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Disagreement is not Disunity

Posted by on Apr 19, 2011 in community, discipleship, unity | 51 comments

Disagreement is not Disunity

This post is the first of a two-part series on the relationship between agreement and unity, disagreement and disunity. In this post, I want to point out that disagreement is not disunity, and thus (in the positive sense) unity does not require uniformity.

Let’s start with a statement that, hopefully, everyone reading this will agree with: disunity is a major problem among the church. The church is splintered in its expression in spite of being one in Christ. This is a huge problem. However, forcing (or requiring) people to agree with one another about everything does not lead to unity. In the same way, disunity is not caused directly because people disagree with one another.

There are several passages of Scripture that demonstrate that unity can result in spite of disagreement. For this post, I will focus on only one passage: Romans 14-15.

In the very first verse of Romans 14, Paul urges his readers not to quarrel over opinions. (Romans 14:1) From this verse we know right away that there were differing opinions and, therefore, disagreements. In the following verses, Paul illustrates unity in spite of disagreement with two points of theology: 1) eating certain foods and 2) considering one day as more important than others. Each of these are theological issues because the people involved consider the food or the day as important to their relationship with or worship of God.

However, Paul exhorts his readers to remain united in spite of these differences. How should they do this: 1) by each person being convinced in their own conscience, 2) by not passing judgment on others because of the disagreements, 3) by never causing a brother or sister to stumble against their own conscience, and 4) by seeking to please others and not yourself. (Note that this last one is also written in the context of dealing with disagreements.)

Thus, besides each person being convinced of their own opinions, all of the other exhortations focus on the other person, not on the self. As long as we are focused on ourselves, we will seek to lead others into agreement with us. But, agreement with us should never be our goal. Instead, we seek to help each other in our relationships with God. (Of course, if we are not focused on others, then we will assume that WE are correct, that the OTHERS are wrong, and that the only way that they can grow in their relationship with God is for them to change to our way of thinking, understanding, and living. This is NOT what Paul is saying.)

Finally – and most importantly – we all must continually make sure that our focus is on God. As Paul says, God is the source of both endurance and encouragement (Romans 15:5) – both of which we will need to live in unity with those with whom we disagree. But, notice that it is this endurance and encouragement from God that leads to living in harmony with one another and in harmony with Jesus Christ. Harmony (unity) with one another and with Jesus Christ does not come through agreement, but through reliance on God and the endurance and encouragement that he provides.

When we live together in this way – relying only on God, not on our ability to agree with one another – we will find that our lives are lived in unity much like the different voices of a choir (or the different instruments of an orchestra) join together to form beautiful music. Then we will glorify God as with one voice. (Romans 15:6)


51 Comments

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  1. 4-19-2011

    this is very convicting for me. My disagreements lately have revolved around church model and practice. Of course I think my way promotes more unity but in my public disagreements what I have done is judged others and brought disunity. I timely and needed post for me. Thanks Alan.

  2. 4-19-2011

    I really like what you are pulling out of this.

    If I understand your point, and its implications, then we should be more concerned that other saints obey what they understand without being discouraged and attacked, than that they change what they understand to “my” or “our” understanding (well, and of course we both consider our understandings to be more perfect and correct, or we would change them–unless ego and pride gets in the way!).

    So, our focus is on helping and encouraging others to maintain their relationship to Christ as they follow their present understanding (rather than wounding their consciences in doing things my/our way). Which obedience and yieldedness I also must be doing/demonstrating/modeling.

    In this way, I am not competing for correctness, but collaborating mutually in our obedience and yieldedness to God. In that context, they are freer to reconsider their understandings (and I, mine). And, probably, they are more attuned as a result to listen to what God is saying to them in these areas (an attunement that we certainly should be encouraging in each other, but so often in our ill-considered zeal we want to be the mediator between others and God). We are then both more able to discuss what we understand differently, because we are only (primarily?) held accountable to each other for our faithfulness, rather than our correctness per se.

    I have to admit, a part of me is thinking how futile and counter-productive it was to argue the benefits or shortfalls of boys my daughter liked (which only entrenched and enflamed our differences of opinion–even if my assessment was wiser and more correct). It was WAY more effective to encourage her to be wise and discerning on her own than to try to convince her of my position.

    (Of course, I’m assuming we would all agree there are some non-flexible things like the Gospel…and the pulpit thing for goodness sakes :) ). But in almost all other areas, it might be good to allow each other time to grow and “morph” our understandings over time as we journey and grow with Him and each other.

    Do you see this somewhat akin to Paul commending “fragile babes” to God (being so recently converted and briefly taught) as he moved on in His traveling, knowing that God is able to guide and keep His own if we let Him and don’t end up fighting against Him?

    Do you also see this as leading us towards Paul’s exhortations in II Tim 2:23-25?

    2 Timothy 2:23-25 (King James Version)

    “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;”

  3. 4-19-2011

    Oh, the more I think of this (PLEASE don’t tell me I’m way off base…), the more I like this. I can imagine so many other areas, where we could disagree and yet support each other. Then, we would not inevitably find ourselves in coercive and competitive relationships that end up in divisions, often with wounds and bitterness.

  4. 4-19-2011

    Bobby,

    Exactly. I have to catch myself. The thing is, other people think their interpretation/way of life is best and promotes unity as well.

    Art,

    Your comments are usually better than most posts. This is no exception! The only thing I would add is our focus should be on helping each other grow in our relationships with Christ, not just maintain them.

    -Alan

  5. 4-19-2011

    I always heard it’s okay to disagree as long as you agree to disagree agreeably. Being both confident and knowledgeable of your position can lead to good discussions without becoming argumentative. Ravi Zacharias recounts many discussions with those of opposing faiths in which common sense and respect can glean much. My Bible school professor used to tell us that when you came to an impasse to take your discussion to the foot and shadow of the Cross. Leaning on Paul as he says, “I count it all loss but Christ and Him crucified.” If all which we do is to exalt Jesus Christ then our approach should reflect that. That said, also realizing fellow Christians share a spiritual “rebirth”. All our discussions should encourage growth within that “rebirth”.

  6. 4-19-2011

    Jerry,

    I’m focusing mainly on disagreements and unity among Christians in this post. I agree that our response to disagreements and our desire to exalt Jesus above all is very important in maintaining unity in spite of disagreements.

