Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tolerating Tolerable Differences

Within the past year the following quote has come to my mind over and over like a bad 80's song or the craving for pizza or waffles at 3 am.

"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity."

The quote is often attributed to Augustine, but it was written by Peter Meiderlin. The famous Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter adopted it as his personal motto and urged that Christians must "tolerate tolerable differences." For all you inquiring minds, more history on the quote is found here.

So in learning this quote I think about a terrible hobby I picked up when I first began attending college. One semester of Greek and theology and my head had swollen to hot-air-balloon-like proportions and I thought that perhaps God needed help passing judgment on the sins of others. I wasn't so concerned with the sins of the individual, because that would be altogether easy to dismiss and point out as blatantly wrong. Instead I chose the much larger target, the Church. Many around me had no problem joining in to point out the defects of the western world's version of worship of Jesus Christ. We picked on the pastors, the music, the Sunday dress, the day of worship, the style of preaching and teaching, theology, and if you were liberal or contorted scripture at must have felt your ears burning because it wasn't just that we were talking about you, we were singeing you with our flaming arrows of disdain for your choices with shouts of what may be considered as down right hate. I'm sure you're asking yourselves, "Did he just say he hated other Christians?" Yep. And I wasn't alone as I walked that hideous road. I had your other future pastors with me and thinking back, we were shamefully wrong.

It's not that there aren't a myriad of things and people to pick on within every one of our denominations. There are literally hundreds of things that we can fight about, but the question is, should we? I just don't see that particular activity and pastime as helping anyone worship God, nor helping to bring anyone else to a place where they could know and thereby worship God. I'm not saying that there isn't obvious sinful behavior that God's Word doesn't blatantly say we should fight; it does. It just so happens that there are quite a few issues that were not deliberately addressed and we as fallen man have ripped each other to pieces over interpretations.

A recent Christianity Today book review of Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation held this fantastic quote:

"This kind of unexpected idolatry—the obsession with living in despair over what is wrong with the institutionalized church—creeps up on you (like most shifty little idols do). … Criticism becomes what we end up worshiping."

Thinking back on my college days and sitting around in dorm rooms and coffee shops berating invisible opponents for their silly misunderstandings of God's Word, we (I say we because there was more than just myself, but make no mistake I was actively present each time) were doing a greater disservice than those we attacked. Pious and bold, our impenitent hearts allowed great sin to spill forth of things that had little eternal significance. So why do I think of that now? Because we still do it. Not the same "we" from before, but the ubiquitous "we" that is found darkening the door of many a church on Sunday morning.

We have very little violence and the smallest of persecutions in our country at this time towards our faith. The grinding wheel that once honed and sharpened the flagbearers of our faith is not currently sharpening us, but we are dulled into atacking our weaker brothers. If I could ask Paul, Peter, John, Timothy, and Titus what we should do, I think they would urge me to boldly affirm the whole Gospel for the whole world, nothing more and nothing less. Then, they would tell me to “accept one another, just as Christ has accepted you” (Romans 15:7). If you read on in Paul's letter to the Romans, he clearly tells us what to do:

Romans 14:1-4 1Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. [My empasis added]

Yes, we are to admonish and excercise judgment on our lesser brothers when God's clear and righteous truth is distorted or perverted. However, on the non-essentials there should be liberty. I hardly think Paul could be all things to all people without having a like-minded view. If you disgaree, I simly ask that you grant me one favor. Read Romans 15:1-16 and tell me what you think we should do when it's a non-essential issue?


Chris said...

Wow bro! We have come a long way from the single finger pecking on the keyboard Brogli! I am genuinely impressed with your written skills! And, very appropriately I must boldly lift my hand and also proclaim "guilty!" in that same area. But wait a minute, I thought Baptists were right and everyone else was wrong? When did that change? lol!

Steve Scott said...

Liberty on nonessentials has led evangelicals to devalue certain important matters (church government, baptism, eschatology, etc.). Does it necessarily follow that evangelical cooperation will sideline important doctrines?
No, it does not. I still think we need to cooperate with each other but to do so around a commonly held core of truth. What has happened is that the capacity to think about life in biblical terms has begun to disintegrate. That then meant that in this great evangelical coalition are those who doff their hats to the authority of Scripture but really see little relevance for that truth in "doing church" in our contemporary world. The results are now everywhere to be seen in our churches. George Barna's polling numbers make dismal reading. It is not so much that particular doctrines have lost their saliency. Rather, it is the capacity to think about ourselves, our churches, and our world in biblical ways that has been slowly disintegrating.