What difference do some debates make? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
If there’s a debate I don’t really care for on the internet, or anywhere else, it’s Calvinism vs Arminianism. I suspect my church is more in the Calvinist camp. I am not. I also don’t really care. Let’s start with some simple suggestions.
Can we as Christians please stop acting like we are more holy or righteous or take Scripture more seriously than someone else because we disagree? I am thoroughly convinced there are people on both sides of the debate that have a deep love for Jesus and Scripture and want to be faithful to the text and for whatever reason just disagree.
I remember reading years ago that Charles Simeon, a preacher of a couple of centuries ago, had said that if a Calvinist or an Arminian had been by Paul’s side as he was writing his letters, both of them would have asked that he mark out some passages he wrote. I am not saying the issue of sovereignty and free-will don’t matter. I am not saying that salvation doesn’t matter either. I am saying what is the practical difference in our primary job based on our position on these topics?
Let’s suppose that Christ has predestined everyone who is going to believe in Him like the Calvinists say. You know what? We still have the Great Commission to do because that is how we are to reach those people so let’s get out there and do it the best we can because God is worthy of our very best. If we go lax on what He commands us, then we are not taking Him seriously.
Now let’s suppose that they are wrong and that God will judge the world fairly still, as Scripture says and I think we can all agree on that, but we know that the odds of someone hearing the true gospel are greatly increased if we do the Great Commission. So what do we do? We go out there and we do the Great Commission to the best of our ability because God is worthy of our very best. In other words, whichever view is correct, we are to handle the situation the exact same way.
Now some might say the former view could lead to laziness. If that is the case, then we need to work on that ourselves. We need to learn greater discipline. Others will say the latter view will lead to anxiety. That is again a problem we need to work on for ourselves. We again need to learn greater discipline. I have heard it was once attributed to Augustine that we should work as if everything depended on us and pray as if everything depended on God.
This is not to say that we if we are studying theology should not have opinions on these issues or even discuss them, but my rule on matters that I consider secondary is that they should never be seen as a matter of division. Never should we go to those issues and use them as an excuse to bludgeon our fellow Christian with spirituality. Your neighbor could be entirely wrong and still love Jesus deeply. As I heard Steve Brown once say, “We will just agree to disagree and when we get to Heaven, Jesus will tell you that you were wrong.”
As I said, I am much more Arminian in my approach, but I would hope any Calvinist would happily be willing to put aside his personal disagreements with my theology and join hands with me when it comes to evangelizing non-Christians and answering cultists, atheists, other religions, etc. I can say on my end that I will put mine aside. My only concern will be making sure our arguments are good arguments. Yes. I have made it a point to take down plenty of bad arguments Christians put forward.
Too many of our debates that we actually divide over are really debates that are rather pointless. By pointless, I do not mean the truth doesn’t matter, but that they don’t really impact the way that we do evangelism or our orders to do the Great Commission. You can find Calvinists and Arminians both who have excellent reputations as missionaries and are devoted to Jesus.
On a similar path, I’d consider the debate about what happens to unbelievers when they die in a similar light. Some might think they want to do evangelism to help people avoid eternal conscious torment. If you hold to conditional immortality, wouldn’t that make you not be as motivated to witness to the lost? However, someone who holds to conditional immortality could agree that non-existence is a terrible fate to suffer and want to make sure people are in the Kingdom. He could say that maybe the holder to ECT gives a negative view of God, but the ECT can say the same back.
Here’s what they both have in common.
They both have the Great Commission to do. They both have the same marching orders. They both also have fates that they don’t want unbelievers to have (Or they shouldn’t want them to have) and they both have a Kingdom they want to serve and bring others into (Or they should want to at least).
Again, this doesn’t mean that in this debate the truth doesn’t matter. It means let’s try to remember that this is an in-house debate. I saw someone recently on Facebook saying that if someone wasn’t a believer in ECT, they weren’t much of a Christian. Now my view on Heaven and Hell is a bit more nuanced, but I immediately jumped in to defend my brothers and sisters who hold to conditional immortality. I would certainly hope that in any case, a Calvinist would do that for an Arminian and vice-versa, and the same for what happens when an unbeliever dies.
Again, none of this is saying don’t bother with the debate, but none of these debates are really debates that are essential to the gospel. You can believe on either end and still be a devout Christian. Perhaps it could even help our debates if we tried to realize the people on the other side are Christians like we are, maybe in some ways even better Christians. Perhaps even if we disagree with them in the end, we can still be humble and learn something from them.
And perhaps we can give a better demonstration of Christ to the world by handling our disagreements properly.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)