Last time we met up, we talked about Ray Comfort and his new book. One thing I didn’t have time or space to cover then was the huge disparity of views I found regarding him and his work. Some Christians think he is the real deal, so to speak. Others consider him a charlatan. In the discussions about him that I found, I saw the Doctrinal Yardstick.
I use the term doctrinal yardstick to describe how Christians size up each others’ doctrinal stances. It’s about the only way they have to evaluate competing beliefs. There’s a reason why this idea is on my mind, too. This situation isn’t even rare in the Christ-o-sphere. Christians can’t agree on anything. They’ve never been able to agree on anything. No matter how long Christianity lasts, I doubt they’ll ever break the longest streak in their religion’s existence.
(Introduction note: If you want more info about the Renaissance argument about Jesus’ finger positions, start here. I guarantee you’ll be awestruck with just how many arguments Christians can find in their religion. Also, I’m dipping my toe into learning audio editing! Whee! This is something else that your support makes possible. Maybe one of these days I’ll even figure out music and sound effects.)
(This post first appeared on Patreon on 2/28/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there too!)
A review of the Doctrinal Yardstick
The Doctrinal Yardstick exists because of one simple fact of Christianity: For every belief Christians hold, there are other Christians who think that belief is dead wrong—and any Christians holding it are possibly hellbound. The yardstick is a metaphorical one that they use to compare each other’s beliefs regarding a variety of different doctrines and practices.
To see it in motion, just watch any mixed group of Christians start debating any belief. Some of them will insist that it represents proper Jesus-ing. Others will argue that it’s completely incorrect and imperfect Jesus-ing.
To make their respective cases, each side will use the exact same methodology. This includes but is not limited to the following:
- Listing off Bible verses that seem to support one’s position (often, the same ones; this tactic is used as an attempt to borrow authority for one’s position)
- Seeking to nail down precise definitions of the Aramaic and Greek words within those Bible verses (aka, the Original Greek and Hebrew)
- Warnings of the fate that will surely result befall those who hold incorrect beliefs (which is a logical fallacy—an appeal to consequences)
- Trying to pull rank by asserting greater knowledge or experience in doctrinal matters (another logical fallacy—an appeal to authority)
- Blaming hypocrisy and deconversion on incorrectly-held beliefs (another appeal to consequences)
- Slamming the character of their counterparts as a way of reducing confidence in their position (another logical fallacy, the ad hominem attack)
Because each side has exactly the same amount of leverage, the same tactics, and the same basis for holding their beliefs, nobody ever wins these arguments. No debated belief ever emerges triumphant and superior to all other competing beliefs.
Both sides’ champions will sadly lament the hard-heartedness of their counterparts. And then, they will each pray (often out-loud and right there in front of those counterparts) that Jesus will somehow magically force them to change their minds in the near future—you know, before their erroneous beliefs send them to Hell.
Why Christians aren’t united in beliefs
Many Christians are content to live and let live regarding competing beliefs. They understand that there are tens of thousands of competing doctrines in the Christ-o-sphere. I’ve heard a great many of their rationalizations for why so many other Christians hold beliefs that are radically different from each other and often even mutually contradictory. On an evangelical megachurch blog called Starting Point, we find examples of the most common rationalizations:
For starters, let’s not forget that denominations are made up of churches and churches are made of people; and sometimes people just don’t get along. After all, just because people are Christians doesn’t mean they always agree. Moreover, Christians still struggle with pride, selfishness, and stubbornness, and this means they sometimes respond to relational conflict poorly. This has often led to debates and divisions within churches and denominations, which in turn leads to the creation of new churches and denominations. It’s an unfortunate situation, but a reality given human nature. Maybe this is why Jesus focused so much on unconditional love and forgiveness as an expression of the kind of people he wants us to be.
Another reason Christians are sometimes divided is legitimate disagreements about secondary areas of belief or practice. [. . .] These are good questions and the answers aren’t always clear in the Bible. Perhaps this is the reason the Bible exhorts us to exercise wisdom and humility when it comes to secondary issues where genuine differences exist (Romans 14-15).
A third reason that so many different groups of Christians exist is differences in personality, passions, and talents. Some people are more inclined to worship God through the exercise of their minds. They therefore focus on analytical thinking and biblical knowledge. Others are more artistically or creatively wired and the way they express their faith is quite different. Still others are more engaged in their relationship with God when they serve others. They find the greatest fulfillment when they can work with their hands or actively serve people with special needs in their communities. While all of these things are important, it’s no surprise that different churches and even whole denominations would emerge in light of the unique personalities of their adherents.
That all sounds very nice, until one notices all the problems within it.
