When there was conflict in the church at Jerusalem, the pastor of the church, James, stood up and spoke. It settled the issue and the church moved on. Today we are more likely to create a small group to discuss the shortcomings of the pastor and see if we can fire him. The main thing quits being the main thing if we think we see all and know all.
When in conflict, the best thing is prayer, not panel discussions on matters that should not divide us. Sometimes I find it’s best to keep my preferences to myself. I’m willing to die for my convictions, but I’m not going to battle over preferences and interpretations. In reality, we may both be wrong.
God revealed Himself to us on a level we could understand, in a person we could identify with. Jesus came and the common people received Him gladly. The theologians and religious experts hated Him and killed Him. Religion hates and labels. Christianity transforms and loves.
Again I want to quote Vance Havner: “One never needs to be a Christian plus. It is never Christ and, and it is never a Christian and. One is a Christian or anti-Christian. You do not have to add anything to a Christian, for everything that goes with it is included in that good word.”
He continues, “We Christians do not need unanimity or unification. The only place where you will ever get the saints together is where they are already together, in Jesus Christ. We need more unity of the spirit. There is a common understanding when we are in Him. One does not tune twenty pianos by harmonizing each with the other; they are tuned to a tuning fork, and when each is in tune with the standard pitch, they are in tune with each other. Trying to tune divergent Christian groups to each other is a hopeless business. Only when they are in tune with Christ are they in tune with each other.”
The early church, did not sit around in Theology 101 or Personal Experiences and Ecstatic Utterances 201. They lived like Jesus in a pagan world and changed that world. We sit around in our holy huddles telling each other how spiritual we are while the world is headed to hell.
When I was a young preacher, the Charismatic movement was in full swing. I constantly had people asking me if I had “it.” I thought they were talking about some disease. I found out that every time I talked about the power of the Holy Spirit they assumed I had “the gift.” In reality, they were more concerned about “the gift” than Jesus being Lord. They focused on the secondary and forgot to keep the main thing, the main thing.
I remember one young man telling me that once he had the gift, he had moved beyond Jesus and just wanted to talk about the Holy Spirit. Apparently he hadn’t read the Scriptures about who glorifies whom in the trinity.
I’ve watched good people break fellowship over differing views of eschatology. I’ve watched good people get angry in doctrinal discussions. Doctrinal differences between believers are bringing confusion and division within my denomination. This can’t be honoring to Christ. This can’t be healthy for the body. This must grieve Jesus who came to make us one.
Trying to convert someone to a theological position or to your experience is a poor use of time. It’s one of the enemy’s diversionary tools. If he can get us arguing over secondary things, he can keep us from exalting Jesus. Telling people about Jesus and His love, forgiveness, grace, and power to change their lives is good stewardship of the breath I’ve been given.
Let’s not be guilty of being more Charismatic than Christian. God forbid that we would be more committed to our denomination than to the deity of Christ. Let’s not be guilty of exalting our Calvinist, Pre-millennialist, Arminian, or Charismatic thoughts about having the mind of Christ.
We need to all remember a few things:
1) If you can figure it out, there’s not much to it.
2) Don’t let it bother you when God blesses people you disagree with.
3) Get over yourself. No matter how much you’ve figured out, you can’t begin to touch the depths of the knowledge of God.
4) Your experience is your experience; it doesn’t have to be mine.
5) Consider the fact that you may be wrong.
6) If you are right, consider what God says about pride and what Jesus said about the haughtiness of the Pharisees.
Don’t try to impress people with what you know. Let them be impressed by the Jesus in you.
Look briefly at Romans 11:33-36: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
In light of God’s great plans, Paul broke out into praise. As someone said, “Theology becomes doxology!” If your theology doesn’t make you more in awe of Jesus, it’s bad theology. We can’t fully understand the mind of God, but we can be filled with praise that our God is great and awesome.
As one commentator says, “No matter how diligently we may have studied His Word, we must confess with David that ‘such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it’ (Ps 139:6). It is not the countless unrevealed things about God of which Paul is speaking, but the depths of the things which we do know through His self-revelation. Yet even these partially knowable truths conceal elements that are far beyond our comprehension (cf. Deut 29:29).”
There’s an old secular saying: “Keep it simple stupid.” Can I be so bold as to suggest, “Keep it simple saints”? Make your motto, “As He is, so are we, in the world” or “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” If you are quoting men, even godly men, more than the Word, you’ll get off base. God shares His glory with no one. God has given us men and experiences to help us, not for us to glory in.
Yes, I have theological convictions. Yes, I have doctrinal convictions. But my primary concern is that, at the end of the day, someone can look at me and call me a Christian. I’m too far down the path to argue with you. I’m too close to heaven to want to spend my life fussing and fighting. Let’s leave the debate and the arguing to the theologians who sit in their ivory towers on seminary campuses. I think it would be a better use of our time to live like Jesus in the real world.
Paul was a brilliant man. He was one of the most educated men of the first century. His epistles are filled with doctrine. But he counted all he had learned, heard, or experienced before he came to Christ as dung. Yes, there are great doctrinal truths in his letters, but remember, they weren’t written to theology classes but to slaves in the Roman Empire. Paul wrote to bring hope, not a panel discussion at the rock quarry.
Here’s the bottom line – if we get beyond Jesus, we’ve gone too far. Study, learn, think, but above all else, sit at the feet of Jesus, learn to love Him, then go out and serve Him. Tell others the good news. Good news doesn’t demand a theological dictionary or power point – it only needs an available vessel.
(Copyright, Michael C. Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.