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Social Issues: Religion


Why do people get so upset about doctrine? Doesn't that just divide us? Aren't we supposed to simply love one another, after all?

Yes, we are supposed to love one another (John 13:34 - 35) but that sometimes means saying things that are difficult, such as Paul did in rebuking Peter for hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-15). Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote that God gave various gifts to the church, as people who are apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers to bring us to spiritual maturity. Also, as part of this process of bringing the church to maturity, we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:11-16). We must not ignore the truth "out of love" nor can we trample on people just because "all I did was tell the truth." All this is done to prevent the church from falling into error.

So that must mean that error is real and significant. The Apostle Paul would probably be considered controversial and divisive by most search committees of our day. (And he had been in jail, too!) But Paul was very concerned that his churches might be led astray by doctrines that must have seemed attractive for some reason or other.

If he were told, "We shouldn't criticize," or "Aren't you being narrow minded?" he would have had a great deal to say. Yes, he could appreciate those who differed with him. He even thanked the Lord for those who preached the gospel out of wrong motivation -- trying to make him jealous while he was in prison -- seeing that the Lord used imperfect instruments. (Philippians 1:14 – 19)

Yet false teaching might rob some of their faith or steer them off the narrow path (Galatians 3:1-6). Because of this, Paul wrote his letters and the Holy Spirit saw to it that the words chosen for that day were applicable to all time.  The challenges to the faith may change, but the response is the same. "Do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2a)

If we are not constantly testing our thoughts by the Word of God, we will unconsciously take on the characteristics of the world around us. Contrary to modern relativistic concepts, a culture is not right just because it is there. In many cases culture is openly or subtly opposed to the will of God.

Can a person hold to false beliefs and still be saved? Yes, of course, for we all have mistaken or distorted notions of reality. Hopefully we grow in knowledge and wisdom as we walk with the Lord. Therefore, failure to acknowledge an error when it is brought to our attention may betray a sin of pride and rebellion if we harden our hearts or refuse to accept the suffering that may come from standing up for the truth.

Can we cooperate with those with whom we disagree? Yes, of course there can be common ground. After all, the church universal contains people with all sorts of different errors and we are all one in the Spirit. The recent Billy Graham Crusades and PromiseKeepers have shown us what God can do when many of His people will join hands, following the same Lord and fighting the same enemy. But sometimes love means talking about those things that divide us. The solution is not to find a compromise, because truth is not always found half-way between two extremes. Rather, each must come to the Lord in an attitude of humility and surrender. Those who are in error need to forsake it. Those who are unloving need to repent. God can perform miracles when His people bow before Him, willing to follow whatever the cost.

Ross S. Olson

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