Disputed matters

bible.jpgI’ve seen skeptics, Catholics, Mormons and others criticize Christianity for having too many disagreements and denominations, as if that somehow disproved the Bible or the core beliefs of the denominations.  But that reasoning doesn’t compute.

Romans 14 and other passages address how we are to handle disputed matters. From this we can immediately infer two things:

  1. God knew we’d have disputed matters.
  2. He gave guidance on how to handle them.

Some beliefs are essential if one is to call himself a Christian – e.g., Jesus is the only way to salvation (mentioned directly or indirectly in 100 passages), Jesus is God, etc.

Other things have guidance but not absolutes. For example, with respect to alcohol the Bible teaches not to get drunk, to obey laws and not to tempt others with our drinking. But it doesn’t say never to drink. If people don’t want to drink that is fine, but that shouldn’t be presented as a Biblical requirement or an essential of the faith.

Contrary to many myths, we have a lot of freedom in Christ.  Christianity contains many principles and some specific rules, but we can exercise our personal preferences in many ways, such as worship styles.

Randy Alcorn had a good post on when and how we should judge people – Disputable Matters in Romans 14: What They Are and What They Aren’t

Satan’s two-step strategy is simple: first, to tempt God’s people not to judge our brother when we should, in primary areas revealed in Scripture (rather than take appropriate steps by going to him, and following through if he doesn’t repent) . Second, to tempt us to judge our brother when we shouldn’t, in secondary areas not revealed in Scripture. A third strategy, where there is indisputable sin, would be to tempt us to judge it with a spirit of self-righteousness, rather than with what Paul encourages: a spirit of grief and humility.

Denominations might adopt different practices and come to different conclusions rightly (in matters of preference or disputable matters) or wrongly (false teachings).  This was clearly anticipated in the Bible, which is why it gives guidance for handling disagreements and emphasized the importance of sound doctrine.

Note that we shouldn’t violate our consciences.  This is a reason that denominations are good.  We must agree on the essentials or we are brothers and sisters in Christ.  But it is better to be in different denominations if differences on non-essential issues would violate our consciences.  For example, if I couldn’t in good conscience baptize an infant then I should go to a denomination that doesn’t require that practice, even though I wouldn’t say those that do require it aren’t Christians.

Also see this post about one of my favorite sayings: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

6 thoughts on “Disputed matters”

  1. Hi Neil,

    This is an important message. Christians need to be able to discern truth and sound doctrine from error. Exposing error (heresy, false doctrine, another gospel etc.) is ESSENTIAL to true biblical Christianity. These do not count as minor disputes between denominations.

    For instance. I know of Christian bloggers who do not put Talk Wisdom on their blogrolls because they take Paul’s admonition for women “to be silent in the church” to mean that women are not supposed to say anything at all regarding Christian faith. I happen to think that they are wrong in their beliefs, but I don’t let it offend me to the point where I would carry on a long, drawn out argument with them about it.

    When studying that portion of Scripture, I had discovered that the women Paul was referring to were “baby Christians” and did not have the knowledge, study or discernment to teach in the church at that time.

    This is just one example of a dispute that doesn’t negate the unity of all Christian believers who hold to the most important doctrine of all – “to teach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

    Good post!

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  2. It would be nice if we could all simply agree to disagree on the minor issues. But too many churches take these issues and place them on par with the doctrine of salvation. Although the bible clearly condemns “drunkeness”, there are some churches who teach that drinking alcohol is a sin in and of itself.

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  3. Excellent point, LorMarie. I updated the post with one of my favorite sayings is “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

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  4. “I know of Christian bloggers who do not put Talk Wisdom on their blogrolls because they take Paul’s admonition for women “to be silent in the church” to mean that women are not supposed to say anything at all regarding Christian faith.”

    Wow, that is pretty sad!

    BTW, I just realized you weren’t on my blogroll, so I added you. Believe me, it had nothing to do with you being a woman! I just don’t update it as often as I used to.

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