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It is a fact that there are a lot of doctrines and practices within the Christian faith that people disagree about. In fact, some of those disagreements are strong enough that they have caused divisions within the faith – even to the extent of splitting individual churches, and even entire denominations. So, it is a fair question to ask: “For the sake of Christian unity, can Christians agree to disagree?”
As an example of how some of these divisions are playing out, right now there are two major denominations that are in massive turmoil because of differing views about same-sex marriage. The turmoil in both the Anglican Church and the United Methodist Church has become so strong that splits are already occurring. In America, Anglican churches that believe homosexual relationships are sin have actually split from the American Episcopal Church and formed a completely new Anglican communion with its own separate administrative structure. And currently, churches by the hundreds are withdrawing from the United Methodist Church and forming an entirely new Methodist denomination. This same kind of massive split has already occurred in the Lutheran and Presbyterian denominations. So why can’t these disagreements be put aside and everyone just agree to disagree?
Well, the fact is, it is absolutely possible for Christians to agree to disagree ... on some things. On the other hand, there are some disputed issues that are so central to the faith that they cannot be compromised. In fact, acceptance of certain non-biblical beliefs can be a very strong indication that the person advocating them may not even be a Christian. So just how are we to discern the difference?
Matters Concerning Salvation That Cannot Be Compromised
There are certain beliefs that define the essential core of the Christian faith itself. If a person doesn’t believe these things, simply put, they are not a Christian in the first place. In particular, the non-negotiables are comprised of what the Bible teaches about the authority source for our faith, God, man, and salvation. In order for a person to be a genuine Christian, they must believe in the God who is revealed in the Bible, that man is made in the image of God, but fallen, and in salvation as it is taught in Scripture. Christian salvation involves entering into a personal relationship with God by personally receiving Christ based on his atoning death and resurrection from the dead. As it turns out, the dispute concerning same sex marriage is not actually about marriage, but about the authority of Scripture.
Where Compromise Happens
These days, though, many people are compromising their faith and giving in to those who advocate for non-biblical beliefs. This compromise happens in various ways.
- Denying Essential Doctrines - Some people (and groups) come up with their own preferred set of beliefs and simply ignore what the Bible teaches. In order to justify themselves, they often cherry pick various Bible verses, interpret them out of context, then claim that this proves they are Christian.
- Misinterpreting Essential Doctrines - There are others who are probably rather sincere, but who simply misinterpret Scripture, and use these misinterpretations as their justification for compromising the true faith.
- Defying Essential Doctrines - Still others have a knowledge of the truth, but are so determined to live out and advocate for their preferred, unbiblical, lifestyle, that they simply defy God and His revelation in the Bible.
- Giving up to the Detractors - Finally, there are those who are just so tired of being vilified by a society that hates them, that they basically just throw in the towel. In fact, just recently the U.S. Senate passed a marriage bill that codified homosexual marriage. There were actually some senators who claimed to be Christians who said they totally disagree with the bill, but who voted for it anyway stating that they were basically just giving up the fight.
Can Christians Agree to Disagree?
The truth is, there are some denominations, churches, and individuals who self-identify as Christians, but who simply are not. They do not believe the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man, nor what it teaches about God, man, and salvation. In order to be a genuine Christian, one must subscribe to the teachings of the Bible. These people are trying to do to the word “Christian” what they have done to the word “marriage.” To make it possible for them to claim to be Christian, they simply redefine the word. It never has been, and never will be, legitimate.
So, can Christians agree to disagree? Well, not on beliefs that are essential to the faith. There are plenty of non-essentials Christians can disagree about and still be considered Christian. They can disagree on things like the proper method of baptism, who can partake of the Lord’s supper, eschatology, predestination, proper worship style, and the like. In fact, on these non-essentials they can even be dead wrong and still be counted among the ranks of believers. But we can’t disagree on Christian essentials – plain and simple. Those who do are simply not Christians – they belong to some other faith.
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.
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