30 September 2015

Are You Arguing Over Principles or Methods? - Part 3

We resume where we left off in part two. Actually, I will repeat the closing paragraph from part two to get us started.

The Bible commands us to strive for likemindedness and unity, and this comes about by loving one another while seeking to approach each other in humility to discuss things of a doctrinal matter. It means avoiding being obnoxious, cantankerous, or losing perspective when it comes to these discussions.

We are told in 1 John 1:7 that “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” – so if we are both walking in the same light – regardless of if in a Ford or a Chevy - we should both be moving closer towards God and our unity with each other should be growing more and more.

If along the way, I see my brother falling into bad things, like mistreating his wife or family, or failing in some form of a basic duty, then it is my duty in love to walk along beside him and call him out on those things – “look brother, I need to talk to you about this.” That is showing love and that is our brotherly duty – it is being accountable to one another, and should be acceptable behavior that should be accepted by each of us. We do not avoid doing this just to keep the peace. We must keep the peace based on God’s terms, keeping it based on his ways and not based on our own ways.

Now, doubtful things are not to be defined by some supposed ambiguity in the Scripture. Many doubtful things do have a clear resolution in Scripture, if both parties are willing to lovingly set down together and study to work them out. Courtesy and love are not relativism.

A lot of the divisions come from the way in which we handle the situation too. There may be a fairly clear cut answer in Scripture but we muck it up with a mishandling of the person. For instance, let’s look at a section in Romans 14.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. (Romans 14:1-2)
Now here is a dispute that was going on in Rome at the time, and Paul addresses it. But, if someone else comes along, grabs this letter and runs to his friend and says, “See, Paul says since you eat vegetables, you are the weaker brother. You’re the weak one pal – see, I’m right, you’re wrong.” We often use the Scripture to prove something that in fact can be proven, while ignoring what the Scripture says about handling it. We can prove who the weaker brother is, but the verse tells us specifically not to do that with the verse.

So, while we know there is a right and wrong side of an issue, and we can prove which side is right and which side is wrong from the Scriptures, it doesn’t mean that we necessarily ought to. Just because you can win the argument, doesn’t mean you can win the person. I have met plenty of people – and have probably been one of them at different times myself – who can win an argument while losing the person.

Let me side-step down a quick rabbit trail. It seems to be typical human nature for many people, that when we learn something new that changes out understanding of some doctrine, we get excited, and often times get absorbed into that doctrine, and begin to become obsessed with it. It becomes our focus, and therefore we feel it should be everyone else’s focus. So we begin beating everyone else up over it, forcing it upon them in a less that charitable manner.

We try to force other people to our view. And we tend to look down upon others who do not agree with us. I know I have been guilty of this myself. Years ago, I was slapped across the face with it when a great friend of mine told a mutual friend, who later told me, that my friend would not talk with me on doctrinal issues any longer, because I always talked down at him like a know-it-all.

The issue is, even if we are right, and we have solid Scriptural evidence on our side – it is not always in what we know, but how we use it with others.  The study of apologetics and being able to aptly defend the faith is an important trait – as long as it is tempered with wisdom. You can be a one-man demolition squad for truth, and win arguments, while at the same time offending everyone within a 50 mile radius, causing them to have nothing to do with you, the gospel or the Christian faith.
Winning the argument and winning the people are very different things. Paul warns about it in Colossians:
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom… (Col. 3:12-16 NJKV)
You may win arguments, but without tender mercies, kindness, humility, patience and wisdom, you give evidence that you do not truly posses the full understanding of what the Scriptures are telling you. In the early chapters of the book of Romans, Paul was telling them how to handle the situation in love for the sake of the gospel message – and we can glean wisdom in that, when we consider our own situation:
Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. (Rom. 14:3 ESV)
This applies in or out of the church in discussions. This should be something that church leaders keep a handle on within their congregations too. As controversies arise in a church, the parties on both sides of a discussion need to be managed under this idea. Both sides have to bear with each other peaceably in patience and love, until an end is reached. Otherwise, it will turn into a situation that breaks the peace and unity of the body.

One important thing everyone needs to realize - it is possible that your view is wrong. After all, someone in the discussion has to be wrong. But if both sides refuse to acknowledge there may be more to the story than what they currently understand, then unity and truth is near impossible to achieve. That is why it is more important to have loving and peaceful discussions, rather than just attacking others.

For people who are ideologues, they tend to be talking and arguing all the time. They have to stay busy and keep the sound going, because if they pause, the silence may cause them to reflect and see that what they are doing is not very good.

What is needed is a wiliness to stop and say, “You know brother, you answer to God, and I pray for you and support you. I don’t think that’s a great Christian school you just enrolled your kids in, I don’t think they promote a good world-view, and they have areas of compromise, so I don’t think that is wise. But I pray for you and your family, and I believe you are honoring God in seeking to honor God.”

When you make a decision, and take that kind of approach - and you know when to apply the breaks to your mouth, it can be the first step in wisdom and a step away from being meddlesome.

We'll pick up here in part four...