January 15, 2021

Sometimes Being Right is Wrong

Today’s post is from IM First Officer Michael Bell.

I have a great appreciation for my Pastor. I appreciate his perspectives on most issues, and I appreciate his leadership within the church. However, for the last two years we have disagreed quite strongly on one particular significant issue. What that issue is, is not important to the topic at hand, but suffice to say, it is an issue that has divided many churches in the past, and had the potential to cause much dissension or division in our church as well.

But it didn’t.

The previous church that we attended closed because of divisiveness in the Elders Board. In my own life I have seen several churches struggle or fail because of church division. I never want to be the source of division like that. The Apostle Paul didn’t like division either. His command in Ephesians 4:2 really jumped out at me, as I was reading it, and I have kept coming back to it time after time.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Make every effort. That didn’t mean trying to resolve things once and then giving up. It meant trying and trying and trying again. It meant keeping on trying until there was no other option, and then trying some more.

Every effort.

Well, somehow through all that trying we managed to resolve the issue. For me, it meant saying that being a part of this particular church community was and is more important to me than being right. Being right is not always the most important thing, especially if it divides churches.

How would our churches be different if we “make every effort”? How would church history have looked? Would the Catholic and Orthodox churches still be one? Would the North American church be splintered into so many denominations?

What about truth you ask? Surely that is important?

I like what Saint Augustine had to say about that:

In essentials, unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.

Perhaps that can be our guiding principles for when we need to stand up for truth. Perhaps that would quell some of the “Worship Wars” that affect so many of our churches, maybe end some of our squabbles that in the grand scheme of things really aren’t that important.

If the Pope today can recite the Nicene Creed without the Filioque clause when in the presence of the Orthodox Patriarch, then maybe that maybe that difference wasn’t so great after all.

Sometimes being right is wrong. Not only if divides churches, but also if it ruins relationships, or breaks up marriages.

It is in the context of “make every effort” that Paul says in Ephesians 5:25

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

This was a self-sacrificial love. A love that says I don’t put me first. A love that says I don’t have to be right even when I am!

Their was a comic in our newpaper recently where a young woman is interviewing a man for a possible dating relationship. She asks him, “What would you do if you found irrefutable proof that you were right in our disagreement?” He replied, “I would ask your forgiveness for doubting you in the first place.” Or in other words, I am a guy who doesn’t have to be right, even when I am.

So here is what I would like to ask our readers: What has “make every effort” meant to you? Can you think of times where you have “made every effort” and had it result in a positive outcome in your church or relationship? Have you seen the converse happen as well? I look forward to your responses.


  1. Michael, I believe the “make every effort” quote is from the third verse in Ephesians 4, though verse 2 is just as relevant.

    I agree with Saint Augustine, but in my experience, the church is not even unified on the essentials. I have read and heard church leaders debating whether the cross and resurrection themselves are considered essential to the Christian faith and the notion of discipleship.

    Perhaps before we work on unity on the essentials, we need to work to establish what the essentials are.

    • Oops. That combined with a number of other typos is enough to make me blush.

    • Donald Todd says

      Interesting reply. How far back does this go? The Reformation? One does well to remember that Luther and Calvin (and Zwingli) disagreed about the “fundamentals” when a rapproachment was tried in the early years of Protestantism. Before one can agree on the “essentials,” one must find out who is in charge. The problem is one of authority and responsibility.

      When I lived in Kamiah ID, the Baptist church there split. It did not split over dogma, it split over personalities. It appeared that half the congregation had the authority and did not like the pastor, and the other half had the responsibility to accept it or leave. It was pretty close to a true split. It was not good for a Christian witness.

      I was flying from Montana to Minnesota and was the seatmate to a Lutheran presiding bishop (I believe Dr Jacob AO Preuss – and you might verify the name and the spelling) whose Lutheran synod was going through a split. The man was miserable, in a way one might see in a divorce. He did not have the authority to repair the split and bring the sides back together, yet I am sure that he wrestled this issue over and over in his mind and presumably in his prayer life. In listening to him, the weight of that issue was crushing. The synod was a great love for him and he could not fix the issues that brought about the split.

      We have been watching the splits inside of Anglicanism/Episcopaliansim, and the Lutherans over issues like homosexuality, ordination and the elevation of bishops. These issues are splitting denominations and churches.

      A recent Internet Monk article noted something about problems inside of the SBC. I was not aware of them until I saw that thread.

      In Acts, when Paul corrected Peter (who had been given the original revelation about the Gentiles and should have known better), they did not split the Church. Peter, who knew he was wrong, accepted the admonition and continued on (to his eventual crucifixion in Rome). The Church did not split over that issue.

      Perhaps if we were able to accept correction, things would not be so bad. Perhaps using God’s great friends and servants as role models would benefit many of us.

      So the issue is one of authority and responsibility. If we could repair the split between Luther and Calvin, and between those who are charismatic in practice and those who are not, could we also repair the Catholic / Protestant split?

      Actually, I am too far down the food chain to be involved in such an endeavor except for my prayer. My daily prayer includes the request for the reunion of all Christians. I’ll let the high level people, the authority and responsibility people, work on the details, and assume that if such a reunion occurs, it will occur with the Truth being central and all of us as beneficiaries.

      • I find an interesting difference in the way Jesus approached unity and it provokes me to meditate long and hard on the issue.

        The later part of the sixth chapter of John’s gospel records that many of Jesus disciples left and would not follow Him because of His teachings (“hard saying” in the ESV) and it seems to me that Jesus was deliberately trying to divide His disciples.

        Yet, in the longest recorded prayer in John 17, Jesus prays that His followers would be one.

        So I struggle to find just where the line between unity and division rests in the will of God in Christ.

        • donald todd says

          The departing people took issue with the idea that they had to eat Jesus’ Body and drink His Blood. It was a matter of Truth being offered by the Person Who is Truth to those people, and they rejected the Truth and departed.

          I’ll let the high level people, the authority and responsibility people, work on the details, and assume that if such a reunion occurs, it will occur with the Truth being central and all of us as beneficiaries.

