Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Can’t We All Get Along? 2

Civility and theological differences: In one church

Last time we looked at how people with theological differences can disagree amicably. But how should we handle having these disagreements in one local church body? Now the concern isn’t loving debate but actually laboring beside one another.

More precisely, what if someone who teaches differs from the official position of the local church or denomination on a subject? (Again, the Calvinism debate will be our example.)

Be honest
Put all cards on the table. If you’re a Calvinist and the church isn’t, it would be tempting to try to stay under the radar, but eventually it’s going to get out, so let’s just do it up front.

The question was raised recently about Calvinists interviewing for pastor in a non-Calvinist church. Again, all cards on the table. Yes, that may mean that it will be hard to get a job as pastor in your denomination. Sorry.

Try to put yourself in the other position. In this example, think of a Presbyterian congregation that finds out half-way through Romans that their pastor is an Arminian. Can you imagine a Pentecostal church accidentally hiring a cessationist? People have a right to know what to expect from you.

Be honest about what you believe and, if you’re not interviewing for pastor, emphasize your willingness to do the next step…

Adhere to rules
If the church is Calvinist and you’re not, teaching certain passages would be difficult. But not impossible. When you get to a problem passage, you can skip it, or you can teach the standard line or the debate.

For example, when you can to Romans 8, you can give the official stance. Or you can give both sides – take it as an opportunity to discuss Calvinism and Arminianism without coming down on any side.

You cannot take the opportunity to argue that the pastor/elders/denomination is wrong on this issue. If you have to do that, skip the passage or don’t take a teaching position.

Avoid unnecessary controversy
This is useful, and biblical, advice in every aspect of life but especially here. Don’t pick a fight if you don’t have to. Don’t let someone else pick one either.

With a little self-control, you can probably go decades without most people in your church knowing that you’re the one Arminian or the one amillennial or the one consubstantiationist in your church. You can be honest with the leadership without advertising your beliefs to the rest of the congregation.

There is no perfect church, so occasionally people will end up joining a church that they are slightly out of synch with theologically. If we’re careful we can manage without causing division in Christ’s church.


Anonymous said...

What if you are a Calvinist but your definition of Calvinism is much different than the definition of Calvinism held by Arminians in your church? Wouldn't it be lying or misleading to tell them you are a Calvinist if they will then assume you are something you are not using their own definition? What about people who have basically been fed a string of lies about Calvinism and have such a bad taste of it in their mouth that they would leave the church immediately if they found you might be "one of those" Calvinists? (I've seen this happen). The argument could also be reversed for an Arminian. Wouldn't it be wiser in such cases to just stick to teaching scripture and letting God's word speak?

ChrisB said...

I understand what you're saying, but I don't think it really changes anything. You want to "just stick to teaching scripture," but, at the risk of sounding all postmodern, that's not realistic.

Let's take a different example. Once people have decided that the pretrib, premil position is correct, any scripture they encounter will now be interpreted through that lens. It is going to be very difficult for a premil person to change his view to amil because he's going to filter every eschatological verse through the premil theology first.

In the same way, a Calvinist will read certain passages in a certain way. An Arminian will read certain passages in a certain way. I find it very unlikely that anyone will "just teach scripture."

Yes some people do come to the scriptures with a clean slate approach, but that seems to be very rare and very difficult.

I'll stand by my previous statement: all cards on the table.

Now, being judged by a misunderstanding of what constitutes a Calvinist is a terrible problem. I hope you can talk these folks into listening and maybe into reading something.

Be careful; be diplomatic. Maybe "I want to make sure we all mean the same thing when we say 'Calvinist.'"

You still can promise them you won't teach Calvinism. Come on -- you could teach on Romans 8 for weeks without ever touching on election.

Otherwise, it might be necessary to go to a church where you can be yourself.