Wednesday, July 13, 2005

When "Good Men" Disagree

From time to time discussions arise over thorny questions of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy. Often the discussion procedes to how diverse answers to these questions might limit fellowship and cooperation with other believers. I'm thinking about issues like immersion vs. sprinkling, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, providential preservation vs. supernatural preservation of God's Word in one translation, etc. Time and again, it seems to me that the final arbiter in many of these discussions is the statement that "Historically, good men have disagreed on these points of theology, so we are not required to separate ecclesiastically on these grounds."

Apparently, since good men have disagreed, divergent views may be tolerated and even overlooked. Concerning other issues (the thinking seems to go), all "good men" in history have agreed, and no differences of opinion may be tolerated today. Perhaps some examples of issues concerning which dissent is not tolerated come to your mind, as they do to mine.

This argumentation raises two immediate questions in my mind: 1) Who gave us the right and the capacity to identify "good men," and more importantly, 2) When did "good men" become the arbiters of the issues concerning which truth is too ambiguous to be defended zealously?

The historical analysis of arguments, definitions, and movements may be instructive, but it is not definitive. History is merely what men thought, said, and did—men who may or may not have been "good". Perhaps our historical analysis needs to be taken with a grain of salt. At the very least, it seems that our historical arguments need to examine more than the past 85 years of church history.


Scott Aniol said...

I like what John Piper said in Pleasures of God along these lines:

"Can controversial teachings nurture Christlikeness? Before you answer this question, ask another one: Are there any significant biblical teachings that have not been controversial? I cannot think of even one, let alone the number we all need for the daily nurture of faith. If this is true, then we have no choice but to seek our food in the markets of controversy. We need not stay there. We can go home and feast if the day has been well spent. But we must buy there. As much as we would like it, we do not have the luxury of living in a world where the most nourishing truths are unopposed. If we think we can suspend judgment on all that is controversial and feed our souls only on what is left, we are living in a dreamworld. There is nothing left. The reason any of us thinks that we can stand alone on truths that are non-controversial is because we do not know our history or the diversity of the professing church. Besides that, would we really want to give to the devil the right to determine our spiritual menu by refusing to eat any teaching over which he can cause controversy?"

lilrabbi said...

I totally agree. It seems that we will separate more quickly over differing views of music than we will differing views of the atonement.

When Dr. Bauder suggests that our scholars, young and old, should write definitive works on separation and various other doctrines, I would love to see, and hope to see ongoing discussion and debate about things such as the atonement. For some reason, I find this area of doctrine less peripheral than many seem to.

Ben said...


Thanks for directing me to someone else's musings that have mined far deeper than my own. To my shame I had probably not taken the necessary time to digest that passage when I read TPOG. Diversity and controversy in the church universal is inevitable, and not one of us is going to get it all right.

This inevitable diversity doesn't excuse any of us for the ways in which we're dead wrong or just out of balance. However, (thinking out loud here) I wonder if diversity is God's way of reminding all of us that no one has everything figured out yet and we need to be introspectively critical and humble enough to deal with that reality.