Can you smoke and drink and still express allegiance to Christ?
Is church attendance necessary to the definition of “being like Christ?”
If you are a Christian, is it wrong to have more possessions than the poorest person in your community?
If a Christian commits suicide, will he/she go to hell?
Ask these questions to 10 different Christ followers and you might get 10 different answers, with each person convinced their view is correct. Fighting over questions such as these have caused divisions between friends and even church communities.
Especially in theology and worldview, Christians have the tendency to see things as black and white only. This causes us to draw lines of separation from those who believe differently. We make camp with those who think similarly and we wage wars against those who think differently. Every now and then, we will try to come up with a peace treaty. This is quickly abandoned, though, out of stubbornness with a dash of arrogance.
I do believe some things are black and white. One cannot read the Bible and not come to that conclusion. However, there are also things that aren’t so clearly laid out in the Bible. I wish everything were black and white, but it isn’t always so simple.
The Bible is as messy as it is neat. There are moments that God is very clear and then there are other moments that there is uncertainty on how to interpret a passage. There are moments when all of Christendom can unite on a topic and then there are moments that we divide because of different views. In 2008, there was an estimated 39,000 Christian denominations worldwide. By 2025, it is estimated that there will be 55,000 Christian denominations worldwide. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimated that there is a new Christian denomination formed every 12 hours.
If it is all black and white, why is a new denomination forming every 12 hours? Within the 40,000 denominations (my estimate) that exist today, there are probably still divisions among what to believe about certain issues. Christendom is a mess. We have made finding Christ the most impossible maze.
The issue with an exclusively black and white theology is just this: the lines that we draw create a maze that makes finding Jesus impossible. We have Jesus at the center, but we haven’t put Him at the beginning. Instead of teaching people to walk with Jesus through difficult texts, beliefs and theologies, we teach them to go searching for the answers to all the side issues on their own in hopes of finding Jesus somewhere down the road. This causes confusion and frustration among people when they can’t seem to find Him. Exhausted, they give up or they create some version of Jesus that they think best fits their life. Then we have new churches popping up just because they want to do worship, preaching, community, mission and sacraments differently.
There is one, central truth that we should all agree upon: Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God and through his life, death, burial and resurrection, God is reconciling the world to Himself. If you’re like me, you probably might think this is a good belief, but what do we do when we disagree with someone on something other than this? Here are some steps I think would be beneficial:
Seek conversation rather than debates
If there is anything we can learn from the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate, it is that debates really solve nothing. Each side walks away more convinced about why they are right and why the other side is wrong.
Conversations ask open-ended questions rather than questions that cause a forced answer. Conversations seek to listen rather than give a rebuttal.
Pray “I in them and You in Me, may they be brought to complete unity”
This is a prayer found in John 17 that I pray almost daily. It is a reminder that above all else, I need to seek unity in everything I do. Anytime I want to pick a fight with someone I see as crazier than me, I ask myself, “is this going to lead to unity?” Ask yourself that question before you decide to engage in a war with someone (under Christendom) who believes differently than you.
Operate from humility, not from expertise
As a Bible college student, most of the time I want to begin my answers with “let me tell you why you’re wrong.” I feel that because I have a four-year degree in Bible, that I am an expert that everyone needs to listen to.
But pursuit of truth never means that one has to be arrogant in beliefs. In reality, none of us are experts when it comes to God. We cannot get to a level where we know God enough to consider ourselves experts. So it is best to operate from humility; from a stance of “I could be wrong…”
I hope grace works. I hope that it covers what we get wrong. Even more, I hope that grace covers what we thought we got right. Because if it doesn’t, we’re all in big trouble.
It’s fine to discuss, but we need to consider if we’re really honoring God when we argue to the point of division. Life would be better if we stopped saying “I’m right.” Life would be better if we stopped saying, “God told me this is the way it should be,” or “from my studies, this is what I think we should believe on this issue.” Because what happens if we are wrong on those side issues? What happens if the person who believes opposite of us is right? Maybe we are the ones that need to be changed and God is trying to use them to change us? Stop trying to martyr yourself on something that is not essential to the core message of the Gospel.
So if you find yourself arguing in an unhealthy way with a Christian brother or sister who believes differently than you do—someone who smokes, is divorced, supports gay marriage, is a democrat, speaks in tongues or whatever else—maybe you should just say “You still believe in the Christ? Let’s talk about the other things.”
Caleb Trimble is a high school student pastor outside of Chicago and 2010 graduate of Johnson University. His dream is to go skydiving one day. You can read his thoughts on calebtrimble.com or by following him on twitter @calebtrimble.