Do we Have to Agree on Everything to Have Unity?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa bay area.

Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? Amos 3:3 NKJV

Amos asks how two people can walk together unless they are agreed. Does this mean they have to agree about everything in order to walk together?  I think the New Living Translation helps to clarify the question:

Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction? Amos 3:3 NLT

The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary supports the NLT  by saying the meaning of this text is, “How can two walk together unless they have a common purpose?” 1 You don’t have to agree upon every little thing in order to go in the same direction. I have traveled with friends who, when we stop to eat choose a different restaurant than I want. I go to one, while they go to the one next-door. We eat, get back in the car and continue our journey in the same direction.

I have shared this passage a few times before:

In Wesley’s time, as in all ages of the church’s history, men of different gifts performed their appointed work. They did not harmonize upon every point of doctrine, but all were moved by the Spirit of God, and united in the absorbing aim to win souls to Christ.Ellen White, Great Controversy, page 258.

We talk about how we need to study the Bible with an open mind. Well, I believe we need to study The Great Controversy with an open mind as well. Many staunch Adventists talk like the book is all about proving which day is the real Sabbath. Of course that becomes clear in the book, but one major theme I see in The Great Controversy is that we should all worship according to our own convictions and none should force others to believe just like them or just like us. I have talked with several Adventists in the past, who would dispute this passage, because they strongly believe that if you are led by the Holy Spirit you will think exactly like they do. They are mystified by the idea in this passage that two people can be led by the same Holy Spirit without totally agreeing on every point of doctrine. Yet I believe inspiration is telling us that people can be led by the Holy Spirit without being  carbon copies of us!

Here is another passage from Great Controversy, which I believe contains a very strong warning to Seventh-day Adventists.

Yet honest and God-fearing as they were, the Pilgrims did not yet comprehend the great principle of religious toleration. The freedom which they sacrificed so much to secure for themselves, they were not equally ready to grant to others. “Very few, even of the foremost thinkers and moralists of the seventeenth century, had any just conception of that grand principle, the outgrowth of the New Testament, which acknowledges God as the sole judge of human faith.” The doctrine that God has committed to the church the right to control the conscience, and to define and punish heresy, is one of the most deeply  rooted of papal errors. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 292  

I have encountered Seventh-day Adventists who were just as papal as the papacy.  When we try to dictate what others believe or exactly how they worship, are we not  imitating the papacy?  Again, a major theme I find in the Great Controversy is that everyone should worship according to their conscience, and that includes people who don’t agree with us.

Tolerance for different opinions is not just something Ellen White preached. She also practiced tolerance in her own home.

We must remember that there are a great many different minds in the world, and we cannot expect everyone to see exactly as we do in regard to all questions of diet. Minds do not run in exactly the same channel. I do not eat butter, but there are members of my family who do. It is not placed on my table; but I make no disturbance because some members of my family choose to eat it occasionally. Many of our conscientious brethren have butter on their tables, and I feel under no obligation to force them to do otherwise. These things should never be allowed to cause disturbance among brethren. I cannot see the need of butter where there is an abundance of fruit and of sterilized cream. Those who love and serve God should be allowed to follow their own convictions. We may not feel justified in doing as they do, but we should not allow differences of opinion to create disunion. May the Lord help us to be as firm as a rock to the principles of the law spoken from Sinai, and may He help us not to allow differences of opinion to be a barrier between us and our brethren.-Ellen White, Counsels on Diets and Foods, Page 269 

Now butter may not be a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but what I truly appreciate in this passage is how Ellen White recognizes that people who do not see things her way are still her “conscientious brethren.” She does not question the hearts of people who disagree with her. This is in contrast to a discussion I once had with a brother who told me I would see things his way, “once I get closer to Jesus.” Ellen White recognized you can be close to Jesus without thinking exactly like her!

Amos 3:3 says we should all be heading the same direction, but that does not mean we have to agree on every little thing. We don’t have to start a new church or denomination every time we have a difference of opinion.

I once worked in an area that had one main church. It seemed perfectly balanced to me. A leader in the church had some evangelistic meetings which spawned  a new church plant. The church plant was more liberal than the main church, so all the liberal members of the main church joined the new church plant. This left only conservative members in the main church. Suddenly in my opinion, the church plant became too liberal and the main church became too conservative. I thought it was much better when the liberals and conservatives went to the same church, because together they kept the church balanced. Now neither church seemed balanced, as far as I could see.

When we surround ourselves only with people who think exactly like us, our thinking becomes skewed!

Of course there needs to be a balance between tolerance for other opinions and letting every wind of doctrine freely blow through the church.

How tolerant should we be of other people’s opinions in the church?

What example did Jesus give us for tolerance within the church?

How do we decide which doctrines are worth splitting the church over, and which ones we should just show tolerance?

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

Cannibalism in the Church

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I am writing today from beautiful Florida.

The other night I tried a new restaurant, and the food was horrible! It actually made me sick. So I got a to-go box and took it home so I could chew on it for several days and share it with my friends.

Sound crazy? Of course it is. Thankfully my story never actually happened. I just wanted to illustrate how foolish it is for us to keep dwelling (chewing) on negative experiences and sharing them with our friends. Sometimes we feel we have been offended and we share the painful experience over and over with out friends. Sometimes we want them to validate our negative feelings. However whenever our friends justify our hurts and feelings of being offended, they are encouraging us to walk in the flesh instead of the Spirit. Sometimes we share the bitter experience to turn our friends against the person who hurt us. This is when we start tinkering with Cannibalism.

My brethren, clear your souls before God. Cease your criticizing and fault-finding. Satan will keep you at this till the Lord comes, if he can. He knows that thus he can most effectually hinder the Lord’s work. Backbiting is cannibalism. -Ellen White, General Conference Bulletin, April 2, 1903

When the serpent tempted Eve, he started off with a very subtle slander.

“Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”Genesis 3:1 NKJV

Notice he forms the insinuation as a question. Not accusatory. Maybe even “sincerely” seeking for clarification, but the idea is now thrown out there that God is restrictive and holding good things back from us. 2 Corinthians 2:11 says we are not ignorant of Satan’s devices, and of course we are not. We even use his devices! Gossipers and slanderers in the church will often start off very subtly, hoping to gain an ear. Once they have that ear, they turn from subtle hints to outright slander just like the serpent did with Eve.

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden;  but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. Genesis 3:2-4 NKJV

Now the serpent has called God a liar! He started off subtly to gain an audience. Now that he has captured his audience, he has moved into outright slander! There are predators who groom entire congregations by sweet-talking them and buttering them up, even lending a helping hand whenever needed. Then they will subtly point out that they are helping the congregation more than anyone else. After their sweet talk and “good deeds” they insinuate that they deserve your loyalty more than the pastor, since after all, they have helped you more than the pastor, haven’t they? Then they begin to slander the pastor and usurp his influence. And you owe them your loyalty, because, after all, they have helped you so much with all their “kindness” and “encouraging” words. Absalom, in 2 Samuel 15:2-6, is an excellent example of grooming people, pretending to have their interest at heart, when in reality just wanting to promote self.

Jesus has a cure for slandering, gossiping and backbiting. It is the exact opposite of those things.

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.  Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. Luke 6:27-31 NKJV

Paul adds,

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14 NKJV

Peter describes Satan as a lion looking for someone to devour with his mouth. When we gossip and slander others we too are like the lion looking for someone to devour with our mouth. This is cannibalism. Revelation 16:13 talks about three unclean spirits like frogs. Frogs catch their prey with their tongues. When we gossip about someone are we trying to catch our victim with our tongue? When we gossip are we practicing Satan’s device? In Genesis 3:1 the NKJV says the serpent was “cunning.” The KJV says he was “Subtle.” The NIV says he was “crafty.” Satan is too cunning, subtle and crafty to just walk up to you and invite you to practice cannibalism. So what does he do? He relabels it “white lies” and “gossip.” Or even more benign than that, he will label it “just venting to a friend.” Remember, when a friend validates your feelings of being offended and wronged, he is encouraging you to walk in the flesh instead of the Spirit. Love keeps no record of being wronged. (1 Corinthians 13:5 NLT)

2 Corinthians 2:11 tells us we are aware of Satan’s devices. This means we are not supposed to use them ourselves in the church! Subtle and outright slander, lying and cursing are all Satanic tactics and should not be practiced by Christians. As Seventh-day Adventists preparing for translation, let’s remember the seal of God is not just about the Sabbath. There will be many in heaven who kept Sunday and many who kept Saturday, but there won’t be anybody in heaven who made a practice of slandering. I personally fear more people will be excluded from the 144,000 over gossip and slander issues than Sabbath issues. John says the 144,00 have no guile in their mouths. (Revelation 14:5 KJV) Google “guile meaning” and you will find, “cunning,” “craft,” etc. basically all the things that make up gossip and cannibalism.

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. Psalm 15:1-3 NLT

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.