          That assumes that we don’t get in the way of the Truth and accept it even when it is hard to accept.

  2. Paul said

    1 And I, brothers, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

    The essentials my friends…

  3. This one is tough for me. I understand and agree with the importance of making every effort to keep unity within the church around the doctrinal essentials of Christianity. But it is often not a doctrinal disagreement that causes people to leave churches but rather a disagreement in how those essentials impact church life/mission (orthodoxy leading to orthopraxy)? I was part of a church that was unified around the core christian beliefs, but most in the church had no interest in examining how that doctrine should impact the way the church carried out its mission. Ultimately, for my family, we could not continue to be a part of a church that was satisfied with simply knowing the right answers. We probably would have been willing to stay longer if the church would have at least made an attempt to allow its doctrine to resonate into its practice, but in this case the church as a whole was satisfied with simply showing up to hear the preacher. I would be interested in hearing others’ thoughts on how the shape of church life/mission affects unity. Are there essentials in orthopraxy just as there are in orthodoxy?

    • Clay,

      After our church closed, we spent some time looking for alternatives. One church was convenient as far as the location goes, doctrinally OK, but decidedly unfriendly and not welcoming to visitors. Part of my quandry was, do we stay here, because we can add the welcoming aspect, or look some more, because it would be too difficult to turn this church around. We decided to look some more.

      If we had been already part of this church it might have been a different story.

  4. I appreciate what you say, and unity is so crucial. But I often struggle with two questions:
    1. Are we confusing Scriptural passages that were meant to apply to the universal/invisible church vice the local/visible church?
    2. How do we deal with the fact that the church today has a much larger goat to sheep ratio than did the NT and early church?

    Because of these, I tend to be less critical of those who choose to leave congregations over differences in views related to both orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

    The Sacred Sandwich has an excellent parody on how CT readers would respond to Paul’s letter to the Galatians were it written today. It is worth a read. Now, admittedly, much church controversy does not meet the definition of “another gospel which is not really a gospel at all,” but we have swung so much in the direction of conflict avoidance, relativism, and diminishing the importance of doctrine that one should ask oneself occasionally whether belief in anything so ambiguously and loosely defined and defended is really belief in anything at all.

    BTW, nice blog! Stumbled across it looking for something on John MacArthur. s

    • David Cornwell says

      …”the church today has a much larger goat to sheep ratio than did the NT and early church”…
      How do you come to this determination? How do you know what the early churches ratio was? Or our ratio today?

      In my years of being a pastor trying to figure this out was a useless endeavor. I could never reach a conclusion about “goat or sheep” status if I were to measure a person’s correctness of belief. It never seemed to work out for many reasons. Correctness of doctrine (whatever that is) many times turned out to be a poor judge of character. Those who thought little about this or were not even interested showed far more love for neighbor, thus reflecting the love of God.

      It just never seemed necessary for me to try to sort it out. And when I did, I was probably wrong as often as right.

      Please understand I’m not saying this to be nasty, but just stating what my experience has been.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I think it’s another Mythic Decline Narrative. Everything Was Better In My Day (and My Father’s Day), etc.

        And to may Evangelicals, the “NT and Early Church” exists in a Mythic History with no connection to the present, at the very beginning of the Decline Narrative, so It Has To Be Perfect.

        And then, as with any Correctness of Doctrine, it can turn into another game of one-upmanship. “ME SHEEP, YOU GOAT!”

  5. Did Paul make every effort with Barnabas when they disagreed about taking John Mark along with them? I think he did, but the outcome of the effort was to part company.

    Some call this a division within the church, but practically speaking it solved a lot of problems. Mark got along with Barnabas but not with the strong personality of Paul. Paul chose Silas, and away they went. Rather than looking at it as a schism and therefore as a defeat, it doubled the missionary effort and trained more missionaries.

    There is not always a “right'” way to build a house. You can build it with studs/joists/rafters (or) with concrete blocks; but you can’t do it both ways at the same time. Either choose one method, or build two houses. But “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”.

    • Excellent point. Honest men disagree honestly, and sometimes the best solution is an amicable parting of ways.

    • Very good point. I think there is a difference between parting amicably because more can be accomplished apart than together and having a angry/disagreeable situation.

      My spouse and I are going through this right now. I do not care to go into details, but we are in the process of transitioning from situation to another, but there is honestly no acrimony and I think those folks will continue to support us and wish us well and we will continue to support them and wish them well.

      There is a season for everything, and all earthly things have a start and an end. That does not necessarily have to represent defeat or cause schism. It’s not always easy, but I think a major element is putting aside one’s own ego and seeking the greater good.

    • I’m not sure we can apply the situation between Paul and Barnabas to the church, at least not in terms of Paul’s view of the local church. Paul and Barnabas were on mission to spread the gospel while the church was the direct result of the gospel. I think Paul viewed the local church as the visible expression within a geographical location of the “one body” referred to in Eph. 4:4. Paul and Barnabas were not a church in and of themselves, so I don’t think Paul would have considered his split with Barnabas as analagous to a split within the local church. Paul seems to have viewed the church as so closely tied to the gospel that he connects a division within the church with a division in Christ himself.

      Of course, there is a huge disconnect in even trying to have this discussion in modern times because the man-made institutions that we all think of as being “the local churches” were not similar in many ways to the churches Paul planted, so it is hard to apply alot of his letters directly to our situations.

  6. Thank you so much for this – really scratches where I’m itching. When you’ve been in full agreement with every aspect of your church doctrine, the smallest doubt can start to feel like a heretical fissure. However, outside of the Apostles’ Creed (a someone arbitrary grab at ‘the essentials’ there, but it’s something we all seem to be able to read together with enthusiasm in our neck of the woods!), diversity is probably both inevitable and perhaps even desirable if we are to acst a slightly wider net. It’s good to be reminded that there are things more important than being right.

