“Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – Matthew 10:32-34
It’s no secret that Christians disagree with each other. Every week Christians all of over the world sing songs like “They’ll Know We are Christians by our Love” in separate groups because the groups have too many doctrinal differences to fellowship with each other. Very few denominations, local churches and ministries can claim they have never faced a power struggle over theology or a division over doctrine.
So, which of our many differences should we worry about?
After all, one person’s heresy is another person’s minor difference of opinion.
Should we throw people out of the local church for their views on creation? Or women in positions of church leadership? Or who can administer communion and how often it should be served? What about the various forms of worship, music and liturgy, spiritual disciplines or even which movies to watch? Where are we free to disagree? And where must we draw a line in the sand?
Truth is a highly valuable yet divisive commodity.
If you are right in your opinion about X and I disagree with you, then I am wrong. Truth-seekers cannot avoid that kind of division. Christians do not believe that truth is relative or that it changes with the individual.
Truth is truth and anything else is a lie. If I disagree with you, at least one of us is wrong. While none of us can claim perfect understanding and all of us live with some uncertainty, disagreements within the church are inevitable.
What do we do then? How should I respond when I disagree with the answers another genuine believer gives to questions of faith and practice? Which issues are so critically important that we should draw a line and on which issues are we free to disagree?
Clearly, we must draw a line sometimes.
Jesus called the Pharisees white-washed tombs (Matthew 23:27) and drove the money-changers from the temple (John 2:14-16). The Apostle Paul publicly opposed the Apostle Peter when Peter’s actions compromised the gospel (Galatians 2:11-21). The Apostle John called teachers who deny Jesus is the Christ liars (1 John 2:22). In church history, Martin Luther drew a line that led to the Reformation — and many of us are glad he did.
Yet, just as clearly, we must not draw every line.
“Orthodoxy at all costs” can be just as dangerous as “peace at all costs”. Jesus ate with tax-gatherers and sinners (Matthew 9:10-13). Paul urged Timothy not to wrangle about words, but handle the truth accurately instead (1 Timothy 2:14-15). Church history is littered with the debris of dubious battles, that hindsight reveals should never have been fought.
So where do we draw the line? What is a “do or die,” “make or break” issue for Christians?
In his first letter, the Apostle John gives us two critically important questions — questions so fundamental to faith that we must answer them correctly or our salvation is in doubt; questions so fundamental we must not alter or abandon the answers or we have compromised the message of the gospel.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:4-10
1) The first issue is our view of sin and righteousness.
John claims those of us who follow Jesus Christ will have a healthy view of our sinfulness (1 John 1:4-2:11). That is we will understand we are sinful before a holy God, and left to ourselves, we cannot change that fact. We need a Savior.
Our view of sin is essential because it is one of the marks of saving faith. Saving faith involves knowing that you are a sinner, grieving over your sinfulness, and longing to be free of your sin. In church history, when a church begins to abandon the gospel, the first doctrine to go is usually the doctrine of sin.
Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:22-23
2) The second issue is our view of Jesus.
Just as we must understand our sinfulness, we must also know the only way to escape our sinfulness is by trusting in the blood of Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins.
Saving faith begins with knowing you are sinful and longing to be righteous, moves to realizing you cannot make yourself righteous, and ends with trusting that — even though God does not owe you anything — He sent his Son Jesus Christ to die in your place on the cross, to pay the penalty for you sin and secure your forgiveness.
Doctrine does not save us, but truth matters. God communicated His plan of salvation through a message and we need to make sure we get His message right.
To be saved, you must know who Jesus is and what he did for you (Ephesians 2:1-10).
Instead of a line with issues above and below it, a better model is a circle with the cross and sin in the center. The closer we are to the center of the circle (who is Jesus and what did He do for you), the more we must stand firm and refuse to compromise. The farther we are from the center of the circle, the more freedom we have to disagree.