joseph’s brothers conspired to sell their brother into slavery? Or when Delilah betrayed Samson so the Philistines could enslave him and use them for their entertainment? Or the most famous conspiracy in the Bible, when Judas betrayed Jesus for a mere 30 pieces of silver. But these were ACTUAL conspiracies. What we need to guard against is believing in false ones. Paul knew that people were susceptible to being fooled by those who had agendas of their own. He knew that we needed to be prepared to weed out truth from fiction as we hear in this passage.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
It sounds like Paul was writing to us.
Today. Here and now. His words could not be more true. “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” If that doesn’t describe Fox News, I don’t know what does. The same is true for those on the far left of the political spectrum also. They spout beliefs that are completely or at least partially untrue. They emphasize what they want to believe in and deemphasize those things that go against their beliefs. So if we are going to do as Paul instructed and keep our head in all situations, we have to do a better job of sussing out the truth from fiction.
John Wesley used a method that today we call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.
He believed that if we turned to Scripture and used our powers of reasoning, the experiences we have encountered in life, and our traditions which provide us a sense of grounding in history, then we could better understand the truth of what God is asking from us. We call this the Wesleyan Quadrilateral because it emphasizes a four-fold understanding of God’s will. My Methodism professor in seminary thought it might be better imagined as a three-footed stool where Scripture is the seat upon which everything rests, but it is informed by our reason, our experience, and our tradition. For us and for Wesley, Scripture was always the basis of our understanding of God’s will, but as you can imagine (much like our Constitution), things we encounter today can’t always be found in the Bible. We have to discern from our knowledge of God what God wants for us in those situations we find ourselves that aren’t always covered. Like back then they didn’t have guns, but they had weapons and Jesus told his disciples to put theirs away “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52).” John didn’t have a Facebook account, but he knew you couldn’t just believe everything you heard because he wrote in one of his letters, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” John’s advice is solid. Test it out in the world. Don’t just rely on your gut or your instinct to see if it’s true because we know those can be highly unreliable. Instead test your theory out and see if it matches up to reality. Just on the face of it, what’s more plausible – that California wildfires are being caused by a warming planet combined with carelessness on the part of companies like PG&E or that there are seriously Jewish space lasers firing at the planet and starting them all? Some of these things are not that hard to figure out, but we need to stop and be mindful of the things we believe in. We need to be open to other points of view. And most importantly, we need to ask ourselves, are my beliefs in line with the kind of person God is calling me to be?
As Children of God and followers of Christ, we are rooted in Scripture.
But our understanding of Scripture has changed over the centuries as we have better understood what God expects from us. No longer are we so narrow-minded as to think that women cannot be teachers of God’s Word. No longer are we so blinded by racial disparity to think that a person is less than another based on the color of their skin. No longer do we think God brings forth the storms to punish the LGBTQ community. Because we have grown beyond that. Or at least most of us have. Sadly, there are still, even now, people who cling to these outdated and wrong ways of thinking. That is why we have to heed the words of Paul (not the dead one, the other dead one) to be wary of those who will not listen to sound doctrine. That is why we need to take an approach like John Wesley and examine our beliefs to discern God’s will for our lives. Because as human beings, we are prone to fall off the wagon from time to time. We have to get up, learn from our mistakes, and do better every time we rise again. We believe we are the Children of God. Let’s act like it.