  7. This is really thought provoking. Sometimes it is so easy to give up. God often gives us different perspectives on a situation. I believe that he gives us these perspectives so we can enhance and improve the ministry, church, or situation that we are currently in.

    Many of us don’t want to go through the confrontations and hard times that are required to really get to God’s purpose.

  8. Yes, this is something I’ve come to realize only in the past year or so. I did a study with my local church through Romans and then through 1 Corinthians. For the first time, I realized that much of these two books is about Paul teaching us to value unity above all else. So many times, we’re called to behave a certain way, not because it’s right or wrong necessarily, but because it’s what best serves others and what promotes the most unity in the body of Christ.

    it’s been a powerful lesson for me as I’ve always been one to constantly search for the rightness. In a bumper sticker, you might say, “God wants righteousness more than rightness.”

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  9. Flintysooner says

    Not that it bears on the subject much but I’ve read that the attribution really should be to Rupertus Meldenius about 1627. But I don’t know if that is true either.

  10. I think the smorgasbord of churches we have here in the U.S.A. affects how we think about this.Although I haven’t left my current long-time church, I have a general sense that I would have a lot of options in my densely populated suburban area if I did. But what if I lived in a small rural town where I had, maybe, one or two other choices if I were to leave my current church? And I had differences with the doctrines or practices of all the available churches?

  11. I think it is important to recognize that Saint Paul did not place unity above all else. He placed the Gospel and the new covenant first. Particularly in 2 Corinthians Saint Paul preaches vigorously against various false gospels. Saint Paul several times commands the excommunication of an individual from the Church.

    It is clear that Saint Paul taught that he and the other apostles had the authority to testify to the truth and to expunge the false. It is also clear that many left the Church following the false teachers.

    • But Saint Paul, as well as the other NT writers, seemed to have put even more emphasis on the character of Christ (particularly love) being instilled and put into practice within the church than they did either unity or right doctrine. I think the apostles knew that relationships bound together in Christlike love are the first and best line of defense against the development of factions and divisions in the church. Disagreements will inevitably arise and false doctrines will be introduced, but love can hold people together while these issues are being reasonably discussed and the Holy Spirit is given time and opportunity to speak to people’s hearts and minds. However, when love grows cold within a church body or when loving relationships take a back seat to something else, then any little thing can become a point of contention and division, and “rightness” or “correctness” can become a justification for malice and some pretty unChristlike behavior.

      • I disagree with you in three ways. First, I disagree that St. Paul placed more emphasis on the nature of Christ. Second, even if St. Paul did emphasize the nature of Christ more, it doesn’t diminish the fact that he absolutely condemned heresy in brutal terms – “I wish they would mutilate themselves” for example. Finally I disagree that we can separate “the nature of Christ” from doctrine or practice. These things are all intertwined. Doctrine matters because it affirms what we hold in Faith in Christ. Doctrine matters because it ultimately influences practice.

        • I agree with you that doctrine and practice can be intertwined and mutually affirming — that is if they are both flowing from the same sources, namely the genuine indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the teaching of the gospel of Christ by Spirit-led teachers, and the reading of scripture with illumination and guidance from the Spirit. Combine all that with Christlike love as the central glue binding people together, and you’ve got the ideal church environment.
          Unfortunately, church history has clearly shown that these essential elements can be disconnected from each other, and one of more can be obsessively pursued to the neglect of others, creating an unbalanced and unhealthy state of affairs. And it has usually been during seasons when right doctrine has taken center stage that we get things like inquisitions, the standardization of belief through mass coercion, and bloody religious wars. More recently — now that the political situation in the West no longer allows us to kill each other over religious disagreements — we just hurl verbal rocks at each other and regard each other as either heretics or second class Christians.
          I’m not counseling that we abandon the pursuit of right doctrine. I just think we’ve reached a point in Christian history where we would be wise to approach matters of doctrine with a healthy dose of humility — granting ourselves the simple mercy of not having to be 100 percent right about everything 100 percent of the time.
          And let’s be honest about our own limitations when it comes to using either scripture or theological tradition as our source books for right doctrine. There’s a distance of 2000 years and a vast gulf of uncounted cultural, social, and religious changes that seperates us from the writing of NT scripture. That fact in itself gives rise to erroneous interpretations and often makes it difficult for the 21st century mind to grasp the full scope of what those first century writers were actually saying. And theological tradition is an intricate maze filled with contradictions, opposing paradigns, and more information than anyone could hope to process. The easy way out is to simply embrace without question the doctrinal assertions of a particular church tradition and discount everything else as error — or you can cut and paste from various traditions and hope you’ve made the right selections — or you can just adopt the view that God is okay with anything we choose to believe.
          Honestly, I’m pretty skeptical toward any individual or institution that claims to have all their doctrinal ducks in a perfect row. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that scripture is pretty darn clear and understandable when it comes to the essentials — and I think we would be wise to reserve the label “false teaching” to those teachings that clearly contradict those essential elements. I also think we would be wise to avoid the chief error of the Pharisees — which was to approach scripture as the raw material for manufacturing an oppressive abundance of religious laws while missing the central message.
          In I Corinthians 13, Paul makes it very clear that all religious pursuits are rendered void and meaningless in God’s eyes without love as the primary motivator and agent of transformation. So I stick to my earlier assertion that love is a better starting point for church unity than universal agreement on all things doctrinal.

          • Ron,

            You have a lot of good sense. Thanks for a great reply. Clearly we agree on far more than I might have thought. And in that context I totally agree with you about love (1 Cor 13).

            Unfortunately I’m going to have to earn myself a FAIL in ecumenism today because I can’t hold my tongue. Certainly you make a very good case for the futility of being able construct solid doctrine from scripture and tradition. That is why I am so grateful that the Holy Spirit works through the Bishops as successors of the apostles. 😉

            But seriously, God Bless and Peace Brother

  12. I think there are acouple sides to this. One, we will divide on doctrine. Period. Doctrine is essential but consequentially creates unnecessary narrowing of the faith. I recently read how in the years following the council of Nicea that certain teachers went from being orthodox to anathamized overnight. The Nicean creed itself was a compromise between two views of the incarnation. I see a lot of similarities between doctrine and calculus; both describe the infinite in terms of approximations and interpolations. Sometimes, two theories, although contrary, together define the limits and expanse of truth. I think this is one particular geniuses of Luther, that he spoke paradoxically on many issues where others fell into heresey by speaking dogmatically.

