Thank God we’re not in Junior High anymore.

You remember Junior High?  When petty disagreements between two people would resonate outward like pernicious ripples from the principals through all their myriad relations and relationships, sundering ties and restructuring alliances, like the European states after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

You know what I mean:

Hey, man; Bobby-Jim and I are fighting.  I don’t like Bobby-Jim.  So because I don’t like him, and you’re my friend, you can’t like him.

Oh, and Debbie-Sue’s Bobby-Jim’s friend, so you can’t like her, any more, ‘neither.

Basically, if you don’t agree with me 100%, then I don’t like you – and if I don’t like you, my friends can’t like you, either – otherwise, they immediately forfeit the privilege of friendship unless they toe the line.

Thank God we’re not in Junior High anymore.  We’re all (at least nominally) adults now, and we can handle disagreements – even strong disagreements – without pouting, picking up our relational ball, and huffing off home to sulk.

We can disagree with someone, even strongly, and still like them.

In the context of the Church (and by “the Church” I mean the Church Universal, not simply the local church) this becomes and even greater issue and blessing.

The Body of Christ is large – very large.  And there’s a whole, vast range of preferences and opinions on secondary and tertiary issues of faith and conduct.  The Bride is truly beautiful, not least of which because of the richness of the myriad tones and undertones in the grand chorus of the sundry voices engaged in worship, expression, discussion – and yes, debate.

I can appreciate what a brother from a different tradition than mine has to say; I can mull it over and consider its relative strengths and weaknesses, both without necessarily agreeing with a single thing the dude has to say or without casting him off as a heathen or unregenerate because of my disagreement with him.

There are hills that I will die on – foundational, core, first-order doctrines which define the borders of the Kingdom.  These doctrines revolve around the Person and Work of Jesus; disagree on these, and you are not my brother, you are not an object of fellowship – you are an object of evangelism.

Those doctrines that I will gladly fight tooth-and-nail over include:

  • The full Deity and full Humanity of Jesus
  • Salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone
  • His sinless conception, birth, and life
  • Speaking about His birth – that it was a Virgin Birth
  • His vicarious, substitutionary death in our behalf
  • His bodily resurrection from the grave
  • His return in glory at the consummation of the age

First-order doctrines which directly correlate with these, and which I will also gladly fight over include:

  • The Trinitarian nature of God
  • The fallen nature of man (born in sin, born innately a sinner, before any actual acts of sin had been committed)
  • Jesus’ Two Natures; He is One in Person, but Two in Nature
    • (i.e., His Natures are not mingled in any way, yet with complete integrity of Person)

These (among others) are doctrines which separate between the Kingdom of God and everything else.  Compromise or reject any one of these, and you are not a Christian.

End of discussion.

Have a nice day.

Here’s a Gospel tract.

These doctrines are precious and to be defended against all onslaught; we can never compromise here – never give ground…never.

But…there are a host of other doctrines which are important – even very important – but which are “in-house” arguments that, while they effect the spiritual formation and maturity of the one holding them, do not determine the eternal disposition of that one.

In other words, there are doctrines that are important, but are not salvation issues.

We might still disagree on these second-order doctrines – and even disagree sharply – but still be brothers, because we agree on the core essentials.

And I find great benefit from reading and interacting with as broad a range of Christian thinking as possible.  As I’ve said before, one of the reasons why is because it challenges my thinking – points out weaknesses and blindspots in my worldview that I wouldn’t otherwise know were there, and gives me the opportunity to correct the situation.

Which brings up the main point I want to make with this blogpost.

Given that there is a truly broad area where we can disagree and still be brothers in Christ, and given that there is a large degree of permissible dissension in secondary doctrines, and given that secondary doctrines, though they don’t necessarily impact on the salvation of the person holding them, are still important – given all that, there are going to likely be a great many areas where you and I might disagree.

That disagreement doesn’t mean we’re not brothers – it simply means we disagree on something which has a level of importance somewhat less than that of first-order issues of the faith.  Yet though it is of lesser importance, it is still important.

And because it’s important, we should probably talk about it.

And by “talk,” I mean that we will likely end up debating.

That’s not a bad thing; again, as I’ve quoted before:

“A debate is a conflict which clarifies a position. A dialogue is a conversation which compromises a position.”
John E. Ashbrook, The New Neutralism II

Debate – or “vigorous dialog,” if you get twitchy when the “D” word is used – is indispensable for clarifying our understanding of Scripture.  It doesn’t mean we’re on opposite sides of that border between the Kingdom of God and all else; it simply means we disagree to a substantial degree on something which, while we both lie within those borders, places us at opposite ends of a particular issue.

And it’s important to be right about things which effect eternity.  I don’t want to believe something just because my church teaches it, or my favorite teacher teaches it, or because, darn it all, that’s just what I came up with on my own, thank you very much…and the best way I know of to constantly challenge my presuppositions is to (a) read those whose presuppositions differ from mine, and (b) interact with those whose presuppositions differ from mine.

The men and women that I respect the most are those who have challenged me, who have called me on the carpet, who haven’t “gone along to get along,” but have loved me enough to call me out and engage me on these important issues.  We may not have wound up finally in agreement…but I’ve always been enriched by the discussion.

There are men, fellow brothers-in-arms on the listserv for senior pastors for the movement I’m a part of who have seriously challenged me over the course of the last seven or eight years.  I value that – I greatly value that.

There are a few specific brothers who have challenged my deeply held views on things – and who I still don’t agree with – but who have given me a different perspective on the issues in question and have given me the opportunity to really examine what I believe in a way that I couldn’t have if I’d kept drinking my own intellectual bathwater, as it were, only thinking happy thoughts and interacting with peeps who already agree with me.

