I am sure as some of you read this you will probably be thinking, “I hope he’s done harping on the gospel already!” Some of you have probably checked in and seen the topics and gone on to read something else. Well it is your lucky day. My tirade is done! My passion however is still anchored firmly in the Gospel. Today’s topic, though, ranges far afield. I want to look at an evaluation of church affiliations. Specifically, how we view those who differ on this point from our own chosen position.
I must start this with a set of presuppositions. 1st we hold our positions based on personal convictions and we associate with those who do likewise. I associate with those I associate with because I choose to do so. This choice implies that they believe or practice as I do. Or at least in a manner consistent with my personal beliefs.
2nd I hold the convictions I do because I have chosen to believe certain things. Let’s face it, belief is a choice. It may be based on facts (and indeed it should be) but it is ultimately a choice to believe. But if our beliefs are based on facts then why do we disagree? Aren’t all facts irrefutable? If so, then how can we come to such different conclusions and positions? The answer is perspective. No two people can possibly look at the same object from the exact same perspective.
3rd If 1 & 2 are true then differences are a natural result. If it is a natural result we have one more question to answer, “Why are we made to have different perspectives?” Personally I believe that the reason is diversity is needed for the success of any endeavor. (No I am not heading toward ecumenicalism.) We must come to the point where we can admit that someone may disagree with me and still be in a place of complete fellowship with God. (Granted I am talking about born again believers.)
This does sound like a contradiction. How can we have differing views and still both be right? We can’t. We can, however, disagree and still both be right with God. The logical rule of non-contradiction states that two ideas that are in opposition eliminate the possibility that both can be correct. So how does this possibly work? The fact that I believe one thing and you see the same matter as a violation of some personal code of conduct does not make me wrong, it makes me wrong in your eyes. Sincerity does not guarantee correctness. So my sincerity in my view does not make me right and neither does your sincerity in your conviction make you right. It would seem that this would imply a relative approach to God’s truth. I assure you this is not the case.
Let me see if I can get you to see what I see (or at least gain a semi-similar perspective). We can see the same absolute Word of God, and come to a different perspective because this is part of the nature of creation. God did not create clones. He made people to be different. Not just in outward appearance but also in inward thought. Even those with whom I agree completely in theology will never come to the same conclusions about practice. It simply is not possible. So what are we to conclude? Diversity in practice is not a problem as long as the orthodoxy in belief behind it is solid.
But what about the denominational differences? Well, that is quite a different story now isn’t it? Can a Baptist and a Presbyterian have fellowship together? Can a Baptist and a Catholic? What about a Bible church and a Baptist church? What is the common denominator? How do we decide?
Let me try to answer some of those questions. Some historical context is necessary; denominations have come to be because leaders in the theological realms disagreed in matters of practice regarding theology. (Now it must also be granted that there were some serious disagreements not only over practice but over the theology itself.) In the practice realm of things one must note that for the most part men agreed on the meaning of Scripture but not on what that meant practically. If we are honest we have not gotten past that yet. We still struggle at times to figure out what is and is not acceptable. Allow me to see if I can shed some light on the whys of the denominational rift and possibly answer the question of its validity today.
To answer the questions above we have to answer one more question first. What determines the scope of fellowship? How you answer this question reveals more about your belief system than your words or practice do. Some would say that the Bible is the measure that determines the scope of fellowship. This is dangerous in that even the Devil knows that the Bible is true and believes all it says but he does not have a relationship with Christ. By the same token just to say that all believers should fellowship together is dangerous also. Some believe but are not of the household of faith. So the limit comes down again to those who believe and are born of the Spirit. But is that enough? Some have heard the gospel and believed unto righteousness but have since been taught erroneous doctrine. So how do we come to a scope of fellowship? Take a guess! Yep! You guessed it, the gospel.
How we practice, say the Lord’s Supper, is not as germane to the topic as understanding what the Lord’s Supper signifies. So what about Baptists and Catholics? Well if the Gospel is by grace through faith in Christ alone, and Catholics say that baptism, communion, works, confession et. al. are necessary for salvation then we do not agree and must therefore not fellowship with them. What about other denominations? The same holds true. If they add or subtract anything to the Gospel then we must not fellowship. Now does this mean that there are no believers outside of Baptists? Absolutely not! What it does mean is that anyone who adds to the gospel or takes away from it is not a Christian.
So why the denominational differences? Well, so we can tell who believes what. That is why we need to know not only what we believe but what others believe also. Stick to the truth, the Gospel and the Word of God. You can’t go wrong there. And if you do you will find fellowship where you least expect it, and you will certainly find fellowship where it should be, among those who believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I guess I did it again. I always seem to come back to the Gospel don’t I? I am sorry if this distresses any of you. I hope we can still fellowship together! 🙂