The term consensus is a compound word made up of con-, with, and sense, to feel (cf. sensation); hence, it means to feel together, to agree. It refers to generally accepted or wide agreement, though perhaps short of unanimity.
A Dubious Standard
Consensus is sometimes embraced as assurance of rightness; surely, most people (including so many experts) can’t be wrong! This happens in science, in the medical community, in morals, and in religion as well. Bible students should know better. Time and again, Scripture warns that the majority is often wrong (e.g., Matthew 7:13-14).
A Fickle Standard
The fact that consensus changes should caution us against trusting it. Consider instrumental music in worship as an example. Nowadays, few churches do not have it, but that has not always been the case. Consensus once was that it did not belong. Historians date the practice only to the sixth or seventh century. It was debated over the next millennium, and only in the last couple of centuries has consensus embraced it.
The doctrine that Jesus will return and establish a kingdom on earth is becoming a mainstream view. Just a century or two ago, it was limited to a handful of churches. Similarly, the longstanding consensus that eternal torment in hell awaits those who are condemned at the judgment is gradually yielding to an expectation of annihilation of the rejected.
The point is this: if consensus is right now it was wrong earlier, and if it was right earlier it is wrong now. Centuries from now, if the world lasts that long, some of today’s widely accepted tenets will doubtless be widely rejected. Consensus is obviously not a reliable measure of truth.
A Dangerous Standard
Consensus is not merely unreliable, it can be dangerous. Truth is vital. The truth makes us free (John 8:32). It is in obedience to the truth that we purify our souls (1 Peter 1:22). If consensus is wrong and we follow it, we are wrong and will be lost.
Among Protestants, the consensus view is that baptism is not essential to salvation. Consensus says one is saved and added to Christ the moment he believes and prays for Jesus to come into his heart. He is baptized sometime later to show that he has already been forgiven. The Bible says the opposite about baptism’s role in our salvation. It says baptism is in order to be forgiven (Acts 2:38; 22:16), is into Christ (Galatians 3:27) and His death (Romans 6:3), and that it saves us (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21). One who follows consensus will arrive at the judgment not having been baptized as the gospel requires.
God’s word is truth (John 17:17). Let it always be your standard, regardless of what consensus says.