College freshman Bob becomes convinced of the doctrine of election and has a burning desire to convince everyone else. He's in the early "cage stage" of Calvinism.

Imagine his conversations with his friends, in his campus fellowship, in his church.

Everything becomes an illustration of God's sovereignty. It's all he wants to talk about. And if you disagree with Bob, watch out!

The question for you and me is, when we teach others the truth, do we do it with condescending pride and arrogance—we know something they don't? Or do we teach with the humility of one beggar sharing his bread with another?

Compromise is bad. Cooperation is good. But how do you tell the difference? What are the primary doctrinal positions for which we need to contend, and what are the secondary doctrinal positions about which we can disagree with charity and love?

I'd like to consider how we can encourage each other to hold the truth with humility by setting out six questions:

  1. Do we follow commands to purify or to unite?
  2. What are some common fights Christians have?
  3. What's the specific purpose for cooperating?
  4. What must Christians agree upon? (Essentials)
  5. What may Christians disagree about? (Non-essentials)
  6. How can Christians disagree well?
     

1. DO WE FOLLOW COMMANDS TO PURIFY OR TO UNITE?

First, do we follow commands to purify or to unite?

The Basic Problem

I trust most Christians recognize the problem confronting us: We live in a fallen world, where the truth will not always find a home. What's true is not necessarily the same as what's popular.

As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "There have been periods in history when the preservation of the very life of the Church depended upon the capacity and readiness of certain great leaders to differentiate truth from error and boldly to hold fast to the good and to reject the false. But our generation does not like anything of the kind. It is against any clear and precise demarcation of truth and error" (ital mine; from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Maintaining the Evangelical Faith Today (1952), 4-5).

We shouldn't be surprised at times such as ours, when people oppose distinguishing truth from error. In Paul's last letter, he warns, "the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

Was Paul simply paranoid—overly focused on ideas of truth? I don't think so. The Lord Jesus teaches us to be on our guard. It was he who taught, "False christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. So be on your guard" (Mark 13:22-23).