You have the right to be wrong! I heard a pastor utter this quip soon after I was saved. I stole the phrase and use it as my own often. Sadly, early in my ministry this became my prevalent attitude. No one was allowed to disagree with me. I had the corner on the theological market. If someone disagreed with me, even on the slightest point, we could no longer be friends. The tiniest rift caused major friction. If we clashed on one point, we clashed on every point. My opinions, convictions and interpretations were right. No one was allowed to question them.
By the grace of God, I have been set free! He even used His grand sense of humor to release me from the bondage. The Lord saw fit that some of my closest friends would be Methodist, Pentecostals, Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists. I have even found myself lately being friendly with Lutherans. What is this world coming to!
We need to have a conversation about the difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable. On which doctrines are we allowed to disagree? On which doctrines must we dig our heels in the dirt and fight till the death? A vast amount of blood haS been shed throughout history over cardinal doctrines that absolutely matter and theological convictions on which we can agree to disagree. So how are we to know the difference?
This old phrase is a wise guide: “In essential things, unity; in non-essential things, liberty; and in all things, charity.” Biblical scholars often use the following scale to distinguish “the weightier matters of the law” (Matt. 23:23) from the matters of secondary importance.
• Of utmost importance: These are some (not all) of the matters for which there is no room for negotiation: (1) the gospel (justification by faith alone); (2) the Scripture as the inerrant and infallible Word of God; and, (3) God as Trinity.
These are major matters of doctrine all orthodox Christians agree upon. To venture away from these foundational truths revealed in the Scripture is to align with heresy. I will give my life defending these core convictions of the faith. To put it in the vernacular: “Them’s fightin’ words!”
• Of medium importance: The extravagant gifts (speaking in tongues, prophecy, etc.), predestination and election, the mode of baptism, and women’s role in the church are all important. However, we don’t all have to agree on them. It is OK to hold different views on these topics and still love each other. Christians fall on both sides of these issues.
• Of mild importance: What will happen during the end times? Did God create the earth in seven literal days or were those days figurative, meaning millions of years? Fighting over things in this category is trivial. Sure, study the Bible to form your beliefs. However, remember neither of these topics are areas in which the Scripture spends a great amount of time (and both areas contain a great deal of mystery to which the Bible doesn’t speak at all).
I pray my generation will lead the way in unity, not compromise. For far too long the unchurched has characterized us for what we stand against, not what we stand for. I am ready for that to change. Are you?
May God’s people learn to love each other and bring glory to Him no matter our disagreements or theological persuasion.
Andy Waits is associate pastor of worship and students at First Baptist Church in Springville.