As a new Christian in college, I was an impressionable young woman. Studying the Bible was novel to me and I depended on the guidance and mentorship of some “older” women to help me figure out how I was to live the Christian life. I was eager to understand God’s word, and was full of questions for Christian friends and leaders in my campus ministry.
Not long after coming to faith in Christ I realized there were two distinct groups in the ministry I was a part of: those who believed in predestination and those who didn’t. Later I realized a more formal name for those camps were the Calvinists and the Arminians.
The humble, gentle woman who was discipling me didn’t think the Bible was clear on this particular issue. Since I looked to her as my main guide in Christian thinking at that time in my life, I also adopted her viewpoint for a short time.
But friends on the other side started to share their perspective on the issue. It was persuasive, and with the little amount of Bible knowledge I had, I started to try to figure things out for myself as I dove into the book of Romans.
But then it happened, a friend of mine from the Calvinist camp told me that they had nick-named the opposing viewpoint, “the joke.” What idiot would really believe the Bible wasn’t clear on predestination? Her arrogant, scoffing attitude, along with others’ prideful responses, completely turned me off. Suddenly I wasn’t interested in hearing their biblical proof. Their sharp words had quickly cut down the viewpoint of a woman I deeply respected. And now, I had no interest in even considering that what they said could possibly be true. Why would I want to be a Christian jerk?
The danger of theological pride lurks behind many of the strong convictions we have and the heated debates we often pursue — whether in Bible studies, on social media, or in Sunday school. Those of us who are passionate about studying the Bible and understanding God’s word, inevitably form convictions in areas such as predestination, the roles of men and women, use of alcohol, the end times, and a myriad of other topics.
Convictions are a good thing, assuming we’re conveying them to others in a loving manner. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree that correct doctrine is important. Paul admonishes us to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). We are to handle the word of God with diligence and care. James warns us that not many of us should become teachers, because we will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1). But the attitude we carry with us as we make our convictions known, or teach them to others, has the power to draw others to the gospel, or repel them away.
In Revelation 2 Jesus is addressing the church in Ephesus. He acknowledges their work on behalf of the gospel, their patient endurance, and their hatred of false teachers. He knows they are doing these things tirelessly for his name’s sake, yet he has one thing against them: “You have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).
They have persevered in gospel ministry but without the necessary ingredient of love. They obviously love truth, which makes them despise the false teachers of their day. Yet somewhere in their pursuit of holiness, they lost the love and affection they once had for people.
The Ephesians are exhorted to remember from where they have fallen and repent, to do the works they did at first (Revelation 2:5). If not, Christ will “remove the lamp stand from its place” or, in other words, demolish the witness of their church (verse 5). God does not take lightly the sin of bulldozing others with “truth” without the necessary ingredient of love. Theological head knowledge means nothing if it is not communicated and shared in love.
Put Down Your Boxing Gloves
In the Reformed community at large, I’ve noticed a tendency to point out what or who we should be against rather than teaching in love what we are for. It seems many are putting on their boxing gloves in the theological world and wanting to duke it out over whose teaching we should be affirming and whose we should be throwing out the window (the accused often being Bible-loving evangelicals).
Today, we’re quick to throw around the accusation of “heresy.” Though I realize as Christians we are not to endorse heresy, we should be slow to accuse someone of that weighty term just because they don’t share the same conviction on the five points of Calvinism, or whether a woman can work as a police officer or not.
Recently my pastor-husband received an email with a warning to disassociate with some well respected Bible teachers because they had shared a platform at a conference with a group that this individual disagreed with. Guilty by association so it seems. Is this kind of “in-fighting” among evangelicals bringing glory to God? Is this the kind of salt and light witness that will draw unbelievers to Christ?
I fear that, in our passion to purify the church with correct doctrine, we are forgetting the love that Christ calls us to exemplify in our lives. As Paul admonishes us in the book of Titus, in everything we are to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10). How we live our lives and the words that flow from our mouths put the gospel on display to a watching world.
“A Mature Believer Is Easily Edified”
I’m not a proponent of being accepting or tolerant of a false Gospel. We are to be wise and discerning, drawing our convictions from the word of God itself. We should evaluate the Bible studies we do, the Christian books we read, and the teachers and preachers we listen to. Everything should be measured against the truth of God’s Word. However, just because someone doesn’t share my belief in election or complementarianism, doesn’t mean everything they have to say is worthless.
A seminary professor of my husband’s used to say, “A mature believer is easily edified.” Basically, there should always be things we can learn from others, even if they do not dot their i’s and cross their t’s the same way we do.
The woman who mentored me in college taught me much about humility, grace, and having a godly marriage. Yet when I dove into the book of Romans, doing a one-year inductive study, I saw the beauty of God’s sovereign hand in election. The scoffing, arrogant pocket in our campus ministry had not convinced me, but I had been persuaded by the word of God itself. I realized that I did not agree on this particular issue with the woman who had poured into me for years, but by no means did this diminish the beautiful Titus 2 relationship I had with her. She was still someone I deeply respected and had much to learn from, even if we had differing convictions on election.
I hope we will search our hearts before getting in an argument with a fellow Christian or posting a cutting response on social media with someone who doesn’t share the same convictions on a certain theological matter. Passionately sharing our convictions with a spirit of love, instead of a spirit of condemnation, might yield greater influence than we can imagine. Let’s not be guilty of abandoning the love we first had, as we seek to spread God’s name across the nations.