Why Are There So Many Divisions in the Church?


Why Doesn’t Everyone Agree with Me?

I am a Calvinist; others are Arminian. I believe in a premillenial eschatology; others are amillenial. I am a traducianist with regards to the creation of the soul; others are creationists. I believe in reasoned inerrancy; others believe this is an archaic naive doctrine. There are many points of doctrinal division I am going to have with people, some of which are much more important than others.

Why doesn’t everyone agree with me? Who is causing this disunity in the body of Christ, them or me? Do these divisions demonstrate the doctrinal bankruptcy of sola Scriptura? Should we elect a Pope of Protestantism? Or could it be that God has a purpose in his allowance of disagreements?

There are a few different ways that I could answer this.

  1. Others don’t agree with me because they have not studied deeply enough (lack of scholarship).
  2. Others don’t agree with me because they have not studied broadly enough (lack of perspective).
  3. Others don’t agree with me because they have not studied long enough (lack of wisdom).
  4. Others don’t agree with me because their traditional prejudices have created a learning “disability” that keeps them from the truth (lack of freedom of thought).
  5. Others don’t agree with me because they have sin in their life that is blinding them to the truth (lack of holiness).
  6. Others don’t agree with me because we don’t have an infallible authoritative interpreter of Scripture that would bring doctrinal unity (lack of a Pope).
  7. Others don’t agree with me because they are not Christian. If they were, well . . . they would agree with me! (lack of salvation)

Generally speaking, I do not default to these possibilities. Don’t get me wrong, these really are all possibilities. It could be that people deny the truth (assuming that my position is such) due to ignorance, lack of perspective or wisdom, traditional bindings, sin, lack of authority, or a presupposition of godlessness or naturalism. But I think we need to be careful about any negative prejudgments about people’s motives and the ultimate reasons for disagreements. We normally don’t know.

Here are the considerations I would aspire to make before I fall back upon the previously mentioned possibilities.

Others don’t agree with me because they are right and I am wrong.

Granted, I am convicted I am right. If this were not the case, I would simply change my position. But the possibility always exists that I am the one who is in error, misinformed, motivated by false pre-understandings, tradition-bound, or lacking perspective. I must consider this with great humility, as hard as it is to do.

There are some things of which I am more sure than others. For example, I am far less likely to be wrong about the existence of God than I am about my belief in a pre-tribulational rapture of the church. As well, I am humbled by the fact that there are many things I used to believe that I no longer do. I held to these former beliefs with (what seems to be) just as much conviction as many of the beliefs that I hold to now. What do I do with that? In most of those cases, the evidence, or lack thereof, militated against my previous doctrinal commitments and forced me to make hard adjustments. Very hard adjustments. For example, I used to believe that if someone did not accept the doctrine of inerrancy, they were not Christian. This was due to my fundamentalist presuppositions no doubt, but when faced with the evidence – that there are many people out there who do not hold to inerrancy, yet love and trust the same Christ as me – my position either had to change, or slumber in the bedroom of naiveté. I still have those decisions to make. It is called learning.

What I must realize is this: there is not one belief that I hold to which is protected by infallibility. Infallibility is the other side of the coin of absolute certainty. Absolute certainty can only be held by those who have all the information and are interpreting it correctly. To be infallible means that you cannot fail. Since I am not infallible, by definition, I can fail. All of my beliefs are subject to my attribute of fallibility. There is no one who possesses infallibility. Even Roman Catholics who try to alleviate themselves of this reality by trusting in the dictates of an infallible magisterial authority, such as the Pope, inevitably face the same problem, since their own trust in the infallible authority of the Pope is fallible. The same holds true for Evangelicals and our infallible Bible. Our belief in the Bible is fallible, even if the Bible itself is not. No one can escape their own fallibility. Therefore we all could be wrong. We are left to rely on a process of examining and weighting the evidence and following it wherever it leads. This will often cause us to change our beliefs.

