A friend of mine recently lead an apologetics small group in which he shared a piece of defense that he knew his pastor disagreed with. In hindsight, he questioned if he should have presented the material when his pastor was in disagreement about it. I believe that this outlines one of the most dangerous things that can result from a wrong approach in both apologetics and theology.
We all know that there are theological doctrines that denominations, churches, and even people within churches disagree about. Some of these issues are foundational in that they must be believed for someone to gain salvation. Absolutes like these Christians need to be unwavering on. Issues that if a church rejects, it ceases to really be Christ’s church, but a cult. Jesus is God for instance, or that salvation is found in no other place but by Jesus sacrifice. These are issues to divide on, we do not consider those who believe otherwise to be part of the true church, nor do we believe they will receive salvation.
If we imagine doctrines fitting into two concentric circles than these central absolute issues are the inner circle. Outside of this we have issues of theology that vary in importance: Predestination vs. Free Will, whether or not women should be in leadership, what is the proper worship style, old or new earth creation, and other issues. But these issues, though we may find them to certain level of importance or not, never breach the barrier of being salvation issues; in that they are not central, we must not break unity when we disagree with each other.
In these non-salvation issues of theology, agreement must take a back seat to Paul’s command in Ephesians 4:3 ‘Make every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit through the bound of peace’. We may disagree, even passionately, but disagreement must never result in disunity and breaking of fellowship with our fellow believers.
Many non-believes look to the division of the church on doctrinal issues as reason for rejecting Christianity. Ultimately, this objection doesn’t hold water because it is like saying, ‘if scientists disagreed about something they all must be wrong’. None-the-less, we should give the non-believer no reason to reject the gospel based on our disunity. Unity of believers, true believers, must be more important than winning a theological debate.
Unity of believers, true believers, must be more important than winning a theological debate.
If a non-salvation issue debate becomes hostile between believers it has gone too far. We must seek unity with one another over being ‘right’ on a non-salvation doctrine. When we do that we damage our own ministry.
I believe in my friends case of presenting an apologetic that disagreed with his pastor there may have been a better way to approach it. Rather than simply presenting only his view he could have met with the pastor, explained why he wants to take such an approach. If the pastor still disagrees afterword my friend could simply present both views or even ask the pastor to share his view with his group. Unity. That’s the most important thing.