Have you ever heard statements like these?
"Christians need to get along. All this fighting amongst ourselves is doing great damage to the cause of Christ."
"If we spent more time sharing Jesus' love instead of fighting, we'd be better off."
"It's all the arguing that Christians do that turn people away from Christ."
"God wants us to love and accept each other, not fight."
"We should focus on what we have in common, not the differences."
"If we spent as much time sharing the gospel as we do fighting amongst ourselves, we'd see more people saved."
"What's really important is caring for people, and showing love and compassion. That is what Christ has really called us to do."
Anyone who knows me knows that I have some pretty strong opinions. Sometimes I'm not afraid to share those opinions. I've argued for what I believe is right. I've debated, and I've even fought. I've taken some stands, and I refuse to be moved. In fact, I even like debating and arguing. However, when I hear and read statements like those above, I think maybe all this debating really isn't worth it. Maybe those who say these things have a point. Love, compassion, and sharing the gospel are good things. Arguing is seen as a wicked thing. Maybe I should just be quiet about my beliefs, let it go, and get along for the sake of the gospel.
I've been involved in/following a couple of online discussions this week. One related to alcohol, and another to Bible versions. I find it interesting how in these types of debates (online or in person), statements like those above always seem to come up. I've also noticed that they usually come up as a last resort. People on both sides of the issue argue for a while, and then invariably someone says, "We should just put aside our differences and love as Jesus loves." Should we? I mean really, should we forget about the differences? Should we all just try to get along? Does the "gospel" trump other issues?
So, here are the questions I've been grappling with this week. What's worth fighting for? Do we need to take a stand on certain issues and not back down? Can we let some things go for the sake of the "greater good"? What doctrines do we compromise or not compromise on? The virgin birth? The blood atonement? Pre-millenialism? Calvinism? Lordship Salvation? Eternal security? Which ones are important and which ones aren't, and who decides? What does the Bible say?
HOLD ON a second.....!!!! Did I just ask, "What does the Bible say?" You mean the Bible actually has something to say about this? Yup. LOTS.
First, there's a right way and a wrong way to discuss so-called controversial issues. The Bible says we are to be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves (Matt 10:16). We are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We are to be blameless, harmless, and without rebuke (Phil. 2:15). We are not to cause strife (Phil. 2:3). Ephesians 4:31-32 give an excellent list of things we are not to do, followed by an admonition to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. All these things are commands for the Christian. They are not options or suggestions. This is how we are to live.
Since I'm a debater, I've been involved in arguments where, sad to say, I've not exhibited much Christlikeness. My temper, emotions, and passions have gotten the best of me. I've said unkind things, and even though they may have been right, the spirit in which they were said was wrong. However, many have taken these verses and misapplied them to validate their excuses for not taking a stand at all. God is not encouraging us to back down from what we believe in these passages. Which brings me to my next point.
Secondly, the Bible commands us to take a stand. As seen from the previous verses causing strife and contentions are wrong, but there are definitely some things we need to take a stand on. Jude 3 says we are to earnestly contend for the faith. Contend has to do with a struggle against an obstacle or danger. It's involves some strength and persistence. We aren't just to contend either. We are to contend earnestly, with passion and fervour. Hebrews 10:23 says, we are to hold fast to our profession without wavering. We are to be firmly rooted on what we believe. We shouldn't be saying one thing one day, and then something different the next. That's why it's so important that we study the Bible, go to a good church that teaches and preaches the Scripture, and be constantly learning what God wants for us. We are to hold fast to sound words (II Tim 1:3). We are to put on the whole armour of God (Eph. 6:11-18). Now why would God command us to put on armour if we weren't to fight? Wearing armour when there's no battle would be foolish, and God doesn't tell us to do foolish things. Indeed, we are in a battle spiritually. Of course, we face opposition from the world, but we can face opposition from other Christians too. Peter warns about false teachers being in the church (II Peter 2:1). I Corinthians 16:13 sums up what we are to do well. Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
God views compromise as sin. Compromise is giving in. It's reaching an agreement based on the fact that one or both sides needs to give something up. Many Christians will give up beliefs and doctrines, or give up contending for those beliefs in order to have a wider circle of fellowship. This is found no where in the Bible. In fact, God declares that ALL He has given us in the Scripture is profitable and valuable (II Tim. 3:16). If you looked up the verses I mentioned before, you'll notice that none of them say to stand fast on the fundamentals, or hold onto just the important doctrines, or contend just for the gospel. No, we are to hold on to, stand fast, and contend for THE FAITH. That includes everything. We can't pick and choose what parts of the Scripture are "the faith" and which parts aren't. The whole thing is "the faith." If certain truths or parts of the Bible didn't matter, then why did God give them to us?
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. (Eph. 4:13-14). This verse blows the whole idea that we need to let go of "divisive issues" for the sake of the gospel, and just focus on the love of Christ, blah, blah, blah... out of the water. Our unity is centred on "THE FAITH." If God wanted us to be united on simply the "five fundamentals" this verse would read something like this... "Till we all come in the unity of the five fundamentals, and the knowledge of the Son of God." The rest wouldn't even apply because technically the 5 fundamentals are all that matter. The "every wind of doctrine" in verse 14 wouldn't matter, since those "other doctrines" are unessential.
I really think the Bible is clear. We are to be constantly striving to be more like Christ. There's more to being a Christian than just believing in the "five fundamentals." The Scriptures are deep. They are full of meaning. They are meant to be studied. Being a Christian is not just getting saved, and then that's it. It's growth. It's a journey. Part of that journey is taking a stand on the truths we learn from God's Word. Sometimes it's hard to take a stand. Sometimes it means giving up things that we want. Sometimes it means being unpopular, or even loosing friends. Jesus gave up everything to go to the cross for us. I think He's worth us earnestly contending for our faith!