Therefore, serious consideration must always be given to the proposition that people don’t agree with me because I am the one who is wrong.

Others don’t agree with me because God does not want us to agree, regardless of who is right.

This may sound odd, but we must consider it. I said earlier that I was a Calvinist. While this does not give me exclusive right to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, it does require me to consider what part it might play in the question: Why doesn’t everyone agree with me? What I am really asking is this: Why isn’t everyone unified around the truth?

I believe that it is a real possibility—even likelihood—that God does not want absolute doctrinal unity right now. In fact, practically speaking, it could do more harm than good. I believe doctrinal disagreements are often healthy for the church. When there is conflict between opposing viewpoints, the issue at hand is understood at a more profound level than is possible in the absence of conflict. Conflict, in the end, can bring about a deeper conviction of the truth. When there is no conflict, there is no iron sharpening iron in the same way.

I am not in any sense trying to relativize the truth, but to help us understand that wrong beliefs, even our own, could be serving the purpose of God and bringing Him more honor than we recognize. It is often said that heresy is God’s gift to the church. Why? Because when a false option is presented the truth becomes much clearer. In contrast there is clarity. In clarity there is conviction.

It is for this reason that we must be continually engaged with alternative options. As hard as it is to engage in beliefs that go against our present convictions, we need to recognize the value of the struggle. Herein lies what I believe to be one of the greatest strengths of the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura—it presents the opportunity to wrestle with the issues at a level that is not allowed for in magisterium-based traditions.

What I am saying is this: it may actually be God’s sovereignty that brings about division over the doctrine of God’s sovereignty! This does not mean that wrong belief is always justified. Wrong belief is often (though not always) the result of sin. Neither does it mean that we need to be content with agnosticism or lessen our conviction about any doctrinal issue. To the contrary. It means that we engage in it more vigorously than we did before, being confident that God has a dignified reason for conflict resulting from diversity. In the end, we will find that through the conflict our beliefs become stronger, not weaker. I believe we must open ourselves up to the possibility of being wrong in order to find truer faith and conviction.

In Celebration of Division

We have learned to celebrate diversity in every area of life. We celebrate the diversity of the sexes. Men: can you imagine a world where women did not contribute to a balanced perspective? That is horrifying. Women, can you imagine the opposite (don’t answer that!)? Think of the diversity among personalities, nations, political parties, age groups, and cultures. While we may believe that our opinion is correct (and it may be), from a certain perspective we can appreciate dissent in values, beliefs, and practices. Understanding diversity can often cause us to see that the answer to many issues is going to be more of a both/and rather than an either/or. We could both be right and we could both be wrong.

In the end, if God is in control, then the answer to my question is relatively simple. Why doesn’t everyone agree with me? Because it is not God’s will for them to do so. This is to His glory. Why? His will is better accomplished through diversity. In this I think we can learn to celebrate diversity without yielding to the postmodern matrix of relativism, uncertainty, or apathy.

276 Responses to “Why Are There So Many Divisions in the Church?”

  1. I tend to agree. It makes me think of Ephesians 4:13-14. The full unity of the body of Christ (doctrinally and practically) is an *eschatological* reality by God’s sovereign design and plan.

  2. Have you read Christian Smith’s recent book, _The Bible Made Impossible_? He interacts with the idea of biblicism, shows why all the reasons we give for disagreement are naive or arrogant (corresponding with your numbers 1-7 above), and argues that what he calls “pervasive interpretive pluralism” does indeed make biblicism impossible. It’s an interesting read.

  3. It reminds me of the early philosophers; one over here said “the truth is fire”, another over there said “no is water”…but give these disagreable bipedals 2000 years of monkeying around wiith words and wa-la… have a pretty good grasp on things. Our disagreements may be just the very early stages of our eternal growth that awaits us….Can you imagine what we will be talking about in a trillion years from now, Michael?

