Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Let's Get Along

My “chat room” experience seared an impression on my heart. As I logged off the computer that night, I was profoundly saddened by the spectacle of Christians fighting Christians over issues that don’t even represent doctrine.

In my first semester of seminary, I’d picked up just enough knowledge to be foolish. I remember going to the mat with someone over an issue of church tradition. It was a rather insignificant interpretation issue that seemed important at the time. Looking back, it now strikes me a bit like staring at a dead stump in a lush forest. It was the wrong focus and hardly worth a debate, let alone grist for a fight.

The Bible tells us “All Scripture is God-breathed…” (2 Timothy 3:16) In theological terms, this is known as "inspiration"... the process by which God moved men to capture and convey divine revelation. From this inspiration, then, we can deduce that the word of God is inerrant.

The interpretation of God's word, however, is a human endeavor. I may hold views about certain areas—baptism, end times, etc.—based upon my understanding of scripture and the historical study of scholars to whom I have aligned my beliefs. But we all respond to God’s revelation with cultural and historical bias. We'd be wise to keep our dialogue and debates around scripture constructive and avoid emotional attacks over differing opinion. And maybe we should grow humble hearts, recognizing that we are human and, unlike God, we make mistakes.

I had a professor once who said “pick your battles,” with respect to taking on issues with other Christians. “You don’t defend the use of electric guitars the way you defend the Trinity,” he said. Yet it seems even the peripheral areas can be a minefield of controversy and emotion. Friends split up. Ministries rupture. Churches are torn apart. By fractious matters that make the point of division (versus unity) the mascot for our faith.

“What is important enough to break the unity of the body of Christ?” my professor once asked.

Is it views on the rapture? Methods of baptism? Raised hands? Potluck supper on Sunday?

In his epistle to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians), the Apostle Paul encourages a body of believers to grow up and unite in their love of Christ and one another. His letter urges order and discipline and humility to override bickering, divisiveness and pride. It’s a letter about achieving unity and love toward a common, guiding purpose.

A friend once summed it up quite well. “As Christians,” she said, “there’s a lot more that we agree on. Why not focus on that, instead?”

Last post on this subject coming up... Who's a hypocrite?

(Photo by Zen, see for restrictions on use.)


Tammy said...

Funny your blog was about this...I've been digging into my Bible for answers on an issue of controversy all week. I don't want to be closed minded, so I'm praying that God will give me discernment and show me what is from Him and what isn't. I wholeheartedly agree that we MUST focus on what we as Christians have in common. I would never want to lose a Christian friend over things scholars fight about.

My problem is...when my kids ask questions, then I'm on my knees asking for wisdom. I wish the Bible was clear to me without controvery, but then God has given me the gift of faith. Maybe He let things be fuzzy so we would seek Him in prayer or to teach us to focus on what we can clearly understand...Loving Him, loving others.

Sarah Onderdonk said...

Tammy... wonder what worship would look like today if the Holy Spirit had put us all on the same page! i guess we have to get to heaven to see that picture! as it stands, there's considerable diversity of opinion and perspective within the faith. as you say, this forces us to go to Him for answers. it also forces us to seek out and learn from one another within the framework of community.

the Bible is full of mystery. i'm struck on occasion with the futility of scholarly debate around issues that are clearly unresolvable in this lifetime. the best we can do sometimes is check our hearts and our motives, realizing this is where God is looking, and make the best decision based upon what reflects the spirit, as you say, of "loving Him, loving others."

i'm praying you find peace in a resolution to whatever you're wrestling with, Tammy. God can be silent, but He's always listening.

Guy said...

One of the reasons I decided to attend seminary is that I felt I was wondering in a fog of hermeneutics. Every point of discussion seemd to have opposing opinions from one "scholar" or another. If you have ever watch the Discovery Channel or perhaps the National Geographic Channel when they do one of their "bible" investigations you have undoubtedly listened to one of these "scholars." Funny how so many seem to shrug their shoulders and say "who knows, perhaps someone made it up." I see more and more of this attitude even in the Church today (just read today's Wall Street Journal Houses of Worship article). Nobody seems willing to to put a stake in the ground on any matter of doctrine. As such, the Church sems awash in relativism.

Does it really matter if someone asserts that God is done with Israel, they had their chance, so he replaced them with the Church? Or that one is pre-trib, post-trib, or even amillenneal? If we are talking about salvation, perhaps the answer is no. But if that is all matters, then we could discard big chunks of the Scriptures. I submit that our hermenuetic does matter. Anyone want to bother positing why?

Sarah Onderdonk said...

hermeneutics is critically important as we try to wrestle with interpreting the Word of God... His special revelation to us... about Him... His Will for us... and the path to salvation.

i don't advocate relativism.

there are some areas that are more mysterious than others. i think i understand "Thou Shalt Not Steal." other areas aren't so clear! and strident "this is the way it is!' debate around areas that are complex and myserious (e.g., aspects of future prophecy) can prove divisive... to what end?

i also think there's a gracious way to dialogue with one another. and when i hear about disharmony over opinions (music, to raise hands or not, sprinkle or immerse, etc.,), i think there's probably a better use of our hearts and minds.

9:44 PM

Sarah Onderdonk said...

p.s. sometimes "who knows?" is the right answer.