LEARNING HOW TO AGREE TO DISAGREE: An Excellent Post by Brother Rob

Posted by Gabriel (G²) on January 7, 2008

 This week, I’d like to share with you an article on the subject of ESSENTIALS, and how Christians can learn to agree to disagree. It’s by Brother Rob from Church in the ‘Boro

And it’s written from the perspective of someone who is REFORMED but is having trouble in deciding whether to partner with someone who believes differently than they do.

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Humility and Charity: The Two Essentials to Relationships With Those We Disagree With

Jeremy and I had a wonderful followup discussion last night for about a half hour.  He, like others of you, was struggling inside with the concept of partnering with someone who may use the invitation system or sinner’s prayer.  In Jeremy’s mind these folks were leading people astray each time they held a crusade or entertainment event after which they invited people to come to a Jesus that they had perhaps never preached!  The point I was making Saturday morning on methodologies and who and when to partner with those we diagree with, particularly on the doctrines of grace, caused no small commotion in the hearts and minds of some.

Let me say at the outset that this is commendable.  Why?  Because you all are well read. You have followed the likes of Piper, Washer, and others who are God’s gifts to the church today in helping us see that our “christianized” culture has disected the gospel and robbed it of its power by being too fearful to call sinners to repentance and faith in Christ.  Amen and amen to that!  I will keep preaching that all my life, as I did that Saturday morning in my discussion of Romans 4.

The other side of the equation, however, is that we can find ourselves following the critiques of these men on good matters like the sinner’s prayer and invitation, perhaps to a fault.  I am a living example of one who moved quickly from critique to criticism to judgmentalism.  And that, dear friends, is sinful.  Some of you have confessed and expressed a struggle with the same thing.  We have dear Jason Bohanan to thank, who was present on Saturday morning and afternoon, when he astutely raised the issue that this is essentially about how much we love and care for the lost and for those we disagree with.  Amen Jason! That’s exactly what it’s about!  The old addage comes to mind about people not caring how much we know until they know how much we care.

Sometimes our criticisms conclude in methodologies, however, that do not in fact express our love and care for others.  Or, perhaps we do love others but express our methodologies in ways that do not communicate that love clearly.  Probably both scenarios are occuring regularly.  This is one of the faults with reformed folks.  We love the gospel but have a tendency to be judgmental toward those who have believed a false one and those who are preaching a false one.  What is worse, we stereotype those who were led astray with a false gospel as those who just ran after a false gospel because they were weak-willed, flesh-loving Christians who wanted a temporary and instant gratification savior with their fleshly desires.  And worse yet, we continue by stereotyping earnest arminian preachers as false prophets, when really all that may be wrong is that they have not matured to the point where they have come to embrace what we do.

Several examples come to mind.  I recommended them to Jeremy and do to you all also in an attempt to communicate two truths to you in this post:  humility and charity.  You were not where you are now in your doctrine.  And you will not be next year where you are today.  While you may hold to the same things next year that you do today, you will not hold them in the same way, for that is what maturity is about.  Further, charity is crucial here.  Remember the golden rule?  I do not want to be judgmental to anyone who disbelieves the doctrines of grace but has an earnest desire to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  It was the old Rupertus Meldenius, an Italian reformed theologian who coined the phrase, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Toward that end, I recommend to you a review of the life of Apollos in the N.T. who himself was not as mature as he needed to be doctrinally.  Yet look at how he grew when he met Aquila and Priscilla.  He was already a man mighty in the Scriptures, yet God made him even more mightier.

Then consider John Wesley and George Whitefield who are the most famous theologically dueling preachers in history, perhaps.  Both loved the Lord passionately, yet Wesley was a man-centered arminian and Whitefield a God-centered calvinist.  They met in college at Oxford University while joining the Holy Club and remained close friends until Wesley’s death.  At his funeral, Whitefield preached and afterwards was asked, “Mr. Whitefield, do you suppose to see Mr. Wesley in heaven?”  This was asked because of the publicly known debates between the two on the issue of election and predestination.  To this Whitefield answered, “I do not suppose so.  I do not suppose so because Mr. Wesley will be seated so far near the throne that I will not be able to see him.”  What charity in handling those he disagreed with!

Also consider the case of Charles Simeon, a man hated by his congregation for more than half the time he pastored them.  He lived during the time of Spurgeon and battled arminianism did  just as Spurgeon in that day.  Yet Simeon is known for his kind-hearted, gentle approach to those with whom he disagreed.  I love what he said here in a sermon on Romans 9:16.

“Many there are who cannot see these truths [the doctrines of God’s sovereignty], who yet are in a state truly pleasing to God; yea many, at whose feet the best of us may be glad to be found in heaven. It is a great evil, when these doctrines are made a ground of separation one from another, and when the advocates of different systems anathematize each other. . . . In reference to truths which are involved in so much obscurity as those which relate to the sovereignty of God mutual kindness and concession are far better than vehement argumentation and uncharitable discussion” (Horae Homileticae, Vol. 15, p. 357).

Simeon and Wesley knew each other, and Wesley, during the time, was the elder brother.  Listen to the way the younger converses with the older and glean from this some examples on how to respond to those with whom we disagree when it comes to this issue of the doctrines of grace.

“Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

Yes, I do indeed.

And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

Yes, solely through Christ.

But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?


What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

Yes, altogether.

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.” (Moule, 79f)

And then there’s Dwight L. Moody, the Billy Graham of the 19th century.  While Moody’s methods were not at all guided by biblical calvinistic principles Spurgeon, an avid hater of man-centered preaching, allowed Moody to preach in his own pulpit on several occasions.  What charity!  What humility these great men of God displayed to one another, even in partnering with each other to preach the gospel.  In the Sermon by Spurgeon entitled Messrs. Moody and Sankey Defended; or, A Vindication of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith [sermon #1239MTP Vol 21, Year 1875, pgs. 337 to 348, Galatians 5:24] we read Spurgeon preaching the following statement:

“Will you please to notice that this is no quarrel between these gentlemen and our friends Messrs. Moody and Sankey alone. It is a quarrel between these objectors and the whole of us who preach the gospel; for, differing as we do in the style of preaching it, we are all ready to set our seal to the clearest possible statement that men are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, and saved the moment they believe. We all hold and teach that there is such a thing as conversion.” (MTP Vol. 21 [see above reference], page 337.

These are the examples I look toward to be like Jesus.  Let us help each other to look, talk, think, and act like Him!


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