Richard Baxter, the 17th century Puritan and author of The Reformed Pastor, said, “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; and in all things, charity.” These grace-filled words have helped me on more than one occasion. At times when I have been tempted to engage in battle with someone in a less than helpful way, they have echoed in my heart and mind, and have served to keep me from asserting my opinions with excessive certainty. The hard part in all of this is determining what is a necessary thing and what is a doubtful thing.
Sometimes doubtful things are taken to be necessary things and wars are unnecessarily waged. Conversely, sometimes necessary things are relegated to the status of doubtful, and we become loose with what is central to our faith. Knowing the difference is wisdom.
In recent days certain doctrinal positions held by our church have come under attack…sorta. What is really happening, it seems, is that our doctrinal positions are being elevated to bogey-man status, and people are being scared by the cult on the highway. If ever there were a word more inflammatory than terrorist, it has to be cult. Having the dubious distinction of being the leader of said cult, I’m confronted with some options:
- Engage in a battle against those who are saying bad things for the sake of defending the collective honor of our congregation (which, it must be made clear, is comprised of followers of Jesus Christ). I love our church and when someone says something insulting about us, I feel inclined to protect my people. It’s like someone saying something derogatory about your momma. In the end, I find this to not be the Christlike approach when things like Matthew 5:38-48 have recently been preached through my own lips.
- Seek a dialogue with those who misunderstand and misrepresent our positions so that, in the end, we are at least dealing with the same definitions and terms. It seems early for that, but I always am interested in that conversation – not so that I can persuade others to see things my way, but because God’s Word is so important, brothers who name His name should always work together to come to understanding about what it says. In the end, agreement is not necessary (I have many friends with whom I disagree about some things in Scripture). What is necessary is that we be at peace with one another and reconcile relationships before friends become enemies (is there any greater tragedy in the church that fellow believers…brothers!… can’t get along?).
- Ignore it and wait for it to go away. I hate this approach, but in the end it seems the path most taken. “You do your thing, we’ll do our thing, blah, blah, blah.” Ick. But answering a fool according to his folly is itself a fool’s errand.
- Put our positions out there for the whole world to see, without embarrassment or shame, and trust that God is working all things according to the counsel of his own will, and that he is working all things together for good to those who love him and are the called according to his purpose.
I’m going with 4. In the coming days I will be posting a series on Reformed theology and will be quite clear about what we embrace and what we do not. I hope it helps those who are grappling with the issues at hand, and for those who wish to continue to make our church the great evil of our county, well, maybe they’ll at least spell our name right.
Soli Deo Gloria