    This other issue regarding ratio sheeps to goats sickens me. It sounds so much like those in the past who were so certain of their own election and the lack thereof in others that they were entitle to perform whatever manner of evil against those unfortunate damned. That is needless division and sheer evil.

  13. But in answer to your specific questions at the end of your post, I don’t think the specific passage “make every effort” actually has meant a lot to me. By that, I mean I don’t recall being aware of that passage often as I have related to people. I have spent a fair amount of time fighting against bitterness or prideful judgment in my heart, though, and unity of the Spirit has probably been picked up in that effort. I’m no expert, but my sense is that unity of the Spirit has more to do with our attitudes than it does a specific decision of whether to stay in or leave a church. I’d think that if I left over a doctrinal disagreement, but my heart is full of love, humility, and peace towards the church I left, that “unity in the Spirit” would probably have been achieved.

  14. Todd Erickson says

    I think that perhaps the commenter talking about the Sheep/goat ratio was actually refering to the 80/20 rule (I could be mistaken) where you’ll get 20% of your church into leadership, activities, etc. while the other 80% mainly sponge, except for the big events where everybody is involved.

    I’ve recently begun to wonder if Frank Viola and Alan Hirsch aren’t correct, and the issue is simply that we’ve made the church too big on a constant basis, which means that there’s no reason for most disciples to ever develop into anything.

    • Exactly. The model doesn’t fit Jesus-like discipleship. Sending people off to a class to discover their spiritual gift and then sticking them in front of a Sunday School class isn’t discipleship. But rather than blaming the system we blame the church members – even call them unsaved or the non-elect (not part of the “true” church). People may be sitting in the pew with nothing to do not because they don’t know they could be doing something; its that no one has come along side them to make them feel like they are a part of the church. Sticking people in small groups is not the answer. That is not discipleship, either. It’s like so many corporations that I have been a part of: problems are solved by rearranging the organizational structure and moving furniture.

      • I’m not sure what is wrong with “sitting in the pew.” Why is not having a job to do at the Church some kind of sin or sign of lack of conversion?

        • Donald Todd says

          Having been both a pew sitter and gaining the benefits derived from that position, and having been a doer and gaining the benefits derived from that position, I have become certain of the following:

          There are times when I am to sit, and times when I am to do.

          I am not aways sure that I am doing the right thing at the right time (and the doing is the tricky part of that more often), but one hopes that as grace abounds, one will be found sitting or doing as need be at the appropriate time..

          Here’s to sitting and doing. May we all sit and/or do well, and in particular, and be found doing (one hates to use the word if one is supposed to be molded to a pew) whichever is required when we are supposed to do (that tricky word again) it..

          • I am currently “doing” at my Parish, but generally I occupy the pew. But I don’t see that as a problem at all since I have other areas of my life where I try to live the Gospel fully. And I totally respect others, and assume that whether I am aware of it or not, they also find ways and places to serve and evangelize outside of the immediate Parish structure.

  15. I don’t care how narrow-minded my post my come across to some people but I will list the things that Christians throughout history have considered essential and those other ones considered non-essential, and why it matters that we stick to the essentials no matter how much it hurts the feelings of others.


    That the Scriptures are divinely inspired (though not necessarily inerrant in every word)
    The Triune nature of God
    The Deity of Christ
    The Deity of the Holy Spirit
    The Virgin Birth
    Jesus Christ as the only sin-bearer for humankind
    The Cross as an atoning sacrifice for sins
    The literal and historical resurrection of Jesus Christ
    That all human beings are born sinners
    That salvation is by God’s grace alone (whether you are non-Calvinist or Calvinist)
    That there will be a final judgment where the lost and saved will be eternally separated
    That there will be a New Heaven and New Earth for the redeemed
    That homosexual practice is a sin (thus, practicing homosexuals cannot be leaders in the church)
    That abortion on demand is a sin (it is murder)


    The recipients and mode of baptism
    The way the Lord’s Supper is conducted
    The way the church is governed or organized
    Whether you take the Genesis creation story as literal or non-literal (though I hold to the literal 6 days creation)
    Whether you are an Arminian, Wesleyan, Lutheran, or Calvinist (though Pelagianism is a heresy)
    Whether women should be ordained (though I hold to the Grudem-Piper complementarian view)
    The filioque clause
    The nature of hell (though I would outrightly reject universalism as a viable option)
    The rapture
    The nature of the Millennial Kingdom

    I believe that if you reject anything on the essentials list above you are not a Christian no matter your profession of faith and Christians should never compromise on those. On the other hand, the non-essential list below we can leave room for charity and disagreement amongst Christians. I don’t care how some people here take this post but if the charity thing can only go so far. Many people who call themselves Christians will miss out on the Kingdom because they foolishly rejected the things that Christians have historically embraced since the apostolic period.

    • Amen brother

    • One’s view on “homosexual practice” is an essential of the faith? One’s view on abortion is an essential of the faith? As important as these are (and I hold the same positions you do), how can they possibly rise to the same level as the resurrection and justification by faith?

      • David Cornwell says

        I agree. And you will even find a lot of diversity about what the essential points mean. Talk to 10 different persons about about what any one of them and even on these essentials you will have several interpretations. In all of our knowing we still know very little.

      • Well Mark, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. I think your essentials list is a little too long myself.

        I agree with Chaplain Mike – I find it interesting that you put homosexuality and abortion on the essentials list, yet the literalism of Genesis and the rapture on the non-essentials list. The Christians I grew up with would put them all under the essentials (not that I necessarily agree).

        I heard a pastor say once that the only thing that unites all Christians is belief in Jesus Christ, and everything else is semantics. I tend to agree.

