28 September 2015

Are You Arguing Over Principles or Methods? - Part 1

About ten years ago, I heard a lecture by a pastor that really stuck with me. It is from that lecture that I have gleaned pieces and even stole whole chunks of to use for this article. We are going to be looking at principles and methods, and how we should stop to distinguish which is in our focus when we are approaching a brother or sister in Christ to exhort or admonish them. 

Many people seem to not understand the difference, and so our churches across the land today contain many individuals who are quarrelsome and divisive, and do so under the guise of being zealous for God. They are quick to force their own understanding of an issue upon the conscience of another. 

Many people, when they get new light shed on some doctrine, are quick to want to go out and try to shine that light and shove that understanding upon others, and often time in less than a true loving manner.The internet has become a battle ground of doctrinal fights, where words are thrown out with little to no love of consideration for others. It becomes very impersonal as we just use key strokes to lob words at others with condescending attitudes and often including false assumptions.

When it comes to discussing things with others, what is needed for a greater majority of people, is a major boost in love and wisdom. Wisdom learns to see the issue - to see what the actual foundational point is - over against what is extraneous, or only seemingly connected. Folly, on the other hand, will latch onto what is extraneous, and forgets the actual heart of the issue.

I’d like to offer a neat little illustration at this point. Picture if you would, a four-lane highway, with two lanes going one way and the other two going the opposite way. Now, let us think of this highway as life. We have two lanes going to heaven, and two lanes going to hell.

Now, on this highway are four cars - let’s say two Chevys and two Fords. On the one side of the highway we have one Chevy and one Ford, driving neck and neck heading towards heaven. All the while they are making faces, beeping and yelling at each other – criticizing each other over their driving styles and choice of car.

Now, in the midst of this, the other two cars pass by going the other way towards hell, and the two drivers of the Fords, on the opposite roads going opposite directions, make eye contact and wave, yelling - “Hey brother – solidarity! – You’re driving a Ford to hell, I am driving one to heaven - we have a lot in common. This bozo in the Chevy next to me, I can’t believe he thinks what he thinks.”

That is how folly operates – it cannot keep a sense of perspective. We in the church are to seek to strive and maintain unity, but that comes with wisdom that many are lacking:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call. (Eph 4:1-4 ESV)

The Spirit has given the body of believers this unity. It does not come from us - we do not cause it, we do not generate it, but we are told to maintain it. We should be eager to maintain unity, seeking to avoid any of the sins that will cause it to be disrupted. We should approach others with all humility and gentleness. This is pretty much the opposite of many of the “discussions” we often see dividing the body. 

It takes much wisdom and patience in order to avoid the types of sins that lead to disrupting this unity. It also takes much thought, study, and work. One particularly important area that needs much work is in the area of principles verses methods. When we really get down to the nuts and bolts on many divisive issues, we should be able to see how many things come down to a difference over methods more than a difference in principles. 

There are many principles – things we should do in our lives as we follow the teachings of the Scriptures. Those principles can be carried out by many various methods. Two people going to the same church may have two totally different methods for obeying and following through with the underlying principle. 

As one body in Christ, we need to be understanding of this, and treat others with the respect and honor they deserve. Once we truly grasp the difference between principles and methods, we should be able to greatly sympathize with those who have different methods than we do – knowing that they too, have had to put up with foolishness from people on our side of the divide, just like we have put up with it from their side. Just because they drive a Chevy and we drive a Ford, it does not make us at odds. 

Now, an ideologue is someone who is basically a blind follower of something, someone or some agenda. An ideologue cannot understand this distinction between methods and principles – it is lost on them. While this is the case, oftentimes an ideologue will grab onto a perfectly acceptable method – though they often miss the point of what they are doing and why.

Many of us may tend to be more of an ideologue than we know, and that is what we must flush out into the light in order to deal with it. Let me give a quick example of what I mean. Let’s look at the issue of education. The church my family formerly attended runs a Christian Classical school, and many families in the congregation sent their children to that school. Also within the congregation, there were quite a large amount of parents like my wife and I, who home school our children. And there were also those families that had their children in other schools, whether Christian schools or public schools. Those are many different methods that all pertain to the one principle - that parents are in charge of their children’s education.

Someone with a grasp on the difference between methods and principles will have to admit that in almost anything, there are good and bad methods. For instance, there are great Christian schools, and there are absolutely horrible ones too. Likewise, there are great home schools, and there are horrible ones. 

A dedicated ideologue homeschooler though, would cringe, argue and deny that there is ever such a thing as a bad home school, just like a Christian school ideologue would likewise defend their position as always the better option. Any such negative language against their view is looked at as an attack on them and anyone who participates in that option. Their method is right, and there is no weakness in it.

If we say there are bad marriages – that is not an attack on marriage in general. If we say there is such a thing as bad cooking – is that an attack on food in general? These are only true if you are an ideologue. Only if you believe that all Fords, without distinction, and regardless of the direction they are going, towards heaven or hell, are good. THAT is folly.

Ideologues cannot make these distinctions, and they stick to their positions and defend them without always showing love or consideration towards others. Our pastor had preached for some time an expository series out of the book of Romans, and we noticed how over and over again that brotherly love is a central attribute to those claiming to be within the body of Christ.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Rom. 12:3-5 ESV)

If we are truly loving our brother who has a different method than us, we will not think of ourselves as being more right than them, and therefore not look down on their method. Continuing on in verses 9-10, he says:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Rom. 12:9-10 ESV)

Now, here we open a door that some will be quick to run to. It says to “abhor what is evil.” Many Christians defend their view against others, because they believe theirs is a holding fast to what is good, while the other is somewhat evil to be abhorred. In most cases, this is how an ideologue will think. 

Next time you start to bicker with a brother or sister in Christ, stop and think – am I fighting against some clear and open evil or sin, some clear violation of Scriptural principle - or am I dealing simply with a method?

We will pick up this discussion in part two...HERE.