So in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas came to opposite conclusions about the way of wisdom in their work. Paul thought that they couldn't work with John Mark; Barnabas thought they should. Instead of fighting about it, they "parted company" (Acts 15:39). We have no reason to think that either stopped believing the other brother was a Christian; it's just that they knew they couldn't continue working together because of this practical disagreement.

True or False

As we think specifically of gatherings that claim to be a "church," we may categorize them as either "true" or "false." By this I don't mean that a "true church" never says anything false, or that a "false church" never says anything true. Rather, I mean that a "true church" preaches the true gospel, and is following Christ's commands to baptize and celebrate the Lord's Supper (including the practice of church discipline). A "false church," on the other hand, is one which has forsaken the preaching of the true gospel.

Regular or Irregular

Churches that preach the same true gospel we may classify as regular (according to the rule/Scripture) or irregular.

For example, it is my and my church's understanding that the Bible teaches that baptism is only for believers. Any church who preaches the same gospel as we do but who practices infant baptism we would call true but irregular churches (my Presbyterian brethren, of course, would return the compliment).

But the point is, if we call them true churches, we can fellowship with them in the gospel, even if we wouldn't agree with them on everything. We must have unity in the gospel to recognize each other as Christians.

Disputable Matters

But it's clear from the New Testament that there are a number of other issues that true Christians differ about. For instance, the question of eating meat sacrificed to idols was a burning issue in many of the churches. But Paul was not overly concerned about Christians disagreeing with each other over this issue because they were not maintaining that a certain conclusion was necessary for salvation. They could work together so long as they wouldn't be distracted by their disagreement. His sage advice? "Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God" (Rom. 14:22).

Paul also faced questions in the church about Christians regarding some days being more holy than others (see Rom. 14:6). But he called this issue a "disputable matter" (Rom. 14:1).

What are our disputable matters today? They are many. Questions about the particular practices of church membership are disputable.

Or consider the question of what the millennium is in Revelation 20. Some Christians would say we need to agree on this in order to have a church together. What do you think? Let's run this through the tests I suggested earlier:

Test 1: How clear is it in Scripture? It's mentioned in the two verses in Revelation 20 and nowhere else. And evangelical, Bible-believing commentaries are not in agreement about what John was referring to.

Test 2: How clear do others think it is in Scripture (especially those you respect and trust as teachers of the Word)? Again, I find a variety.

Test 3: How near is it (or its implications) to the gospel itself? I think it is unrelated. As long as we agree that Christ is returning, what he does during the Millennium seems to be of little significance to me right now.

Finally, test 4: What would be the doctrinal or practical effects of allowing disagreement in this area? We have not found any effects in our church—other than providing opportunities to practice charity toward each other. For that matter, the elders in my church disagree on this matter, and I cannot perceive any unfaithfulness or practical problems flowing out of these differences.