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Handling doctrinal, religious and theological differences

Handling doctrinal, religious and theological differences

Since the beginning of time in Christendom, there have been many dividing issues, particularly with ongoing contention in various denominations opposing doctrinal and theological positions.

Since judgment will begin with the house of God, (1 Peter 4:17), I must first start by addressing us as believers in connection to this issue that negatively affects our faith, our testimony and our witness in more ways than one.

Make no mistake about it and just to make it clear from the beginning, I agree that the doctrinal and theological view that we hold in connection to Biblical truth is a serious issue and cannot be taken lightly. Why is this? It is because those of us who have been given stewardship over the Word of God do not want to lead God’s people astray.  Also, we all live out what we believe; thus, our behavior will reflect that. If we believe the right Biblical perspectives, then we will live out the right Biblical perspectives and the same applies if we believe the wrong Biblical perspectives as well. Said another way for those who are truly saved, it does not affect their “salvation” (as long as they have received Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour by way of what is commonly referred to as the “Roman’s Road”) but it can and will affect their “relation” to God, their daily personal walk and how they correlate to others, especially in the Body. So once again, having correct Biblical doctrine and theology is critical to our growth, development and discipleship and should be viewed and treated as such.

Jesus did not come to divide the church.

Some believers are quick to throw out the idea that Jesus came to earth to bring a divide and I totally agree — but not within the Body of Christ despite our different Biblical interpretations. Otherwise, He would not have adamantly exhorted us to have no division among us in the Body if this were the case (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Nonetheless, it has been said many, many times before that the most segregated hour for the Church is on Sunday mornings at 11:00 o’clock. If in Christendom there is one Lord, one faith and one baptism (Ephesians 4:5), is this divide acceptable even though we know that it most likely going to change?

I do understand that there are different preferences in worship styles and worship service formats, but one of the main reasons why these factions have developed is because of the different doctrinal and theological positions that each denomination has. One group holds one interpretation of the Scriptures while another group holds to a completely different perspective, thus we just cannot seem to get along. For example, as I dealt with in my last article series, one group believes that our salvation is “secure” while another group believers that our salvation is “unsecure” and we can lose it. To add to this, when man’s personal perspectives and interpretations are added to Biblical equation, it gets worse. For instance, one denomination believes that it is acceptable come to church “dressed as they are” or “dressed down” and another group believes that one should always come to church ”dressed formally” or “dressed up.”

How about let’s just get them to Jesus first and then allow the Holy Spirit do what He does best – change people? Think about it, we cannot really gauge where people are spiritually in their walk with the Lord just by looking at outward appearances. I am not referring to accepting people coming to church dressed in ways that would cause anyone to stumble, but all of these issues make for a very “sticky” situation as we wrestle with trying to obtain the right doctrinal and theological perspective in life. When you blend Biblical truths with culture and individual preference as the times change, it gets even more “stickier.” Unfortunately, this has caused an adamant divide and sometimes an adamant divide with some bad attitudes. Please do not get me wrong — it is very understandable how we as believers can become very bothered when false doctrine is being preached and presented as truth. It bothers me, particularly when done on the larger platforms because of the mass amount of lives that will be affected. However, the end result is that it has led to a disruptive representation in the Body of Christ that the world gets to see on a daily basis and is constantly evaluating. Despite the given situation, I still try to keep in the back of my mind that we are commanded to love and that we are still the Body of Christ. More than this, how we handle our angry disagreements in the context of the Church is my concern due to how it has harmed our already damaged testimony and witness.

 The Body of Christ should not beat itself up.

There are some cases where the Bible does command and or instruct us as believers to separate and have nothing to do with certain erring brothers and sisters in Christ, (Romans 16:17), especially if they choose not to repent. However, the Bible never condones believers having dividing disengagement with anger, bitterness, gossip, slander and hatred for those in the Body that we disengage from.

With this said, the question and challenge for us then becomes, how do we handle this dilemma without the Body looking as if we a fighting like “cats and dogs” to the world, which sets us up for further mockery. Let’s face it, despite the given situation, we are still held accountable for being testimony conscious and not being a stumbling block to others, particularly those who could potentially get saved.

