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Documenting Your Sources

By Kyle Pope

When I was in school, like most of us, I had to write papers from time to time.  Whether it was English, History, Science or another field all classes required so many papers per semester.  The reason, while hard to accept at the time, was the fact that the study necessary to write something for yourself teaches us much more than listening to a lecture or filling out answers to a set of questions.  One element required in such papers was “documentation.”  A student could not state things as fact without applying some system to let the reader know where they got the information  they were citing.  This could be footnotes (a real headache before personal computers) or reference to a list of “works cited” at the end of the paper, when the fact was mentioned in the paper itself.  Strict rules were usually set forth at the beginning of the class about how sources were to be listed, including the author, publisher and date of the source.  This allowed the reader (if they chose to) a way to verify the fact which was asserted in the paper.

            Back then, I didn’t appreciate what a valuable discipline this was.  I, like so many others, moaned and groaned at having to follow those “silly rules” and track down sources I may have forgotten to write down.  Looking back, however, I have come to appreciate how valuable (and necessary) this process is in establishing the authority behind information.  One of our deacons, where I preached years ago completed his Doctoral Dissertation while he was with us.  This process involved months of research, mountains of documentation and an oral defense of his work before a committee of advisors in his field.  As difficult as this process was, it exists to allow him and any others that might read his work a measure of assurance that the facts he puts forth are verified and reliable.

            While we can understand the importance of this in secular fields like Chemistry, Biology or Physics, what about Religion?  When dealing with matters that concern our soul, our relationship to God and where we will spend eternity, should it be less important to us to document the source of our assertions?  If anything, it should be much more important to make certain that the statements we make, the convictions we hold and the beliefs we stand upon are grounded on a reliable and verifiable source in something with eternal consequences.

            For some reason though, that’s not the way it is for much of the religious world.  People act as if they can base their beliefs about God, salvation and how to worship Him on our own feelings and intuition.  One person says and thinks one thing and another something completely different.  How would we feel if, when we are sick, we went to a doctor who based his diagnosis on his own feelings, rather than research and reliable sources regarding our illness?  How would we feel, if we got on an airplane and learned that the the engineer who designed the plane just went with “what he knew in his heart” was right?  Would you volunteer for that plane’s first flight?

            The Bible is man’s source for all that we need to serve God and go to heaven.  My source for that assertion is what the Bible says about itself.  II Timothy 3:16-17 declares: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (NKJV).  It was revealed in such a way that human beings can read it and understand what it means.  In Ephesians 3:4, the Apostle Paul states: “…when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ.”  One day, all men will be judged by what the Lord has revealed to us.  The Bible will serve as the standard of that judgment.  Jesus said: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him--the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).  Don’t accept anything what is put forth in matters of faith if someone is not willing (and able) to “document their source.”  It is your responsibility and mine to test the things that are said and done to make certain they are true.  First John 4:1 warns: “…do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  More important than any secular field, we must verify those things we accept in matters of faith.  Second Timothy 2:15 charges us: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Pope, Kyle. "Documenting Your Sources" Biblical Insights 4.9 (September 2004): 13.  

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