How should a church deal with differences?

In this Q&A Ligonier panel, John MacArthur stands out as a dispensationalist among covenant theologians.  If you don't know what those terms mean, simply put, they represent different views on the end times.  Yet, these are not the root issues at hand.

How can these men sit together on a panel, then, and what can we learn from them in our own church contexts?


When our church was going through First John, we looked at John's commitment to hard-edged, black-and-white issues of truth walking in harmony with his call to love.  One illustration we used was that, while truth gives us the right notes to play, love fine-tunes our hearts.

Churches must be concerned about doctrine, and discussions can get heated among those who all share a love for the truth of God.  That, by the way, should not be seen as wrong somehow.   Doctrine does divide (as Sproul says), and the church that doesn't care about doctrine is a dead church.

Still, we all must guard against any hint of pride within our own souls that might lead to sinful choices (which church splits may certainly be in many cases).  Doctrine isn't a rod with which to beat the sheep.  The church of Ephesus stands as a testament to this fact---a church that persevered in its care for what is true and false, but somehow forgot its first love (Rv 2:2-4).

MacArthur in this statement says that they are in 98% agreement.  We need to recognize that there is never 100% agreement (not even with ourselves, as our views change overtime).

I once heard someone less gracious say that rat poison is mostly good food, essentially meaning that 1-2% bad teaching can lead someone to Hell.  If that divergence included gospel issues, I suppose that would be correct.  Even so, it's an unrealistic and, more importantly, an unchristlike demand to have everyone be in lock-step agreement on every issue.

MacArthur highlights the need for patience, tender-heartedness, and graciousness in dealing with those still "in process."  This makes naming their statement of faith "What We Teach" rather than "What We Believe" a great idea; they are giving people time in their church to grow in their doctrinal convictions.  May we keep such godly goals in mind.

So, how should a church deal with differences?  MacArthur closes with this helpful statement:
If you go into a church and slam-dunk Reformed theology on people's heads, you're going to cause a fight, because people have reason to believe what they believe.  Somebody told them this is the truth of God, and it's sacred to them.  And there's definitely a process in letting people move along.  You want to make sure that there's an openness and generosity and graciousness in the proclamation of these truths without wavering on the truths themselves.
I know this leaves some questions open.  For instance, what if the difference is a serious one?  Even so, consider your heart today when dealing with differences in the church.  Are you motivated by both a love for the truth of God and by a love for all of God's people?

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