    -Alan

  7. 10-25-2011

    This is excellent!! I could not agree more. Along similar lines, I have long maintained that if there is any disunity or separation, we should always make sure it is the other person separating or remaining out of union with us and not us pushing them away. We should always be open to those relationships being reconciled.

    Thanks for sharing this, and I look forward to hearing further thoughts on it.

  8. 10-26-2011

    This is similar to having a posture of ‘radical hospitality’ and ‘generous spaciousness,’ two things I have gleaned recently from Wendy Gritter and her Bridging The Gap blog.
    Generous Spaciousness: 
    •       acknowledge reality of diverse perspectives: principles of a disputable matter
    •       posture of hospitality: all are welcome
    •       posture of humility:  I could be wrong
    •       posture of grace:  good fruit is good fruit

    Thank you Alan for sharing this!!! I was directed here via a tweet from SS, and I, too, am looking forward to more on this…. Blessings to you!!!!
     

  9. 10-26-2011

    Steve,

    Thanks for the comment. I love what you said, especially the part about being open to reconciliation.

    Judy,

    I like the description of “generous spaciousness.” To me, it’s simply spelling out what Paul wrote in Romans 15:7.

    -Alan

  10. 4-30-2012

    I really get a lot from your posts, just wish the church would listen…

  11. 4-30-2012

    Thanks, Sheree! I’m sure that some are listening, and I’m learning to listen to others as well. :)

    -Alan

  12. 5-8-2013

    we need to teach ourselves…. and our children!… how to disagree!!

  13. 5-8-2013

    Randi,

    I keep hearing that… ;)

    -Alan

  14. 8-26-2013

    Hi Alan,

    Seeing as someone pointed to your post here as pointing out how we can be united while disagreeing and how most responses so far have been all positive about what you said (nothing wrong with that)…well I figured I could add what seems to be the first dissenting comment to round things out a bit :).

    I am not sure i agree that we can remain or even be united despite disagreements.

    I understand the chapters you base your post on to be talking about what amounts to loving each other and giving each other freedom to walk before God according to the dictates of our conscience about various matters.

    To my understanding that’s not the same as unity Alan. Certainly loving each other and giving each other freedom helps but doing that is not equal to being united as one around the Lord and His truth.

    I can love a Unitarian Universalist (who doesn’t believe Jesus is God in the flesh) just fine by Gods grace. And I can give him the freedom to believe whatever he wants to believe according to the dictates of his own conscience but that’s not unity! No way, no how.

    Likewise I can’t walk in God desired unity with those who believe that accepting Jesus as Lord at salvation is optional and not necessary for salvation. How can I when the very essence of the Gospel they believe is faulty and not in line with truth and where what they preach dishonors the Lord?

    Likewise there are so-called Christians who deceive themselves to believe all kinds of things that dishonor God. I don’t mean where they simply hold to plausible differences in doctrinal belief but where their way of interpreting Scripture allows them to rationalize and justify disobedience to God!

    How in the world can we possibly walk in unity with such folks Alan?

    Unless unity means nothing more than that we should love one another in some sort of feel good, everyone’s beliefs are just fine perspective.

    The truth is there is truth. Absolute truth. Truth that some are not walking in where they need correction and the lies they believe exposed.

    So yeah I am all for loving everyone and giving each other freedom. Not judging others in an ungodly way and all that.

    But let’s not call it unity if there are some profound and glaring disagreements that some are not willing to work through.

    The Christian life is not a smorgasbord where we all believe whatever we want to believe no matter what the Word says.

    I don’t see it as self-centered at all to seek to glorify the Lord through the upholding and exaltation of His inspired truth.

    Carlos

  15. 8-26-2013

    Carlos,

    I’ve heard the “love without unity” argument many times. However, Paul’s writings in Romans 14-15 seem to speak against that. Paul is writing to a specific group of believers who have theological disagreements. Yet, he tells them to “accept one another just as Christ has accepted you for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7)

    To be honest, I don’t see much concern in Scripture about accepting “groups.” Yes, there’s some discussion, but not much. Instead, most of the emphasis on both love and unity is between individuals. If you decided someone is a brother/sister in Christ, then the exhortation is “accept one another as Christ has accepted you.” If, on the other hand, you decide the person is not a brother/sister in Christ, then that person is not part of the “one another” – assuming you are correct about them, of course.

    -Alan

  16. 8-26-2013

    Hi Alan,

    Don’t you think it’s possible to accept someone who you believe is a brother (or sister) in the Lord while not experiencing practical unity with them as a result of strong disagreement over theological issues that make it all but impossible to walk unitedly with them?

    I guess I am a bit unclear about what kind of unity you are referring to Alan?

    How does your understanding of unity from the Word (whatever that is) line up with the united thinking type of unity Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 1:10? I am quoting from the King James only because it is one of the few bible’s that I can quote freely without copyright.

    “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

    Can you and I speak the same thing if we are not united in our thinking regarding a given issue?

    Are we joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment if we don’t agree on a given issue?

    Do you think God’s heart is one heart, having one mind, regarding a given issue or that it is acceptable for various believers to believe different things about different issues?

    Personally I think it is a disgrace the way believers believe 1000 different things. A disgrace! Disgrace is really too weak of a word with respect to how I feel. I am more like disgusted with the Christian world and it’s divisions. It makes a mockery of the Spirit of God as being unable, seemingly, to show any one of us what THE truth is. Either that or we are so incredibly hard of heart that we just don’t see it.

    Either the Word was meant by God to say some truth regarding every issue that we ALL are to embrace, truth that we CAN come to know, or we might as well throw our Bible’s in the garbage as irrelevant and unable to give us a definitive clue as to what God thinks on a whole host of things.

    Hmm…perhaps that is worded too strongly. I mean there are issues that are simply not clear in the Word. But there are a whole host of issues that ARE clear but that Christians simply don’t agree on.

    People don’t have time to discuss things to a final conclusion. They don’t want to. They generalize an issue to the point where no united thinking can be achieved since specifics are never dealt with one at a time. And so on.

    Division. Division. Division. And a bunch of excuses and baloney to justify continuing in division.

    When is it going to stop?