  4. Yes, I read it. However, it read more like a Catholic work with so many straw men I had to put it down. Works like that are more effective when they are internally produced.

  5. Good thoughts, Michael, and see you’re not wrong this time! :)

    Seriously though, you brought out a good point that diversity is sometimes mistaken for division or lack of unity when we don’t agree with someone, or vice versa.

  6. Personally I believe one’s approach to the Holy Scripture is more important, than one’s theological details per se, of course the biblical doctrine of God really must follow hard. The top tier Reformational and Reformed people all held to the belief and authority of Holy Scripture. Sadly, this is no longer true in the so-called modern and even evangelical church, i.e. the “emergents”, etc.

    Btw, just a note, I enjoyed reading Ken Sparks book: God’s Word in Human Words, etc. (A Baker Academic, 2008). But one book that simply every serious theolog should read is David Wenham’s fine book: Paul, Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? The great E. Earle Ellis (RIP) called it “a virtual theology of Christ and of his apostle.”

    Tertullian and Augustine were Traducian, as I think Gregory of Nyssa. In our time there are several also, note the American Gordon Clark.

    I am myself an eclectic Anglican, but always a biblical presupper! Btw, Michcal have you read much of Cornelius Van Til? I loved Frame’s book: An Analysis of His Thought! Van Til’s conclusion was that intelligible predication presupposes the biblical God, this includes the biblical attributes of God, which always presupposes the doctrine of God, sovereign. Btw, I think we can say that Calvin entitles the providence of God as “the true theology.”

  7. Michael,

    I am wondering if you including even the most basic tenet’s of our faith in what you are saying here? Those issues that you included in a post sometime ago as essential for salvaltion or essential for historic orthodoxy? Such things as the belief in the deity of Christ and belief in the Trinity?

    The reason I am asking is that there are some very sophisticated thinkers out there in the Christian world these days that are reexamining things as basic as these beliefs. Sitting down and working through all of these newly presented ideas out there is likely a very intimadating idea for many ordinary person-in-the-pew Christian.

  8. Definitely. We all need to examine these with the supposition that we could be wrong. This does not mean that we suppose that we are wrong, just that our beliefs are not infallible.

    But, for example, having worked many things through, we don’t have to continue to keep an open mind. For example, I don’t have an open mind any more that God might not exist any more than I do that a triangle may have four sides. If I were, for some reason, to become an atheist, it would be because of emotional reasons rather than rational ones.

    But even (indeed, especially) in our most basic and foundational beliefs, we need to suppose at some point that we could be wrong so that we might strengthen in our conviction about the subject. After all, isn’t this what we ask other religious believers (who are very convicted about their beliefs) to do? Should we not have done the same in the past?

  9. Yes, fewer Christians today seen to care about the so-called ‘essentials of historic orthodoxy’, I think myself some of this comes from at least some of the ideas and questions of pressing an evidential form of Christianity. Seeking and asking questions that scripture simply just does not answer. However, the Trinity is certainly not in that place! It is one thing not to understand our Triune God, quite another to say it is not necessary in the doctrine of God and faith.

  10. Michael: I don’t agree with you on this last idea, of supposing that we should somehow call into question some if not all of our foundational beliefs, and this will somehow make them stronger? Again, this is part of the problem of thinking that we must somehow make “evidential” probes into our doctrine and faith. I just don’t agree! It seems much of the so-called Evangelical Church just misses the whole Creedal structure of the Historic Church! The whole catechetical element was part of the early & apostolic church. And too, even in the Reformation the catechesis and creed was simply part of the Church’s instruction. The Creed and catechesis, is a tool for the rule of faith, as used in the Christian Church, and was and is a summary of revealed Truth, taken itself from Holy Scripture. It is a form of words, that set forth with authority certain articles of belief, which the Church itself regards as necessary for and to salvation. And to quote Schaff, ‘these truths, which the Bible reveals in the popular form of life and fact, the Creed gathers up in the logical form of Doctrine.’

