Doctrinal Lines and Gospel Essentials
As more time goes by in my Christian life, the more convinced I have become of certain doctrinal truths. I’m fully convinced I will never change my view on some of these truths, as I believe they are clearly displayed in the full biblical message. Some people disagree with me regarding where I draw some of those lines, but overall the protestant church at large is in overwhelming agreement as to what the gospel essentials are and that we ought to draw our lines around them. These are summarized well in the historic creeds and confessions (and generally found in the “what we believe” section of church websites).
However, there are some issues God has not spoken on definitively (it would seem). What God has done though is give us instruction on how to deal with matters he has 1) unaddressed entirely 2) given seemingly ambivalent or conflicting instruction.
One of these areas, for example, is baptism.
An Historical Debate
History has a loud and clear voice in support of this. For centuries (almost 20), the church has struggled to come to total agreement between two competing understandings of new testament baptism.
The disagreement is over who should be baptized. Is it confessing believers only, or is it for confessing believers and their children? These are called Credobaptism and Paedobaptism, respectively.
I’m not going to try and disarm the debate today, because I believe wholeheartedly that’s a futile endeavor. Nor am I going to try and explain the very well thought out arguments for either position, since it is done in full here (booklet pages 7-17).
What I want to do is give advice for those of us who care about the truth of scripture enough to be deeply concerned where there is disagreement among believers. And I say it that way without any shame, because it’s evident to me that not all Christians are equal in their love for scripture and it’s truth. I pray you aren’t one of them.
In light of this seemingly nonstop debate over baptism (and so many other doctrines) I want to offer a very brief selection of scripture to give you a framework for how to think in light of disagreement.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Ephesians 4)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4)
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14)
Ephesians 4 is dealing with two issues primarily. First, the manner in which we ought to behave toward another is to reflect Christ. This principle by nature extends to every single area of life, including disagreements. Dare I say even heinous disagreements, such as heresy. Just because someone does not believe the truth accurately (or at all), who are we to judge them or to behave poorly towards them? This is a right application of the second text from Ephesians as well. Grieving the Holy Spirit is accomplished by our bitterness, malice, wrath, slander, anger, etc. This is no small problem. And finally, as far as Paul writing to the Romans is concerned, who are we to judge someone who is “weak” in the faith by believing christian doctrine inaccurately? One person see’s meat offered to idols, and formerly a worshiper of idols feels convinced to not eat (misunderstanding the christian doctrine of freedom). Paul sharply warns us in treating these people poorly. So be aware of this. If you weren’t inclined to do it, there wouldn’t be so many warnings in scripture.
Conduct yourselves wisely, as Christ did, speaking truth in love and giving grace without restraint. Understand you are no scholar and there’s a 50% chance you’re actually the wrong one in terms of these debatable doctrines, no matter how certain you are (trust me, I’ve been there). Understand also that all spiritual truth is spiritually discerned, and spiritual discernment comes from God. “Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.” (1 Corinthians 8:2). Does this mean you don’t know anything? No. It means check yourself before you wreck yourself, basically.
All our understanding is a gift, for God is ultimately our teacher. Even when it came to the sure center of core doctrines, Peter still needed God to open his eyes.
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17)
In humility, seek understanding of all things from God for the purpose of enjoying him (Psalm 16:11), glorifying him (John 14:15), and obeying him (Matthew 22:36-40).