    Carlos

  17. 8-26-2013

    Carlos,

    I think your first question is key: “Don’t you think it’s possible to accept someone who you believe is a brother (or sister) in the Lord while not experiencing practical unity with them…?”

    Well, we think we do that all the time. But, is that the kind of acceptance that Paul exhorted his readers to when he wrote, “Accept one another as Christ has accepted you…”?

    -Alan

  18. 8-26-2013

    Hi Alan,

    If you are asking me the question I asked you…well yes I do. I mean that yes I think I can accept someone despite disagreements while not being able to experience practical unity with them.

    It’s happening to me in one of my relationships right now. This person, I’ve thought he is a brother though at this point I am not entirely sure – I need to make inquiries as to what he thinks the Gospel is…believes that spiritual gifts are present in unbelievers (never mind that the Holy Spirit from which all such gifts come doesn’t even inhabit unbelievers!), that we can lose our salvation, differs with me on the need to implement church discipline in certain cases, and other issues that makes it all but impossible for me to be in practical Body life unity with him.

    Mind you I am struggling to accept him and love him regardless but in my heart I know the difference between accepting him and not accepting him.

    If I start down the path of rejecting him as a person because of his varied and significant differences with me on various issues then I am not walking in love and as Paul commanded us to walk.

    I am to accept him as God accepts him (if indeed he is a Christian). That means I am not to hold back from further fellowship with him just because we differ on things. To whatever extent I can I am to stay open to him as a person and not close myself off to him.

    But there IS a separation from closer involvement with him that is warranted if we cannot work our way through some of these issues.

    Issues which will make it rather impossible to work in the lives of others and build them up in Christ based on truth. I will forever find myself having to undo in the lives of others falsehood that he may be inclined to pass along to them. Falsehoods that will cause problems in practical and working unity.

    When Paul said that we are to accept one another in Romans Alan I don’t think he was saying that it’s acceptable to be divided all over the place in contradiction to 1 Corinthians 1:10. I think it’s both.

    We ARE to accept one another.
    We ARE to be perfectly united in our thinking.

    Both take grace to achieve. Both will require work.

    But we CAN achieve them according to the Word.

    Unity of thinking is difficult but it CAN happen if Christians are willing to do what it takes. Regrettably most are not willing to do what it takes. Many others are not humble enough to admit it when they are wrong.

    I am still unclear on your take of what I am saying bro but please know that you are free to share as much or as little as you desire. I accept you just the same :).

    As a side note I believe the disunity Paul spoke about in Romans had to do in part with the conscience. Where some had a more sensitive conscience that drove them to believe some things which were really not technically correct. Such that eating meat sacrificed to idols was…well…real sacrifice to real idols.

    There was an underlying truth. That there was no such thing as an idol with the result that eating meat sacrificed to them was perfectly acceptable before God. But that for the sake of others who were accustomed to thinking of such meat as defiled that it was loving to not eat meat to not cause undo stress on the conscience of such persons.

    That’s a bit different than the kind of ridiculous division we have today where people all over believe all kinds of nonsense based on the flimsiest of things including out and out speculation, assumption, theory, and the like.

    Giving way and making it acceptable for people to continue to embrace junk to support wacky beliefs is not walking in love. Nor does the acceptance that Paul commanded require that we consider it acceptable and communicate that it is acceptable to use faulty hermeneutics in a misguided attempt to accept the person we are speaking to.

    I am open to whatever you have to say otherwise Alan (if anything). God forbid that I should close myself to correction or a more perfect understanding of God’s ways and His desire for unity.

    There is nothing to be gained by sticking to my guns so to speak if I am wrong in something I have said bro.

    I have also been known in the past to fly off the handle over nothing and to make a mountain out of a molehill. I hope I am not doing that now.

    Carlos

  19. 8-26-2013

    Carlos,

    Paul used Jesus Christ’s acceptance of US as an example of how we are to accept others. Did Jesus accept us without practical unity?

    I think it’s possible to accept one another, live in practical unity, and continue to help one another grow and mature in Jesus Christ. We may even find that WE are the ones who are believing or living “junk” if we approach the other person with humility.

    -Alan

  20. 8-26-2013

    Kind of ironic that in a post about unity and differences that we may be finding ourselves unable to agree Alan LOL.

    Though…I am not entirely sure what it is that we are disagreeing about :).

    Does Jesus accept us without practical unity? You bet.

    But unless we come to a place of accepting His truth in our lives on an everyday basis and embrace and side with whatever revelation of truth He gives us…well…I would say that we are not and cannot be said to be walking in unity with Him as a practical matter.

    Same between Christians.

    We should accept each other even without practical unity but if one or more of us don’t embrace what is true by the Word in some area where it is clear…well…it can’t be said of us that we are walking in practical unity either…I don’t think.

    I mean how can we?

    If I think women should be silent in church assembly, a limited silence mind you – I don’t believe in the absolute silence of women, for example and that it is a disgrace for them to express spiritual gifts as a man might and someone else thinks that there are no gender differences at all in role or function how in the world can we act and speak in the same mind and operate as one in the Body?

    We can’t.

    I don’t see how.

    But…we can still love and accept each other.

    I guess I don’t see a connection between accepting a person and considering it acceptable for us to believe different things.

    I can separate the two just a we are to love the sinner but hate the sin.

    I can accept someone as a person while looking on their differing belief as completely faulty.

    Make sense?

    Carlos

  21. 8-26-2013

    Carlos,

    On the one hand, I agree that this is a good example of the kind of theological disagreements that Paul wrote about in Romans 14 and other places. I think that Paul was encouraging (based on our mutual acceptance by Jesus Christ) that we accept one another and share our lives with one another in spite of our differences. Can we do this? Absolutely! Can we do this on our own? No way. But, if we submit our tendencies to the work of the Holy Spirit, then we can find unity in the midst of our disagreements.

    On the other hand, there’s a big problem with this example. You and I do not truly have practical fellowship. We only know each other online. Unity is a theoretical concept between us.

    Yesterday, I gathered together with a group of believers. We disagree with one another about many things. However, we continue to love one another (in word and in deed) and to share our lives together daily. This is not conceptual unity, but real, practical unity that is only found in Jesus Christ, not in our ability to agree with one another.

    As history has shown us, we will always find reasons to disagree. If that is our basis for unity, we will never find it.

