Faith and Conflict
From the beginning of Christianity, what we know now as orthodox theology and practice has been forged in the fire of debate. When the first debate took place we don't know. Maybe it was between Paul and Peter or Paul and John Mark or Barnabas. But what is certain is that conflict has always been a part of Church history. So why are we suprised that it is still a certainty in contemporary Christianity?
What got me to thinking about this subject was an interaction I had with an acquantance a little over a week ago. While trying to compliment a local pastor's sermon to this man (who was a friend of his), I inadvertantly started a disagreement. The man I was speaking to didn't agree with his friend's views and vehemenantly opposed his Biblical exegesis. One thing led to another and before I knew it we were embroiled in a deep-seated debate. As the smoke cleared, we sought to reconcile our views and embrace one another in Christian fellowship realizing that our passion indicated our love of Scriptural understanding. But, then he made the comment that debate never solves anything. As I said in an earlier blog, I respectfully disagreed again.
Debate does solve some things. Many times it is the vehicle that God uses to break down our pride and show us that we have not thought deeply enough about a subject. At other times it may be used by God to keep His sheep from taking the path of one who has strayed from Biblical truth. Sometimes, the one straying may be us. In any case, debate does not have to be negative and it can be looked at as exhortation for the Church.
First of all debate always involves seeing a different person's point of view. We can tend to be egocentric in our thinking when we are not exposed to differing beliefs. Solomon tells us that, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17, NIV). We constantly need to be reminded that Christianity is not meant to be lived on an island. Christianity is designed for communal engagement and mutual exhortation. We must use that community to keep us within the frame of Biblical theology and practice.
Secondly, debate make us dig deeply into the Scriptures in order to make our arguments. Those who believe strongly in the authenticity and authority of the Bible will find themselves seeking to understand the Scriptures better in order to show the correctness of their arguments. Often times, this leads to a rejection of superficial readings of the Bible or even to changes of viewpoint by those involved in the debate.
And finally, theological debate reveals our own character flaws and presuppositions as we see ourselves confronted with conflict. We can then tweak our characters so as to become more sanctified through the course of the debating process. In the end, it teaches us patience, critical thinking, and even humility.
As we see God uses these debates for the exhortation of the people involved in the debate, but He also uses these conflicts for the purpose of helping us to understand Him better and to stay within Biblical boundaries. Three of the men mentioned above (Arius, Pelagius, and Erasmus) advocated positions that were leading the church astray and causing a rift with the people of God. They needed to be rebuked. In the end, the Church became stronger and more effective when these controversies were settled.
Today, we still have controversies that rock the Church. New theologies pop up everyday that need to be examined and at times rebuked through debate and conflict. We are sinful people. We need the whole community to come alongside of us and keep us in the fold. Paul did this with his converts and urged Timothy and Titus to do the same with the people they led. We should learn from Church history not to despise conflict, but to embrace it to the glory of God.
Soli Deo Gloria,