Dealing with Cultural Issues: Conspiracy Theories :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Dealing with Cultural Issues: Conspiracy Theories

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Note: Some missionaries have contended with those in their churches who cause strife related to promoting various conspiracy theories that are popular in their culture. It seems every culture has this to some degree. The purpose of this article is to show that conspiracy theories were a problem in churches in New Testament times and that there are Scriptures that speak to these issues. One of our missionaries wrote the following to help shed light on this matter. He will remain anonymous.

Every so often you meet a conspiracy theorist. He or she comes to your church for a few weeks or months. He might be friendly, helpful, and even biblically literate. But you can tell that something is not right. You notice this particularly in conversation. He might talk about Jesus, God, and the Bible, and even wax eloquent about the Gospel. But none of those things are what he really wants to discuss. If he converses with anyone at church for more than five minutes, he will take the listener to his favorite topic.

Without fail, you will notice three parts to this “thing” that dominates his conversations: 

“1) an explanation of an event or circumstance that involves 2) a secret plot involving

3) powerful and usually shadowy conspirators.”[1] In other words, you have a conspiracy theorist on your hands.

To be clear, a conspiracy theory is not the same thing as a strange opinion, an unpopular viewpoint, an unproven theory, an incomplete or wrong analysis, or a disruptive truth. Until those things are combined with a secret plot, they fail the definition of a conspiracy theory. 

Does the Bible speak to conspiracy theorists? If so, in what passages? Before answering that question, let’s admit that Scripture mentions plenty of genuine plots and conspiracies. For example, secret messengers were part of Absalom’s plot to dethrone David (2 Samuel 15:10, 12); David regularly prayed against the secret plots of the wicked (Psalm 64:2), and he viewed all rebellious kings as part of humanity’s grand scheme to overthrow God’s rule and God’s ruler on earth (Psalm 2:1-2); the Apostles connected the death of Jesus to human plotting (Acts 4:25-28); Paul himself was the object of a conspiracy (Acts 23:13). But real conspiracies are not our focus; conspiracy theories are.

Though the term conspiracy theory is likely not found in your Bible translation, the concept of guarding against such things is. Paul’s first letter to Timothy admonishes him:

“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-4[2]). 

The word myth used here in modern application might well include today’s conspiracy theories. Greek and Roman myths were explanations of events or circumstances that appealed to the once secret plans of powerful entities. If you spent your life studying the pantheon of ancient deities in order to appease them, where would you end up? As Paul says, you become one of those who “promote speculations” (1 Timothy 1:4).

How is that different than the person who comes to your church explaining the last world war, the fluoride in the local water system, or other circumstances as the result of secret plots by unnamed and often Jewish bankers? What is the effect of such a person on a local church if he is given free access to “warn” people about his pet conspiracy?

This is where the context of the Pastoral Epistles can be helpful. 

  1. If we are not careful, Christ, the believer’s hope (1 Timothy 1:1), will be replaced by a consuming focus to unmask, understand, and combat the powerful conspirators and/or the secret plot.
  2. If we are not careful, speculation about all sorts of things (e.g., the end of the world, international politics, health crises, etc.) can become the congregation’s focus, distracting from God’s truth (1 Timothy 1:4).
  3. If we are not careful, the aim of Apostolic teaching “love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5) is subverted.
  4. If we are not careful, otherwise normal relationships in the church will devolve into controversies, quarrels, and dissensions (1 Timothy 6:4, 2 Timothy 2:23, Titus 3:9, etc.).
  5. If we are not careful, God’s people will begin to “swerve from the truth” (1 Timothy 1:6, 2 Timothy 2:18; 4:3-4; Titus 1:14) and “wander into error” (1 Timothy 1:6; 5:15, 2 Timothy 4:4).

Heterodox (false) teaching is not the only threat to local churches. Conspiracy theories promoted by, in some cases genuine believers, can pose an equally destructive threat. The Pastoral Epistles provide remedies for this threat too. By balancing the commands to patiently teach and correct (2 Timothy 2:24-26) with the command to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies” (2 Timothy 2:23), and the command to “have nothing to do with” a warped, divisive conspiracist, much harm can be avoided. This requires humble prayer and the aid of the Holy Spirit.

Happily, we are not at the mercy of real conspiracies, conspiracy theories, or conspiracists. Christ Jesus is still our hope as we deal with all these matters in our churches just as the apostles did in theirs.

 


[1] Mick West, Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2018, p.10). West explains that conspiracy theorists/conspiracists are described as “people who tend to believe in conspiracy theories as explanations for all major events in the world.”

Though West writes from a non-religious perspective, he is very sympathetic to the plight of those deluded by a conspiracy theorist. West thoroughly deals with the history of conspiracy theories, the best ways to combat them generally, arguments and evidence for some of the most popular theories, and links to numerous additional resources. See also West’s website http://www.metabunk.org.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

Photo credit: Markus Winkler from Unsplash

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