Echo Article: Handling Differences of Conscience

How are the people of God to handle differences of opinion and conviction among one another? Often times the church can become disgruntled over matters of conscience. Two or more people hold a difference of opinion, and where there was once unity, now division. I believe it is safe to say all pastors will wrestle with encouraging the members of Christ’s church to love one another amid diversity. I also believe many Christians desire to keep unity, but they cannot compromise their convictions.

In moments like these, may I encourage a pursuit of wisdom and humility? The Bible teaches that “All the ways of man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives” (Prov 16:2). People stand behind convictions they deem most true. Indeed, It is not natural for us to take a position we believe is wrong. When confronted with a difference of opinion, we should allow others to be heard. Often brothers and sisters are labeled and judged too quickly. Listen and evaluate if the differences of opinion are heretical, hypocritical, cultural, uninformed, experiential, a simple difference, partly true, or correct. You might be supervised what you hear from someone else. I have changed my opinion before because someone had the opportunity to speak.

Further, respect one another. We are to understand that God is Lord of the conscience (Jas 4:12; Rom 14:4; Gal 5:1). Though there are some beliefs and practices that are considered clean, if one’s conscience is convicted by such a practice it is considered a sin for them to engage (Rom 14:22-23). Because of this I do not hastily persuade someone to take my position on a variety of issues! Below are other principles that I seek to establish when dealing with differences of Christian liberty:

1. Desire to know God’s Word. By knowing the Bible we can ask, “Is God’s Law being transgressed? Does Scripture clearly speak on the matter?” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” A knowledge of what the Bible says is paramount. It shines light on decisions like these.

2. Understand that man must obey his conscience (Rom 14:1-4, 13, 22; 1 Cor 15:5; 1 John 3:19-24). Though brothers and sisters in Christ may differ on an issue, understand that rebelling against personal conscience is done outside of faith.

3. Keep all words and deeds edifying so God may receive glory(1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:17).

4. Remember Christian liberty must be built on a foundation of spiritual freedom. Liberty is not a license to do whatever one pleases. Liberty is the right to do as God pleases without fear. Likewise, liberty must not surrender in a way that misrepresents the faith (Gal 2:3; Col 2:16-23). There are circumstances where it is appropriate to hold to liberty tightly.

I pray as we wrestle with matters of the conscience and liberty, our Lord sees His people loving and patient towards each other. May our conduct display His love and wisdom!

In Christ by His Grace,

Pastor Daniel

Unity in Truth

As churches stray from the biblical teachings, they will generally become more man centered and less God centered.  This means that the purity of the church needs to be examined next to the unity of the church.  Unity is God’s will for the church and this is a large way the gospel is displayed to the community.  God calls us to seek for unity in both the visible local church and the invisible universal church.  We can do this through being gracious to those in our church in understanding differences, as well as cooperating with like-minded churches to spread the gospel and serve the community.

But an important aspect of these two things (unity and purity) is how they relate to one another.  Both purity and unity in the church are important, but there are clear situations where the need for purity must be placed ABOVE a desire for unity (See 1 Cor. 5 and 2 John).  There does come a time where doctrinal differences, matters of conscience, and simple practical issues require people to split off from a church or churches to stop working together with certain things.  Though Christians should seek to bring change within the church in biblical ways, leaving the church is sometimes the best option.  There are many examples of this in Church history.  For the first part of the early church, there was unity despite some need for the removal of false teaching.  But, the protestant reformation was sparked when Luther raised issues with Catholic doctrine (as they were taking money from people in exchange for claimed forgiveness from God) and was excommunicated in 1521.  Purity and Unity in the church are important and they relate in many parts of church life and as I talked about in the sermon, this unity is rooted in love.

Unity at All Cost?

As churches stray from the biblical teachings, they will generally become more man centered and less God centered.  The purity of the church needs to also be examined next to the unity of the church.  Unity is God’s will for the church and this is a large way the gospel is displayed to the community.  God calls us to seek for unity in both the visible and invisible church.  We can do this through being gracious to those in our church in understanding differences, as well as cooperating with likeminded churches to spread the gospel and serve the community.

An important aspect of these two things though is how they relate to one another.  Both purity and unity in the church are important, but there are clear situations where the need for purity must be place below a desire for unity (See 1 Cor. 5 and 2 John).  There does come a time where doctrinal differences, matters of conscience, and simple practical issues require people to split off from a church or some churches to stop working with other churches.  Though Christians should seek to bring change within the church in biblical ways, leaving the church is sometimes the best option.  There are many examples of this in Church history.  For the first part of the early church, there was unity despite some need for the removal of false teaching.  But, the protestant reformation was sparked when Luther raised issues with the Catholic doctrine of his day (as they we taking money from people in exchange for claimed forgiveness from God) and was excommunicated in 1521.  Unity apart from the gospel is meaningless.  If we set aside the truths of God’s word yet we hold onto unity, this unity will not bring about God’s good will of reaching the nations.  Our Goal must be first to proclaim the gospel.  When unity and cooperation with other gospel church is possible it should be perused.  When unity and cooperation with churches that reject the gospel will hinder that work, unity must be place aside for the salvation of the lost.

Three Exhortations for the Church to Obey Together

I would like to encourage you to remember the three exhortations given in Hebrews 10:19-27

  • Let us draw near to God (v. 22)
  • Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering (v. 23)
  • Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (v. 24)

Notice that the author ends these commands by saying, while you obey these three things, don’t neglect to meet together but encourage one another (v. 25). All the commands start with “let us”. God did not intend for us to do these things alone but rather they are to be done together as the body, as the Church, as we meet together on Sundays and during the week.

When one turns to Jesus, they are united to him and in effect become united to every other person that is in Christ. Becoming part of a local church and obeying these three commands together with other Christians is a direct outworking of your salvation. It is evidence that you are truly in Christ. This becomes clear in the next verse. “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” (v. 26) We need one another in order to live out these commands as God intends.

 

The Mission of the Church

In Colossians 3:12-17, Paul exhorts Christians to put on the character of Jesus and exemplify Christ likeness in the church.  Why is it important for the church to exemplify the character of Christ?  The answer is quite simple, to put the gospel on display.

Matthew 5:13–16 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

The mission of the church is to put the gospel on display.  When Faith Baptist Church lives in harmony with one another, putting on love while bearing with one another in humility, meekness, and patience, those outside the church will notice.  Those who do not know Jesus will see the harmony that we have, and be amazed.  With Paul, I exhort you to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” so that it overflows into the community, bringing many people to faith in Jesus through your actions, and through your faithfulness in sharing the gospel with them.