All those rationalizations can’t defeat the stark reality these differences represent
As a starter, Starting Point is run by North Point Ministries. As CNN reveals, that’s a division of North Point Community Church, which is run by megapastor Andy Stanley.
According to his church’s website, these folks hold standard-issue evangelical beliefs. But the most offensive are only insinuated there. As one example, Andy Stanley avoids talking about Hell. Such chatter alienates his marks. Instead, he only hints at the idea. However, his church’s belief statement includes the concept of salvation. Of necessity, that concept implies being saved from something. In Christianity, that means Hell.
In addition, Stanley drastically mischaracterizes the people leaving Christianity. He makes the usual accusations in the usual ways that ex-Christians are long accustomed to hearing out of his crowd.
Ray Comfort gets the Doctrinal Yardstick treatment
Similarly, Ray Comfort has always been the topic of Doctrinal Yardstick arguments. While researching last week’s post about him, I ran across a vivid display of the principle on YouTube. This video is called “Ray Comfort: The Confused Calvinist.”
The creators of the video tell us that it demonstrates why Ray Comfort is “a false-teacher teaching a false-gospel.” In Christianese, that means he teaches his followers to adopt doctrines that will hurt them. (Almost always, the harm involves going to Hell, losing fervor, becoming less obedient to the tribe’s rules, or even deconversion itself.)
In addition, these video creators link us to a blog post on their home site that they feel supports and reinforces their message. They titled the post, “Ray Comfort is a Works-Salvationist in a Grace Disguise.”
Well, if that ain’t a SHOTS FIRED title, I don’t know what could be.
At the moment, I’m not interested in refereeing Calvinist infighting. They’re toxic enough as it is. However, to understand the fights you’re about to review, you just need to know this:
Truth Time Radio (TTR) teaches that correct, rule-following behavior happens as a result of correct beliefs. Correct beliefs, of course, means their quirky li’l take on Calvinism. By contrast, TTR insists that Ray Comfort teaches that humans can clean up their behavior enough to go to Heaven. That assessment does not represent Comfort’s teachings. Rather, he zings his victims with their sinfulness, then informs them that their noncompliance with fundagelical rules prevents them from achieving safety from Hell.
Samples of the Doctrinal Yardstick in one video on YouTube
I captured all of these comments from the video linked above. Each exchange includes [Archive] after it. This note links to an archived screenshot in case the comment, video, or channel vanishes.
It’s worth noting that TTR has egregiously misconstrued an exchange Comfort has with a woman around 4 minutes into their video. That misunderstanding powers them through a number of arguments in their comments. May the Fanged God herself grant us all the confidence of this mediocre Calvinist.
Jedimasterham2: This video is disingenuous. Ray Comfort is clearly promoting repentance and belief in Jesus Christ. The video distorts Comfort by falsely implying that Comfort is telling people they have to stop sinning to be saved. That’s not what he says. He makes it clear you have to repent.
TTR: The only thing “disingenuous” is the false statements you took the time to type out. “falsely implying that Comfort is telling people they have to stop sinning to be saved. That’s not what he says.” What? Try listening again – and this time check the volume – because you apparently had it turned down to low. @ 4:12 Ray tells the lady that he is “concerned about her salvation.” @ 4:47 he says “There are two things you have to do to be saved. You must repent…. turn from all sin… and live in holiness.”
👉In case you don’t know, THAT is a false gospel.
Or consider this one:
James Werner: Just another you tuber trying to gain a following , only God grants repentance it’s in the Bible . Ray is solid . I guess praying is a work as well ?
TTR: Yes, prayer IS a work: Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12) …And is why the “sinners prayer” can’t save anyone.
Or this one:
HokageSB: I think your deeply wrong. And confused please pray. Ray Confort doesn’t decide when that person Repents. He’s planting a seed for when that person does comes to Christ. It’s on their time not Ray’s. They go to their Prayer Closet and walk with righteousness. You are very confused. And if you truly repent of course you wouldn’t consciencely sin. Simple as that. I don’t get why you make it more complicated than that.
TTR: Thankfully I’ll be judged by Paul’s gospel – and not what you “think.” “more complicated”? It appears that you have given a knee jerk defense without actually watching the video. It was not about what a saved person does AFTER being saved. The point is that Ray preaches a false gospel.
You can see similar arguments in my other screenshots:
- Ryan and Ethan try their hand, fail to make any impact against TTR’s antiprocess shields
- Jake Longe offers evidence refuting the criticisms offered, and also fails to make any impact either
- John and Maddy GROSS try too, but nothing can possibly dent those shields
- Jann Loderhose even gives it a shot, fails utterly
Seriously, Calvinists have some of the most powerful antiprocess shields I have ever seen!
