This past week I shared with you some of my own struggles in the area of pride. Despite my apprehensions related to using so public a medium to confess my weaknesses I must tell you that I have been overwhelmed by the response. So many of you have graciously offered encouragement and many shared that they were both challenged and helped in this same area.
As I consider what the Lord desires of me in this area of my own life I cannot help but continue down this road of public confession as I believe that the Lord is both using my own experience to teach and encourage others as well as lead me into a more humble disposition.
Last week I shared how I thought this sin of pride so often manifests itself in the form of "absolute certainty" that is more characteristic of Post-Enlightenment Humanism than it is fallen human beings, saved by grace, who are struggling to understand God and the whole of reality. Again, I am not suggesting that we are utterly in the dark about such things merely that we may not know as much as we tend to think we do and we need to speak with that understanding. I also shared how this attitude is often present when speaking with unbelievers and may tend to come across more like a sales pitch than a valid perspective of reality and truth shared by a caring co-traveler. But this same sense of certitude is often at the root of what divides me and so many other Christians from each other.
Scripture is full of admonitions to unity, love and peace among the Body of Christ and yet today we are more divided and sectarian than ever. There are Fundamentalists, Charismatics, Arminians, Calvinists, Dispensationalists, Covenantalists, Reformed, Evangelical, Protestant with nearly innumerable denominations, Catholic, and so on and so forth. Each with their own ideas or categories of what it means to be "Christian" and when we encounter those outside our own category we tend to be suspicious rather than open and charitable. Now bear in mind I am not speaking about division over essential points but rather the non-essential elements of doctrine and theology on which good Christians can graciously disagree. Unfortunately, we often divide over minor issues when no such provision for division or separation from one another is ever given in Scripture. The rancor and ugliness that occasionally accompanies these divides is shameful and tarnishes the witness of the Church.
Don't misunderstand me, I think doctrine is profoundly important but I pray that I do not violate the unity of the Body by being more committed to my own doctrinal convictions than I am to the fellowship of believers and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Again, such a position assumes that "my" doctrinal convictions are true absolutely.
To be honest, when I experience frustration over what I believe are the erroneous doctrinal positions of another my attitude is more often rooted in my own sense of prideful certitude than it is the earnest preservation of orthodoxy. How many Inquisitors hid behind this same self-deception as a justification for their actions?
The Apostle Paul was continually confronting erroneous teaching and beliefs in the early Church and in some cases outright heresy and yet he never called for division or separation but rather correction, reproving and unity. Recall Paul's challenge to the Church at Corinth, "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." (1 Cor. 1:10) The Apostle Peter added, "Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble." (1 Peter 3:8) Neither is saying that there cannot be disagreement or diversity within the Church but rather that we should agree on the essential truths and couch our disagreements in a spirit of humility and love.
One of the privileges that I am afforded in this ministry is to speak to believers from virtually every denomination, Catholic and Protestant and I am always encouraged and humbled by the diversity of the Church and the fact that every church includes men and women who love Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Yes, even in those "liberal" churches I find good men and women who are fighting the good fight of faith and refuse to be driven off by those who would compromise Scripture. These people really impress me; how easy would it be to simply go somewhere else and yet they do not because they feel called to stay, often at considerable cost, to contend for orthodoxy and those who remain within these embattled denominations. And yet, how often do we make false assumptions about people because they attend this or that church? Again, they're in categories different than our own and we too often lack love and charity because we are so certain our way is right.
I find that if I will just put aside my own pride and certainty about such things that I can enjoy spirit-filled fellowship with believers who may not fit within my own categories. However, in such instances I am always surprised and blessed by the experience and humbled once again that I may not know as much as I think I do.
I most assuredly hold to strong doctrinal convictions founded in historic orthodox Christianity however I have learned and I want to continue to learn to be open to other Christians whose experiences are different and doctrinal convictions dissimilar. This does not require me to compromise or become ambivalent about my own convictions, certainly not; it merely means that I humble myself before my brothers and sisters by not always trying to point out where they may be "wrong." It means that I accept them as they are and where they are in their spiritual journey and I remain open to the Lord's teaching in my own life.
I do not want the Lord to oppose me so I am perfectly willing to surrender my prideful certitude about such things that unnecessarily separate me from Christ-honoring fellowship with my brothers and sisters so that the Lord may give me grace which I so desperately need. I pray this for myself as well as the whole Church that in such unity we might glorify Christ and His Kingdom!
Copyright S. Michael Craven 2006
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S. Michael Craven is the Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org.
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.