Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Us vs. Them

It’s discouraging to see what should be in-house conversations (disagreements between sincere, intelligent, self-identified “Bible-believing” Christians) being framed within an “us vs. them” mentality. 

Christians don’t see eye-to-eye on many things, and sadly much of our contention is utterly toxic. (I’ve certainly participated in more than my fair share of debates and have given and received not-so-friendly-fire.)  

Consider how we often go at each other: 

“You would affirm Young Earth Creationism if only you trusted God.” Or, “You would know the earth is old if only you weren’t so stupid.”  

“You don’t speak in tongues because you’re too busy worshiping your Bible.” Or, “Have you always enjoyed the gift of gibberish and its interpretation?” 

“If you don’t believe in free-will then your God is the devil.” Or, “5 Point Calvinism is the Gospel. You can believe it or go to hell.” 

“You’re not a Dispensationalist? Have you always been anti-Semitic?” Or, “You reject Postmillennialism. So tell us again why God’s a failure.” 

“Don’t hate your children. Baptize them.” Or, “Baptism is for believers. It’s called ‘sola scriptura.’” 

And on and on 

Naturally, most of us don’t say such things in so many words; but the divisions are obvious, shall we say, “for all the world” to see.  

What to do?  

Should we abandon our distinctives, pretend they don’t exist? Certainly not. But we should, nevertheless, try to keep our distinctives in perspective. 

The point, rather, is in right humility to put those distinctives into proper theological and pastoral perspective, to not make any of them more theologically significant than they are, and to do everything possible to prevent them from serving as unnecessary obstacles to peace and unity. (Christian Smith, “The Bible Made Impossible,” p. 138) 

Brothers and sisters, when Bible-believing Christians disagree, it’s not “us vs. them.” It’s really not. 

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me (John 17:20-21).

6 comments:

  1. Just yesterday, I was in a friendly debate with a Catholic friend of mine. Another friend entered the conversation and pointed out that in New York that 95% of the people are unchurched unbelievers. She said there are even people there that didn't know about Christianity, which I found hard to believe, but either way her concern was that Christians need to focus on the great task of the gospel and being fishers of men instead of arguing about the stupid little things. She had just gotten back from a missions trip to NY and couldn't believe things she saw and heard. She said here in Texas in the "Bible Belt" that we are in a bubble and there are not even churches in places there. Boy did that conversation open my eyes to some ignorance I have had. I do wish we would work together more towards our common goals instead of arguing about the little things. We waste so much time and energy and close ourselves off from understanding and wisdom as well. I have friends that won't attend Intelligent Design conferences with me because the speakers believe in old world creation and they won't even listen to them. It is very sad. "Doctrinal rightness and rightness of ecclesiastical position are important, but only as a starting point to go on into a living relationship - and not as ends in themselves. Francis Schaeffer

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    1. Indeed.

      I've had some "eye opening" experiences lately too. (Is anything more uncomfortable, yet liberating, than "eye openers"?)

      ...love Francis Schaeffer, by the way.

      Thanks for reading and thinking.

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  2. What is a "Bible believing Christian"? The issues mentioned are not all gospel issues. It helps to define essential truths and then defend them.

    Admittedly, many are straining at theological gnats and swallowing camels, but we do need to defend essential Christian sine qua non dogma.

    Steve, your platitudes want some definition. Again, from 26 years ago:

    There are more than two thousand organizations in the United States alone in 1988 that profess to be Christian. Yet these organizations, let alone the particular individuals who compose them, differ dramatically.

    Historically, for example, both the Roman Catholic Church and the Puritans claimed to be Christians. Yet will anyone deny that Roman Catholicism—with its veneration of saints; its adoration of Mary; its use of images, beads, and statues; its clerical hierarchy; and its elaborate ritual and ostentatious costumes—is a different religion from iconoclastic Puritanism? Which one, then, is Christian?

    Today the contrast is equally dramatic, if not so obvious as in the seventeenth century. There are small groups of people who still believe the religion of the Protestant Reformers and the Puritans. They believe that the Bible alone is the Word of God and that it is therefore without error; that Jesus Christ was an actual figure of human history, like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln; that he was God incarnate, born of the Virgin Mary; that he was crucified for the sins of his people, he rose again the third day and later ascended into Heaven, from where he will return to judge the living and the dead. They believe that Christ died to save only his people, and that he, being all-powerful, actually saved them from both sin and Hell. They believe that sinful men obtain right standing with God only on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ, not by any thing they have done or can do, and not by anything God has done in their lives, nor by any experiences they may have had, but simply by the work Christ did on Earth two thousand years ago.

    In contrast to these few heirs of the Protestant Reformation, there is not only the 800 million member Roman Catholic Church, there are also large Protestant churches that have repudiated the Reformation with its resounding affirmations of "The Bible alone" as the source of truth, "faith alone" as the means of justification before God, "grace alone," not human merit, as the reason for man’s salvation, and "Christ alone" as the provider of that salvation. There are also groups such as the Mormon church, which claims to be Christian; the Unification church, which claims to be Christian, the Christian Scientists, and so on indefinitely. In the twentieth century there are thousands of different groups that claim to be Christian. What then, in all this confusion, is Christianity?
    ~ John Robbins.

    From http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=95

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    1. You ask, "What is a 'Bible believing Christian?"

      Well...I think it's a Christian who believes the Bible. I suppose one could define this more narrowly, but in my experience, those who want to narrowly define "Bible-believing" actually define it as "those who understand and/or interpret the scripture almost exactly like me."

      Such myopia won't do (in my estimation).

      You write: "It helps to define essential truths and then defend them."

      True. I'm fairly certain, however, that you and I do not see eye-to-eye on what constitutes "essential truths." As CS Lewis observed, "One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements." :)

      I think we need to carefully distinguish between dogma, doctrine, and opinion. (Too often we elevate doctrine--and even opinion--to the status of dogma.)

      We're not going to agree on these things, Hugh. And to my mind that's okay.

      Thanks for reading and thinking.

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  3. Hi Steve, this the first article that I am following on your blog. I can relate to it and agree wholeheartedly that we as Christians on the whole have stressed so much on petty differences that we simply can't draw the line between tolerance and calling each other "Raca!"


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    1. This does seem to be problematic...

      Thank you for reading and thinking, John.

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