Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Talk to the Hand

How should Christians discuss their differences? There is a thought, not unpopular, not without long historical precedent, that debate is the way. Usually, the thought is that someone is right and someone is wrong, and that it matters. I cannot disagree more. Not only may both be wrong, but even if one party is more right than the other, does it thereby necessarily matter? Is the argument over something that would undermine someones essential nature as a person born of the Spirit?

I think Calvinism is fundamentally a scripturally untenable system of doctrine. To my understanding, it assaults the character of God, says of him what he clearly does not say of himself, makes nonsensical most of the commands and entreaties in scripture, and misses entirely the ultimate aim of God in creating man. That may sound like a big deal, but I know a few Calvinists personally. They love the word as much as I, love the brothers as much as I, serve Christ as fully as do I, and I'm discovering, particularly in the blogosphere, love the Spirit as much as I. I am not likely to ever accept their approach to the "doctrines of grace," but I will gladly accept them. I may discuss our differences with them, but I am not looking to brand them as heretics or nonbelievers. If there is a quality in a purported Christian that would cause me to perceive him or her in that light, it would be having a divisive spirit that will not lay itself down for the brethren. Someone who shows other believers no grace is in no position to lecture anyone else on grace.

Debates are how heathens deal with opposing viewpoints. Christians operating in the realm of heathen concerns may need to debate with those heathens or even with other Christians also working in those realms, but Christians should not deal with matters of faith and conduct the same way. Debates are rarely, if ever, about helping either side see the others viewpoint better, or even helping someone see something clearer. Debates are about ego, winning and losing, and then suppressing if possible. How is such a format remotely acceptable to the Christian community? Our discussions should be respectful, aimed at edification not destruction, and if there is any prejudice, let it be on the side of deference and esteem.

I have to admit a prejudice of my own: when I come across argumentative, insulting, smug Christians looking for fights rather than trying to help a brother, everything they say sounds like nothing but a clanging cymbal. If one cannot understand the primacy of love for the brothers in the Christian community, and so practice reigning in his tongue, that person is at best an immature novice, and at worst a wolf in sheep's clothing. He understands nothing! I could care less how many degrees he has, I could care less how many books he's written, or how many fans line up to see him. His words are empty and my suspicion is that so is his confession of Christ. If you want to talk to me, talk to me, but leave your attitude at the door, or talk to the hand!

9 comments:

  1. I looked you up in the year book ... page 61 at the top. Yep ... You were a heathen, but an honors student nonetheless. Wow, you're a pastor. God is good.

    Ross

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  2. Ross,
    It puts a big smile on my face to have you stop in and say hello. God is good, all the time (even back then before I knew him)!

    Blessings to you.

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  3. Great post! Thanks :-)

    We should always be looking to win one another to Christ and to each other (maintaining the unity of His Body) and never trying to win an argument or verbally dispense our kind of justice. In this context, discussion, even provocative discussion, is always healthy and good. But the kind of debate whose goal is to tear the other party down, or to assert or impose an opinion, has no place in us.

    If I may suggest the root of the problem? If somebody is not secure in their Heavenly Father's love for them then they will express that in trying to assert their own doctrine / opinion on others. They are looking for acceptance of their belief system instead of the acceptance of the one in whom they believe.

    There's a Proverb (or Ecclesiastes?) somewhere that says what kind of reaction dispels that kind of anger, but I really can't remember where it is let alone quote it!

    Thanks again for a much needed word out into the blogosphere.

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  4. Good post.

    Those who teach or preach find themselves in a wonderful conundrum. They are charged to preach the Gospel accurately while they are still walking out their salvation in fear and trembling (N.T. Wright's analogy to Pleasantville is hard to beat). Therefore, while we may hold up a preacher's exegesis to the light of scripture and say, "Nope, he's missed it here," it is done with the idea of distilling the truth of the Word and not disparaging the messenger.

    Politicians have debates because they want to be in the spotlight (goes with the job). In American law, trials are deemed a "search for the truth" (I'm a trial lawyer). The very best trial lawyers focus all of the attention on the evidence, not on themselves. Our discussions should have the same goal. As put by A.B. Simpson, "The job of the gospel preacher is to let the lion of the gospel out of the cage and get out of the way" (paraphrase).

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  5. Mark,
    Thanks for the thoughts. I have always felt that you and I are able to discuss in that light, and it's been such a blessing to me.

    I think you refer to Prov 15:1. I know it well, because it's so difficult for me to practice! :-)

    You may be right about the root problem. Those who know the grace of God personally, only want others to experience it too, rather than twisting other's arms in order to get them to say, "uncle" in dogma.

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  6. Peter,
    Thank you for your thoughts as well. I find that so much of the difficulty that's associated with gospel ministry arises because we let our egos get involved. Would that John's example were easier to emulate, "he must increase, but I must decrease."

    I'm with Mark, that is a great quote!

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  7. I believe one key is the word discuss, which sort of implies an educated congenial exchange of ideas. It is a lost art.
    Another key is there needs to be an understanding that in the word the truth in the same words can be different for each person depending on their maturity and walk.
    I have a wonderful friend, we have practice taking any given subject, and taking the side we are not in agreement with and making argument in favor of it. I highly recommend this practice.

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  8. Larry,
    Sounds like a cool thing for friends to do. It would be nice if all of us in it, could consider each other friends in the Kingdom of God. Jesus looked at his disciples (us) that way. Then we wouldn't feel so free to trample over each other on our way to winning.

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  9. Just an aside on one-sided's comment - The Gospel represents the revelation of objective spiritual realities. Early on in my Christianity, an older brother in the Lord and I would go to Denny's and just talk to each other about the Word - different facets of the same truths. Our talks were not debates, but rather two souls opening up to the Lord, the Word, and revelation of the Word. Very often we'd find ourselves drunk in the Spirit, right out of Acts 2. We'd have to sit for a 1/2 hour to an hour just to let it wear off so we could drive home. There is a truth of getting "in the Spirit" and fellowship that is missed by the one-upmanship of debate. I'd trade 1000 debates for just one of those Denny's meetings.

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Any comment in ill taste or not germane to the post may be deleted without warning. I am under no obligation to give anyone an opportunity to call me names or impugn my motives or integrity. If you can't play nice, go somewhere else and play.