Saturday, July 10, 2010

Theological Differences Among Christians

If the apostle John were still alive today, there would be no major theological differences among Christians today to the extent that we have now. After careful exegesis of Scripture, if Christians still disagree on some secondary doctrine, they could have asked John and settle the matter once and for all. Alternatively, if God had allowed angels to preach and teach, then that would settle many theological issues too. After all, the angels were alive back in the first century to see if Christians at that time baptized their infants. They were alive when Paul preached in his missionary journeys, and many of the sermons were not recorded in the book of Acts. Having full mastery of biblical languages and untainted by sin, the angels are probably better theologians than the more knowledgeable preachers today.

Instead, God has chosen to reach people with the gospel through people. Not only that, He has chosen not to intervene when pious Christians disagree on various issues ranging from baptism to communion to election to the sign gifts to the extent of the atonement. He has chosen not to send an apostle or angel to the 21st century church to resolve modern theological differences.

The Old Testament saints did not have this problem when the prophets were alive, at least not to the extent that we have. If anybody was interested, they could go to Ezekiel and asked him if election of individuals to salvation was conditional or unconditional. Even without the revelations of the New Testament, Ezekiel might be able to answer this question better than many of us because he knew the LORD's tone of voice with which He spoke when he wrote, "For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!" (Ezekiel 18:32).

Believers in the early church certainly did not have this problem, because they could ask the apostles verbally or at least write a letter to them. The Corinthian believers wrote a letter to Paul asking him questions that were of interest to them, such as eating food sacrificed to idols. Paul wrote a letter in reply, answering their questions and more.

During the seven-year tribulation period, the Two Witnesses (whom I believe are Moses and Elijah) can answer questions and reconcile theological differences among believers who came to faith after the Rapture of the Church.

Non-glorified saints in the Millennial Reign of Christ will not have this problem, because they could ask Jesus Himself or any of His apostles.

Our situation for the past 1900+ years is unique because no apostle is alive to resolve theological differences. We are left with the Bible. When we as godly Christians who believe the infallibility of Scripture disagree on what Scripture meant, we must do so charitably, being careful to distinguish primary doctrines from secondary ones.

Job had not read the book of Job when calamity struck him, so he did not know of God's conversations with Satan behind the scenes, where God commended Job as one who feared God and shunned evil (Job 1:8, 2:3). When God answered him out of the storm, He did not tell him about His conversations with Satan. Even after God restored Job and gave him twice of what he had, he did not find out why God allowed calamity to strike. Job did not know the answer, but he knew the One who does. It was only after he died that he found out what took place.

Likewise, we do not have all the answers, but we know the God who does. As for why God did not keep apostle John alive to spare us all this confusion, I do not know, but God has His reasons. We Christians may disagree charitably, but we live in the eager expectation that we will live eternally with the Lord and with one another, and all our disagreements will be resolved.


Jc_Freak: said...

Actually, I disagree a bit here. They absolutely did have that problem back then. For instance, there was the debate in Corinth over whether to follow Paul or Apollos, and even Peter and Paul were shown to disagree. I am sure there were other areas in which the apostles disagreed. Paul even had to prove that he was worthy of the title.

The same is true in the Old Testament. We read that there were many prophets besides the famous ones that made it into the Bible, and they even at times disagreed. Also, many times the true prophets were ignored. No one in the time of Jeremiah went to him to solve theological dilemma. Indeed, most who cared about such things hated Jeremiah.

Essentially, there is nothing new under the sun, and humans will be humans.

TrueHope said...

The apostles had disagreements in methodology and emphasis. For example, Paul and Barnabas disagreed whether to take John Mark with them in their second missionary journey. Paul emphasized the necessity of faithfulness in ministry, while Barnabas emphasized forgiveness and grace.

However, by the end of Acts, I believe the apostles had fewer disagreements in doctrine than modern evangelical Christians, especially in soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. I cannot imagine one apostle being a paedobaptist while another apostle a credobaptist. Likewise, it is unlikely that one apostle believed in Limited Atonement while another believed in Unlimited Atonement.
Not so with believers today. Godly theologians who believe in the infallibility of Scripture can devote their entire lives studying Scripture, and still end up with different interpretations of what an apostle meant when he wrote what he wrote. Two theologians may earnestly seek the truth, end up with different conclusions, and believe that their understanding of doctrine is what the Bible teaches.

Immature Christians and non-Christians of all generations may have bad doctrine whether an apostle is alive or not. Even if an apostle were alive today, many Christians would probably not cherish the opportunity to improve their theological understanding by asking him questions. However, Christians who yearn for the truth can benefit greatly from an apostle.

Jc_Freak: said...

It is true that the apostles did not disagree about anything major. I would definitely consent to that. But I think that if we had someone who we could rightly call an apostle, we would still have some major differences because sometimes it is incredibly difficult to distinguish a mature Christian from an immature one.

I have a saying: Never doubt the creativity of the aptly self-deceived mind. If a person wants to believe in something they will, and they'll take a lot with them. Marcion himself rose up one generation away from the apostles, and John and Paul were already dealing with the Proto-gnostics in Colossians and 1 John.

I agree that there would be less division if there were someone that could be objectively classified as an apostle, I think you would be surprised at the amount of division there would be.