Recently I posted on Facebook,
“What if correct doctrine is not the most important thing?”
That’s it. I left it hanging there with no other comment or hint as to what I was getting at. The response was pretty much what I expected. About half either “liked it” or left a comment implying that there indeed are things more important than correct doctrine. The other half challenged the statement and defended the primacy of ‘correct doctrine’. One response caught my attention. A pastor said, “I have found in the past 50+ years I have been a Christian, as I grow, my doctrine changes.” I think I know what he meant by that.
I’ve been a Christian for about forty-two years. I came to Christ when I was sixteen. From the very beginning I was pretty serious about my faith and ministry and daily reading my Bible. I was ordained and went into full time service at nineteen. I would become a church planter and senior pastor at twenty-one. That’s either incredible or stupid…or both.
Over the years, and particularly as I’ve gotten older, I’ve changed some of my theology. Not the ‘Apostles-Creed’ type of theology but important things that Christians can disagree on. Let me give you some examples.
I used to think a certain way about ‘tongues’ but then I changed my mind.
I use to think one way about the Roman Catholic Church…but now I think another way.
I was quite convinced about my view of eschatology. Now I think differently.
There was no room for debate in what I thought about female pastors. I have since changed my opinion on this.
And politics? Most of my adult life I voted the ‘party line’ but I don’t any longer.
In addition to these specifics, there have emerged a number of important Bible topics I was once certain about which now have been placed on a shelf labeled “I don’t know.”
I remember hearing that great old radio Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee (1904 – 1988) say, “It’s the strangest thing, but I knew more when I was younger than I know now that I’m older.”
What have I learned from all the changes I’ve made in some of these important theological subjects?
1. Because I once felt strongly about these things but have changed my mind, I can understand and respect those who still believe like I used to.
2. Those who think differently than I do on these subjects are not stupid or ignorant about what the Bible teaches.
3. Those who disagree with me on some of the topics listed above are often more educated and more knowledgeable in the scriptures and in theology than I am.
4. Many who have positions that differ from mine have sometimes sacrificed far more for the gospel ministry than I have.
6. I still have more areas of agreement with them than I do disagreement.
7. Despite our differences they are still my sisters and brothers in Christ and I want to love them, respect them, give them honor, and refuse to talk them down or be belligerent with them.
In part seven of this series I mentioned ‘labels.’ I’d like to come back to this.
Did you notice in my list of topics that I’ve changed my opinions on, I left out the specifics of what I used to believe and what I now believe? Maybe you already think you know my position on some of the subject. Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’re not. I intentionally left out the details.
As I’ve said before, we all have a strong ego need to be right and belong to a group who is right. Everybody wants to know whose team you are on. Everybody wants to know which team they are on. Everybody wants to be on the winning team. Everybody thinks that the other team is inferior. Some can even go as far as to think the other team is the enemy.
Once you state your opinion on a topic, something, especially if that topic is really, really important to the other person, you are going to be labeled.
“Oh, so you’re a conservative.”
“Oh, so you’re a complementarian.”
“Oh, so you’re a cessationist.”
“Oh, so you’re a progressive.”
“Oh, so you’re a Republican.”
“Oh…so you’re one of those.”
And, depending on how important the label is to the person doing the labeling, upon learning which label fits you (or which label they think fits you), they can use you as either a bullet or a target.
“Hey, so and so thinks like us. Let’s use him/her as a bullet, let’s bolster our ranks, let’s shoot at the other side.”
“Hey, so and so thinks like them. Set that target up. Ready, aim, FIRE!”
I don’t want to use anyone as a bullet or a target and I don’t want to be used that way either.
A while ago I made the decision not to share my opinions about some controversial issues in any public online forum. There are certain subjects that are so volatile that I think they are best discussed one-on-one and only when I am convinced that the person asking me my position is interested in honest, respectful, and open dialogue. If I have any reason to doubt the sincerity of the person or have reason to believe that they will use me as either a bullet or a target I will decline to comment or say I have no opinion or admit that I’m not sure what I believe about the issue.
The truth of the matter is that sometimes I don’t have an opinion and I’m not sure what I believe about some hot topics, but even this can get me in trouble.
“So Dave, what do you think about (fill in the blank)?”
“I don’t really have an opinion on that.”
“What do you mean you don’t have an opinion?”
“I don’t know what I think about (fill in the blank), there are good arguments on both sides.”
“How can you not have an opinion, the scriptures are clear.”
“Apparently the scriptures aren’t clear on that or Christians wouldn’t disagree on it.”
“Are you kidding me?”
Ready, aim, FIRE!
It’s reported that Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is better to remain silent and thought of as a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.”
Too many people are quick to voice their opinions on very complex issues, and when they do they sound like fools who spew their clichés and parrot their point of view having never objectively explored the subject on their own.
It’s okay to remain silent on some of the issues so many are speaking up on. It’s okay to not have an opinion. It’s okay to have an opinion but feel no need to express that opinion. I don’t have to tell people what I think. The ‘opinion wagon’ is alive and well and will not be slowed down or suffer in the least if I don’t join it.
Coming up next: Belligerent pt. 9: Learning From Those You Disagree With