How the Doctrinal Yardstick began
And I’ve seen some very serious antiprocess shields.
Back when I was Pentecostal in the late 1980s, I came up with the term Doctrinal Yardstick to describe how my then-boyfriend Biff engaged with evangelicals. When he met them, he grilled them about their beliefs. Then, he’d fit those beliefs up against his own to see if they were TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like he was. If they weren’t, he argued with them about any points of differing belief. And of course, being that they were pre-fusion evangelicals, they always had some belief that differed from his. That ensured Biff got his argument itch scratched, at least!
In those arguments, Biff and those evangelicals all used the tactics I described up above. Noticing that gave me a lot of trouble back then. It really bothered me that nobody could ever come out on top of these debates. We all wanted to believe only correct claims. We all wanted our doctrinal stances to be correct. And we were all sure that we had gotten our beliefs right, which meant that our counterparts had to be wrong.
We were always right. They were always wrong. And yet they thought exactly the same of us.
Why could neither side ever persuade the other?
To answer that, we must ask how evangelicals ever get persuaded in the first place.
How evangelicals figure out what to believe
Like all Christians, evangelicals lack any objective, observable, measurable, predictable, reliable facts that they can use to gauge the correctness of their beliefs. But unlike most other Christians, evangelicals desperately need their beliefs to be both 100% correct and 100% objectively true. That compulsion drives them to ever-greater heights of fractal wrongness.
Evangelicals’ beliefs tend to be a mixture of talking points, pseudoscience, personal experiences and feelings, authoritarian leanings, and logical fallacies lashed together like a raft with a particularly quirky interpretation of the Bible and then set atop a bunch of social requirements if they live in a very evangelical-controlled area. Only the last bit, where it exists still, is a fact.
The only way that evangelicals can assess any claim made about their faith is, then, to compare it to their existing, already-accepted beliefs. If it fits, it sits. If it doesn’t, they throw it out on its ear and denounce it as a “false teaching,” as TTR did in their video’s comments.
These debates are yet another cheap evangelical substitute
You’d think that evangelicals, being ever so incredibly fervent and obedient, would be so busy doing what Jesus ordered his followers to do that they wouldn’t ever have time to argue about doctrine with any other Christians.
But you’d be wrong. They argue among themselves constantly.
My crowd was no different. When I think about all those evenings we spent arguing about doctrines, I cringe to think we wasted so much time like that. At the time, it felt so important. But it wasn’t. It was simply an easy substitute we all used to avoid doing the stuff Jesus had, we thought, commanded us to do: pray without ceasing, help the poor and wretched, feed the hungry, comfort the mourning, preach to the lost, and all that. Instead, we blew sunshine up our own butts and thought we were totally Jesus-ing right.
Similarly, think about all the time TTR spends writing these blog posts and videos, then policing comments on their videos. A few times while gathering my screenshots, I saw them respond within minutes. And literally all they’re doing is arguing about an obscure order of operations, if anything. Most of the people they’re arguing with in their comments state that they are also Calvinist. (I think that one commenter who figured they were just trying to grow a lackluster channel was on to something.)
Nowadays, I can look upon the zillions of quirky li’l takes on the Bible embodied in the billions of Christians worldwide, and I can easily see that no god of love and mercy puts a high premium on perfectly correct beliefs within this religion.
Why evangelicals just can’t stop playing with their Doctrinal Yardstick
Of course, there’s a reason why evangelicals in particular cannot resist playing with their Doctrinal Yardstick. Almost all of them are authoritarians. For Calvinists, that goes double. They’re the people who thought evangelicalism wasn’t quite authoritarian enough. So they figured out ways to push even more authoritarianism into it!
Authoritarians need conflict with other people. They need it like air. First and foremost, they need to reinforce their own sense of superiority. (In TTR’s snide, condescending replies to their critics, we get a front-seat view of that need.)
They also need to see other people brought low for them to feel good. Insulting and smearing them works grandly for this purpose. Such behavior also reinforces their tribalistic outlook: Their group rules; everyone else drools.
Perhaps most of all, these fights cement their own beliefs more firmly in their own minds and tie them even more tightly to their tribalistic group of authoritarians. By alienating everyone else, they make it that much harder to avoid motivated reasoning—or worse, to risk engaging too closely with something that might change their own minds.
Ultimately, the Doctrinal Yardstick helps evangelicals maintain their self-reinforcing bubble. Even if displaying it just reminds us all of their hypocrisy and how few actual facts inform Christianity as a faith system, they just can’t stop themselves.
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