BTW – the point of debate shouldn’t be to win – it should be to learn.  My opinions have shifted on things over the years as a result of this sort of true dialog, by discovering that my positions were weak and needed to be amended or discarded.  I am thankful for the brothers and sisters who have loved me enough not to leave me in my ignorance, but have challenged me to think.

All that being said: though I believe in the strongest possible terms that the richness of the diversity of the greater Body of Christ is a good thing, and that there is great value in listening to voices other than your own…it’s also important to point out that I’m not suggesting that we all gather ’round in a great big group hug, sing kumbaya, forget about our real differences and just be happy-shiny-people-holding-hands.

Though you might be my brother, if we disagree on an important enough secondary issue significantly enough, I’m going to point that out.

And I fully expect you to do the same to me.

That doesn’t mean we don’t like each other and that we’ll send some icky stuff through the mail to one another at Christmastide.  It means simply that we disagree on an issue that’s important enough to contend over, while acknowledging the legitimacy of each other’s place in the overall, greater Kingdom.

I don’t have to agree with someone to like them.

A f’rinstance:

Rick “Syria’s A Great Nation!” Warren is the big bad boy of the moment.  Personally – I don’t care about Rick Warren.  I don’t think Rick is the antichrist, I don’t think he eats his young, I don’t think he has the Number of the Beast tattooed to his forehead, hand, or nether region.  Do I think he’s unwise in his associations?  Yep.  Do I think he’s uncomfortably ecumenical?  Oh, yeah.  Do I think he’s a pragmatist?  …marginally, yes.  On some points.  Do I want to smack him upside his head and hopefully help some of those synapses to start firing in proper sequence so he never makes that egregious statement about Syria being a “great nation!” with “great support for human rights!” again?  Oh, you  betcha.  But do I think he’s a brother – unequivocally.  Therefore, he will ultimately stand or fall before his own master, not me.

But, I reserve the right to point out where he & I disagree.  That has nothing to do with whether or not he’s saved; it has everything to do with areas of disagreement between brothers that are sharp enough to warrant comment.

And no – it’s not “nit-picky” to point out areas of disagreement over important-albeit-secondary doctrines.  And no, it’s not an attack, so don’t get your underbritches all in a bunch and go pout in a corner, rocking yourself into oblivion and wishing with all the fervency of your heart that nobody would ever disagree with you – or one of your friends – again.

Let’s all take a deep breath and make that last little leap beyond puberty into adulthood: disagreement is not division.  Disagreement does not mean one person is saying, “me, Christian; you, unregenerate heathen pig-dog.”  Disagreement is…disagreement.  And facing that disagreement is the best thing we can do to promote the health of the body – not to ignore it.  But name it, look at it, examine it, discuss it, and learn from it…and then move on.

All those marvelous creeds of the church arose out of environments of intense disagreement and debate.  And we are indescribably enriched by it.

All the great theological terms we use on a daily basis, like Trinity, arose out of environments of intense disagreement and debate and the need to further define what we mean when we say what we say.  And we are indescribably enriched by it.

The very face of diversity in the Church Universal arose out of environments of intense disagreement and debate.  The friction between the Roman Patriarch and the other Four, eventually culminated in the great Schism which apparently sundered the visible church into Eastern and Western communions – and which, ultimately, permitted greater expression and theological development, along with all the real garbage on both sides of the divide which were also attendant thereunto.

Then the disagreements within and without the Western Church gave us the Waldenses, and the Cathari, and the Hussites…eventually, a German priest nailed ninety-five points of contention with the institutional church of the time, and sparked the greatest controversy, the greatest debate in church history, the effects of which echo loudly down through the ages to me sitting here at my laptop plunking this out; I am in many ways one of his spiritual scions, given that I am Protestant.

And afterward; the disagreements between Luther and Zwingli over the Latin phrase, hoc est corpus Meum (“this is My body”) helped formulate the Reformed view of the Eucharist…the disagreements on specific points of doctrine between Luther and Calvin shaped Protestantism for all proceeding centuries.  Between the Calvinists on the Continent and the British Isles.  Between the English state church and the Puritans. Between the Dutch Reformed and the Remonstrants.  Between Darby and…everybody who wasn’t Darby.  The Pentecostal Revival. The great Fundamentalist-Modernist debates. The divisions in early Pentecostalism that led to the formation of the several Pentecostal denominations, including the Church of the Foursquare Gospel.  The discontent that Chuck Smith had with the Foursquare Church which led, ultimately, to his assuming the pulpit of a small, 25-member nondenominational church in Costa Mesa, California, in the mid-60’s…which led, through a winding and exceedingly round-about way, to the planting of Calvary Chapel on the Lakeshore here on the glorious West Coast of Michigan.

I could go on; I could cite the disagreement between Chuck Smith and John Wimber which eventually led to the formation of a new expression of the Body – the Vineyard movement.  And who doesn’t love Vineyard worship music? Again – through disagreement and debate, though there was pain, though the differences themselves remain unresolved…the greater Body of Christ is yet again enriched.

I love the Body of Christ – in all her messy, often cacaphonous glory.  I love the deep richness of her expression; I love the wild wonder of the fulness of her song.

And I also love the truth.  And so, even while rejoicing in the differences, I recognize – we can’t all be right.  And so, I test and weigh and examine the differences – I debate.  I affirm a brother’s place in the Kingdom – while also reserving the right (indeed: the duty) to point out those areas of disagreement and hopefully provoke discussion about them.

It is not in the least bit inconsistent to affirm the brotherhood of someone I am at practical or theological odds with on non-essentials of the faith, while at the same time pointing out those points of contention and treating them with the seriousness they deserve.

I don’t have to agree with someone to like them.

Thank God we’re not in Junior High anymore.