Following the Crowd: A Foolish Philosophy

“When 40 million people believe in a dumb idea, it is still a dumb idea.” I’m not sure who said it, but you have to admit it’s catchy…and right.  While not as brass, the Bible speaks of this truth quite a bit.  Think about it.

Genesis 6-8 details the destruction of the world via a global flood and while stressing a particular point about that tragic (but Divinely just) event, Peter observes that only eight souls were spared (cf. 1 Pet. 3:20). How often do we really think about that?  Out of the world’s entire population—which some estimate to have been at least seven billion people—less than ten individuals survived!  What happened?  The overwhelming majority decided to ignore the preaching of Noah.  A rather bad idea, wouldn’t you say?  And there are other examples.

Numbers 13-14 tells of the evil and faithless report of the ten spies. While Joshua and Caleb sought to ignite confidence and hope in the people (based on the power and promises of a trustworthy God), the inspired record portrays “all the congregation” and “all the children of Israel” crying, weeping, murmuring, and attempting to murder the two faithful spies who refused to go along with the majority.  And what was the result of the majority’s behavior?  At first, God was going to smite the nation with a pestilence and disinherit them (Num. 14:12).  After the intercession of Moses, however, God ruled that everyone from twenty years old and upward was prohibited from entering the promised land (14:29).  Over the next forty years, their carcasses would fall in the wilderness in which they were destined to aimlessly wander.  But again, this is not the last account of individuals foolishly following a crowd to do evil.

In the New Testament, we read of a man named Pilate who yielded to the majority. As the Roman procurator of Judea, this official had the means and authority to free Jesus from his enraged enemies.  The Bible is clear regarding his personal judgment of the legal standing of Jesus.  Upon his initial examination of the Christ, he told the chief priests and the people, “I find no fault in this man” (Lk. 23:4).  After seeing Jesus for the second time, the governor proclaimed,

You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him (Lk.23:14-15).

The crowds went on to reject Pilate’s offer to chastise Jesus and also refused the release of Christ over Barabbas. Still, the procurator announced a third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go” (Lk. 23:22).  But because the voices of the mob were insistent, demanding, and loud, Pilate surrendered to the majority—even though he knew the decision to be wrong.

Of course, other examples and precepts exist in God’s Word that demonstrate the folly of conforming to the crowd.  Counting heads is not the standard by which we measure the validity of a belief system, principle, or practice.  The sole and supreme standard is the New Testament Law of Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 28:18; Jn. 12:48).  Let us diligently study it and appropriately apply it!

Smell the Milk!

Call me paranoid, but I refuse to drink milk without smelling it first. And I don’t care what the date says on the jug (it’s been known not to matter), I’m going to take a whiff before I take a gulp!  With this in mind, let me suggest that we need to scrutinize doctrine, rather than simply swallowing down whatever is presented from the pulpit, printed page, or any other medium by which spiritual teaching is propagated.

1 John 4:1 demands the Christian to carefully engage in this critical endeavor: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” The word test means to “examine, prove, or scrutinize.”  Please note that this inspired imperative was issued out of loving concern: John begins the verse by referring to his audience as beloved, a tender term of affection.  John was concerned for his readers and the disciple’s demand speaks volumes about the concern that every Christian should have when it comes to the responsibility of testing teachers.

  • We should be concerned about ourselves and others over whom teachers have an influence. This is certainly why John wrote the words under consideration.       And similarly, Paul wrote to the Galatians, warning them about the dangers of false doctrine and encouraging them not to be moved away from the Gospel (cf. Gal. 1:6-9).
  • We should be concerned about the status of Truth. Remember that we are stewards of the Gospel, charged in part to defend it (Phil. 1:17; Jude 3).
  • We should even be concerned about teachers.       While some individuals preach error from impure motives (cf. Rom. 16:17-18), others do so ignorantly.       Acts 18:24-26 alludes to Apollos teaching error regarding the subject of baptism. Obviously out of concern, Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and instructed him properly in this regard.

When it comes to milk, I smell it before I drink it because I’m concerned about getting sick. But when it comes to testing the words of religious teachers, I examine them alongside the Bible before I believe them because I’m concerned about the status of souls and the status of Truth.  If I get sick from bad milk, I’ll likely recover.  If I lose my soul by drinking down erroneous doctrines, I’ll never recuperate!