“…refuse ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels …”
– 1 TIMOTHY 2:23
The purpose of this article is to recognize the legitimacy of certain religious conflicts.
The question is often asked how those committed to following Jesus Christ can consider it appropriate for there to be schisms and conflicts within the Church. Did not Jesus Christ, the founder of this great movement, say “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you [i] ”? What is the sense of quarreling over differences in doctrine? There are two possible answers to this question.
First, it might be said by some that there is no sense to such quarrels, and that the debate of religious ideas should be avoided at all times. These quarrels should not be made a source of physical or verbal battles among the rank and file members of the Church. Never should theological dogma be a source of division among God’s people.
There is much to be said for this view. As much as possible we should attempt to keep differences in religious belief from causing strife. Love must cross the lines of religious opinions. Christians should strive to have peace among those who hold nonessential views (not affecting salvation and the nature of God). These religious discussions should be carried on in as calm a manner as possible. We must remember that we are human, and all our disagreements in areas which we hold to be important will raise our emotions. Think of two men arguing over which is the better football team, or the better car, or the better political philosophy; we experience daily that the nature of man is to become emotionally aroused when we disagree strongly with one another.
Secondly, there are still others who insist that there is an appropriate place for conflict in religion. Those who say this are usually the first to say that conflict is to be avoided if at all possible without sacrificing any principles upon which the Christian faith hangs. At the same time, these same men argue that right doctrine is considered more important than peace and unity and fellowship. These “quarrelers” believe that conflict regarding essential doctrines is in itself an expression of love!
The first position has adherents that perceive religion more as a set of philosophical ideas and speculations than as something of life or death importance. Some in this camp have a concept of love that can best be characterized as sloppy sentimentality. They seem willing to compromise principles for the sake of harmonious relations.
But love is often very harsh. The harsh disciplining of a child for a dangerous and disobedient act must not be seen as the parent’s lack of love, but instead it is a love of the highest sort. It is a type of love which sacrifices self’s harmonious relations for the good of others. The love which brought Jesus to the cross is the same love which brought Him with whips to cleanse the temple.
Those who oppose every sort of religious conflict are convinced that the truth or fallacy of religious belief really has nothing to do with the eternal or temporal welfare of the people holding them. Generally, those who are willing to “fight the good fight of the faith [ii]” believe that the truth or falsity of religious belief has everything to do with our welfare, whether in this life as well as in the next.
If real love cares for the welfare of others, even above harmonious relations, and if one believes true religious belief is essential to the eternal and temporal welfare of the Church, then one must be willing to sacrifice harmony for the truth.
A good medical doctor denounces quacks. It is the only loving and right thing for a doctor to do if he believes the impostors are really not good for others. Likewise, Christians must hope and pray with all our hearts for peace and harmony. But we must also be willing to sacrifice both peace and harmony if the essential doctrines of the faith are attacked by quacks. Basic love for our religious opponent is the Christian’s prime motivation, but our love is not a compromising one in regard to the essentials of our faith. This is a false compromise, one of fallacious harmony. A fierce debate against heretical views is to be viewed by God’s people as a work of the highest honor, designed to bring the opponent to a right relationship with God.
To be continued …
[i] John 14:27
[ii] 1 Timothy 6:12