How do you respond when your ideas or beliefs are challenged or exposed as false or wrong? Do you wilt, get defensive, deny? Fight back? Do you turn and walk away? Do you listen and engage? ◊
A Young Man
A young successful man is challenged in his religious beliefs by a church leader. The younger man being fairly confident in his theology only wants to confirm that he is on the right path. After only a few comments and some counter questions, the young man walks away sad and dejected. This is the “rich young ruler” who confronted Jesus in Judea (Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, Luke 18:18-30).
Another Young Man
Another young man is confronted by antagonistic church leaders who claim he speaks blasphemous words against God and the known customs of their church. He boldly and directly counters their arguments and faces the consequences of their ire and wrath. This is the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who was stoned to death by the Jewish leaders after citing their stubborn history and blindness in rejecting Jesus “the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered.” (Acts 6:8-7:60)
A Good Teacher
A passionate and knowledgeable teacher was found to be lacking in full knowledge in a specific area of teaching by some visiting peer evangelists. He was privately called out and exposed to expanded new teaching. This was the eloquent Christian apologist, Apollos, “who had known only the baptism of John” and not that of the Holy Spirit. He was trained up by missionaries Priscilla and Aquila and subsequently expanded his impact in the early Christian church. (Acts 18:24-28)
A Church Leader
A church leader was adamant about long-standing tenants of his faith involving food and worship practices. He experiences three separate occurrences of a dream sequence that is counter to all that he was taught to believe. This is the story of the Apostle Peter just prior to his meeting of Cornelius, the Gentile soldier recently converted to Christianity. This God-led introduction ushers in the new Christian teaching “that God shows no partiality” but is open to all the world, both Jews and Gentiles. (Acts 10:1-11:18)
In 3 of the 4 Biblical scenarios above, a person is addressed by God/Jesus directly or indirectly via dreams to forge new thinking and direction. Only the rich young ruler fails to respond appropriately. While it cost Stephen his life, he was the tragic victim of evil opposition.
How about you? How entrenched are you in your belief systems and thinking patterns? Apart from a direct intercession from God, how do you respond when your ideas or beliefs are challenged or exposed as false or wrong? Do you wilt or get defensive. Do you deny and fight back? Do you turn and walk away? Or do you fairly listen and peacefully engage?
21st Century Challenges
While most of us are safe from martyrdom opportunities, there are many areas of opposing viewpoints within the evangelical Christian Church. While there will always be variations on the specific implementation of church practices of communion, baptism, prayer and worship services, there are also still disagreements over other topics like eschatology (end times), heaven and hell, angels and demons, saints and icons, divorce, alcohol, and contraception, to name just a few. Today, a progressive culture is tugging the Church to move leftwards on issues of gay marriage, gender roles in church leadership and in the home, even climate change and public policy.
There’s plenty of room for discussion and even heated debate. But best to keep it civil and disagree in love and respect.
There’s a popular saying among churches: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” This actually comes from an otherwise undistinguished German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century, Rupertus Meldenius. The phrase occurs in a tract on Christian unity written in 1627 during the Thirty Years War (1618–1648), a bloody time in European history in which religious tensions played a significant role.1
For me and most evangelical Christians, the essentials are the deity of Christ, One God, the Trinity, salvation by grace (not works) through Christ alone, Christ resurrected, and the authority of Scripture (the Bible). Everything else is fair-game although debatable. We should grant freedom (liberty) across broad opinions, even those that may be far afield, as long as they don’t cross the line of essential Christian doctrine.
Therefore, we should know the Bible and be able to support and defend our faith and opinions and be able to recognize compromised positions, even on secondary or so-called non-essential issues. But with all challenges and discussions, do it in love with respect and charity. Even so, our devotion and focus should stay on God and His Word rather than man and his ever-changing notions and whims.
How are you doing with Biblical truth?
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. – 1 Peter 3:15
1 Ligonier Ministries, Inc., Mark Ross, September 1, 2009