        • Can you both explain to me just why homosexual and abortion should not be on the list?

          • What creed, confession of faith, or doctrinal statement in the history of the church has included articles about contemporary moral issues?

          • Mike, see Marks comment to Michelle.

            He said all I would say.

          • Matthew,

            Just to set the stage a little bit, I do believe abortion is wrong. In my past I helped organize the first national rally for life in Canada (small bit player), as well as help elect or defeat political candidates based on where they stood on the pro-life question.

            That being said, I have read pro-choice essays on what the Bible says about abortion, that were every bit as convincing as the pro-life essays I have read. That doesn’t mean that I agree with the pro-choice essays. I am still staunchly pro-life. But it does certainly make it a lot harder for me to put it on the list of the essentials.

          • Hi Micheal Bell,

            Here is a list of Dr John Pipers reasons why :


            • We’re off point here, folks. No more arguments about abortion or homosexuality, OK? Especially since the few folks who are arguing here seem to agree on the basic Christian perspective toward these matters! Sheesh!

              • We don’t all agree, but I won’t be bothering you anymore.

                • See, here is where I get in trouble with internet discussions. And this is where many of us who argue in the church about religious matters also get into trouble. We get so focused on trying to convince others of “our side,” and we forget that there is a bigger circle of people listening, who would like perhaps to share an opinion or ask a question, but who feel alienated from the “discussion” by our strong and righteous pronouncements.

                  I apologize to Debra, and anyone else who has not been able to get their voice heard, no matter what their view, because a few of us have been preoccupied by an internecine debate.

                  • Thank you for saying this, Chaplain Mike.

                    I don’t think we all agree on the basic Christian perspective towards homosexuality and abortion, however, and I think that’s why they keep coming up. I honestly don’t think we will ever get all of Christendom on the same page with these. Each church, each Christian will have to come up with their own stance, and determine their own salvation with fear and trembling.

                    So we need to learn how to speak to those who disagree with us. Are we going to turn them away with our venomous rhetoric (“in the name of the Lord” of course), or are we going to share what we believe without anger and condescension? If you want to convince someone of something, which method is more effective anyway?

                    The problem I see here is, as you pointed out, people holding up their theology as the one and only answer. No one group is the keeper of all knowledge–I think most of us agree on that. What we need to see in Christendom is people on both sides of any theological argument being able to express their beliefs and their disagreements with each other in a respectful way.

                    It is possible to disagree with another person without condescension and sarcasm. It really is. And no, we don’t all have to hold hands and sing “Cum By Yah” either. Just agree to disagree and be respectful about it.

                    My $.02.

                    • I’m going back and changing the language in my comment. When I said “we all,” I was referring to the few people who were going back and forth with their arguments, not everyone in the broader conversation.

                      Again, sorry.

                  • Mike, the original post that Mr. Bell put up was about the essentials of the faith. I was just answering, with strong conviction, what those essentials are. I thought I was quite ecumenical and open when I wrote down what was NON-essential. I know some Christians out there who would call someone a reprobate for holding to a non-literal Genesis creation story or allowing ordination of women. Yet, just because I call a particular behavior sin which has strong biblical support I am being chided. I don’t get it with some Internet Monk folks who profess the Christian faith.

                    • Mark, this is an open forum, and readers might just have to listen to people who have very different perspectives. They are welcome here, as are you. I only ask that you self-edit your “passion” and make sure it doesn’t cross the line to disrespect.

                      BTW, I said we were done with arguments about abortion and homosexuality. I’d like to keep this discussion open for a while, since we are still receiving some thoughtful comments. But any comments that try to stir up said arguments will be deleted.

                    • I would agree with your last sentence in particular………

                    • I would agree with your last sentence in particular………

          • And I agree with John Piper too. I have not linked to the opposing position because I do not wish to promote it. For those who are interested, there is always google.

        • [“I heard a pastor say once that the only thing that unites all Christians is belief in Jesus Christ, and everything else is semantics. I tend to agree.”] If you take this stance then you would have to agree with Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Oral Roberts, the Mormans, JW’s and every other fruit loop out there.

          “Not every one who says to Me, ‘Lord Lord’…………..”

        • Michelle, homosexual practice and abortion on demand are non-negotiable matters: both are sin, period. On the other hand, how we interpret the Genesis creation account or the timing of the rapture are not things that will bring suspicion on a person’s faith whichever view he or she holds. Perhaps my essentials list is too long for you. You ever thought that it could be because there is an area of disobedience in your heart that makes you more “flexible” in your opinion of what qualifies as essential?

          • “Both are sin, period” doesn’t put them on the essentials list. I think that’s the objection coming across here. In other words, what makes your choice of these for the list any more than arbitrarily selected matters pulled from a current issues survey? And if they are to be included, the list doesn’t go nearly far enough in defining sin for us.

          • Mark, I’m not sure what brought on this personal attack. If you feel that I personally attacked you in my previous post, then I apologize.

            What Nate said.

          • Mark, there are probably thousands of things related to lifestyle that we would call “sin” and consider non-negotiable. When we speak of “essentials” I think we are talking about articles of faith (doctrine). This is why we have creeds and confessions that go beyond the present cultural moment. We don’t put current issues on an “essentials” list because each generation and every different culture has their own societal and lifestyle challenges to face.

      • I also with agree with Chaplain Mike’s response here. Much of the time, it’s the actual choice of essentials in the first place that is the source of dissension. No personal offense intended (because it’s natural, I think, for everyone to do the same thing), but the list of “essentials” seem to be just what you personally think are the most important issues or the ones you’ve thought about the most, whereas the non-essentials are just the ones you’ve given less thought to or can’t imagine why anyone would have arguments over. But others would likely strenuously disagree on the composition of both lists.

        Contrary to your first item, I myself would make inerrancy essential (rather than what I consider a somewhat vague “divine inspiration”). If inerrancy is acknowledged, my perception is that will automatically include the homosexuality issue you listed as a logical derived conclusion. But I agree with the Chaplain that it seems this logical derived conclusion really can’t be an “essential” in and of itself. My opinions, obviously.

