Thursday, November 19, 2009

Should Great Bible Teachers Celebrate Diversity?

This is a guest post from my friend Dr. Jim Kinnebrew...I've invited several people to provide guest posts because I want give you excellent information. -- Glenn

I want to thank Glenn for inviting me to contribute to his blog. I always get so much out of what Glenn writes; it’s a little intimidating to put my own thoughts on the same page as his. Hopefully, what I have to say will bless you. If not, Glenn will be back soon! :0)

I’m sure you have noticed this: Our God is a God of great creativity, variety, and diversity. Just look at His creation:

* As an omniscient, omnipotent Creator, God could have made everything a hueless gray; but He didn’t. Instead, He graced our eyes with bright blue skies, deep green forests, white-capped mountains, golden sunrises, and violet sunsets.

* Our food could have been as tasteless as styrofoam and still have supplied the energy we need to live, but it isn’t. We enjoy the sweetness of strawberries, the zest of lemon, the “bite” of salt, the crunch of almonds, the fluffiness of yeast rolls, and the creaminess of butter. (Is anybody else hungry?)

* All of Adam’s children could have inherited identical genome sequences, but instead we each have DNA that makes us uniquely “us.” Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight!

This is diversity that merits our unrestrained praise and awe. God’s unlimited artisanship is a wonder to behold!

But there is another kind of diversity that is not of God’s making. I am talking about doctrinal diversity—differences in beliefs about what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false.

In a “Politically Correct” world where “tolerance” is everything, we often hear Christians revel in the different understandings of brothers and sisters regarding various truths of the Bible. It is commonly thought a wonderful thing that we “agree to disagree” about “non-essential” doctrines and not bother trying to reach a common understanding.

Now, I have dear friends from many different denominations and theological traditions. We have divergent views regarding baptism, church government, the return of Christ, spiritual gifts, predestination, the use of alcohol, the separation of church & state, and many other such things.

I imagine you have such relationships too, and I’m sure you value those friendships as much as I do mine.

But did you know that our job as teachers of the Word is not to celebrate this kind of diversity but to strive to eliminate it?

Before you write this off as the intolerant rant of a hair-splitting theologian, let’s take a look at Ephesians 4.11-16:

“And He Himself [Jesus] gave some to be . . . teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from Whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what each joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (NKJV).

A quick read of Ephesians 4 will show that God’s major concern is unity, not diversity.

There is, first of all, a unity that we’re required to MAINTAIN and, second, a unity that we seek to ATTAIN.

The first unity is mentioned in verses 1-3:

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

This is the unity that already exists between every true Christian. It is grounded, not in anything that we do, but in the Gospel truth that there is “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father Who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (vss. 4-6).

We don’t have to “attain” to this unity; it’s already ours. We simply need to “maintain” or “keep” it “in the bond of peace.” We do this by treating one another with humility, gentleness, and patience, as Paul urged the Ephesians above.

What the apostle says in the ensuing verses about teaching for doctrinal unity must be tempered by the words we have just considered. Those words should dispel any thoughts one might have of achieving doctrinal unity by dogmatic dictatorship or deceitful debating tactics (condemned in vs. 14).

That kind of dogmatism might be motivated by a noble goal, but it violates the prior “bond of peace” command. It is not worthy of one with your calling, and it will end up not achieving the goal of bringing others to unity of doctrine.

Consider, now, the second type of unity—“the unity of the faith” (vs. 13).

Unlike the “unity of the Spirit,” spoken of in verse 3, “unity of the faith” is not something that we currently have in its fullness; for Paul says that teachers and others are to minister “till we all come to” such a unity.

It is not something we have already acquired, but it is something to which we should all aspire. But should we really?

Why shouldn’t we “celebrate our diversity” in different doctrinal views?

Take for example the various Christian views on baptism. I believe in believer’s baptism by immersion; my good Presbyterian friends (and I have many) believe in infant baptism by sprinkling. Should we rejoice in the fact that we hold these two mutually exclusive views? No!

Why not? Because, though we might both be wrong, we cannot both be right; and God wants us to know His truth, i.e., to be right. Rather than “celebrate our diversity,” we should study harder, communicate better, and “eliminate” our diversity by coming to a common conclusion.

Consider The Living Bible’s paraphrase of verse 13. It says that teachers should teach “until finally we all believe alike about our salvation and about our Savior, God’s Son.”

TLB’s rendering of this phrase is confirmed by the classic commentaries.

As a matter of fact, when Paul says in vs. 13, that we are to “come” to this kind of unity, he uses a word that is found 9 times in the Book of Acts with reference to travelers arriving at a destination.

The apostle here sets forth three “destinations” toward which believers in Christ’s body are moving.

We are all “coming” to:

* Unity of Creed (“till we all come to the unity of the faith”)
* Unity of Communion with Christ (“and the knowledge of the Son of God”)
* Unity of Christ-likeness (“to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”)

There is a logical order here. The more accurate our doctrine, the better we can know Christ as He truly is; and the more intimate our knowledge and communion with Christ, the more like Him we will become (see 2 Cor 3.18), for we shall see Him “as He is” (1 Jn 3.1-3).

Will we ever “hammer out” all of our doctrinal differences? I seriously doubt it. But that’s no excuse for not trying.

We know that we will not be like Jesus in holiness until He shall appear; nevertheless, with that hope within us, we are to continually seek to purify ourselves (1 Jn 1.3).

In the same way, though we will likely not get all of the “flies” out of our theological “ointment” until Christ comes to teach us the Truth; that does not relieve us of the responsibility of seeking His Wisdom now and finding out all we can before He comes.

This is done by dwelling in the unity already given to us by the Spirit and gently teaching, humbly searching, patiently debating, and speaking the truth in love to attain the unity of thought that eludes us. It is accomplished by every member taking a part and edifying the body in love (vs. 16).

It will not happen if we piously “celebrate our diversity” in areas to which God has called us to unity.

Laziness, fear of offending, disdain for conflict, and an apathy toward truth are the great enemies that Great Bible Teachers must conquer if they are to fulfill the mission set before them in Ephesians 4.11-16.

The “Therefore” in Eph 4.1 points us back to all the reasons we should fight and conquer these enemies. (You’re a GBT, so I’ll let you search Eph 1-3 and discover those reasons!)


You can learn more from Dr. Jim Kinnebrew through his newsletters -- terrific, helpful information!

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