Unity, Diversity and Charity

When it comes to differences of faith, we often repeat the saying “In essentials, Unity. In non-essentials, Diversity. In all things, Charity.”

While this is a necessary process, we have to first determine who gets to decide what is essential and what is not?

What criteria do they use?

Where do they get their criteria, and how do they know it’s the right criteria?

Since the Bible doesn’t always call for charity when people reject certain teachings of the Bible, isn’t it then true that a unilateral call for charity actually undermine the things of God?

Rightly Dividing a New Word

In Paul’s 3rd missionary journey (Acts 18:18-21:16), we see these questions and issues going on behind the scenes in several ways. Because we’ve heard these stories since our youth, I think we’re too familiar with them, and consequently we don’t see the dilemma they posed to the 1st century audience. Let’s put their situation in our context see how we would react:

A traveling preacher and his companions come to your church teaching weird things that you’ve never heard before, using verses in the Bible to support their view. Your elders quickly point out that the verses were twisted out of context and no one has ever held those opinions in the past. They conclude that these teachings deviate from traditional orthodoxy and should be dismissed.

Q1: Would you welcome the out-of-town preacher back for 3 months of teaching?

Q2: Would you side with your God-appointed elders and reject this strange new teaching, or would you put the elders on pause and examine the possibility that your elders might not truly understand the Word of God as well as this strange new preacher?

Q3: If the stranger decided after 3 months of teaching that your church was too deaf and stubborn to his version of the Word of God and caused a split in your church, would this be a good thing or a bad thing?

Q4: If the stranger and his followers (along with those from your church who no longer follow the lead of your elders!) took their strange new teachings to a public lecture hall where they can continue teaching w/o having to deal with the stubbornness of your church, would you see that as a sign of their refusal to comply with Godliness, or would you see your church as truly and hopelessly deaf to the word of God?

This is the dilemma Paul caused in Ephesus ~51AD. How would you respond? Would you follow the lead of your elders and contend against Paul? Would you listen to new teaching? How would you determine that they were accurately dividing the word of God? What criteria would you use to confirm that they were right and your elders were wrong? If miracles cinched it for you, do you believe all workers of miracles today? Paul promised the Thessalonians that in the end times, the Antichrist would come working signs and wonders – how do you know which signs and wonders are of God and which are of satan?

In the final analysis, is your faith that of your fathers and elders, or that of the Holy Spirit?

And Paul entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19:8-10)

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