By Dave Miller
Great Commission Cooperation Series Introduction
If we want to see #NoPlaceLeft, it will take all of God’s church new and old, together. However, we must be realistic about unity. Over the next few weeks we will share some thoughts on how we are trying to navigate the terrain from our team in #NoPlaceLeftOKC. We are striving to cooperate in mission as much as possible, while also not asking each other to compromise on deeply held biblical convictions that differ.
Part 1 - We must strive for unity without uniformity. Part 2 - We must not compromise on our theological convictions. Part 3 - We contribute we do not control. Part 4 - We must honor the work entrusted to others. Part 5 - We must practice grace. Part 6 - We must not be afraid to wrestle with our differences to learn from one another.
Part 2 - We must not compromise on our theological convictions.
If someone was to create a top five list for barriers to cooperation between Christians, theological differences would be in the race for first place. Convictions are held because we believe them to be right. Changing a deeply held conviction from the scriptures should take prayer, time, significant new information, and possibly incompatible and unexplainable situations. Even in these scenarios one may not budge on a personal conviction. So what do we do when individual’s deeply held convictions encounter one another but aren’t compatible?
The Joker once said to the Batman, “This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.” In my experience, the moment of differing theology creates a discussion that quickly turns to debate, then takes on the form of doctrinal evangelism. Sometimes if the doctrinal evangelism doesn’t work, then it becomes doctrinal boxing, then doctrinal MMA, then character questioning until finally the doctrine is forgotten. It becomes personal, leaving behind a wake of relational collateral. What was meant to be life giving becomes the very opposite.
The disciples encountered this moment. Jesus just finished giving little children monster hugs while teaching his followers about the vital role of the seemingly insignificant in the kingdom when John came to tell him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us. But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will not be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:38-40). John thought the enemy were those not in their tribe. Jesus reminds him, if they are doing the same work, they are moving the work forward. They are with us. Is our goal to get everyone to believe our tribal flavor of Christianity or to see the work of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation gathered around the throne?
The undercurrent that unifies Christians has always been the work of the gospel. The outflow of the gospel has been growth in our faith through the promises of God and the way in which we view those promises. Our view of these promises becomes the basis of our theological convictions and is therefore very personal.
Unity cannot require compromise on theological convictions.
Some of those convictions separate Christianity from all other religions. (See We Must Strive for Unity without Uniformity) Yet even those convictions that are within orthodox Christianity must be held tightly, even in disagreement. The personal nature of our convictions cause us to tread on conscience each time we compromise. Each compromise erodes our ability to act in faith. This is not to say we staunchly hold a conviction no matter what. We will, as I am sure you have experienced, grow, change, and behave differently as our understanding of God and his Word increases. This is to say, however, that training ourselves to ignore our conviction siphons the fortitude to stand on them when faith requires our absolute devotion to the promises of God. It is our love that mitigates the potential conflict, not our compromise.
Our love for one another will be demonstrated in our handling of theological differences.
Pride is pushy and self-promoting. Love is patient and kind while at the same time honest and firm. All Christians evangelize because they are people, and all people evangelize. Have you ever met a person who didn’t try to tell you their opinion on something eventually? The cultural idea that we should not impose or try to convince another of our opinion is a nice academic experiment that never works practically. Case in point, the idea that you should not impose your ideas on another is an imposed idea. However, sharing your convictions as salt to flavor the conversation is very different from expecting the other side of the conversation to agree and follow your lead each time.
We are salt and light. We are not convince and control. Love is patient and kind precisely because, love is the overflow of conviction that God loves through his patient convincing and trustworthy control of all things. I can trust him to change me, them, or both. Love allows me believe strongly and cooperate intentionally. Love for one another and prayer for his truth and correction is the overflow of the conviction of God’s love.
Who you choose as the object of your evangelism builds unity or conflict.
When we primarily evangelize our doctrines to one another, rather than the gospel to the world, we lose the mission as our undercurrent of unity. We will find ourselves fighting flesh and blood instead of the powers and principalities. Robust discussions on God’s Word are healthy and even beneficial to the work because they challenge and grow us. Just ask yourself this question. Is my goal to train a believer to follow my doctrine, or to train a believer to follow Jesus and his Word in order to build convictions that will last a lifetime? It won’t be you that keeps them going when the trials come. Their trust in the promises of God will do that.
This world is in need of Jesus. Your belief in God’s promises drive your conviction to engage the mission. We need that faith built on the rock to forge past the trials that will no doubt come. So do not compromise on your convictions. Teach others to find that same trust in Jesus and his Word. But, remember the in next doctrine conversation you have, the believer with whom you are speaking can be a partner in the gospel or an object of your evangelism. When you feel the urge to debate the second coming of Christ, remember half of the world hasn’t heard of the first. In so doing, you might find your view of Revelation changing.
Until there's #NoPlaceLeft...