How Should Christians Disagree? The Clarity of Scripture Part 6

How Should Christians Disagree? The Clarity of Scripture Part 6

How, then, shall we disagree? We start by welcoming one another, and when we look to the clear light of Scripture we stand fully convinced on that solid ground. In other words, we disagree like Christians, like those who have been welcomed by the God of goodness and truth. And if Paul’s instructions don’t seem to relieve the tension you still feel between Scripture’s clarity and our fallibility, then number your days and ask for a heart of wisdom (Ps 90:12). We disagree because our dim little minds obscure even the purest light of heaven. The light is still shining and shining bright. May we learn to live in the light of God’s clear truth as he dispels our darkness and disagreement until one day we “know fully, even as [we] have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12).

One of the most common objections I hear from non-believers about Scripture is: “How do you know that you’re right about the Bible when so many other Christians disagree with you?” Usually, the mere existence of Christian denominations (a kind of crystallized disagreement) provides enough of an excuse for a scoffer to throw up his hands and walk away. And I know some in the church who have struggled with this reality as well. “If the Bible is as clear as you say, shouldn’t we all interpret it the same?”

My answer: The clarity of Scripture doesn’t erase Christian disagreements, but it does help us disagree like Christians.

We’ve already seen the Bible’s own case for its clarity and the undergirding of that clarity in the character of God. Beyond that, we’ve considered the natural blindness of mankind to biblical truth and the Scripture’s own demand for obedience to grant understanding. So, Christians should expect to disagree with non-Christians about the Bible – we’re starting from a different premise, so we’ll naturally reach different conclusions. We also saw that we can only be enabled to rightly read the Scriptures when Christ illumines our spiritual eyes to see the clear truth in his light.

So, if all Christians have the same Holy Spirit helping them read the same, clear text, why all the disagreement? Why do some baptize babies and others don’t? Why do some teach sovereign election and others don’t? Why do some believe in a pre-tribulational rapture, some mid-trib, some post-trib, and some the pre-wrath mid-trib double-check discount rapture? Shouldn’t a clear text with the clear light of Christ lead to clear, universal agreement among earnest Bible readers?

Christians can and do still disagree in their interpretations of the clear Scriptures for three reasons, none of which negate the clarity of Scripture itself. Christians disagree because of sin (we may still reject a clear text because of a hard heart), finitude (we are limited beings who can only know so much), and distance (we’re removed from the authors of Scripture by thousands of years, a language barrier, and differing cultural values that need to be grasped before rightly interpreting the text). A combination of these factors can pour mud into the crystal-clear waters of Scripture and make it hard for us to see the bottom. The consequence, then, is that Christians still disagree on the right interpretation of a clear text of Scripture.

So, it’s obvious that we disagree, and it’s apparent why we disagree. The question is how, then, shall we disagree?

The apostle Paul gives us a roadmap to Christian disagreement in Romans 14:1-12. Without plumbing the depths of this text, I just want to help us see Paul’s two chief commands for disagreeing with Christians like Christians. First, “welcome one another.” Second, “be fully convinced.”

Welcome One Another

In writing from the church at Corinth (known for its division), the apostle Paul assumes that the Roman church (whom he has not visited) needs to be prepared for disagreements among the brethren. In fact, Paul seems to assume in his letter to the Roman Christians that they will disagree. This is the same apostle Paul who assumes that Timothy can “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). This is the same apostle Paul who “reasoned from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2) and told his protégé to devote himself to “the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim 4:13). Paul certainly believes the Scriptures are understandable, or else his whole ministry would be forfeit! And yet, Paul also anticipates that Christians who approach the same texts of Scripture will arrive at different conclusions regarding eating meat and esteeming certain days. Paul assumes Christians will disagree.

We should also notice that in this passage Paul believes that when Christians disagree, someone is right and someone is wrong. “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (Rom 14:14). The mere presence of a disagreement doesn’t kneecap the truth. Paul’s no post-modern life coach spewing relativist nonsense about “your truth,” “all truths,” and “the truthiness of truth.” No, Paul knows that there is a right way to understand and apply the New Covenant to the lives of believers (the “strong” position), and there are “weak” brothers who need to mature spiritually into that right understanding.

And yet, even though Paul knows there will be disagreements and truly believes that one side is right and another wrong, his first word to his fellow Christians is not a resolution to the debate! More than simply landing the plane for them, Paul wants them to learn how to land it in one piece. In Christian disagreements, Paul wants to first turn their attention to how they love each other in the midst of their difference.

Paul says, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions” (Rom 14:1). Meaning that before you try to correct another Christian with whom you disagree, you ought to warmly, richly, hospitably embrace him as your brother first. And why should you do that? “For God has welcomed him” (Rom 14:3). If God was willing to bring you close, make peace with you by the blood of his Son, and bring you into the family home, then who are you to begrudge that same welcome to another?

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