        • If you include inerrancy, you would exclude both Internet Monk and myself, as we both have problems with it. We both, however have a high view of scripture. In fact there are many evangelicals who do not make inerrancy a requirement including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and the recently published Evangelical Manifesto.

          Here is a link to iMonk’s articles on inerrancy.

          I should note that inerrancy has not caused a break in fellowship between myself and anyone else since I have had questions about it.

          • “If you include inerrancy, you would exclude both Internet Monk and myself”

            Interesting, didn’t know that.

            As with many issues that end up being divisive, I think often there’s more agreement than not and that differences come down to using the exact same words in different ways.

      • Yes, I firmly take “homosexual practice as sin” as an essential article of the faith. Read Romans 1:24 and 1 Corinthians 6:9. Anyone who professes Christ and says “It is not a sin to engage in homosexual activity as long as the people involved love each other” is denying God’s word and calling Him a liar. Basically, he has denied the faith just like the apostates in 1 John. This also goes with people who advocate abortion on demand and denying the sanctity of life in a woman’s womb.

        • Again, Mark, my problem with putting this on an “essentials” list is that if you had lived 100 years ago, this would not even have crossed your mind. And who knows what the “hot-button” issues will be 100 years from now?

          • Although I agree it doesn’t belong on the essentials list, I think I would disagree that this is only a contemporary problem. You asked earlier about what doctrinal statement in the history of the church even mentions these things and I would point to the Didache. I know that depending on the exact translation it’s arguable whether abortion and homosexuality are actually mentioned, but I have seen it translated that way and we all know that abortion and homosexuality were a problem in the ancient Roman world just as today.

            But again, I’m not disagreeing with you that it’s not really essential to defining what Christian faith is, nor do I disagree with the original poster as to his position on those issues. I’m just saying that I don’t think it’s unusual (now or historically) to incorporate a more complete view both of doctrinal statements and lifestyle into a definition of Christian faith. The Catholic cathechism touches on a huge range of doctrinal and life issues and acceptance of the entire catechism is required.

            • For evangelical Protestants, this is trickier than it is for those in the Rom Catholic or Orthodox traditions. In the “Catholic” churches there is a recognition of a higher ecclesial authority which can make pronouncements on such matters so as to bind the consciences of church members. The “unity of the faith” is prescribed authoritatively from above, with regard to both orthodoxy (right belief) and in many cases, orthopraxy (right living. Protestants and evangelicals have Scripture, of course, and claim that it is the final authority in matters of faith and practice. But in the final analysis, who gets to say what’s essential and what’s not?

              Those of us on this side of the river have some trouble here, and thus the variety of interpretations and opinions being set forth.

        • These are matters that are merely extrapolations to one of your other essential doctrines (Scriptural inerrancy) and also the product of your own (maybe flawed?) exegesis. Thus, important: but not essential.

    • “no matter how much it hurts the feelings of others”…. this phrase bothers me in that it does not fit into an attitude that fosters ‘unity’. Once those words are spoken the journey towards unity comes to a dead stop, and the discussion turns into ‘I’m right’ (or, as you have suggested here, what history says is right). It seems there will never be ‘unity’ on the divisive issues of homosexuality or abortion. Someone – or some people or committees or tribunes or elders or whomever – will make decisions regarding these issues. And they will indeed ‘hurt’ good people. But … the decision-makers will be ‘right’.

      • Rita, are you willing to make “unity” (how you define it) so essential that you are willing to compromise on the essentials? I have studied church history, systematic theology, OT, NT, Pauline theology, etc. in a formal setting and come to the realization that certain core Christian beliefs cannot be compromised for the sake of unity. Thus, if some loony church comes out and declares “We reject the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ” then that so-called church must be sanctioned off from other churches that do hold to the essentials. Unity at the expense of doctrinal essentials is what causes churches to spiritual degrade in this culture of relativism.

    • if opposition to abortion is an essential, then so is support for public health care. They are fully equivalent morally.

      Likewise, if the practice of homosexuality makes the essentials list, then so does the practice of greed.

      • So annoying, this insistence that all the study in the world can illumine the will and mind of God. How about good old sitting still in the silence and listening? Yes, it’s the lesbian Christian once again disappointed in the self-righteousness of it all. I thank God for Jesus, and the love He has for me….His unconditional love will cover all. As He said while drawing in the dirt, Whoever is without sin cast the first stone. I know with my knower that I am called to serve and love my God, Yahweh and no amount of words will ever convince me that His love is conditional to my conforming to the dogmatic interpretations of ancient texts. The Nicene (sp?) counsel started it all by deciding for all mankind which of the historic words we would have access to. At some point it is imperative for those who have ears to hear, to hear. What makes you right and me wrong? Christ lives in me just as He lives in you. How is that possible?
        I miss IMonk.

        • The Bible is the way in whch one learns what the will of God is.

          See Romans 12:1-2.

          I am offended by the phrase “lesbian Christian”.

          • Matthew, this is an open forum, not limited to those who share a particular set of convictions.

          • Personally, and just openly sharing my bias, I don’t see how Republicans can be Christians, because they champion a system in which money is God and children die for lack of health care. They seem to ignore the tough life-changing commands of Jesus in favor of Paul’s easier rules.

            It does help me shed light on the unity question, because I have co-taught Sunday School with a lesbian (you’d never know unless she told you) but have rejected multiple invitations to attend the local conservative mega-church because I cannot and will not support their politics, I mean, reading of Scripture.

          • To jjoe,

            I am sure there are those who will respond to your comment. My own thoughts are that the post was about “make every effort”. Part of that involves trying to understand the perspective of others. By making a blanket statement that “I don’t see how Republicans can be Christians” tells me that you maybe need to try a little harder.

            By the way, as a Canadian, I am not totally unsympathetic to your point of view. However, growing up in Africa, along with my degree in International Economics, has certainly allowed me to see the other side of the equation as well.