    And the Reformed Church & Christian especially stands upon this Creedal Witness! Indeed perhaps on a personal level, one might want to look and renew their thoughts about the “foundation” of faith & doctrine, but never to the point of thinking that the Holy Spirit has not led the Church in the right path and direction! :)

  11. I’m Eastern Orthodox with Calvinist sympathies and a a postmil! How do you like them apples? No, seriously, I am all those things and it has lead me to the same view as you: that God does not want total agreement at this point in time. I think the ‘mustard tree’ is growing and as the seed unfolds and the roots grow there is a certain chaos on the outside but deep within the genetic information God has buried is working itself out in the Church as it matures in all its manifestations: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, Copt etc.

    I actually pray that one day we all be one as Christ asked his Father we be. Then we can give the secularists a real run for their money.

    peace in Christ

  12. PS i am fully aware how strange it might seem to others to say I am EO with calvnist tendencies and a postmil. I did NOT come about that lightly but after 25 years of study and prayer (and reading a lot of Greek –though that is not as difficult as it sounds since I am a Greek).

  13. 1) “To be infallible means that you cannot fail.” I agree. The only “infallible” thing is the Church.

    Matthew 16:18-19: And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

    Christ is the Head of the Church. Christ can never fail; His Body can never fail; the Church can never fail.

    Ephesians 1:22-23: And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

    Maybe it may be worthwhile to look east, to the church that hasn’t changed it’s theology, and hasn’t failed, in 2,000 years. No popes, no indulgences, no papal/patriarchal infallibility, no mandatory celibate priesthood, no Immaculate Conception, no purgatory, no limbo of infant souls. Just the most martyrs.

    2) “I believe that it is a real possibility—even likelihood—that God does not want absolute doctrinal unity right now.” – Michael Patton

    John 17:20-22: I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory that You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one. – Jesus Christ

    I’ll side w/God on this one, Michael, thanks for you opinion, though. You bring up interesting topics!

    Glory to God…

    • God also calls on us to be perfect. Do you think that this is something God has actively brought about or has a permissive will at this time since this is not an actuality. god both wills for our perfection and does not will for it. This is what theologians talk about when they distinguish between the will of desire and will of decree. So, in my opinion right now, I think that God wills for perfect unity but has not decreed it as he wills for our perfection but has not decreed it. In both cases, as I said in the OP, God uses our imperfections and “wills” it for his glory.

  14. Michael, but we should NEVER stop TRYING to be perfect.

    Matthew 7:13-14: Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

    The church has always seen divisions as anathema.

  15. The church has always allowed for adiaphoria. The vincintian canon is literally written on the wall at my work. But since the time of the first articulation of the regula fide, the church has allowed for freedom in non essentials.

  16. Btw Pete. You seem to be a very kind and gracious representative of your views. We very much appreciate that around here. Even if we disagree, such things gain an ear. Keep it up.

  17. Move this discussion from doctrine to practice and things get even more interesting. We should apply the principles regarding disputable matters to both doctrine and practice. There is a category of “things permitted, or left to free and responsible judgment according to the best of our knowledge and conscience.”

    Scripture does not always demand uniformity of opinion among Christians, but it always demands unity of disposition (see Romans 14:3; 1 Peter 3:8; Eph. 4:1-3).

    Of course, this is not all easily resolved. When we treat our personal convictions as absolutes from God, we wrongly threaten the unity of the church. When we reduce God’s clearly stated absolutes to matters of personal preference, we threaten the purity of the church.

  18. Good morning Steve,

    The eastern church has always believed that the Scriptures clearly state that uniformity of doctrine is important: 1 Cor 1:10 4:17 11:2 12:24-25, Eph 4:5 4:11-14, Gal 1:8-9 5:19-21 (re: heresies), Phi 2:1-2 3:16, 2 Thes 2:15, Titus 1:7-9 2:7, 1 Tim 1:3 4:6 4:16, 2 Tim 1:13 2:2 3:10, Jude 1:3

    Schism has always been anatema to the historical church.

