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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What To Do When Men of God Disagree?

Just some thoughts...

What do you do when men of God disagree? Years ago when I was in seminary and had not been in the ministry very long, I was confused and dismayed by some disagreements that some of my "spiritual heroes" had.  Godly men, sincere, yet they held views that were, though not polar opposites, different about certain biblical understandings.  I did, and still do have great respect for these men, but at the time I seemed to be stuck with the option of agreeing with one, which would of necessity would mean the other was “wrong.” Both men knew the scriptures and the depth of their relationship with Christ was above question. My desire was to choose the one that was "right," but how could they both be "right"?

I will come back to this in a moment, but first I want to digress with a similar example from the history of our worship and congregational song between two men who had virtually polar beliefs based from the same passage. Benjamin Keach, a Particular Baptist pastor in the late 1600's, believed that it was biblical to sing hymns ["songs of human composure" as they described them], while Isacc Marlow, a member of Keach's congregation, favored the tradition of the day of only singing from the psalter, that is, from the metrical versions of the psalms. Without wading into too many details, both men wrote treatises expounding their rationales [Marlow first, then Keach in response], both grounding their positions in Col. 3:16.  The details of their arguments are interesting, but not necessary for the point right now: Godly men can differ, and differ substantially over the very same passage. Can both be right?

What is missing is perspective. If I could hold in my hand a large multi-faceted diamond, the facets and colors that I would see would most likely be different than the ones that the person in front of me would be observing. Both the other person and I are looking at the same gem. Both are “right,” but what is missing is perspective. We just are not capable of grasping the full beauty of all the facets from just one angle; we are limited. Because I cannot see everything that the person in front of me sees, I cannot say that the observations are incorrect; only different.

Remember the well worn story of three blind men touching an elephant? One is feeling a leg, while the other is holding on to the trunk and still another is feeling one of the large ears. One says that an elephant is like a tree, unmovable; one says that round like a large hose and flexible, while still another describes the elephant like a large fan. The issue is not whether one is right and the others wrong; the issue is that their observations are incomplete. They all contain part of the truth, yet none can “see” what an outside observer sees: grasping partial knowledge is insufficient to make a definitive statement for the whole.

I am totally confident that I do not know it all; especially when it comes to scripture. I believe that it is safe to say that only God has the complete understanding, though He gives us enough for us to follow and be obedient to Him. [The “incompleteness” of our knowledge is not from lack of love, but for our good to help us trust Him more– there is no faith in sight.] If this is true, and I sincerely believe that it is, then we must come to the understanding that although we have partial knowledge, we do not have complete domination of all things in the scripture. If I do not have complete knowledge then there must be things I cannot see, or that I might be partially wrong in my understanding.  However, I think the use of the phrase “partially wrong” would be better described as incomplete.  What we can say is, “Given the knowledge and understanding of the passage at hand, this is what I believe.”

Not to push an illustration too far, for nearly all illustrations break down at some point, but it seems wiser for one of the blind men to hear the others’ descriptions and realize that the elephant may be much more than his own experience and understanding, rather than try to prove that his understanding is right and the others wrong. The foundational truths of scripture like the Trinity, the virgin birth, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, salvation in Christ alone, His Second Coming, and Scripture as the Word of God, are non negotiable. However there are many secondary issues, such as when Christ will come, and others like the some of the Calvinist /non-Calvinist debates that have seemingly served more to divide the Body of Christ, than unify it.

Is it possible that since we do not know everything, we could lay aside the idea that one is right and the other wrong and realize  since we don’t have all the knowledge of God, what seems an unreconcilable opposite from our viewpoint is only a matter of perspective in the sight of God?  God is consistent with Himself, but we do not yet fully know Him; there is unfathomable mystery in God’s nature and character. He has made Himself know through Christ and His Word, but our finite minds are limited. If we were capable of “figuring it all out” we would have to have be God, Himself.

I believe we would be better served to “seek unity in the bonds of peace” than try to invest so much energy into proving that we are right and the other wrong. [Again, I am not talking about heresies here or the non-negotiable beliefs. Apologetics is needed now more than ever.] How we must grieve God’s Spirit to spend more time fighting among each other, than sharing the Good News to a lost and dying world and ignore the very prayer of Jesus to the Father in John 17: “Make them one as You and I are one.”

So the next time we are tempted to post that searing criticism against a brother’s view, can we stop and reflect on the blind men and the elephant. Even as I write this, I know that some will completely miss the point. However, I am just sharing what I believe God is attempting to teach me, so we can refocus our efforts on what God has called us to do and what God has called us to be.  Just some thoughts....
"And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (ESV; 1 Co 13:2)


  1. Amen! I have felt as you do for a long time. Thank you for God's wisdom.

  2. Ms. Redwine, thank you for you kind words. Praying for the unity of the Body in the bonds of peace and love.