It's fairly difficult to do devotionals from the books I have around this time of year because they keep wanting me to read the same passages over and over again and there hasn't been enough time between my reading them to post something with a terribly distinct point. So let's do this instead today.
A few years ago, I was explaining to a relative why my Baptist church was working with a Lutheran church on a shared project, a winter homeless shelter. His argument was that, because they baptize infants, Baptists can't work with them and pretend we're sharing the same gospel. I pointed out that we are, in fact, sharing the same gospel, and what we disagree on are largely secondary or tertiary issues. What I told him as the culmination of that is that I certainly think baptizing infants is wrong, and will gladly (and repeatedly have) discuss and/or debate that point while sitting with other believers in a context that permits that. However, with so few churches in my area that preach the gospel and preach it well, and so few people attending those churches and living out the gospel that they hear, it is only reasonable that we may have to team up across denominational lines to do outreach and we can't jeopardize that outreach by arguing about pedobaptism when a nonbeliever is walking by. Frankly, as much as I may disagree with Lutherans about certain things, I would rather see someone come to Christ and then grow in that walk while attending a Lutheran church than drive them away from the gospel entirely because I demanded that they come to my Baptist church regardless of their opinion of it.
He responded by accusing me of acting like every opinion is correct. He literally stated his belief that I would allow a pedobaptist to come into my church and preach from the pulpit about baptism. Now, I have some good friends who are pedobaptists, and I think we all understand without offense that we would never allow each other to do that. But he had no capacity for distinguishing between primary and secondary issues in theology.
Last week I had a run-in with someone online who was misrepresenting basically anything that wasn't Calvinism, and when I noted that they were failing to show grace for the fact that people with valid and growing walks with Christ can end up with differing views on this matter, and we need to respect the way that they got there from scripture, I was again accused of saying everyone was right. I very much wasn't. I had, in fact, already said that I don't believe Calvinism is right.
The reason I tell these stories is because something like it comes up pretty often. I think that we, as Christians at large, need to have a serious discussion about what it is we agree on, what it is we disagree on, and how much that really affects our relationship. Because the fact is, I don't believe that Heaven will be full of only non-Calvinist Baptists. And for the most part, Presbyterians don't think I'm out over my credobaptism and differing view on total depravity. There seems to be this weird thing happening where we recognize that the body of Christ in the world is larger than our own camp, but we can't allow that to impact how we actually treat each other.
Listen. When I say that there is reason that devout Christians reading the same scriptures with the same earnest heart for God come to completely different answers about atonement theory or the extent of depravity or how we baptize or how we view communion/Eucharist or what the rapture is or if there even is a rapture or when it would happen, I am not saying all of those answers are right. I do, in fact, have a very strong stance on most of them. I am saying that God apparently doesn't view those differences as worthy of casting either group of people out. What I'm saying is that it is arrogance to believe that the only reason for a person to disagree with you is because they haven't studied it as hard as you have. I used to get that a lot, when I was in these arguments more, people telling me I would change my mind if I spent as many years studying it as they have, without any acknowledgement that I had been studying it for more years than they'd been alive. It wasn't time or earnestness or redemption that set us apart.
If you believe that God accepts, grows, and uses an Anglican like C.S. Lewis, a Catholic like Augustine, a Baptist like Charles Spurgeon, a Presbyterian like Tim Keller, and a Lutheran to rival Luther himself, then you believe that there is something universal to all of them that allows them to sit at God's table along with you. There are things we have to secure and never compromise on--there's a reason I didn't include any Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses in the list above, after all*--and that is good, even necessary, to do. There is room for us to debate and discuss and really, honestly, truly disagree about other issues, and that is good if done respectfully and with grace and understanding that it is basically an in-house discussion. But we are so eager to tear each other down, turn perfectly workable secondary issues into demeaning jokes, and it benefits no one. Hear me, brothers: if we will be known by how we love one another, then we should be willing to at least listen to one another.
In this season where we celebrate God's offer of peace and good will toward men, let us seriously ask ourselves if our treatment of other Christians showcases peace and good will. And if not, let us repent and go to God and seek His heart for our fellow adopted children of the King.
*- There are also reasons I didn't include the EO or any of the literal thousands of other branches of Christianity, but these really have more to do with not knowing anyone off the top of my head that would help get the point across.
Church planter and ministry student with a bad habit of questioning authority and writing too much.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation