Argument gains us nothing, but one argument matters a lot
Hello Readers, hope all’s well. It’s Monday, so it’s time for another of my Medium posts. This one hasn’t been published quite yet, but will be live soon.
This was written in response to the monthly Scripture prompt. This month’s prompt was Romans 14:4. Have a good week, and enjoy.
The greater Christian community is a diverse group with diverse traditions. Some of these differences are more significant than others.
There are topics in Christian tradition that can become points of argument. In the Scripture for the June Scripture prompt for Koinonia, we’re given a clear instruction about these arguments: let it go. Don’t worry so much about what another servant is doing, or how they do it.
The Scripture prompt for this month is Romans 14:4, but the passage is better understood with its context. I’m quoting Romans 14:2–5 here:
For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help. Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience. (Romans 14:2–5, MSG)
That’s clear enough, right? As Christians we were already taught not to judge anyway. Romans 14:4 asks us who are we to judge any of God’s servants, or question who He calls to service? Who are we to judge their worship?
Don’t judge what doesn’t matter
Among other things, Acts of the Apostles chronicles how the early church was built. The message of Christ went out to all peoples, regardless of former divisions such as Gentile/Jew. Of course bringing together such different people into one group would create differences. Each sub-group would bring their traditions to the table. They would be keeping most of their own traditions, of course, since people don’t really need to give those up to embrace Christ.
Jesus said that it’s not what goes in a person’s mouth that defiles them, but what comes out (Matthew 15:11). And he added that the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these defile us (Matthew 15:18).
With those words, Jesus did away with the duty to follow the dietary restrictions of the Old Testament. That was quite convenient for putting together His new, diverse church. He made it clear that our words, actions, and the content of our character (what’s in our hearts) is far more important than what we eat.
This explains the bit about vegetarianism in Romans 14:2–3, above. Some people in the early church were vegetarian, but that choice is irrelevant to being a Christian. The instruction goes beyond food, extending to other cultural traditions like holidays too.
The message is clear, and now it’s not even a question of why we should or shouldn’t judge fellow Christians. It’s a statement that these differences don’t matter. They didn’t matter to Christ, and they didn’t matter to the early church. So eat whatever you like and keep your own culture. These things have no bearing on whether you’re being a good Christian or not.
They’re not important. And if they’re not important, we must not judge them. Just let it go, no matter your thoughts on them. And the best part is that if there really is a problem, God will take care of it. We can trust in Him to do so. So let’s focus on our own faith, rather than worry about the faith of others.
“[…] If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.” (Romans 14:4, MSG)
But are there any exceptions to this?
Theology is a big deal
Could there be some arguments that are to important to set aside? What about theological differences?
The New Testament warns us about those. In 1 Timothy 4:1 we’re warned about the “doctrines of demons,” demonic deceptions meant to mislead believers through false teachings. Let’s think of an easy example of that. Any teaching that denies the divinity of Jesus Christ would fall under that label.
The demonically-inspired falsehood that Jesus was merely a mortal man, and not the Son of God, is a heresy as old as the first century. Not believing that Jesus is the Son of God means a person is not Christian, and is doomed (John 11:25–26). All Christians can agree on that.
So what do we say about things like Mormonism, which departs from Scripture to make unsupported, non-biblical claims about Christ’s divinity that make Him less than He truly is?
Don’t such differences in theology go far beyond mere dietary concerns and cultural traditions? Absolutely, I say.
There are key points that can’t be compromised on, the divinity of Jesus Christ being one of them. There are theological differences that can’t be tolerated within the greater Christian community. These things are dangerous deceptions, not mere differences of opinion.
There is bad theology out there in the Christian community, such as Prosperity Gospel. I could list other things too, but I’ll refrain. The point I’m making is that there are theological differences worth calling out and challenging. Not only that, but they must be challenged. If they aren’t, they harm the health and integrity of Christianity.
You can’t win an argument
How to Win Friends & Influence People is one of the most famous books in existence. Surely you must have at least heard of it. First printed in the 1930s, this manual on how to deal with people is still relevant today.
One chapter in the book is called “You Can’t Win an Argument.” It explains the futility of arguing if you want to persuade people, and advises that “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.”
Arguing gets us nowhere, you see. It’s counterproductive. Arguing usually ends with both parties angered, but sticking to their original positions. If someone changes their position, it’s usually because they got tired of arguing. That means it’s brute (verbal) force that wins, instead of skillful persuasion. So even if you “win” the argument, you won’t have the other person’s goodwill because you injured their pride by beating them in an argument. They’ll remember that.
This means that even in the best case, arguing is still a waste of time.
That’s why it’s so much worse, so much more wasteful to argue over things that aren’t important. It’s never worth it to argue over most doctrinal differences, cultural traditions, praise traditions, the hymns in the hymnal, and more. I could go on and on. You’ve probably heard it all already and had far more of these arguments than you wanted.
There’s a lot we could argue about. But the New Testament, full of wisdom as always, tells us not to. Most of it amounts to cultural traditions and individual preferences. Would you like chicken, fish, or the vegetarian option? That question and our answer to it has no bearing at all on whether we’re being good Christians and growing in Christ.
Most of what we can argue about amounts to nothing in the end. So Romans 14:4 teaches us we must not judge other Christians for their personal choices on these questions that don’t matter. And if there is a problem, we can have faith that God will take care of it.
But I say we have to be honest, and acknowledge that some theological disputes are more than mere differences in preferences. There’s bad theology out there which deceives people and is spiritually dangerous. We must challenge non-biblical teachings when we encounter them. These are demonic deceptions, the doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). Letting them go unchecked is dangerous for the health of the Christian community, and the integrity of our faith.
Let’s pray for an open mind, and the spiritual discernment to know what’s simple preference and what’s more serious.
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Until next time, be strong and do good!
Your new best friend in Christ,
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