Despite our doctrinal and theological differences do we have to gossip about one another? Do we have to slander one another? Do we have to verbally attack one another? Do we have to hate one another? Do we have to hurt one another with our words because of this? I would have to say that according to the Bible I do not think so because the Word also tells us that if when we are saved, we are all members of one body (Romans 12:4).

I will give a prime example in the form of a question: If you saw a person walking down the street headed in your direction and you noticed that the person was punching themselves in the stomach, stepping on their own foot, slapping themselves in the face – what you be tempted to say of them as you moved far away for your own safety? Ah, ha you said it! You would think that they were “crazy” for a lack of a better term. In a similar sense, this is how the world views us as believers when they see us talking about one another, arguing and fussing and fighting. They too perceive us as being “crazy” and move far away from our faith to other faiths for their own spiritual safety. Sadly enough and apologetic on behalf of Christendom, I must admit that I do understand. So then why would we want to hurt ourselves even with our in-house doctrinal and theological differences? By the way, I do take into consideration that there is a time and a place for confronting and open rebuke, but whatever happened to praying that God would enlighten people who may be erring scripturally?  Prayer yields positive results, too.

It is so interesting to me how people can hold fast to “What the Bible says” with an iron fist when it applies to someone else. It is so interesting to me how when people are convinced that they are right, in the same motion abandon other aspects of “What the Bible says” that are equally important that applies to them as well in connection to how their response should be towards those who are in the wrong.

Of course, we should expose the deeds of darkness in the Body but what if it is a situation where perhaps a person may not know that his or her doctrine is wrong? What if they just needed someone to care enough to loving show them the correct interpretation of the Word and then let the Holy Spirit do his job as they wrestle with what you have shared with them? Ultimately, only God can change a mind, heart and behavior. I am not talking about turning a blind eye to people who willfully use the Word of God to mislead, manipulate, deceive, control, discourage and take advantage of the people of God and we should mark them as such as the Word tells us in Romans 16:17. It goes without saying that we should be bothered by this and be moved to take action (just as blood cells go after viruses in our physical bodies), but how should we handle this without bringing further damage to our already damaged testimony and witness? My question is, who is worse – the person who is sinning by presenting false doctrine knowingly or unknowingly or the person who is equally sinning by gossiping, slandering, verbally attacking and hating those that are erring when both parties represent the Body of Christ? In this particular case, both people’s actions would be wrong. This is not in the Bible but holds truth as two wrongs never makes a right. This is the primary point that I am trying to make. I am more for focusing on positive solutions (even if it causes for tough love) when confronting erring brothers and sisters and trying to preserve or should I say bring healing to our already tarnished Christian image at the same time. Can this be done? Is there a better way of handling this than the way that we have thus far? I believe that it can be done if we see the big picture even with our intense doctrinal and theological disagreements.

If Jesus told us to love our enemies, then I believe that He would still want us to love our erring family members, even if it is at a distance. Maybe this is wishful thinking, expecting that this will happen because only God can change someone’s mind, heart and behavior. However, we as a Body just have to care. The sad but true reality is that in the Body of Christ, many people just do not care and will refuse to change despite who they turn away from our faith. For those of us who do care, we can only be the change that we want to see. It is not about us but it is always about God and someone else.

Love vs. self-righteousness.

It is no secret that many believers feel justified in their (unrecognized by them) ungodly attitudes and behaviors towards others in the Body of Christ whose doctrine and theology may be misinterpreted and or simply flat out wrong. However, even if their Biblical worldviews are misguided, this extended negativity and lack of love should not still be the case. The sad thing is that it happens regularly and most likely will continue. Despite our differences, we still are the family of God if we are truly saved and we should treat one another as such, even if it has to be at a distance. Despite our differences, we are still commanded to love, even if it has to be tough.

