5 common errors when Christians disagree
Note: This is a full-out, “chip-on-my-shoulder” rant. I tried to soften the blog post by using personal pronouns and not giving specific controversial examples, but I can’t deny that I’m annoyed and even saddened by how frequently I hear these arguments used (sad, because I think we miss out when we find excuses not to obey God). My apologies in advance for the preachy diatribe that you’ve already probably heard a million times.
EXCUSE #1: “We all interpret Scripture differently.”
TRUTH #1: Showing grace isn’t ignoring sin.
Christians are often at different places on a spectrum and have different interpretations of Scripture. This is healthy, but then some differences are over issues that are actually blatantly obvious. Murder, for example, is clearly wrong according to the Bible.
Unfortunately, sometimes I confuse grey areas with black and white ones. I excuse a difference because they “just interpret Scripture differently.” While recognizing my own biases, my tendency to misinterpret, and our diverse callings is very valid, those facts should not prevent me from being disgusted by sin.
For example, I wouldn’t say, “Well, Person A says that the Bible’s condemnation of stealing doesn’t apply to robbing a bank. I interpret the Bible differently than Person A, but we all make mistakes, so I’m going to ignore when Person A robs a bank.” Instead, I would hopefully graciously and humbly point out my friend’s error.
Grace, by its very nature, acknowledges mistakes. Forgiveness requires recognizing sin. You can’t extend mercy if the recipient doesn’t need it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer lists what we are missing with do-whatever-you-want grace:
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner … Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate (The Cost of Discipleship, pp. 46, 47).
EXCUSE #2: “If you knew someone in that situation, you’d change your mind.”
TRUTH #2: The Bible doesn’t change based on your friendships, circumstances or experiences.
Occasionally, I hear the argument that “You don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes.” “Every situation is different.” or “I believed the same way you did until I met someone in that situation.” I’ve personally had a friend tell me, “When you have kids, you’ll think differently” and a pastor (of a random church I visited) say, “When you’re older, you’ll change your conviction.”
While I should recognize that I could easily find myself in the same situation someday and acknowledge the unique challenges others may face, God’s Word is actually the stability that I should cling to in life’s frightening uncertainty. Yes, my circumstances and friends may affect me. Yes, our situations and relationships may be dissimilar. But I can find unity with the church in our search for The Unchangeable Truth.
EXCUSE #3: “But no one else does it.”
TRUTH #3: God asks for big sacrifices.
Just because a conviction is unpopular, politically incorrect, culturally unacceptable, financially unwise, illogical or impractical doesn’t mean I shouldn’t follow what God says. God says that his wisdom is foolishness to man (1 Corinthians 1) and he doesn’t promise that following him will be easy (Luke 9:23). Yet, how often do I skip Scripture passages that I don’t like because I just don’t want to wrestle with them?
Almost eight decades ago, Bonhoeffer wrote the following about Lutherans in his time, but I suspect it is applicable in many denominations today:
To be ‘Lutheran’ must mean that we leave the following of Christ to legalists, Calvinists and enthusiasts — and all for the sake of grace … Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it [cheap grace] has hardened us in disobedience … The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works (The Cost of Discipleship, pp. 57, 59).
(And now after writing that, I will try to justify speeding to myself…)
EXCUSE #4: “Follow the spirit of the law — not the letter.”
TRUTH #4: Frequently, following the spirit means following the letter.
We are terrified of legalism. We see legalism under every single rock. A Christian can’t share about something he feels called by God to do without being reminded by a well-meaning friend that he is saved by grace.
Yet, the law isn’t actually bad: Jesus said he didn’t come to destroy it or remove one iota, but rather to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-18). The Covenant of Grace didn’t prevent Timothy from deciding to be circumcised (even though he didn’t have to according to the Jerusalem Council in the previous chapter; Acts 16:3).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that not only should his audience follow the letter of the law, but they should also follow the spirit — banning lust plus adultery, hate in addition to murder, all oaths (not just broken oaths), etc. While we often use following the spirit of the law as an excuse to make our lives easier, the idea behind the “spirit” line is not that we’d stop obeying a command, but rather that we would more fully obey the command. In Matt. 23:23, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they “should have practiced the latter [i.e. justice, mercy and faithfulness], without neglecting the former [i.e. tithing spices].” Yes, Jesus actually told the Pharisees not to neglect tiny details like counting their “mint, dill and cumin!”
I agree that following the spirit of the law is far more important (Romans 2:28) and you don’t need to tithe your spices. However, if someone is convicted to practice a spiritual discipline to help them build their relationship with God, then by all means, don’t prevent them from coming to Jesus (Matt. 19:14 taken somewhat out of context).
EXCUSE #5: “Let’s just get along.”
TRUTH #5: Restoration is the goal.
Superficial agreement is not unity. Whispering instead of yelling about the “elephant under the rug” does not define peace.
Being the church means messiness and struggle. Disagreements are part of relationships.
I should not react to disagreements with pride, defensiveness, encouragement of sin or avoidance of the issue. Instead I should pray, and pray some more. Prayer reminds me that I need God to love the other person through me. Prayer reminds me that God is the one who changes hearts. Prayer humbles me when I am tempted to be proud and hypocritically judgmental. Prayer makes me long to know God and his expectations better.
God greatly desires true unity in the church. He wants us to challenge each other and grow through accountability. Prayer transfers a smidgen of God’s love for the church to my heart.
Tabitha Driver is a Mennonite who loves glimpsing God’s goodness on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. She blogs at ultimatemetaphor.blogspot.com, where this post first appeared.
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