Peter BeckPeter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
- 2009 Feb 20
Yesterday I wrote on the necessity of recognizing and confronting the heresies so boldly proclaimed in the 21st century. Those kind of blogs attract attention and create discussion. People are looking for someone to boldly proclaim the truth or something like it.
But, there’s another reason I fear. It’s not just the bold, it’s the confrontational that attracts a crowd. That’s one of the reasons blogging became so popular in the first place. It was a place for the disenfranchised to come together to be franchised against conventional wisdom, or denominational politics, or whatever else that was bothering them collectively. People are looking for a fight and the blogoshere has become one arena for it.
Thus, I end this week on the other end of the spectrum, calling for agreeable disagreement. I know there are many things that divide us in the church. A whole host debates remain unresolved today. Yet, we must remember, there must be a reason why the church as a whole hasn’t agreed on some of these issues for nearly 2000 years. What makes us think we can resolve the issues definitively now? But we try and we argue with those who disagree.
As Christians we rightly take our beliefs and convictions seriously. A conviction held loosely isn’t much of a conviction. It’s understandable that we become defensive when people challenge us. And, it’s understandable that we want to “convert” people to our point of view. After all, we think we understand these things (whatever they are) and we think they’re important.
While unity was Christ’s desire in the Upper Room discourse and while unity is the ideal, this side of heaven we’re not going to find it. Sin, diversions, cultural distinctions all get in the way. How we respond to these differences is where we can establish and build unity.
We can gather round the centrality of Christ and the Gospel. We may not agree as to whether Christ died for the elect or every human being, but we can agree that without the death of Christ there would be no salvation. Which is more important? The what or the how? Since we can’t agree on the how, let’s join hands and thank God for the what. In this category, things like the Trinity, man’s sinfulness, the certainty of Christ’s second coming find an important place in our belief systems.
On the other hand, we can agree to disagree as the adage goes. My wife and I don’t agree on everything. I’d be foolish to think that everyone in church is going to agree with me at every point. So, why do we get so upset when they don’t? Let’s acknowledge that there are things that divide us theologically, things that are important because we’re convinced they’re biblical but things that aren’t so important that if you disagree or don’t understand them you’ll go to hell. In this category I place things like church structure or the mode of baptism. They’re important to me but other Christians understand them differently. So, we belong to different denominations and churches. We agree to disagree.
Then, there is a third category of beliefs that can and do divide us theologically but shouldn’t divide us spiritually, as brothers from brothers. Matters like acoustic versus electric worship, robes and suits versus jeans and tennis shoes, clapping hands or holding them calmly in front of us fall into this category, even the timing of Christ's return. These are the things that distinguish one congregation from another, one Christian from another, and add to or distract from our worship but do not bear eternal significance in the broadest sense.
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So, there are things that we should agree on. There are some things that I wish we would but presently don’t. And, there are things that miles and circumstances prevent us from agreeing on. All issues are not created equal. Some matters are not of equal importance. They’re not all “do or die” debates. Not every hill is one to die on. We shouldn't be ready to fall on our swords over every minute theological issue. We need to recognize and remember that and act accordingly toward each other.As one writer contended (don’t ask, I forget who said it): In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.