When we read the New Testament we find that the Apostles John, Paul, James and others made a clear distinction between belief and knowledge. There were just a few things which they "knew" and were absolutely persuaded about by God. The best synopsis of this knowledge is found in Paul's letter to young Timothy when he said,
Nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed" (II Timothy 1:12).
In short, I know what Paul knows. I know God is God and I am not. I know that God is able, and I am incapable. I know that the salvation of my soul is due to His love for me as revealed in the work of His Son on my behalf. These things I know.
But I believe so much more.
The atheist, agnostic and avoider of Christ would deny that I could even "know" the above. They say that at most, what Paul told Timothy he "knew," and what I declare to know, is a matter of faith, not knowledge. To some degree the atheist would be correct. The writer of Hebrews says, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (Hebrews 11:6).
But on the other hand, the atheist is simply missing the key blessing of coming to God through faith in Jesus Christ - the knowledge that God actually exists. Those who seek God will meet God, and will be rewarded with an intimate relationship with their Creator through Jesus Christ our Lord. The atheist has no "gnosis" or personal knowledge of this one true God. Therefore, the intellectually honest atheist can only say, "Atheism is my BELIEF that the most probable number of Gods is zero, and this has a fairly high probability." He is a man of belief. His belief has also led him to a personal and experiential knowledge - there is no God. He knows this as his reality, because the atheist hasn't met God. Yet the prophet declares, "Prepare to meet thy God."
As for us, we would say we know there is a God, for we have met Him. We were trapped in our own failures and inabilities when we heard the good news. We came to faith in the God who made provision for us through His Son, Jesus the Anointed One. Having trusted Him, we have found God true, faithful and able - just like Paul told Timothy.
I know this to be true!
But, again, I believe so much more.
In my ministry I live what I know and I teach what I believe. I teach what I believe with passion. I teach what I believe with conviction. But there is a difference between knowing and believing. My brothers and sisters in Christ who know God can "believe" differently than I and we shall continue in fellowship, for our fellowship is around the Person we know, not the things we believe.
Illustrations of that Which I Believe
(1). I believe Jesus died for a particular people - God's 'elect,' or Christ's 'bride,' or His 'church,' or 'believers,' or however else one wishes to describe the people from every nation, tribe, kindred and tongue who have an inheritance in heaven.
But I don't know Jesus died just for the elect. I have a friend, Paul Young, who believes Jesus died for every single human being who has ever lived, those in hell and in heaven, and as a result, he is a hopeful universalist - holding out hope that somehow, someway, someday, Jesus will empty hell and all of the universe will be redeemed because everyone will see the glory of the Son who actually redeemed them.
I teach what I believe (particular redemption), but I don't "know" that what I believe about particular redemption is true - one day I will find out. My belief in particular redemption is not shaken by those who oppose it. My belief in particular redemption does not form my identity. My fellowship with other believers is not defined by our mutual faith in particular redemption. I don't know that particular redemption is true - but I believe it. I just happen to know that what binds me with others is our mutual knowledge of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
(2). I believe that the earth is a young earth - but I don't know that the earth is young. When I teach through Genesis expositionally, as I have done three times, I teach that God created the earth at most 10,000 years ago - because that is what i believe. However, I don't "know" that God created the earth 10,000 years ago.
I wasn't there.
The Scriptures can be interpreted in various ways regarding the age of the earth. My belief in a young earth is not threatened by those brothers in Christ who believe in an old earth. My fellowship with those who know God through Jesus Christ is not limited to those who believe in a young earth. I am firm in my personal belief in a young earth, but I am honest enough to say I don't "know" the earth is young. One of these days I will "know."
We have teachers in our church who believe in a young earth, we have teachers in our church who believe in an old earth. They are free to teach whatever they believe, they are simply reminded to acknowledge that what they teach is a matter of faith.
(3). I believe that most, if not all, of the prophecies of Scripture have been fulfilled - I am what some would call a partial preterist. Preterism is from the Latin word meaning "having been fulfilled." I believe the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled in 70 A.D., thus I believe in an early dating of the writing of Revelation. I believe the prophecies of Jesus in Matthew 24 were fulfilled in 70 A.D - within a generation of when they were given. I believe that the prophecies of Daniel were fulfilled through Alexander the Great, the birth of Jesus, and the destruction of Jerusalem.