            But before anyone chooses to criticize jjoe, I would encourage them to read How to fix the American Christian – lightening the load by Dan Edelen. Dan’s blog is a good place to start for those who want to understand jjoe’s concerns.

      • Mike,

        I understand that. I certainly do.

  16. I enjoyed this post.

    Where have I made “every effort”?

    Often passion can be interpreted incorrectly. Most commonnly as anger or being ‘critical’.

    Having a passion to stand on what the Bible says, not what my culture says, comes with some confrontation. In my realm and sphere that happens a little. [City outreaches and speaking out against what is wrong with the ‘modern church’ also brings with it some confrontation]

    I’d say, I have grown, thanks to the LORD, in this area.

    One does not have to have all their little theological ducks in a row, but one must believe the foundations/fundamentals of the Christian faith. Whether that person in a Coptic Orthodox who will not deny the exclusiveness of Jesus Christ amidst persecution or a fringe dwelling Charismatic who will not deny any of the core beliefs.

    Unity sadly, can sometimes manifest itself in setting aside the exclusiveness of Jesus and replaces it with rankl liberal ecumenicalsim [which has a strong undercurrent with some on this blog].

    Endeavouring to maintian unity within a church setting [ that is biblical] should be a top priority for all.

  17. Breakin-up is so hard to do.

    The cause of conflict is generally the same, James 4:1-3 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. NIV

    Go to work doin it and you won’t have time for the lesser things…my pastor can’t keep me from doin what’s right…heck, I don’t think he wants to.

    • Cliff, I’m glad you cited that passage from James. As someone who was part of the leadership team of a church fellowship that disintegrated in a startlingly short period of time, I witnessed first hand a whole lot of the same fallen human dynamics that James saw at work in the early church. Of course, opposing factions in church conflicts often claim lofty reasons of doctrine or interpretation or practice or direction or vision or what somebody thought they heard the Spirit saying about this or that — but it seems to me that these things are usually just weapons people pick up after they’ve already declared war in their hearts. And, more often than not, those heart-level reasons are things like jealousy, offended pride, and either an obsessive need for control or a deviant tendency to tear down anyone in a position of authority.
      Honestly, I don’t think Christendom will ever come close to anything resembling unity until we Christians truly let Christ-like love rule and permeate our relationships with each other. Then again, maybe we need to first form relationships with each other — and membership in the same religious club, doctrinal agreement, or mutual submission to the same religious authorities are not legitimate substitutes for loving, Jesus-centered relationships. And I think Christian history has clearly demonstrated that the strict, heavy-handed enforcement of authority, doctrine, and practice don’t serve as effective, lasting substitutes for love as the essential glue that binds us together.
      If I am truly willing to lay down my life for my brother and I truly regard his well being above my own, and he feels and acts the same way toward me, then abstract religious constructs will always take a back seat to the living, observable substance of Christ at work in and between us.

      • cool!

        I friend of mine say unity and borotherhood in Jesus are found in the harvest field…
        John 15:9-11″As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. NIV

        1 John 1:2-4 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. NIV

        As we work side-by-side sweating together for souls we have little time for lesser things those Dividers throw at us…we turn in unison from our work to tell them to shut-up and go back to work!

        Do his work of love and amazingly we all get along through all the difficult realities of this painful life in the Spirit.

  18. My denomination, back in the day, was looking at merging with another that had *identical* theology and liturgy. It didn’t go through because we use pipe organs in our churches and they use pianos.

    Later, our denomination split in two because some minister was placing somewhat less emphasis on the congregation’s sinfulness. No change in doctrine, just talked about it a bit less emphatically.

    This is legalism run amok. How far will some people go to feel right, to feel they are better than others?

    I will tell you. There are people in our denomination who used to criticize my father. For driving a red car. He likes red cars.

    This is prideful, they said. This brings attention to oneself. (we are better than you).

  19. Steve Newell says

    There are two type of “fights” in a church: those based on doctrine and everything else. If the “fight” in a church is over sound doctrine in what is preached, taught and confessed, then this can be a “good” fight in at if the purpose is to bring the Church back to sound doctrine of the Faith. The second is usually not a “good” fight but a fight based on something other than doctrine.

    How many people have left a church over theological/doctrinal reasons compared to the other? I would expect that most people will put put with bad doctrine and won’t leave over it.

    • I concur Steve

    • What about those fights waged in the name of sound doctrine, but with hidden motives of a more personal or political nature as their true root?

      • Steve Newell says


        If the person cannot point to Holy Scripture as the basis for their position, then they have an problem. Now many will try to use Holy Scripture but they will put a “spin” or “interpretation” that is inconsistent with the historic Christian faith.

        • You’re right, Steve — that is indeed the case in many circumstances. But I was really refering to cases in which Group A is actually scripturally correct about something, while Group B is in a state of error on this issue due to ignorance or misinterpretation of God’s Word. However, Group A does not try to correct Group B’s error in a loving way. Rather, they use the other group’s mistake to discredit them and then oust them from positions of leadership. Group A did not seek or even desire reconciliation with Group B in the first place — and while Group A made a lot of noise about the authority of scripture, they were much more concerned about gaining authority themselves. And, truth be told, Group A has plenty of doctrinal errors of their own — but they didn’t let that stop them from shooting to kill when they found the chink in Group B’s armor. So, while Group A was scripturally sound on this one doctrinal point, they completely by-passed God’s love and used God’s truth as revealed through scripture as a big stick with which to bludgeon their brothers. I think’s that’s one way we Christians can be wrong, even when we’re technically right.

  20. Christopher Lake says

    For once (hehe), I’m not going to jump into the various debates on this thread (essentials, inerrancy, etc)!

    I *will* say that as a formerly very convinced Reformed (Calvinistic) Baptist who is currently questioning basic aspects of Protestantism itself, the last few months have been a *major* lesson in humility. I will no longer say that the children of the Protestant Reformation alone have the “true Biblical Gospel.” (Uh-oh, maybe I’ve started a debate with just that one sentence!)