    History has also shown us that when we find unity based solely on our ability to agree with one another, bad things usually happen (especially to those who disagree with us).

    -Alan

  22. 8-26-2013

    I understand what you are saying Alan (I think) but I just don’t grasp how you can say that you have practical unity with other Christians that differ with you on a whole boatload of things.

    Depending on what those differences are I just don’t see how you and them (or they and you) can work together in a practical way to achieve the purposes of God for you all as a Body.

    You can’t speak with one voice. You can’t operate as one man might (unless we allow for some sort of schizophrenic body life where we all believe different things and act out of those beliefs at the same time somehow). You aren’t embracing the heart of God together on the various issues that you differ on.

    I just don’t see practical unity at all Alan. Love…yes. Respect…yes. But not practical unity. You are divided in your beliefs with apparently no end in sight. Just like the rest of the Christian world.

    With an arm going off in one direction and the other one another. One side of a mouth speaking about something the other side of the mouth doesn’t agree on. One ear listening to one thing and the other something else. One leg moving off in one direction and the other standing still. Makes for a really disjointed body life if you ask me.

    How I can operate in practical unity with those around me in real life (so to speak) where our differences go to the very core of what it means to be a Christian and how to do body life together is beyond me.

    I don’t think such is possible bro. But as I said…perhaps this is just one of those things that we will be in disagreement about :).

    I appreciate you regardless Alan. And also accept you to whatever degree I can online through this little box on my computer screen.

    Carlos

  23. 8-26-2013

    Carlos,

    We have practical unity because we work together to help each other grow in Jesus Christ. We approach our relationships with one another in unity, recognizing that Jesus Christ is our focus and our goal, and that we need both the Holy Spirit and one another to grow in him. I need that brother/sister who disagrees with me as much as that person needs me. God has placed us together in the body, specifically because we need each other.

    My goal is not to get someone to agree with me but to understand Christ more and to follow him more. Thus, we can help one another and serve others together – not in a shared doctrine or creed, but in the person of Jesus Christ. He is a person, not a set of beliefs. We are not all going off in different directions. Instead, while we are at different points in our relationship and understanding of Christ (and everyone is – even if we THINK we agree with one another), we can help one another move in the SAME direction – toward Christ – not toward any other person.

    -Alan

  24. 8-26-2013

    I think your attitude is absolutely commendable bro!

    I mean your willingness to work with others and your acknowledgement of our interdependence on one another as we all work toward the fullness of Jesus Christ.

    My goal is also not to go get others to agree with me Alan. Though it may seem to be a matter of semantics my goal is rather to get all of us to agree with Christ through the Word as a basis for becoming more of what we ought to be as a Body. For His greater honor and glory.

    So it’s not about me and others and my trying to get others to agree with me. It’s subtle but profoundly different from trying to get others to agree around His Word.

    Jesus Christ is indeed a person bro but that person also believes certain things. Has certain thoughts about how He wants His bride to be.

    We can’t accept the person and focus on becoming more like Him together if we ignore what he believes.

    It’s Jesus AND what He believes and wants us to believe in turn. Not Jesus alone as if we can somehow separate Him from His beliefs.

    I also don’t think you can separate moving toward Christ from moving toward unity around what He believes and wants us to believe which invariably involves hashing out our theological differences in a spirit of humility until we get it right and are united in our thinking.

    Do you actually believe that there is absolute truth Alan? That everyone should believe? Together?

    I mean no offense by that question bro but in some of what you are saying it sounds like you are falling into the camp that thinks that it’s okay for everyone to believe whatever they believe as long we all focus on becoming more like Jesus (as if His beliefs can be separated from who He is).

    Carlos

  25. 8-26-2013

    Carlos,

    Jesus, as a person, knows absolute truth, and certainly believes correctly. He also communicates that absolute truth to his children through His Spirit who dwells in each of us. Of course, none of us understand him perfectly. I do not know that truth absolutely; you do not know that truth absolutely; the people who disagree with you or me do not know that truth absolutely. So, who decides who has the right about of absolute truth? While you say you don’t want people to agree with you, who makes the decision of whether or not you fellowship or share your life with someone? It sounds like you’re making that decision…

    -Alan

  26. 8-26-2013

    It sounds like you are saying that we as Christians cannot know for sure God’s absolute truth.

    Such that none of us can lay proper claim to interpreting the Word correctly on any issue.

    Based on what it…well…actually says.

    Is that what you are saying Alan?

    That as far as Christians go none of us can absolutely know and correctly so what the Word says on a given issue since none of us understands God perfectly.

    That we cannot know what is the correct interpretation of a given set of verses because…well…out knowledge is imperfect.

    To my understanding Alan there IS a correct interpretation of a given issue and a wrong one and we can know it one way or the other through the use of proper hermeneutics and otherwise.

    Carlos

  27. 8-26-2013

    Carlos,

    Whose hermeneutic? Whose interpretation? It’s clear from a casual perusal of books, commentaries, articles, and blog posts that there are many different hermeneutics and interpretations. Do I have a hermeneutic and interpretation? Absolutely. Do I think my hermeneutic and interpretation is the “correct one”? As Paul exhorts, I’m convinced in my conscience. But, what about those in Christ who are just as convinced of their hermeneutic and interpretation? On what basis do you decide that yours is correct but theirs is wrong? Who makes that judgment?

    I believe that together (even and especially with those who disagree with us) we can come closer and closer to understanding and following Jesus Christ. When we separate from those who disagree with us, we lose part of the way that God has chosen to work in our lives to reveal his truth to us.

    -Alan

  28. 8-26-2013

    So there is NO objective way of determining what the Word says?

    Such that it would be reasonable to expect any unbiased Christian person reading the Word to end up seeing the same thing by such objective means of discovering truth?

    Do you realize what you are saying bro (as far as I understand you)?

    That none of us can KNOW His heart with any degree of certainty on anything!

    Carlos

  29. 8-26-2013

    Carlos,

    You said, “Do you realize what you are saying bro (as far as I understand you)? That none of us can KNOW His heart with any degree of certainty on anything!”

    No, that’s not at all what I’m saying. At the end of my last paragraph I said that we can come closer and closer to understanding and following Christ by working together. This is what Paul says in Ephesians 4. We work together to help each other grow toward maturity, which includes knowing him. And, like Paul wrote in Philippians, our goal is to know him more and more.

