Thursday, January 31, 2013

Not Knowing All the Answers

Sometimes theology is seen as a matter of knowing all the answers to all the questions. It is frequently also seen as taking a dogmatic stand on every detail. Now I do not want to deny there are certain basic truths of the Christian faith that we need to stand for. If Christianity has nothing definite to say, we need to board up our church buildings and stay home on Sunday. But one of the reasons for the many divisions in the Christian church is that we feel we must have a definite answer for every detail and must separate from everyone who disagrees. How then do we decide what those basic issues are we need to stand for? I am convinced that Scripture itself gives us guidance here. It speaks of the need to hold firm on such things as the nature of God (Deuteronomy 13:1-4; Isaiah 43:10-13; Exodus 20:3-6); Christ (1 John 4:2,3; 2 Corinthians 11:4; 1 Corinthians 12:3), the sinfulness of humanity (1 John 1:8-10; Psalms 14:1-3; Romans 3:23), the gospel (Galatians 1:8,9; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Romans 1:16,17), and the truth of the Word of God (John 17:17; Psalms 12:6,7; 2 Timothy 3:16,17). (This list is not meant to be exhaustive but illustrative, but I do not find there are more than a few basic truths that have this kind of emphasis.) But there are many other things we tend to fight over that have no such emphasis in Scripture.

In terms of those things, it is well to remember that Scripture repeatedly rebukes putting too much trust in human reason (1 Corinthians 3:18-20; 8:1-3; 1:20,21). This does not mean we should have no definite convictions. But it does mean we need to ask whether the secondary things we fight over are a matter of clear Scriptural teaching or just our opinion. I am not saying we should not have opinions on such things. But I have to ask whether these are clear-cut enough to be dividing over. It is my view that many of the things we divide over are Scripturally indifferent. But even if they are not, are they worth fighting over? In 1 Corinthians too much trust in our own wisdom is seen as the basis of divisiveness (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:21-23; 8:7-13). Could it be we need to examine some of the things we divide over to see, not only whether they are Scriptural, but whether they are worth it? And could it be that on some of these questions we need to admit to ourselves and others that we do not know the answers? For it is hard to miss the resemblance of the present day Christian church to the church at Corinth.

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