Arguments: A Lesson in Church History

In this caricature, Calvin and Luther argues with each other as they also argue with the pope haha!

We all have encountered situations where a group discussion starts out with good intentions—whether it be face-to-face, on e-mail, on internet forums or on Facebook. But oftentimes this eventually leads to arguments and misunderstanding among the participants. Courtesy and respect are forgotten leading to name-calling, ridicule, sarcastic remarks, putting down the other person and character assassination.

I guess you will agree with me that “it happens all the time.” Many of these discussions lead to soured or broken relationships among the participants. I’ve seen this happen many times and I’ve learned my lessons. What about you? I guess some people just love to argue for the “fun” of arguing. They’re not really interested in the truth. They already have “the truth.”

Love One Another

The Lord’s reminder is simple. We Christians are to be known as the Lord’s disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34-35). Definitely not based on our superior theological understanding. But what do we often see in Christians when they talk about other fellow Christian’s beliefs? We accuse, we put down, we belittle, we smear the other person’s reputation and show off our knowledge of the Bible. Isn’t that what’s happening in these discussions? Knowledge truly puffs up. Everybody can quote a lot of Scriptures. But no one gets edified. Neither is God glorified. It leads to confusion, hurt feelings and never-ending debate.

We All Have Theological Biases

One thing is sure. We all have our own theological biases—a lens through which we see things. We view the Bible based on our own understanding of it and oftentimes, we are sure of ourselves that we have the accurate interpretation of Scripture and all the others are wrong.

If you are a Sabbath-keeper, you look at everything with that perspective. Law-keeping, especially the Sabbaths and the festivals are paramount for salvation. If you are a 5-point Calvinist, you look at salvation from the lens of God’s sovereignty. There is no room for human freedom and free will. If you are Arminian, you believe that salvation is in your hands. Based on your performance (law-keeping), you either go to heaven or hell—your choice. If you are a universalist, everybody gets saved regardless of what you do or not do. We all have filters and lenses through which we view and perceive everything. That’s our world view. So many differing views!

Made-Up Minds

With that in mind, can these discussions ever lead to something edifying and good? Well, it would seem doubtful but I would suppose it may still lead to something good—hopefully. But oftentimes, I have my doubts. From my experience, it often ends up with misunderstanding and hurt feelings. Why? Because actually, most of those who join these discussions have their minds already made up. As the saying goes, “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.” They are there to convince everyone else of their brand of “gospel truth.” They are not really there to learn and know the truth. Don’t kid yourselves.

Learning from Church History

Let’s look at church history and learn lessons on how we should handle ourselves in the midst of differing theological views.

According to Earle E. Cairns, in his book “Christianity Through The Ages (third edition, revised and expanded)  on page 22:

  • “Ignorance of the Bible and the history of the church is a major reason why many advocate false theologies or bad practices.”

So let us go back to the history of the Church a few centuries ago.

Great Church Leaders and Soured Relationships

Did you know that John Calvin and Martin Luther who were great church leaders during the 16th century had great disagreements over doctrine? On page 302 of Cairnes’ book it says, “Luther’s main emphasis was on justification by faith, whereas Calvin stressed the sovereignty of God.” 

And did you know that John Wesley and George Whitefield, both great leaders and founders of the Methodist movement during the 18th century also had their friendship ruined because of theological differences? Both leaders had great influence during their time in America and Britain. John Wesley held on to the Arminian view while George Whitefield hang on to Calvinism. This led to a divided church.

Respect One Another At All Times

The lesson for me is clear. Let us all respect each one’s theological view and stop ruining relationships. Share your views if you must but let us maintain loving relationships.

Photo credit: Google

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