    Instead, what I said is that we cannot know him PERFECTLY, and especially I cannot know him perfectly alone. This view is called critical realism, which is different from both modernism (foundationalism) and postmodernism. The goal of knowing him more and more (instead of assuming that we know perfectly) is often called a hermeneutical spiral (see Grant Osborne’s book by that name). The hermeneutical spiral begins with the recognition that our hermeneutic and interpretation is NOT right and needs constant revision and modification and (sometimes) complete change.

    So, I’ll ask again, who decides that your hermeneutic and your interpretation is right, while all the other hermeneutics and interpretations are incorrect?

    -Alan

  30. 8-26-2013

    To which I would reply that the Word decides by what it says.

    Let’s take an example. John 3:16.

    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

    This verse has the following components to it.

    – God
    – Love
    – Only begotten Son
    – Believes
    – Perish
    – Everlasting life

    These components have a definite meaning. God did not intend by this verse to say all kinds of things to all kinds of different people. That’s not to say that God may not impress upon the hearts of different individuals different things related to this verse.

    As you have probably experienced yourself Alan, sometimes the Lord will speak to us out of a verse completely apart from the literal meaning of the words used.

    But with respect to what a particular verse says, such as this one, the words used are intended to express a particular and absolute truth.

    A truth, an absolute truth if you will, that we can all know and that we all should embrace in unity.

    In the case of John 3:16 that truth entails…

    – God – the being that created the world. Father to Jesus Christ.
    – Love – a benevolent desire to do good to the one loved.
    – Only begotten Son – Jesus Christ.
    – Believes – adheres to and places confidence in to the point of being willing to act on or in line with that which one believes.
    – Perish – be destroyed or cease to exist
    – Everlasting life – life with God in heaven

    I think I can safely say that my understanding of the above for the most part is accurate, reflects the heart of God, and that we should ALL embrace what I am saying these words mean. These are absolute truths outside of myself or my hermeneutical habits or tools.

    Now I grant you that my understanding of the words ‘Perish’ and ‘Everlasting life’ is a bit lose and that my definition of those words is basically off the top of my head. So some refinement is necessary with respect to these two words.

    But I don’t think it would be too difficult to firm up what these two words mean between us and to arrive at an absolute respecting what they were intended to say.

    I hope that you and I would not disagree on what John 3:16 says Alan.

    I would hope that you and I would agree on what it says.

    And absolutely so.

    Such that we could reasonably expect everyone else to agree to what we have come to understand this verse to be saying. Not because we are anything at all but rather because the verse is clear and says what it says and we are simply taking it at face value.

    Now someone comes along and says…”Well…God is this tree over here”.

    Would that person be right? No.

    That person’s understanding of what this verse says would be wrong.

    So there is a right and wrong understanding of what the Word says. A right understanding that is absolute and absolutely so and one that is wrong and absolutely so.

    God is not a tree.

    Now take this example and apply it to all manner of other verses. Same thing.

    Verses say what they say.

    To be sure as Peter said, unstable persons distort truth as some distorted some of the things Paul said back then.

    And there are other times when people are immature and also distort things. Lots of reasons why people get verses wrong.

    But at it’s root…verses say what they say. That can be known and absolutely so.

    So the Word and what it actually says is the final arbiter of what is on God’s heart regarding a particular matter. And what it actually says can be known by simply reading it and taking what it says in the plain face value meaning of the words used.

    In all the discussions that I have had with Christians on a whole host of issues over the years it has been my experience, almost without fail, that people simply do NOT stick to what is written such that they bring in ALL kinds of extraneous and extra biblical theories, assumptions, conjectures, and the like to modify or adjust what the Word says so that what it says ends up being completely different, and more suitable to their liking or preference, than what it actually says.

    There is THE problem in all the differences in the Christian world.

    We simply don’t stick to what is written! Just as Paul said we ought to do.

    I think you and I would be hard pressed to disagree on anything Alan if we simply made it a condition of discussion that we would not take into account ANYTHING that is not written in the Word and explicitly so giving liberty to believe whatever where it is not clear (for there are some things that are not clear of course).

    Make sense?

    Carlos

  31. 8-26-2013

    Carlos,

    Do you not see the contradiction in these paragraphs?

    “I think I can safely say that my understanding of the above for the most part is accurate, reflects the heart of God, and that we should ALL embrace what I am saying these words mean. These are absolute truths outside of myself or my hermeneutical habits or tools.

    Now I grant you that my understanding of the words ‘Perish’ and ‘Everlasting life’ is a bit lose and that my definition of those words is basically off the top of my head. So some refinement is necessary with respect to these two words.”

    In the first paragraph, you say that every follower of Jesus should agree with you concerning your understandings of all of those words. Then in the second paragraph, you say that your own understanding of two of the words is “a bit loose.” So, what if someone else “tightens up” the meanings of those words?

    If you search for interpretations of John 3:16, you’ll find that there are many people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ who interpret that verse differently than you or I. Who decides if you are right, if I am right (assuming I disagree with you), or that they are right (in all of THEIR various interpretations)?

    I believe it is possible for two people to disagree on the interpretation of that verse and then help one another understand the verse better TOGETHER than either of them would have understood it separately. Of course, that doesn’t happen today very often because the two people whose interpretation differ have decided that they cannot be in unity with one another and cannot fellowship with and disciple one another.

    -Alan

  32. 8-26-2013

    Carlos,

    I’ll add one more thing to our discussion…

    Let’s assume that every follower of Jesus Christ agrees with one another 100% on the meaning of John 3:16, and let’s assume that that interpretation is 100% in line with what God intended to communicate when John wrote that sentence.

    Is that one verse all there is to knowing God and following Jesus Christ?

    Next, let’s assume that every follower of Jesus Christ agrees with one another 100% on the meaning of EVERY passage of Scripture and that that interpretation is 100% in line with what God intended to communicate through all of those passages?

    Is that all we need to know God and follow Jesus Christ? Will that 100% correct interpretation give us everything we need to make decisions day to day? To choose A or B in all situations? To know whether to go to Bithynia or Macedonia (Africa or across the street or stay in our living room)?