Sometimes love is confrontational, but is it really “love” when it causes further damage to our Christian testimony and witness on an overall basis? Is it really “love” when it causes innocent bystanders or those watching in the background of our lives to turn away from our faith or stumble in the process? Some people go as far as calling out and attacking other believers over their pulpits, television shows, radio shows, or perhaps even slandering them with the use of their social media influence. Is this kind of behavior acceptable with God? Would Jesus approve of taking negative “shots” at others in the family of God like this? Is this a “godly” way to handle the situation in this manner? Furthermore, what does handling this in-house problem in this way really accomplish? After expressing their outward disapproval and their supporters have encouraged them on, have those who hold contrary Biblical positions been made better or changed their faulty position? The interesting thing is that those who may have the right doctrine but no relational aspect have missed the mark as well.  The Bible confirms this in 1 Corinthians 3:6 which says:

“Who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, NOT OF THE LETTER BUT OF THE SPIRIT; FOR THE LETTER KILLS, BUT THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE” (NKJV).

Basically, this Scripture is saying, “What good is it to know or to be right doctrinally and theologically only and cannot lovingly related to people as Jesus did.”

I know some people who know the Bible inside out and their Biblical perspectives are on point, but they are as mean as rattlesnakes and come off as such. With this said, even when right about the letter of the Biblical law, they still are unable to enlighten anyone because they lack the “Spirit” that gives life aspect. No one would be able to receive what they have to say because they come off as being judgmental, condemning, critical, super spiritual and most of all, wanting to be right. Once again, I am not minimizing the need for the right doctrine and theology.  But can we just add the “Spirit” part?  I think that we can handle this problem better and get better results in terms of erring people receiving what we have to say.

Discerning the right time and the right place for disagreements.

As I alluded to earlier, of course, there is a time and a place for open rebuke (in the context of the local Church) and exposure of those we deem “evil doers” or “false prophets” in the Body. However, more times than not, God will instruct us to confront individually, privately and lovingly (if the situation provides for it), just as Nathan did with David in 2 Samuel Chapter 12.

Why is this? It is because it assists in safeguarding our universal testimony and most importantly, it yields better results, just as it did for David who in the end, was able to see himself but more than that, see his faults.

Nathan was a Biblical example of one who displayed this rare compassionate quality that is surprisingly lacking in today’s Church. He was one who drafted by God to be a part of this special operations rescue force. In 2 Samuel 12, God sent Nathan to David (in love but in private) who had not only strayed from the truth but was walking in the error of his way. God was not pleased with David’s sin and he would not listen to the convictions and prompting of the Holy Spirit or to his own conscience. Nathan confronted David and shared a parable with him in order to lovingly but truthfully expose him to himself. David’s response to a thief described in Nathan’s parable was judgmental because of the guilt of his own sin. Nathan used David’s response as a mirror to help him to realize that he was behaving just like the very “evil” man of the parable that he was judging with indignation. This confrontation between David and Nathan opened up David’s eyes and eventually brought him to repentance, confession and ultimately restoration (Ps. 51).

As it pertains to this issue, the huge problem that I have in the Body of Christ is when these confrontations are not handled how the Bible describes and/or commands us to do it — in the spirit of love that encompasses grace along with truth. The sad part about it is that people really believe that they are being “spiritual” when engaging in these confrontations, but are more blinded than those who they are trying to retrieve and help to “see” are. This is not spiritual at all and nowhere in the Bible does it support or justify this kind of behavior unless one in taking Scripture out of context.

Being right is only part of the equation.

handsome manThe Holy Spirit Himself may convict but He never condemns because “There is now therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1). We sometimes fail to realize that as Christians, our words carry spirits and have attitudes attached to them (spoken, written or typed) that can be sensed and discerned by people. Our tongue has the power of life and death and our words have the ability to cut to the core thus being helpful or harmful. When words are not conveyed in the spirit of grace along with truth, those on the receiving end can sense this and the words do not have the power to win people over. Remember, the goal is to get one to see the error of his or her way, not to prove that you are right.

Even if we are right and others know we are right, if our message is not given and received in the spirit of love, people will adamantly hold to their wrong position. They will also hold to their faulty position just to spite us also and continue to openly proclaim it. At this point, what would be our only reward but to feel that we have won the conversation but we have lost our brother or sister in the process? All that is gained is our selfish gratification and sense that we “told them.” What’s lost is winning our brother or sister in the end.