    One would think that, as a person who was once Catholic myself, I would have known better than to say such things in the first place… but I was not so well-educated in Catholicism, so that left me ripe for listening to and accepting absolutist Protestant claims (“we are the true Biblical Christians, not the Catholics or Orthodox).

    How wrong I was… and I understand, now, that I should be happy to count all who can honestly assent to the Apostles’ Creed as my brothers and sisters in Christ. Mea culpa.

    • In this discussion of so-called “Christian litmus tests”, I am surprised and disappointed not to see more emphasis on the Apostle’s Creed. Christopher mentions it, but many others seem to want to make up their own list, usually taking special care to exclude anyone who commits the “big cultural sin” of the moment (take your pick). Interesting (and presumptuous).

      The Apostle’s Creed is a thread that winds back through history and binds Christians together through the centuries (well, at least as far back as the 2nd or 4th century, depending upon the historian).

      If anyone believes (assents) to the Apostle’s Creed, I, like Christopher, count them as my brother or sister in Christ. Period.

  21. I have deleted some unhelpful comments and remarks that, unfortunately, illustrate Michael Bell’s point in the post. Some of you are not “making every effort” to keep this conversation respectful. Passion is one thing. Insults, personal attacks and name calling are beyond the pale.

  22. Make every effort means look at people, not issues. Look at the person in front of you, in the eyes, and do what you must. Sitting behind a screen, for instance, striking people off a list who don’t make the cut, does not accomplish anything. Being unified happens when people become important to each other. When differences arise, the people do not cease to be the most important thing. Someone said “it’s hard to hate your enemy when you see where he sleeps.” Knowing people deeply and personally is the groundwork for both authentic unity and, when necessary, a parting of ways.

    A small example that’s personal to me is blogs and internet discussion. It’s very easy to consider the person I want to flame into oblivion just a bunch of words on my screen. But taking a second, remembering that that set of words on a screen really enjoys springtime, or has a child that asks for a glass of milk, makes it harder to rip someone’s throat out.

    I like the example of the Pope leaving out the filioque.

  23. I whole-heartedly agree. I go to a 25,000 member Southern Baptist Church. About 4 or 5 years ago, a man who was upset about the style of music was changing (it was only one song a week being contemporary) and the fact that he didn’t know the Pastor’s salary caused such an uproar that he started his own blog and brought about 5,000 members with him. Now, he still runs that blog. I go there every once in a while, because he has good links to our student interns Christmas videos (which are hilarious). I don’t think he was right. He really had selfish motives. His motto was, “Never Sacrifice Truth for Unity.” However, this is what I had to say about their differing opinions: yes. You’re both right. I really wanted to go tell the guy to shut up and suck it up. However, my church handled it respectfully, telling the congregation what really happened, and just leaving it there. I am excited to tell yo that our church has grown to 27,000 members! And we do the discipleship thing. It’s been awesome. God really is working there. When people unify together for one cause (the cross), the nations will be impacted. In Philippians 2:1-2, I think that’s all I’ve got to say.

  24. I think the observations throughout the thread spell out clearly:

    -We have to be firm but kind in our discussion.

    -Those who are concerned about doctrinal purity in an age of compromise do not particularly like to be characterized as “just interested in being right,” as opposed to more ecumenical folk who “actually love and care about people and the mission of the church.” The farmer doesn’t simply focus on getting a good harvest without caring whether or not his seed is good, and all that. Let’s not keep pitting doctrine and mission against each other.

    -It’s not as simple as saying “As long as we agree on the essentials…” when Christians can’t agree on what the “essentials” are. Many hold that it’s unhelpful to even attempt to divide doctrine into “essentials” and “non-essentials,” as though the teaching of the Church was all about the bare minimum you have to get right in order to be in the club. Because It’s not about gauging how much you’re getting right, anyway. Christian doctrine isn’t like a tiny, pure core around which layers of denominational distinctives are added by various churches. A church’s doctrine is woven out of whole cloth, and all parts touch on each other and on the Gospel. That’s why things are messy.

  25. Sorry, but, according to the Augustinian scholars, St Augustine never wrote that. It was written by Rupertinius Meldenius and quoted in the 19th century by some German scholars. But, Augustine did say:

    “There is nothing more serious than the sacrilege of schism because there is no just cause for severing the unity of the Church.” -St. Augustine
    BTW my Church is not invisible. It is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
    AnneG in NC

  26. Col 4:6 GW
    (6) – Everything you say should be kind and well thought out so that you know how to answer everyone.

    I believe in making a stand when I am right…withing the context of the verse above. If we communicate a truth and it is not about our self importance we can be right, communicate assertively and be effective all at once.
    Mat 15:7 GW
    (7) – You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
    Jesus in this case was not “very nice”, but because he was about His Father’s business and not his own He communicated His Christian perspective effectively. The error in Christian circles comes when we want to be doctrinally right to promote “our” business.

  27. Who knows, maybe John (Reformedispy) MacArthur is right and the greatest Greek scholars (Google “Famous Rapture Watchers”), who uniformly said that Rev. 3:10 means PRESERVATION THROUGH, were wrong. But John has a conflict. On the one hand, since he knows that all Christian theology and organized churches before 1830 believed the church would be on earth during the tribulation, he would like to be seen as one who stands with the great Reformers. On the other hand, if you have a warehouse of unsold pretrib rapture material, and if you want to have “security” for your retirement years and hope that the big California quake won’t louse up your plans, you have a decided conflict of interest – right, John? Maybe the Lord will have to help strip off the layers of his seared conscience which have grown for years in order to please his parents and his supporters – who knows? One thing is for sure: pretrib is truly a house of cards and is so fragile that if a person removes just one card from the TOP of the pile, the whole thing can collapse. Which is why pretrib teachers don’t dare to even suggest they could be wrong on even one little subpoint! Don’t you feel sorry for the straitjacket they are in? While you’re mulling all this over, Google “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” for a rare behind-the-scenes look at the same 179-year-old fantasy.

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