Friday, June 24, 2011

How to Disagree Like a Christian.

We Christians disagree about most everything, especially us Protestants. It's in the very label we go by - Protestants are the those who "protest." One of us protested 95 Catholic positions 500 years ago and we never stopped protesting against one another since. That's why it seems like there is a Christian denomination for every three people on earth. (There are at least five varieties of church on the drive from my house to the building where my version of Christianity worships.) It is truly amazing and somewhat embarrassing that the people who believe in "one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all..." are splintered in every conceivable way. Most all of our disagreements stem from how we interpret one book - The Bible. (And many of them actually come from how we interpret just a few verses in that one book.)

At this point I have a confession. My instinctual response to controversy, especially Biblical controversy, is to keep my mouth shut as long as possible. There is some wisdom in this, but also some cowardice. Sometimes it has meant that I will close my mind as well as my mouth. My personalty (INTP) seeks understanding more than answers. I am most uncomfortable when I am sure that I am right about something. I prefer to not have an opinion so that I can somehow foster unity among those who disagree. I am now seeing that my methods are probably the wrong directions to try to get to the right address. I have decided it is time to buckle down and figure out what my opinion is on several issues that I have basically ignored.

As a result, I have been thinking and reading a tremendous amount of late about some issues that might be thought of as controversial within the scope of Evangelical Christianity. I came across something foreign to me that I thought was very helpful. Not having ever been a Presbyterian, I had little knowledge of the specifics of their recent history until stumbling upon some Presbyterian writers and scholars this year. In doing so, I discovered the UPCUSA Guidelines for "a positive not restrictive use of Scripture in matters of controversy" written in 1982. I wanted to submit them here as a starting point for any of you currently in a situation where it could be beneficial:

1. Recognize that Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, is the center of Scripture. The redemptive activity of God is central to the entire Scripture. The Old Testament themes of the covenant and the messiah testify to this activity. In the center of the New Testament is Jesus Christ: the Word made flesh, the fulfillment of Israel's messianic hope, and the promise of the Kingdom. It is to Christ and the church witnesses. When interpreting Scripture, keeping Christ in the center aids in evaluating the significance of the problems and controversies that always persist in the vigorous, historical life of the church.

2. Let the focus be on the plain text of Scripture, to the grammatical and historical context, rather than to allegory or subjective fantasy.

3. Depend on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting and applying God's message.

4. Be guided by the doctrinal consensus of the church, which is the rule of faith.

5. Let all interpretations be in accord with the rule of love, the two-fold commandment to love God and love our neighbor.

6. Remember that interpretation of the Bible requires earnest study in order to establish the best text and to interpret the influence of historical and cultural context in which the divine message has come.

7. Seek to interpret a particular passage in the Bible in light of all the Bible

As I look back on the hot button issues that have defined much of Evangelicalism in my lifetime, I can't help but think that a slight glance over to the left at our Presbyterian brothers and sisters might have brought about more civilized and productive discussions. I have personally witnessed, and probably enflamed, debates that ignored all seven guidelines above. As I currently seek to bring a little more resolution on some Biblical passages in which honest, God-loving Christians disagree, the seven guidelines above give me the framework to press forward.

What an unprecedented witness could emerge if Christians genuinely learned how to disagree on important issues without labeling, excommunicating, damning or hating one another. It seemed, after all, to be a great hope of Jesus - that others would know we are his followers because of the love we have one for another.


Helen Ann said...

Thank you for sharing this...I especially like points one and five...These have become my focus when I am working out a difficult issue in light of my faith...I have questions about two and four...

Two: What do we do with passages that are clearly allegorical in nature? Hasn't there been a lot of problems with folks taking the 'plain text' of some passages and applying them without considering that the language is symbolic (the book of Revelation for example).

Four: Aren't there many variations of the 'doctrinal consensus' of the church? Are we to use the Vineyard, Baptist, Eastern Orthodox or Methodist consensus? Or is this referring to the very basics such as what is listed in the Apostles or Nicene Creeds? Though there are even variations in the understanding of those, so even at that there's some disagreement.

Not trying to make things difficult, those just stuck out to me as points that might cause other rabbit trails off of the issue that is being discussed.

Always enjoy your thoughts!

Steve Fuller said...

"He who allows oppression, shares the crime."
- Erasmus Darwin

"I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
- Elie Weisel

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

workinprogress said...

this made me smile. I'm so glad you blog.

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised Presbyterians would have a statement like that. Presbyterian history is replete with infighting and church splits ( I suppose that's not unique to them.

I was a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) for 6 years. We spent a lot of time and energy studying, arguing and debating doctrinal minutia. We would look down our pharisaical noses at churches like the Vineyard, and even mocked VCC. Biting and devouring one another, we gloried in what we should have been ashamed of.

I still hold many doctrinal beliefs that probably only a small minority at VCC would agree with. But I'm OK with that because being busy about kingdom building is way more important and life-giving to me.

It's good to study and discuss doctrine, but I think as "elders" we had too much time on our hands, and, like Eustace reading all the wrong books, there is a tendency to wrestle with all the wrong questions. Like "Does everyone go to Heaven when they die?" versus "Why doesn't my heart want everyone to go to Heaven?" or "What can I be doing to help more people be reconciled to God?".

Helen Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helen Ann said...

@David....So very well said!

(pardon the deleted message. Fixed a typo)...

Unknown said...

Finally. I'll be looking forward to your thoughts on the major theological disputes of our day. When can we look forward to your thoughts on whether it's appropriate to use the term "pastor" or "minister?"

In all seriousness to my heritage, I must say that I re-read "Declaration and Address" recently and it's held up very well. Impressive work.