    And I couldn’t agree more with your last paragraph, well said!: “When we treat our personal convictions as absolutes from God, we wrongly threaten the unity of the church. When we reduce God’s clearly stated absolutes to matters of personal preference, we threaten the purity of the church.”

    Glory to God for all things

  19. Id love to talk with you, and get to the bottom of all me at id love to talk over the phone and open the scriptures!! I hope you do!! GOD Bless!!

  20. Concerning the EO and Orthodoxy, I came very close to going over a few years ago, but I realized I was reacting more to the liberalism in my own so-called Communion, at least historically. I am myself very close to the EO on Christology and the Trinity of God, and somewhat close to their positions about Mary as the Theotokos. However, saying all this, I ran right smack into a wall, when it came to the Doctrines of Grace, and Soteriology. And also the Pauline doctrines of Imputation and Adoption. But of course I was moving toward their priesthood, and not as a so-called layman. So a Reformed and Calvinist priest or “presbyter”, is really an oxymoron with and in the EO, as we can see with the Church’s position toward the person and theology of Augustine himself. Some Orthodox won’t even call Augustine a saint!

    But, the EO has many great saints and theolog’s, the list is profound! I myself just love the man and work Georges Florovsky! And Vladimir Lossky’s book: The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church is a must read for all serious Christians! As too the Orthodox Brit, Timothy Ware’s few classic books. Note, today, Robert Letham’s book: Through Western Eyes, Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective.

  21. PS..Note there really is no place for Imputation (Federal Headship) in the EO. Nor really the place of theological Adoption (which is a Greco-Roman) metaphor. This is simply a fault-line with East-West theology, certainly Augustinian.

  22. And btw, there has been a close ecumenical connection between some of the EO with Anglicanism (mostly English), that goes back to the 1930’s, I was myself involved, several years ago with an Anglican and Orthodox dialogue group. I still have my copy of the Anglican Bishop Nugent Hicks, D.D. book: The Fulness Of Sacrifice, An Essay In Reconciliation, (1930, first edition…my copy is the Third edition, S.P.C.K., 1953). This book should really be re-printed! A must read for theological Anglicans, this book is really about the Atonement of Christ, from the Second Edition, I quote: “When Paul speaks of the blood of Christ. he is thinking of His life as laid down in self-decication to God.” Thus He was obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross (Phil. ii, 8), and “the language of sacifice expresses figuratively a reality which is personal and ethical.” Though the great Dr. J.K. Mozley’s review of the book, mentioned in the Second Edition Preface, was somewhat critical. Mozley felt that “in the Epistle to the Hebrews alone is there an exposition of the work of Christ as the fulfilment of the old Jewish sacrificial system.”

  23. I my self is a preterist. I have a hard time underatanding why Christianity of today is looking for Christ to return, when He told is auidance He will return in there life time. (Matt:16 the last verses. John:21 the last verses) not to mention rev. Uses the words soon near, at hand, John is told not to seal up the words cause the time is at hand. These words are streached 2000+ years in todays doctrin. No where in the bible is there any hint of the return of Christ at the end of the world. Todays biblicial reading is domanated by reading literiqly, and translate the words with a 21st centry english rendering!! Thats more of a problem then free will!!

