Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dealing with Doctrinal Disagreement

How should we deal with those who disagree with us on doctrinal issues? We are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and to approach the situation with courage and caution (Jude 22,23). To do this, we must proclaim God's truth (1 Peter 3:15) and correct error (2 Timothy 2:24-26), but do so with a spirit of gentleness. This means our goal in correcting needs to be to help bring them to the truth, not simply to win an argument or drive them away.  It is easy to let pride get involved (Proverbs 16:18) and to become concerned with our ego rather than convincing the other person.  Now I am convinced that only God can bring people to Himself (John 6:44), and if the person involved is an unbeliever, they will not understand unless God works to enlighten them (1 Corinthians 2:14). But we are obligated to do our part in a Biblical manner (Colossians 4:6). We have a special obligation if a person claims to be a believer (Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 12:12-13), and if they do not repent we are required to exercise church discipline (Romans 16:17-20; 2 John 10,11).  But Scripture does prescribe a process for dealing with sin, and this should not be bypassed (Matthew 18:15-17).  We should not compromise truth to reach people, but we also should not just give up on people without trying to reach them.

But the question then arises:  What are the boundaries, and what is worth dividing over?  That there are things to contend for is clear from Scripture (Jude 3). But we must realize our knowledge is imperfect (1 Corinthians 3:18), and while we are to diligently pursuit all Biblical truth (2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2:15), there are particular issues we need to uphold. There are certain things put forth by Scripture as fundamental, and these must be defended: the nature of God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5), the nature of Christ and of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 11:4), the sinfulness of man (1 John 1:8-10), the nature of the gospel (Galatians 1:8,9), the truth of Scripture (John 17:17), and the Second Coming (1 John 3:2,3). I am not claiming this is an absolutely comprehensive list, but I am convinced that many of the things we fight over are not on it. Therefore, there may be places where it is best to agree to disagree, if the issues are not crucial.

If we are to correct people in these crucial areas, we need a knowledge of what Scripture teaches regarding them. Those who are immature may want to bring in someone more knowledgeable to help. But it should be our goal to be mature and able to respond to people ourselves (Hebrews 5:11-14).  Also, experience in dealing with those who hold false doctrine is helpful. You talk to somebody and then go back and study the issues and are better prepared next time. But most of all, we need to trust God for wisdom to be able to deal with the situation (James 1:5-7).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In Defense of Rituals

Are rituals in the church a good or a bad thing?  The Old Testament is full of rituals, but the New Testament puts the emphasis on worshiping in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  But this shift to heart attitude rather than rigidly prescribed ceremonies does not mean no ceremonies are appropriate (note baptism and the Lord's Supper).  Rather, even beyond the sacraments we see a number of symbolic actions, such as laying on of hands (Acts 13:3; 28:8), anointing with oil (Mark 6:13; James 5:14), and bowing (Ephesians 3:14; Matthew 28:17). Also, the simple fact is we always have some kind of ritual involved in corporate worship. The question may be how well it is thought out, as well as what particular elements you are willing to allow, but not whether there is some fixed procedure involved.

There are reasons why we shy away from any kind of ritual.  There are those who those who, contrary to Scripture (Colossians 2:16,17; Galatians 4:9,10), have tried to impose their precise rituals on others, even to the point of arguing over the date of Easter and over how many fingers one should cross oneself with.  But isn't forbidding various rituals the same thing (Romans 14:1-12; Colossians 2:20-23)? Also, we are not simply to go through the motions of worship (Matthew 6:1-18; Malachi 1:10). But I have found one can go through the motions no matter what type of worship one engages in. The issue is one's attitude, not the form.

Is there, then, any point in ritual? I am convinced there is. It engages the worshipers on a number of levels and encourages them to be involved in the worship and not just to be spectators. Therefore, if it is not rigidly prescribed and not done in a mindless manner, it has its place in legitimate worship.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

God Works in Mysterious Ways

Understanding and following God's leading in our life is not always easy.  And one thing I have learned the hard way is God does not always tell me what I want to know when I want to know it.  I have walked into a room and felt a spirit of dissension and prayed against it.  Only to see the people there end up at loggerheads with one another.  And I was later told by one of the people involved that on the day I walked into that room, nothing had happened yet.  But on other occasions I have been totally blindsided by things I had not a clue were going to happen.  And there were other cases that I still cannot make heads or tails of, where I felt God was leading me to do something and still do not know why He had me do it.  Elisha was a prophet (a title I would not at all claim), but we are told God did not always let him know what was going to happen (2 Kings 4:27). Why should I expect anything different?

But it is at times like these that I fall back on the fact that God is in control of the world and in control of my life (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 2:10).  Still, I do not think God ever tells us everything, because He wants us to trust in Him and not in the knowledge He gives us (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 1 Corinthians 3:18).  If we think everything is on our own shoulders, we will falter.  But if we trust in God, He will bring us through.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Rule of the Kingdom

The High King instituted the government of the kingdom and then left, promising to return.  In the beginning, the citizens of the kingdom were despised and mistreated.  But later on they became respectable and their rule was applauded by all.  But there arose among the people politicians, who united the kingdom with their own political aims.  Some, to be sure, were conscientious, doing what they thought best for the kingdom.  But others used the kingdom for their own selfish purposes, bringing in debauchery, greed, and corruption.

But there arose a movement to purify the kingdom and restore the good laws of the High King.  To do this, they sought a champion to oppose the politicians and restore the kingdom to proper order.  They bestowed on the champion unlimited authority and allowed none to question him.  But the champion, having unlimited power, began to use it to indulge himself and his companions.  This resulted in debauchery, greed, and corruption at a new, higher level.  Many endeavored to curb the champion and correct his abuses.  But having unlimited authority, the champion avoided every attempt.

Finally, the corruption became so bad many citizens of the kingdom revolted.  They declared their independence of the champion and set up their own governments separate from his.  However, they were not able to agree on a common rule but ended up in many groups, fighting among themselves as well as with the champion.  Many even found the need to ally with the politicians to fight the champion.  Meanwhile, the champion, having cleaned up some of his most blatant abuses, reentered the fray with renewed vigor. This resulted in wars, tumults, and disturbances. Many, as a result of this (or perhaps using it as an excuse), left the kingdom or remained as those who served the High King in name only.  But the divisions in the kingdom continued, and while some threw out all the High King's principles in attempts to reunite it, none seemed able to do so. Therefore, some still followed the champion and some followed the revolution and others held to a mere nominal allegiance.  And the question remains:  Is this what the High King really wanted?