But I don't "know" that the prophecies of Scripture have all been fulfilled completely. I teach what I believe about eschatology and allow others in our church to teach what they believe about eschatology. In fact, I have taught all four major eschatological positions (premillenialism, amillienialism, post-millenialism, preterism) to the people of Emmanuel - and then I asked them to choose what they believe.
Our fellowship is around our personal knowledge of Christ, not our mutual beliefs in other matters.
(4). I believe that God made women equal to men in authority - and so I see the prophetesses in Scripture prophesying, Priscilla teaching Apollo theology, Deborah reigning over Israel and judging God's people, and I have no problem with women teaching men today, or women holding positions of authority over men today, or believing women are gifted by the Spirit of God just the same as the Spirit gifts men today. Sure, there are different roles for men and women (women give birth, men don't), but the idea that a woman cannot have equal "authority to a man" is completely foreign to my understanding of the Bible and the purposes of God.
But here is where it gets sticky. Unlike my belief in a young earth, particular redemption, and partial preterism, belief in the equality of women has a corresponding action with it - it affects how the believer in gender equality treats women. Am I open for women to be in positions of spiritual leadership? Yes. Can women teach the Bible to men in our church? Yes, and they do. Do I believe women can teach Hebrew to future preachers? Yes.
Again, my view of equality is not based on experience, but on what I believe Scripture teaches. But my interpretation of Scripture is also consistent with my experience. So in some aspects I am like the apostle Paul when he said I am "fully persuaded" by God. My belief has become my personal knowledge.
Could I be wrong? Of course. God may not have given to women equal authority or equal spiritual abilities to men. If that is the case, then my interpretation of Scripture is leading me to place women in a very compromising, uncomfortable and possibly untenable positions. But, again, my actual experience has been just the opposite. Every teacher, every leader, every proclaimer of Jesus Christ who happens to be female seems to me to be just as capable and equal to men.
By the way, it is my desire to maintain fellowship and relationship with my brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me on this belief. But I have found that sometimes it is difficult for other Christians to fellowship with me around differing beliefs that lead to opposite, and uncomfortable actions. In other words, one can debate ecclesiology, eschatology, creation, and atonement - but serve the Lord's supper to a non-church member in front of a Landmarker, or put a woman as a teacher to men in front of a patriarch, or do something else that corresponds to, and is consistent with, your Christian beliefs, then the fireworks begin. That is, unless Christians understand the difference between believing something and knowing something.
Our church has been trained to be comfortable fellowshipping with various Christians that have differing beliefs, and in many instances, fellowshipping with Christians whose beliefs have led them to actions or activities that some in our church would refrain from participating in. There is in our church, for lack of a better word, soul freedom.
I freely confess that it would be difficult for me to be a part of a church where men treated women as inferior, or where men were allowed to speak down to women as if they were children, or where women were taught that their places in life were reserved to be a servants to the men. Yet, in no form or fashion would I ever urge a Convention to disfellowship from, or cease to cooperate with, a patriarchal church. Patriarchs are simply living out their beliefs, and they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We just believe differently than they.
(5). I believe that God is absolutely sovereign - and not one atom, not one molecule, not one event, not one person, not one devil is allowed to move or act without his permission, prohibition, persuasion, or providence. There is nothing that is hidden from God or too hard for God. He does as He pleases, always as He pleases, only as He pleases. His purposes shall be fulfilled, and he shall accomplish everything according to His purposes.
But I could be wrong. God could not know the future because the things of the future do not yet exist and thus are not knowable, as Greg Boyd teaches. God could be dependent upon the will of man as Arminius taught.
But I teach what I believe, so I teach He is sovereign over all things, even the will of man and the future events of the world.
But it doesn't bother me to fellowship with someone who knows God but believes differently regarding His providence. One of these days I am hopeful that those of us who have very specific beliefs will come to the place where we are neither threatened by, nor seek to separate from, those Christians who believe differently than we.
There are so many other illustrations that could be given to show the difference between what we believe and what we know, but I think you get the point.
In His Grace,