  24. Myself, like Michael, I am a Historic Pre-Millennialist, I too have been around all the eschatological positions. But literally after many years the position that appears to honor Holy Scripture and the fullness of the Covenant/covenants is the Historic Pre-Mill. This includes a parcel-preterist position. That God has initiated His Salvation History is certain (Gen. 3: 15-16, etc.), but the biblical promise of the Lord’s literal Second Coming to His own creation is seen in both the OT and New. If we miss this, then we certainly miss one of the most profound promises of the Bible and biblical revelation! When our Lord ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives or Olivet, the two angels spoke to the disciples…”Men of Galilee, why do stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” And this promise is surely connected with Acts 1:6, and the Lord’s literal Coming and the Kingdom on earth to the Nation of Israel, (Matt. 24 / Zech. 14: 4, see also Rev. 1:5-7). The Lord will fulfill His promises to His People & Nation Israel! This will be a grand and stupendous fulfillment for both Creation and all the People of God, both for Jews and Gentiles! (Rev. 20-22)

  25. Michael, your writing is stronger than even 3 years ago. A noticeable difference.

  26. Could it be, that within God’s framework of existence, there is truth in every position and that its not as black and white as we would have it.

    I’m thinking once again through the 5 tenses of salvation and what that means within the outworking of those tenses.

  27. Interesting topic.

    By the way, just read about you in CHRISTIANITY TODAY…good job!

    As a side note, take a look at C. Gordon Olson’s BETWEEN CALVINISM AND ARMINIANISM for an example at how we don’t have to choose either of these theological systems.

  28. …and I have to wonder if God allows all this because it has the great potential of promoting love, which is what He values the most.

  29. everyone’s entitled to my opinion :)

    seems to me life’s about recognising Jesus for who He is, so that instead of living on the vine yet cut off from His life we come to God thru Him in repentance and faith and receive His life.
    we now abide in Him, bear fruit, get pruned, we ‘keep ourselves in the love of God’, etc.

    the governing factor is choice – I choose to be chosen.
    Calvinism and Arminianism meet at the point of choice.

    beware of all ‘-isms’.
    the only ‘isms’ I favour are Evangelism and Baptism.

    the premillenial rapture is a crock because it implies 2 second comings – which is impossible otherwise that’d mean a 2nd and a 3rd coming.
    let’s get back to the gospel that Jesus and the Apostles preached.
    and re-embrace the view of the end of the age that the early church fathers had –
    we will go through the big trouble.
    it ain’t rocket science, yet ‘theologians’ want to make a big deep deal out of it

    Rev 7.13-14
    Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?
    I said to him, Sir, you know. And he said to me, These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

    you can’t come out of something unless you’re in it first.
    that’s why Biblical Baptism is full immersion.

    gain an understanding of the Covenants – there are 5 of them – and it all falls into place

  30. Craig: Indeed God is always His own profound mystery, but His truth is often observable and apparent, especially in the Historical Church Catholic. And of course there is no “time” for God, just His will and purpose, and His own eternity. But for the Christian there is a past, present and future to God’s revelation and economy, as God Himself unfolds His Salvation History. We have not yet seen or reached the compete eschatological end, which will of course be God In Christ, and our Triune God. Yeah, I am just a bit creedal! :)

  31. It’s interesting that sometimes in the modern day church we take agreement as unity and disagreement as not. Either way, IMO, it shuts down valid discussion.

    I don’t mind any doctrine being questioned or discussed in the church. In fact, I welcome it. What I do mind is those who claim to be orthodox who are never able to quite settle themselves personally on the foundations of Christianity in the end.

    That’s far more confusing than anything else to me in the long run, as a believer. So I can well imagine how much more so it may seem to unbelievers, because I think it’s much more detrimental to the spread of the gospel when someone’s personal opinion becomes the main venue in which that is preached.

  32. What about “they don’t agree with me because they are interpreting the Bible wrongly?”, in other words, “their hermeneutic is terrible”?

    This seems to be the cases in many disagreements with your average non-Th.D./Ph.D Christian.

  33. Michael,

    I hear you! And I am not talking about you personally and if you have gotten that impression, I totally apologize, but I am talking about those who promote books and CD’s to push their own personal opinions, (which there seems to be a lot of them nowadays), and thus seem to agree with the Bible only to the extent that it agrees with their personal opinions.

    I know you are not there.

