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Monday, October 28, 2013

Agreeing to Disagree

The Bible sets a high value on the concept of unity among believers. Frankly, we should, too. Division among God's people is a costly and even dangerous thing. Recognizing this fact, many opt to "agree to disagree." You know how that goes. We won't fight about it anymore. We'll just drop this subject and remain friends. And it would seem that this might be the best option. I say "seem" because I think, in Scripture, you'll find that it's not always possible. Jesus didn't "agree to disagree" with the moneychangers in the Temple. He didn't "agree to disagree" with the Pharisees. And Paul didn't "agree to disagree" with Peter when he fell into the judaizers' trap. Indeed, much of the New Testament is written to refuse to get along with error. That is, it would appear that there are times to lay aside conflict and agree to disagree, and there are times that we cannot afford to do so at all. So, how would I determine which is which?

In Scripture there are important issues. Paul warns, for instance, about "a different gospel which is really not another" (Gal 1:6-7). While on some subjects he has happy to say, "If in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you" (Phil 3:15)1, on the issue of the gospel he says, "If we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!" (Gal 1:8) and repeats it for effect (Gal 1:9). There are, then, certain issues that are major and certain issues that are not. We need to learn to major on the majors.

There are certain doctrines, without which Christianity is no longer Christianity. They are referred to as "the essentials". These are the major issues. An unreliable Bible; no Christianity. No Trinity; no Christianity. Some different gospel than "saved by grace through faith"; no Christianity. A different Jesus; no Christianity. No Atonement, no heaven or hell, no end ("eschatology"); no Christianity. There are fundamentals without which you cannot have anything distinctly called "Christianity". These are the majors.

Some of the minors? Do we sleep when we die, or do we go immediately to be with the Lord? Does the Rapture occur before the Great Tribulation, or not? Is there a literal 1,000 year reign ("Millennium")? Does faith precede regeneration or does regeneration precede faith? Yes, that one, too. If you argue for the wrong one while arguing that we are not saved by works and we are saved by faith and Christ alone is our salvation, you can get that source question wrong and still be right. Oh, here's one of recent import: Do the gifts of the Spirit continue, or are they ended? I am quite sure that this is not an issue that determines whether or not you get to heaven. Oh, there are a lot of these kinds of differences, and they draw a lot of fire. How old is the Earth? Is it wrong to smoke? Drink? Do we need to go to church on Sundays? And, of course, which denomination is right? Minors.

The Bible is full of Christians discussing with Christians what is or isn't true. Church history is the same. I'm pretty sure that I have not arrived at the point of perfect doctrine and I'm equally confident that no one else (except Christ, of course) has either. We ought to care enough about the truth to discuss it, debate it, examine it, seek it, pursue it. I suspect that too many too often opt to "agree to disagree" when they shouldn't because the issues are too important. I suspect as well that too many too often divide over nonessentials. Check out most "biblical discernment ministry" organizations and you'll likely find hell and damnation called down on what appears to be every known preacher because of infractions perceived as heresy. (One site I found says outright that prior to their church (of 50) there has never been a true church since the beginning of the Church.)

Christians, according to Christ (you know, the "Christ" of "Christianity"), are to be marked by love for one another (John 13:35). Sometimes that love looks like correction (Gal 6:1-2). Sometimes it looks harsh (1 Cor 5:1-5). More often it looks like bearing one anothers burdens, strengthening the feeble, and praying for one another. Let's try not to take the harsh when support is better. Contend for the faith when the faith is threatened. But let's make our disagreements anchored in love. It may not solve them all, but it will certainly change the face of it.
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1 In Philippians, Paul speaks of some who preach the gospel with good intentions and some who preach with selfish motives (Phil 1:12-17). He concludes, "Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice" (Phil 1:18) without bothering to seek to correct bad attitudes.

5 comments:

Josh said...

"The Bible is full of Christians discussing with Christians what is or isn't true. Church history is the same. I'm pretty sure that I have not arrived at the point of perfect doctrine and I'm equally confident that no one else (except Christ, of course) has either. We ought to care enough about the truth to discuss it, debate it, examine it, seek it, pursue it. I suspect that too many too often opt to "agree to disagree" when they shouldn't because the issues are too important. I suspect as well that too many too often divide over nonessentials."

This is fantastic and spot on. Great insight Stan. I love how you have demonstrated the importance of seeking the truth, and yet not at the cost of alienating others. Great piece.

Stan said...

I'm glad ... as long as you understood that there are times in which alienating people is biblical, right?

Marshall Art said...

I have always taken issue with the notion of "agreeing to disagree", at least since I first gave thought to what it means. It is not logical. It suggests that the opposing opinion is NOT so bad or wrong that it must or should be tolerated. It also seems that if, for example, you offered that treaty, then I surrender to some extent by allowing that my position might not be the more correct or valid position. It also forces me to be complicit in the notion that both positions are equally valid or of equal worth. I understand the desire to set aside an argument or debate, but to do so on these terms rubs me the wrong way. I most certainly do not agree to disagree or we would not have engaged in the debate in the first place. And worst part is that the other guy's opinion continues to be held as valid, all precedents set forth by the opinion continue to perpetuate its deleterious effects and the opposing opinion continues to stand in opposition to what I believe is the superior position, mitigating its effects. Rather than "agreeing to disagree", I would much prefer to simply say, "Let's postpone this debate until another time, keeping note of where we differ." or something to that effect.

Josh said...

If by alienating, you mean clinging tightly to the essentials because there are systems that don't meet the essentials and therefore are not Christian,then yes.

Stan said...

Marshall Art,

First, I, obviously, am not a fan of "agree to disagree". But I'm also not radically opposed to it in all cases.

To me, several factors are of paramount importance in this idea. For instance, "It suggests that the opposing opinion is NOT so bad or wrong that it must or should be tolerated." I ask myself how important is the subject upon which we (whoever the two people are) are disagreeing? "You know, I think coffee is really nasty." "Oh, yeah? Well, I think it's great!" Okay, so, no I'm not going to fight over that one. I think the the opinion opposed to mine on the tastiness of coffee is indeed not so bad or wrong that I cannot tolerate it. The second fastor is how convinced I am of my position. Am I sure I'm right? If not completely, totally, 100%, then, no, I'm not willing to be intolerant of other ideas. (Or, as you indicated, "my position might not be the more correct or valid position.") I want to know just how deleterious (your word -- good word) the topic is. Is it really going to cause some harm if I'm wrong about when the Rapture occurs?

But, bottom line, "Let's postpone this debate until another time, keeping note of where we differ" is exactly "agree to disagree". That is, "No, we don't agree" but "No, we're not going to come to blows (or some other separation) over this." "Agree to disagree" says, "No, you're still wrong; I'm just not willing to shoot you now" (or something like it).

(Note: I'm using "tolerate" in the sense of the actual meaning of the word. I'm not saying, "I agree" as is often suggested these days. I'm saying, "I disagree, but will allow you to continue with your error.")