I spent yesterday afternoon and evening praying and studying with a couple of friends. We didn’t always agree on every point of the discussion but that is not the point of Bible study. We search the Word of God to grow spiritually and as long as we allow the Holy Spirit to lead we have fellowship and unity.
Last evening, as I prepared for bed, I began thinking about how the Christian church has allowed itself to be torn apart throughout the ages over disagreements in theology. Understandably many of those differences were important and needed to be thought through and worked out under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. But, others were much less essential and became divisive when there was no need for such dissension.
This same desire to be right or to have one’s own way is crushing the modern church as well. I remember a pastor friend telling me about a church split that revolved around the color of choir robes. Over the years I have heard of church boards wrangling over everything from whether certain foods could be served at potlucks to what color to paint the pastor’s office. Do we really have nothing better to do with our time?
As Christians we face a hostile world that finds every opportunity to attack and mock the church. Why do we give them so much ammunition? What is there about us that demand’s that everything revolve around our way of thinking or we take our ball and go home? Maybe the answer to that question is found in a lack of accepting the early Protestant teaching, “unity in the essentials and liberty in all else.”
The problem is as we Christians become more Biblical illiterate it seems we no longer understand what the essentials are nor how to differentiate between essentials and non-essentials when we do understand. The result is churches either stop caring or trying to find harmony within the congregation or become dictatorial demanding everyone believe the same or get out.
Getting back to my two friends, what made the evening so enjoyable was, though we didn’t agree on a number of issues, we listened with respect to each other and tried to understand each other’s point of view. Could we ask for more than that when coming from different backgrounds, traditions, and belief systems?
Here is the bottom line about our discussion—we could worship together because we had unity in the essentials. Our belief in saving grace through the merits of Jesus Christ without our works of the law is essential to Christianity. The fact that all three of us agreed on that essential made all the rest of the discussion icing on the cake. Yes, we disagreed on some points but they were on interpretation, wording, or where and how to put stress upon certain aspects of the gospel.
When we seek for truth and not simply to ram our point of view down someone’s throat everyone grows and the Holy Spirit is honored. Oh yes, the Holy Spirit was very much present in our discussion. He spoke clearly to us on a number of issues and led us in a wonderful prayer of repentance, contrition, and worship.
I have to admit that numerous times over the years I have left feeling sad, almost dirty after studying the Bible with people because of the tension and dissension brought out by the study. You knew that the Holy Spirit wasn’t leading but instead you were part of a brawl where everyone was simply trying to outdo the others in proving their point of view and being declared the winner of the “debate”.
There is nothing wrong in discussion and even differing over interpretations of Scripture, after all, that is how we grow. But Bible study becomes a mockery when it is turned into debate and “got ya” moments.
How should we study with each other? Here are a few ideas that I believe could help us be more civil and honest with each other and as a result lead to more light than fire when studying with friends or strangers.
We should come to the study understanding that we have much to learn and that our preconceived ideas and long cherished views on certain issues can be tweaked or rethought. Remember, I am not talking about the essentials of the gospel here because they can never be compromised.
Not only should we pray before we arrive for the study but we should enter into prayer with the people we are discussing the Bible with. Nothing breaks down barriers like listening to heart felt prayers.
I believe it is essential to be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit when studying with each other. You ask how do you know the Spirit is leading? We will know because of a number of reasons. We will experience a calm in our discussions and even when we disagree there is not a sense of anger but of simply differing. There will be times of absolute joy when someone will make a point or say something that rings true within the heart and the Spirit convicts us of the truth. Also Scripture will be enlightened in such a way that we grasp the reality of what is being said.
We can find joy in Bible study when we approach it through love. The study of God’s word should bring joy, understanding, and peace to the heart and it should be fun. When we turn Bible study or spiritual discussions into arguments and debates only Satan becomes a winner. When we approach the discussion with humility, love, and a spirit of wanting to learn under the direction of the Holy Spirit everyone involved wins.
Ruth and I disagree over things all the time but we don’t plan to leave each other because of them. The reason we don’t is because the essentials of our marriage we are sold on and love holds everything together. When coming into the presence of God through the handling of His word to us, the Bible, why should we have less respect for it by making it a book to bang each other over the head?
Unity in the essentials and freedom in the non-essentials will take us a great distance in learning to love, and love, respect and the leading of the Holy Spirit will allow us to enjoy studying the Bible with others.
* The persecution of Christians has not stopped. If anything it’s increased. The main stream media doesn’t talk about it much anymore but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Pray and stay informed and inform others. Please take the time to read some of their stories at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet…