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.

Is the Church Infallible?

Tampa Hillsborough Bay

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” Matthew 16:19 NLT

Many believe that in Matthew 16, Jesus was setting Peter up as the first pope and giving the church unconditional authority. This comes from reading more into Jesus’ Words than what He intended. Instead of giving the church authority over the consciences of individuals, in making its own laws Jesus was declaring just the opposite. In Matthew 16:9Jesus is not giving the church license. To the contrary He is giving it limits in what it can and should teach. The keys of the kingdom that Jesus gave the church were not keys to authority. The keys of the kingdom are the knowledge of Jesus’ teachings.

What sorrow awaits you experts in religious law! For you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.” Luke 11:52 NLT 

Jesus made it clear that no man is authorized to make ecclesiastical laws that man must submit to, much less that heaven must recognize!

Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God. For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.” Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. Mark 7:7-9 NLT

Contrary to the idea that Jesus told the church that it could make laws that would be recognized in heaven, Jesus told the church to teach completely those things from heaven alone.

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 NLT

While I was living in Texas, a police officer in a small town was fired, because he was pulling over young girls who were obeying the laws just so he could flirt with them. The town had given him authority to enforce the laws of the city but not to flirt with young girls! Likewise in the passage just cited, Jesus gives the church authority to teach everything He has commanded but nothing more and nothing less!  Just like a police officer cannot make up his own laws and pull people over who are obeying the laws of the land, so a church leader cannot make up his own laws and meddle in the personal affairs of others.

A police officer and even lawmakers are sworn in or inaugurated by an oath to protect the laws and constitutions of the land. In Matthew 16:19 Jesus is swearing in the disciples, simply telling them that they are to bind (lock in or require) what is bound in heaven and are to lose (or allow) only what is allowed in heaven. Matthew 16:19 is a command to His disciples and not a license to make their own laws. Jesus told His disciples, what you forbid should be that which is forbidden in heaven and what you allow should be that which is allowed in heaven. As a young boy, when I would get out of line, my teacher would tell me, “you will march right over to the the principal’s office.” That was a command, not a license! So when Jesus tells the church that what they bind is what will be bound in heaven he was Commanding them to only bind what is bound in heaven.

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, The Great Controversy, Page 293.

I am loyal to my parents without claiming they are infallible. I follow my parents as they follow Jesus. No more no less. I am also loyal to my church without claiming it is infallible. I follow my church as it follows Jesus. No more no less.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.