I was listening to a Christian broadcast the other morning on the way into school and the topic of the sermon was Christians and alcohol. The preacher took a rather hard stand against alcohol and insisted that the Bible expressly forbids the use of alcohol. While I don’t agree with him, I was intent be gracious to his points as to why. That was until he made the statement at the end of his broadcast that he did not want to condemn any Christian who drinks alcohol BUT (yes you knew there was a but coming, right?) you Christian, should really ask yourself does your use of alcohol really glorify God. If you love God and offer yourself to Him….skreeeeech! My first thought was ‘how is that not condemning’? That person who may have a glass of wine or beer on occasion, and has a conviction regarding this liberty, has now had their Christian devotion challenged.
It seems to me that taking a position on any point of doctrine can have the affect of justifying one’s need to exert their love for God. The believer’s love for the Lord should drive them to carefully study the Biblical text and have the desire to understand what it is communicating. But the landscape of evangelicalism certainly should indicate that there are a variety of differences affecting many areas of Christian doctrine and life. The list is exhaustive and includes issues such as spiritual gifts, church government, Christian liberties, hermeneutics, sanctification, etc. There are a variety of reasons that lead to differences, including experience and Church tradition, but are not necessarily born out a lack of honor or love.
Do you not see how this can have an affect of indicating that our positions are those that are right, and if the other person is really wanting to honor God they would see the light too? We can look at opposing positions as a disregard for affections and deem that if that Christian was really devoted to God, they would not think that, or interpret that passage that way or take that position.
The problem that can work with whatever position is taken
- If they really loved the Lord, they would not prohibit women from certain leadership positions
- If they really loved the Lord, they would see that God has ordained a divine order and not twist scripture to suit their purposes
- If they really loved the Lord, they would not put God in a box and see that all spiritual gifts mentioned are for use today
- If they really loved the Lord, they would take time to understand the purpose of the gifts in the foundation that was laid in the early church
- If they really loved the Lord, they would not drink or get tattoos
- If they really loved the Lord, they would not impose legalistic standards where Christians can have liberties
The list can go on. But it demonstrates that whatever position we take, particular in areas that are not essential to salvation or historic orthodoxy, we can associate that position with Christian allegiance such that the Christian who takes a differing position must do so because of a lack of devotion. It is not enough to say the other person is wrong but when their allegiance and affection is questioned because they disagree, it casts dispersions on their faith.
Friends, may I suggest this is not a good view to take. Just because someone takes a differing position does not mean they have any less affections for Christ. Therefore, I think we need to be careful how we present opposing positions. For example, I am a complementarian and believe that the Biblical evidence supports male headship in the church and home. But I have no doubt that there are those who honestly wrestle with the text and come to an egalitarian position and approach scripture with the same devotion as I have. The fact that they have come to a different position involves interpretive differences but does not suggest that they are seeking to dishonor God or have a lesser love for Christ.
So my appeal is to examine differences on their own merit. It may be that an interpretive difference is a result of a lack of devotion or spiritual laziness. It may be that the person representing the opposing position does have an axe to grind and is more interested in self-preservation than what scripture honestly says pointing to a lack of affection. But that cannot be assigned to every case there is a difference. Using language that undermines the other person’s devotion not only does not settle differences, but it does nothing to promote Christian harmony. Moreover, it can have the detrimental impact of creating a sense of inferiority with the person that disagrees, something that may very well eventually impact their affections for Christ. Let’s be careful how we treat opposing positions.