I strongly believe that we can correct, rebuke and expose in the spirit of love and be just as effective if not more so, yielding better results of winning our brother or sister in Christ. This can definitely happen if we do it using a simple but effective formula that Jesus used when He spoke – grace and truth. Just think for a moment, even Jesus himself said that you will know My disciples by their love one for another (John 13:35) which lets us know that even though we may disagree that we should still love one another. Jesus, taking and using His own counsel, knew when and how to balance being loving and firm when conveying what He had to say and we as Christians should follow suit in spite of our differences.

There are many cases where you cannot have a direct conversation with a fellow believer. In this case, you could write a letter or send an e-mail in love and allow the Holy Spirit to work on the fellow believer’s heart and make the necessary changes as we continue to pray for them. The key is that whatever effective way God leads one to approach another believer given that specific situation, do it in the context of love and not attacking, condemnation and being judgmental.

Harming our public testimony to the world.

The challenge in all of this is getting believers as a whole to realize and care enough to change for the sake of our already tarnished testimony throughout the world. I have seen and experienced firsthand that no matter what the Bible says that we should do, many believers are simply not going to care and continue assisting in harming our already tarnished testimony. My feeling is that if we care and are concerned about those in the Body who hold false doctrinal position because of the harm that it can do to the Body of Christ, then we need to use that same level of care and concern in responding (especially publically) because of the harm that our response can do to the Body of Christ.

Some, in self-righteousness and justifying their behaviors, will go as far as to use their “secure salvation,” “you can’t judge me” and “you don’t have a Heaven or Hell to put me in” arguments as a means to continue in their negative behavior. The interesting thing is that those who use this same defense are doing the same thing to those who are erring doctrinally. Of course, no one is perfect.  We are going to make mistakes. However, there is a huge difference between willfulness and blamelessness.  We all have to be more testimony conscience for the sake of those around us and the world that is watching. I have to reiterate this because we as believers need to realize that the world is “ticked” off at us and our attitudes simply cannot be “so what.”

Why is this? It is because, if we want to be honest, we have assisted greatly in our own tarnished Christian representation. We have to care because we are called to do so!

Interestingly enough, the theme of the Bible is about loving God and loving others but somehow we as Christians on a whole seemed to have missed it or maybe we just do not care.  If I can be open, honest and transparent, when I look at Christendom today, I even wonder why I even care. Sometimes I wish I did not care as my attitude is tempted to be, “If you can’t beat them, join them” but instead, I continue to make the choice to care.

 What does the Bible say?

BibleSo when we have these problems, or specifically as it pertains to doctrinal and theological issues that we do not agree on, what does the Bible have to say about how we should handle these disagreements? What does the Bible have to say about how we should confront those who we strongly believe are doctrinally and theologically wrong especially when we think that we are doctrinally and theologically right as it pertains to our Biblical worldviews? Well, Galatians 6:1 tells us:

“Brethren (or Sisteren) if a man (or woman) is overtaken in any trespass, YOU WHO ARE SPIRITUAL RESTORE SUCH A ONE IN A SPIRIT OF GENTLENESS, CONSIDERING YOURSELF LEST YOU ALSO BE TEMPTED” (NKJV).

What does this mean? The term restore in Galatians 6:1 is the Greek word “katartizo” which is a medical term that means to mend, to furnish completely and to set a broken bone back into place. So in essence, God requires that we in the Body of Christ do this by going to our Brothers and or Sisters in Christ in love and in private in order to turn them from their doctrinal and theological errors and back to the truth. So who is qualified to do this? The passage tells us that they must be “spiritual.” Keep in mind this does imply that they must not be “religious” because there is a huge difference in how they would handle the situation.  What makes them spiritual is the compassion in their hearts that they have to; once again, confront their brothers and or sisters in Christ in love but in private. The key is, even if they have to lovingly correct, rebuke or even humiliate them in private in order to gain their brother or sister, than they do so. I know many Christian people may think that they are spiritual enough to carry out this type of mission but this is not the case. If we examine the word compassion it will further give a self explanatory reason as to why. The word C O M P A S S I O N, according to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, consists of a pre-fix and two words in and of themselves, which are:

