God will make clear to you: On disagreements and doctrine

This weekend I’ve been thinking again about how often the question, “What do you believe about X?” is used to determine whether or not someone is truly a Christian — X being any number of things such as homosexuality, abortion, heaven and hell, universal heath care, which political party is more “Christian”, and on and on. It is a question that goes all the way back to the Anabaptists and whether baptism should be given in infancy or at the age of understanding and profession of faith, and back before that to the split between the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church over whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son or just from the Son, and back even further than that to the early church over whether non-Jewish Christians had to be circumcised. When I share a perspective that challenges my readers, they often respond with a doctrinal question aimed at clarifying whether or not I am a “true” Christian. The idea is that if I answer the question correctly, they will consider what I’ve said, but if I answer incorrectly, they will dismiss me as a false Christian, and gladly dismiss the uncomfortable feeling that there might be something to what I have said.

I love these readers, actually. They are some of my favorite people, because even in asking the question they are taking a step outside their comfort zone. I get a lot of commenters lecturing me, scolding me, and scoffing at me, but the ones who ask questions, even if the question is aimed at discrediting me or putting me in a doctrinal box, show an openness to a response. A question opens up the possibility of a conversation, and a conversation opens up the possibility of a relationship, and a relationship opens up the possibility of finding common ground, not necessarily in doctrine and beliefs, but in our spiritual orientation, the direction in which we are facing and the person towards whom we are moving. For Christians, the common denominator is not our stance on heaven and hell, or our views on baptism, or the way we vote. Our common denominator is Jesus, “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2.

So when one of my readers asks me, “What do you believe about X,” I first of all thank them. I am genuinely grateful that they have read my words, and thought about them, and taken the time to respond. And then I tell them this:

I am a professed Christian, and have read the Bible many times. The thoughts in this post and in all my writing reflect a deep, life-long meditation on God’s word and a continual seeking to conform my life to my Savior’s. Over the years, I have come to feel that, “What do you believe?” isn’t as helpful a question for us Christians to ask each other as, “How are you directing your words, your actions, and your life towards Christ?” You and I have different interpretations of some parts of scripture, and have come to different conclusions about X, but we are both seeking to know, love, and serve God through Jesus Christ. So we have the most important thing in common! I cling to the promise of Philippians 3:15, that, “…if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” If we both keep our hearts and our feet turned towards Jesus, our steps will move us nearer and nearer to him. And even if we are in very different places doctrinally, if we are both moving towards Christ then we will somehow, mysteriously, be moving closer to each other, too.