Points of Contention
What are the essentials of the Christian faith? I think if you’ve read any of my other documents, you already know that salvation is by faith. This means, specifically, that you must (1) believe in the right Person and (2) accept his substitutionary death and resurrection. This acceptance must be more than mere mental assent, but a deeply held conviction. Anyone who is deeply convicted that Jesus is God who physically died for all sins, then rose again in a new physical body, is saved (will spend eternity in heaven).
That’s it. You can disagree on every other theological point and still be a Christian if you meet those conditions. Yet Christians have this little problem: they condemn each other to hell over things like Eternal Security, Dispensationalism, Calvinism, old/young earth creation, women’s roles in the church, Bible versions, and a gazillion other things. You know how I despise Calvinism, for example, but some of my best Christian friends are Calvinists. We know that this is a “disputable matter” so we simply don’t discuss it. But I would find great difficulty in fellowshipping in a Calvinist group on a regular basis.
But beyond that, when it comes to the people we fellowship with, we can’t always get along when our personal convictions clash. The question is, which does God value more, fellowship or peace?
I think that when believers have honest differences on disputable matters, to the point where they just grate on each other, there is Biblical precedent for parting company. This does not mean we can never find fellowship with others, because we can and do hold differences that don’t get in the way of fellowship. But there are times when we have to face reality and part ways. Paul and Barnabas are a prime example in the Bible. In Acts 15:37-40 we see that they disagreed on something to the point where they had to go separate ways.
This same Paul later wrote of the need for peace among believers, so I think it’s safe to say that if you have a major, irritating difference with a group of believers over a disputable matter, find another group. It is better to part company than to dread meeting together with people who make you gnaw your tongue in silence.
But I think there’s also another reason we can’t get along. God wants us to permeate the culture, to “go into all the world”. In the early church he brought persecution for that purpose, and this can be used on a personal level as well. Our inability to get along with all groups of people should not be seen as always a matter of immaturity or backsliding or bad theology, but as our humanness, our free will, and our imperfect understanding.
The important thing is to make sure we hold the Bible as the final authority, and that we endeavor to study it and consider the teachings of those who know it well. If we still can’t fellowship with one group, then there is certainly another. Don’t let people tell you that if you leave their group that you will come under God’s judgment, or you have a serious spiritual flaw, or you are conceited, etc. Only God can tell you that, but make sure you know his voice.
Personally, I can get along with anyone as long as they don’t insist that I see things their way. But if they try to force me to do so, or base fellowship on whether I conform to their personal convictions on disputable matters, then I must find another group with which to fellowship.
For example, if a group believes women must wear head coverings and remain completely silent (how do they reconcile that with Paul’s command for women to prophesy, if women can’t say a word’), and will not tolerate it if a woman does not have this conviction, that group is not one I can fellowship with. For if one person is supposed to “keep these things between themselves and God”, then all are. Those who believe women must remain silent and cover their heads should do so, while those that do not shouldn’t be forced to. However, if there is only one woman who disagrees with the group (no matter which side they’re on), then the one causing tension should leave.
By no means are these things simple and clear, or they wouldn’t be called controversies. But if you are one who points your finger at another believer and chastises them for not sharing your personal view on a disputable matter, it is you who needs to go to God in prayer and ask him to examine your heart. Too many Christians have a perfect view of others’ faults yet are completely blind to their own. They say “I’ll pray that God opens your eyes”, but what they should do is pray that God opens their own eyes. If your view is the correct one then no harm is done; if it is not, then God will speak to you-- if you are open to his voice.
I want nothing more (or less) than to know the Truth, to “rightly divide” the scriptures. I always pray for God’s direction and illumination. If all believers did this, instead of getting torqued at what other people believe, there’d be a lot less tension in the Body of Christ.