  • ·        C O M: is a pre-fix that means “with”
  • ·        P A S S I O N: is an intense driving or emotion that “moves” one to do something about the problem at hand (keeping in mind that one does not feel sorrow for their negative behaviour but their blinded, lost and wandering state)
  • ·        C O M P A S S I O N

Said another way, “Compassion” is not complete unless it comes “with” some “passion.” In other words these type of believers just do not sit back and complain and talk negatively about their Christian brothers and sisters, they “get into the game” and do something about it by going to them in love and in private to try to rescue and retrieve them from the error of their way. They do this for the sake of providing loving accountability or mentoring or simply just to bring their erring to their attention. While on this note, I do want to applaud all those of the household of faith who do and or have tried to handle these situations in this manner. Sometimes you can attempt to rescue and restore your brother or sister and they chose not to receive or hear you. At this point, you can only wipe the dust off of your feet, pray for them, commit them to God, love them at a distance and let your own behavior continue to reflect an authentic representation of Christianity. Handling this any other way would not be Holy Spirit led even if one is right because sometimes we can say the right thing, the wrong way, which makes it wrong. Sometimes we can attempt to do the right thing but handle it the wrong way, which would make it totally wrong as well. God would never lead us to do anything to cause further damage or turn people away from the faith because that would be being a stumbling block to others.

Conclusion – It’s God, not our egos, at work when changing hearts and minds.

At the end of the day, when we realize that only God can really change a mind, heart and behavior, it will free us from the burden and frustration that comes with trying to change others’ views and perspectives. To go a step further, after we have done our job the right way, it really is the Holy Spirits’ job to convict and to change people, not us. I am not at all saying that we should not speak up and speak out about the things that are wrong in the Body of Christ. I am not at all saying that we should not confront and address issues in the Body of Christ, let alone people who may have erred from the truth. What I am saying is that there is a more Biblically effective way of doing it that would yield better results than the way that we have been handling our in-house differences. My rationale is that we should not continue to tarnish our already tarnished Christian image in the world due to non-believers seeing us as Christians fighting openly and then trying to tell them they need to be saved and are going to Hell if they do not. In my estimation, I am sure as they are turned off by us as believers and that their perspective is that we as Christians might need to be “saved” or we are going to Hell, too, due to the seemingly consistent un-Biblical behavior that they see from us more times than not in today’s society. Not that I am judge because only God is, but some of us who profess to be saved may need to do some self inventory to make sure that we are connected to Him daily because when we are, it makes us want what He would want.

Would Jesus want us as believers fighting like “cats” and “dogs,” especially in front of non-believers? I do not think so!  I understand that no one is perfect so join the club, however if we all just care enough to do our part, perhaps we can  gain some ground in connections to “recover” some of our “lost” image.

Wishful thinking? Maybe. But a better way of communicating is worth a try!

About Pastor Kevin Benton

Kevin Benton attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA., the world’s largest Evangelical Christians School, founded by the late Chancellor, Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell. While at Liberty, he was a member of the basketball team that represented the first Christian School to ever play in the N.C.A.A. tournament against high school friend and former N.B.A. player, Rasheed Wallace and the North Carolina Tar Heels. Kevin Benton is a Minister, Youth and Young Adult Pastor, Recreational Director, Ex-professional basketball player and a Child Care Social Worker. He has played against some of the best players in the world including N.B.A. players Kobe Bryant, Yoa Ming, Aaron McKie, Rick Mahorn, Jerome Allen, Paul Graham and the list goes on. Kevin Benton is the C.E.O. and founder of Kevin Benton Ministries and is a very knowledgeable and anointed speaker, gifted to preach and teach the Word of God. He is the author of the published book, “A Field Trip to Hell” and was invited multiple times as a guest on the Trinity Broadcasting Network for an interview on the "Praise the Lord" segment, which aired on T.V. In his book he tells of a real visitation to Hell experience that he encountered when he was in college which motivated him to write the book. He exposes the world to the 30 revealed torments of Hell firsthand, according to the Bible so that people might realize that Hell is a real place and to avoid it at all cost.
  • just saying

    1 Corinthians 1:10-13 is Paul speaking – not "Him"

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