    Scripture and interpreting Scripture (unfortunately, we cannot separate those two at this time) are extremely important for the believer, but it is only recently that believers had this great advantages. God has also given us his Spirit and he has given us other believers. Through all of these, we come to know God and understand how to follow Jesus Christ.

    -Alan

  33. 8-26-2013

    :)

    There is no contradiction in what I said bro in that I did say “for the most part”. I had in mind when saying that my lose and off the top definition of the words ‘Perish’ and ‘Everlasting life’.

    I guess I could have worded that a bit more cohesively.

    But the gist of what I said I still stand by.

    I find it surprising that there may be a different interpretation of John 3:16 that is at least plausible in that I have never seen one but I grant you that I have not seen everything (duh) so it stands to reason that there might be one somewhere. If you know of one I would love to see it.

    You ask who decides who is right?

    To which I say again…that the Word and what it says decides.

    I mean it’s either that or we simply cannot know what it says to any degree of certainty sufficient to make a judgement, based on what it says, as to who is right and who is wrong in their understanding of the verse in question.

    We need to decide if what the Word says is knowable Alan. To a sufficient degree to allow IT to determine who is right and who is wrong in their understanding of what it says.

    It would appear that we have only two options.

    1. What the Word says IS knowable and can be understood absolutely such that we ALL are accountable to embrace what it plainly says.

    OR

    2. That we simply cannot understand what the Word says with any degree of certainty and that as such discussions about what it actually says are fruitless and a waste of time (with respect to understanding what it says absolutely).

    I think the writers of the New Testament would come down on the side of saying that God intended to say certain absolutes through what is written. Things that can be known and that we should all embrace as THE truth.

    I mean the whole nature of the New Testament writings is such that they were written with a view to people understanding what was written. The authors did not write (and the Holy Spirit did not inspire) gibberish that no one could come to understand absolutely.

    Oh…I finally found another interpretation but…well…I think we can safely discount it as just plain silly. In it the person in question says that the love in the verse is a general love such that the verse cannot be used to say that God loves everyone specifically. He goes from bad to worse by saying that the generality of the love also negates the belief that Jesus died for everyone. That he might, for example, be a person God doesn’t like and that he is not therefore a person that Jesus was sent for. See what I mean?

    There are right interpretations and there are wrong one’s and the one’s that are wrong are pretty obviously so and the right one is likewise pretty obviously so based on the plain value meaning of the words.

    Carlos

  34. 8-26-2013

    I absolutely (no pun intended LOL) agree with your last post bro!

    Let’s say everyone agrees 100% on every verse. Hallelujah! May it happen Lord.

    Is that all there is to know about the Lord? No way!

    There is a depth to God and His ways that is beyond, way beyond, even what the Word says.

    What the Word says in my understanding is the beginning Alan and certainly not the end.

    So yeah…there is much more. The Holy Spirit has much more for us all.

    But not in contradiction to what the Word says however.

    In other words you can’t come along and lay claim to some new truth from God that is completely contrary to what is expressed in the Word. That would just be deception on your part – I mean if we agree that the inspired Word comes from God and was intended to be our guide to all things pertaining to life and godliness.

    Make sense?

    Carlos

  35. 8-26-2013

    Just so you know Alan…I absolutely 100% believe in the Holy Spirit’s leading apart from the Word.

    In other words the Holy Spirit can and does lead believers in ways that are extra biblical where their leading to do something is NOT explicitly stated in the Word itself.

    Thus Peter was led to go downstairs when some men were at the door for him. Agabus (was it Agabus?) was led to go pray for Paul that he might receive his sight. Philip was led to run next to a particular chariot. And so on.

    None of these leadings came from specific instructions found in the Word itself.

    It doesn’t happen all that often in my life Alan but I have been led that way on a number of occasions. Pretty miraculously too though such had nothing to do with my own godliness but rather were instances of God’s incredible and gracious mercy in showering me with His presence and leading me to that which was ultimately for my best in line with His love for me.

    Carlos

  36. 8-26-2013

    Carlos,

    Your logic is circular: How do we understand what the Scriptures mean? Because the Scriptures mean it…

    Most differences in interpretation of John 3:15 revolve around determining who are the recipients of God’s love and what it means to perish. (That last part has been a huge disagreement since the early days of Christianity.) Unfortunately, word meanings are but the beginning of interpretation.

    Jesus spent much of his time explaining the Scriptures. Paul often explained Scriptures to his readers. Peter said that some of Paul’s letters were hard to understand. I don’t think interpreting Scripture has ever been as straightforward as you expressed.

    In my comment, I don’t think I ever mentioned God contradicting himself. Would Paul have been right in going to either Bithynia or Macedonian in Acts 16? Luke didn’t think so, but he didn’t read that in Scripture (although he later wrote it). So, how would we today decide between Bithynia or Macedona (or a similar decision)? What if someone else came to a different decision?

    Or again, we can always return to the interpretation issue. Already, I’ve learned much from you just by reading your comment here. Imagine how much more God could use our disagreement to teach us about him and to help us follow Jesus… assuming, of course, I decided to live in practical unity with you… it would be a tough decision since you’re wrong. ;)

    (I hope you get the sarcasm there… because I would love to have this discussion over several weeks while serving others together and sharing what God was doing in our lives. I think it would be much more beneficial… and it’s just how we share our lives together and grow in maturity in Christ together in spite of our differences and disagreements.)

    -Alan

  37. 8-27-2013

    “How do we understand what the Scriptures mean? Because the Scriptures mean it…”

    Yes…that is exactly what I am saying :).

    Because I believe that overall, we can know what the Scriptures say, that the Holy Spirit inspired words that have a meaning that can be known by us, and that God means for us to understand (though there are some words that we cannot ascertain the absolute meaning of).

    Because I believe that, I believe that the Scriptures are indeed the final arbiter of what is on God’s heart.

    It’s either that or we can’t know what they say, that what the Holy Spirit inspired cannot be known with any degree of certainty, and that God never meant for us to understand what is written.

    Which would be…well…a rather depressing and hopeless state of being I think. I mean I have a hard enough time with the ridiculousness of all the division in the Christian world as it is. Never mind thinking that there is no hope of ever coming to unity in our thinking at all!

    It’s an absolute wonder to me at times…it really is…that I am still in tune with the Lord and walking with Him. If it had been up to what I see in the Christians with all their divisions … I would have left Christian anything long, long ago. But what would I do with Jesus Himself the Living One? He is very real and keeps touching my heart in ways that are astounding. He breaks the most hardened heart in me and keeps me going for Him.

    It’s like this Alan.

    How can someone entering a legal contract know what the nature of that contract is? By what the contract says!

    But who determines what the contract says? Well…we do. Based on what? On what it says.

    You can call it circular reasoning if you like but what else is there?

    I mean how else are we to determine what the nature of a legal contract is?

    Than by what it…well…actually says?

    Same with the Word.

    With respect to the meanings of words Alan I concede that there are some words whose meaning is not absolutely and clearly certain as written in the Word. Perish might indeed be one of those.

    But while we might legitimately differ on an absolute meaning for that word I think we can absolutely say that it is the opposite of eternal life. So whatever it absolutely was intended to mean, God sent His Son to save us from perishing that we might have eternal life.

    I guess what I am saying Alan is that in the case of words whose meaning cannot be absolutely ascertained there is liberty to believe various things. That’s perfectly acceptable.

    It’s not like we can understand every word absolutely. There are some that are unclear (that is why I prefaced my statements above with the thought that ‘overall’ we can understand the Word – because there are some exceptions).

    That is why it is SO important that we stick to what is actually written and clearly so.

    So many Christians camp around words and verses whose meaning is not absolutely clear. That is just ridiculous and leads to arguments.

    It’s like we are all a bunch of immature kids squabbling over ridiculous uncertainties at times.

    If it’s not absolutely clear we ought not to try and force it to be and should simply leave it as unclear. If it is clear then we should ALL embrace what it says in the clear meaning of what it says.

    I do believe that interpreting the Scriptures is straight forward Alan for the most part but I also acknowledge that some things are hard to understand. Both are true. There are many things that are very clear and some things that are not.

    Regarding how we would decide to go to Bithynia or Macedona…the Word certainly could not help us directly with that. I would just trust the Lord through His Spirit to guide me directly one way or another or more in line with how I usually operate in life…I would simply make a choice believing that God loves me no matter which choice I make and that He is with me in all choices and even knows ahead of time which I will chose such that He will work out all things, even my choice, for the ultimate good. In other words I don’t sweat such choices. I just make them as I see fit unless the Lord clearly leads me otherwise.

    If someone decided to do differently in their own life…that’s fine. The leading of the Spirit in one person does not mean that such a leading is for everyone else to do the same thing (as different from the absolute truth in the Word being for ALL).

    Not sure what you are learning from me Alan but…well…I am thankful that you are gaining something from my exuberant responses bro. It’s tough because I feel at times like my heart is getting exposed too much such that I want to draw back and not express myself as much as I tend to do.

    But…expressing my heart as far as it reflects His is in line with what God has gifted me to do I think. So…I continue :).

    Who? Me wrong? You’ve got to be kidding. Here I have been trying all this time to show you that I am right! LOL

    Not sure what we can learn about Jesus from our disagreement Alan but if the Lord lays something on my heart regarding that I will be sure to let you know.

    Carlos

  38. 8-27-2013

    Carlos,

    I don’t think our “contract” is with the Scriptures.

    Let’s take this in a different direction. With Scripture as our evidence, what examples do we have of followers of Jesus being encouraged to separate or live in disunity because of disagreements? What are reasons given in Scripture to separate from others who claim to be Christians and how are we to treat them?

    -Alan

  39. 8-27-2013

    Well off the top I can’t think of any Scriptural examples of Christians getting all divisive over disagreements. I suppose one could bring up the disagreement between Barnabas and Paul as to whether to take John along in their missionary journey where they ended up separating but that wasn’t strictly a doctrinal disagreement.

    So I have no liberty to go off and be separate Alan as I might naturally want to be from those that I consider to be very much in the wrong.

    But of course that leaves me with no clue as to how to operate effectively in a church setting where what a church is doing allowing women to speak out and even be Pastors for example is utterly dishonoring and disgraceful in my understanding of what Paul said about it (that’s just one example).

    Or where a Pastor thinks it’s his responsibility to determine how or even if 1 Corinthians 14 should be applied and not that of the members of the Body (despite the fact that 1 Corinthians was written to all Christians and not to Pastors at all).

    There are lots of things like that.

    I have no clue how to continue in fellowship as an effective part of a fellowship under those type of scenarios.

    I mean yes…I could and do continue as far as I can but in the final analysis such differences make me feel like I and others can’t be effective as a Body as the Lord intended us to be.

    Which of course presents a sort of conumdrum for me in that I simply cannot find a Body to be an effective part of and feel a need to start a new one – but I am not very good at that I don’t think. Often times I am just too busy to do much of anything about it.

    In line with that I often wish I could find some Christians that are truly open to what the Word says but such Christians are in very, very short supply and are incredibly hard to find. I have found some but for one reason or another we can’t do much with each other fellowship wise.

    Carlos

  40. 8-27-2013

    Carlos,

    I think I’m beginning to understand better how we’re looking at this issue differently. Reading back over your comments, you seem to be saying that all followers of Jesus SHOULD interpret Scripture the same way (the right way, of course) and we SHOULD all understand the Spirit clearly.

    We should. I agree. But we don’t. My contention is that disagreement – which does and will exist – will not prevent us from living in unity – practical unity – with one another, unless we make agreement with our beliefs (or a subset of our beliefs) a condition on other believers. (We’re only talking about followers of Jesus – believers.)

    Do you agree that true followers of Jesus interpret Scripture differently?

    -Alan

  41. 8-27-2013

    Carlos,

    What is “in a church setting”?

    -Alan

  42. 8-27-2013

    Yes…I agree that true followers of Jesus interpret the Word differently at times.

    But…I would also add that I have thought, and perhaps my thinking is not quite as God would have it be on this, that all believers WILL embrace truth if it is presented to them clearly from the Word.

    Of course that leaves me confused when…well…they don’t LOL.

    My tendency is to start thinking they are hard of heart, deceived, or whatever. A tendency the Lord is helping me to curve though at times some of that is present in others I think.

    Still…I am to speak truth and leave the results to God. Focusing on loving others no matter what their reactions to the truth I share is.

    But it’s discouraging when no one ever seems to change their mind about a single solitary thing!

    When it is SO CLEAR to me out of the Word.

    I don’t quite know if it’s a gift or what but I see what the Word says in many areas as clear as daylight. Where it is absolutely clear as to what it says.

    Very frustrating at times as to why others seem to have such an incredibly difficult time seeing the same thing. And even then I often see very clearly as to why they don’t see things so clearly but even in that when I bring up what I see…they still don’t get it.

    Which leads me to think at times…that…well…Christians are just plain stupid when it comes to embracing what the Word says. I know, I know that such thinking on my part is not right Alan but my experience leads me to think that way sometimes.

    I have been discussing women’s roles in the church with one brother for example on another blog. You may in fact know him. It’s been good but it’s also been somewhat hard to keep in check a tendency on my part to start up and thinking that he is just plain deceived.

    What he believes about this makes almost no sense to me based on what I see the Word saying about the issue. I am trying to stick to one single aspect of our disagreement to see if the Lord can work out an agreement on that single aspect first before we discuss more aspects but so far…it’s not been very successful. We can’t even agree on that much less the overall issue. Still…if we can keep at the single aspect a bit more I think some of what I consider to be faulty belief will start to break open. At least that is my hope.

    I want to learn how to discuss these things with others in a more godly manner but it’s a learning experience. While I AM growing in that…I still remain incredibly perplexed at times as to why Christians don’t see what I see in the Word. I mean it’s there in black and white.

    I just don’t get it.

    Sometimes it makes me wonder if God is even there as to why He doesn’t seem to be able to get through to others such that everyone would just come to see the same thing. But the Lord, the Living Lord, interacts with me and touches my heart and proves Himself real to me and I keep on keeping on by His grace in spite of the Christians – not because of them :).

    It’s a never ending source of consternation and quite perplexing to me.

    Carlos

  43. 8-27-2013

    A church setting would be in your typical Sunday type service.

    I don’t go to such services anymore so what I said may be a mute point as such.

    I just refuse to be a part of the show anymore. The show being what happens on Sunday.

    Where the only difference between what happens then and what happens in going to a play is the subject matter and that I pay to go to a play.

    Other than that I sit and watch and spectate.

    I DO get with Christians overall – some of us get together at Starbucks for example almost every day – though lately that has been hit or miss for various reasons. I was also getting together with others at McDonald’s but…well..that fizzled out and I got too busy to do much to promote it. And I have several long time Christian friends that I interact with. One in particular and I have almost no disagreements at all which I praise God for but he is about to get married and has very little time to do anything these days.

    Carlos

  44. 8-27-2013

    Carlos,

    This has been a very encouraging discussion. Thank you for continuing it in email. I think we’ll both be able to communicate with each other better in that medium.

    -Alan

  45. 8-28-2013

    Alan:

    I think a good post might be examining the difference between “unity” and “uniformity”. I think when most people use the word “unity” – they really mean “uniformity”.

    Jerry

  46. 8-31-2013

    Jerry,

    I’ve mentioned uniformity in several of my posts about unity, but I don’t think I’ve written an entire post on the subject.

    -Alan

  47. 9-7-2013

    way to burn up my inbox Carlos & Alan…. and then leave me with a cliffhanger :)

  48. 9-7-2013

    Too funny!

    Sorry about that Randi. Given that for the length of our discussion through the comments here that no one else participated, and the age of this blog post, well…I just figured that me and Alan were the only ones around :).

    Additionally though the blog software doesn’t handle super long discussions. It takes longer and longer for the page to load for example.

    Me and Alan are still discussing things by email. If Alan is agreeable maybe we’ll post a conclusion to our discussion sometime.

    Carlos

  49. 9-8-2013

    yes please do. Do all the hard work of edifying each other through sharpening & just let me reap the benefit of knowing a conclusion :)

  50. 9-13-2013

    I have a question about Christians disagreeing in “public” in front of “non-believers”, a little off topic but while googling Paul’s letters on the subject this blog came up and I wanted to pick your brains :).

    Is discussing disagreements with another Christian about something that is not about church doctrine specifically ok to do on public forums(literally it was about whether violent video games should be supported by Christians or not as a fun past time)?

    I confronted someone on FB about their comments about how non-believers shy away from Christianity b/c we’re too uptight about stuff like this, I confronted her with the facts of the video game (killing glorified), personal experiences (I was a cop, my dad’s a cop, my friends are cops), and scripture; specifically what Jesus had to say about our heart condition/things we choose to do or say, etc. The gal whose page we were on and posted the original thread, erased the post and said she didn’t want non-believers thinking that Christians disagree or that this is what church is about, us fighting/disagreeing about stuff. I apologized and restated that I was not fighting, merely stating what Jesus said about heart conditions and how it relates to what we choose to do with our time here on earth. I also questioned whether keeping disagreements out of public entirely was Biblical or not (as in I was seriously curious, b/c she is farther in her walk with Jesus in a lot of ways) and apologized to both gals genuinely again.

    Ok enough background, sorry for the book.

    So was this “disagreement” permissible Biblically do you think? Or should I have private messaged the first person who was saying there is nothing wrong with killing people for fun in video games to keep non-believers from seeing disunity in the “church”?

    PS, she was nasty and flippant, I was to the point and firm but not nasty, I was genuinely curious how she would defend her view using Jesus as her savior/leader. Unfortunately her only defense was 1) it’s fun, and 2) we’re too uptight. She never even bothered to bring up Jesus.

    I think I just answered my question after re-reading all that, but I’m curious if anyone can point me to chapter/verses about generally disagreeing in public with other Christians, back sliders or not. I remember one of Paul’s letters telling them not to disagree in front of non-believers, but I think it was about Church doctrine, Romans maybe. I can’t see us never calling out someone in “public” just b/c we are Christians? But is that what the Bible instructs? Chapter and verse please? :) Thank you!

  51. 9-14-2013

    Hi,

    I come from the west highlands of Scotland. I’m an educator, a professional historian and a born again Christian. Sadly Christians seem to want everyone to fall into line…thus when you ask a legitimate question or postulate an alternative explanation/interpretation, you are branded as divisive…… in academic life where robust discussion in an environment of professional respect takes place, people agree to differ and remain firm friends. If only this could be the case in church !!!

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