  34. mbaker: The Christian pastor-teacher is always a student himself, and should also be a theological reader, quite simply. We can even see that Paul read quite a bit, and even outside his Jewish circle, (Titus 1:12), etc. Paul was simply a Jewish Greco-Roman Christain (and Roman citizen), but also an Apostle of Christ.

  35. Michael: Allow me to share this piece from Herman Bavinck…

    ‘Scripture itself claims that it proceeded from the Spirit of God and maintains this claim over against all criticism. Every attempt to divest it of the mysterious character of its origin, content, and power has up until now ended in defeat and in letting Scripture be Scripture. A [doctrine of] inspiration, therefore, is not an explanation of Scripture, nor actually a theory, but it is and ought to be a believing confession of what Scripture witnesses concerning itself, despite the appearance that is against it. Inspiration is a dogma, like the dogma of the Trinity, the incarnation, etc., which Christians accept, not because they understand the truth of it but because God so attests it. It is not a scientific pronouncement but a confession of faith. In the case of inspiration, as in the case of every other dogma, the question is not in the first place how much can I and may I confess without coming into conflict with science, but what is the witness of God and what, accordingly, is the pronouncement of the Christian faith? And then there is only one possible answer: Scripture presents itself as the word of God and in every century the church of God has recognized it as such. Inspiration is based on the authority of Scripture and has received the affirmation of the church of all the ages.’

  36. Wonderful, Michael! We must contend for the truth (Jude 3), though we would do well to have a good platform for contending for it. And there lies the distinction at arriving at the truth or furthering an agenda – knowingly or mindlessly.

  37. Fr. Robert,

    I agree. But I think sometimes the impression in some areas of the church nowadays which is one of the points I believe CMP was trying to bring out, (and hopefully I didn’t get him wrong ) is that laymen can interpret the Bible as well.

    Certanlyireal unity not only is not there are errors on both sides and but

  38. The very New Testament is basically a version produced by the early Catholic church. These alleged scriptures have been altered with additions and
    deletions and retro editing to support that theology. And we agree and disagree and decipher in earnest I don’t think we have an accurate NT in the first place and our beliefs are founded on doctored scripture. I am not convinced that all the heresies(Lost Christianities) that Eusebius describes and relates how they were crushed are heresies at all. If there were alternative understandings of Jesus just 50 years after death, how can anyone claim to have the exclusive understanding today 2,000 years later?

  39. Sorry about the way that last comment ended. I only meant to say that there always errors on both of sides of Christian theology but in the end we ALL have to agree on the Bible as our truth, not popular opinion regardless of what personal denomination we are.

  40. mbaker: Agreed, but we do have much common ground in the historical Church, with Word and Creed. I am always a “Churchman”! :)

  41. Be really careful with this stuff. Recall the one who was casting out demons in Jesus name who was forbidden by the disciples because he was not one of them. Jesus said “Let him alone, for if he is…

    I would have thought that Jesus would at least require baptism or sprinkling or some such. But He didn’t

  42. Wow, Michael, I love this post! I am almost none of the things you list for yourself at the beginning; I am seriously anti-Calvinist, I consider the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy to be a grave error, and I consider any firm conviction about the kind of millenialism one should espouse to be pointless at best and harmful schism at worst. And I come to all of those perspectives precisely from a radical form of Sola Scriptura.

    But the open spirit in which you argue for the need for dialog and exposure to different points of view is absolutely, without reservation, correct. May your tribe increase!

  43. Part 1

    I’m not sure as well but I do not think that remodelling a bad situation (such divisivness) into a blessing intended by the Almighty is a good way of answering the problem. As I see it the problem goes back to the various aspects of Sola Scriptura:

    1) The notion that the Scriptures (written only) are the sole and entire guide to salvation. I cannot find anywhere in Scripture an unambiguous plain statement of this sola scriptura theory. I have read what James White has written on the subject and his quote are thoroughly unconvincing. Especially when I realize that he is quoting the New Testament whicvh was not codified until the end of the second century. Am I to conclude that no one prior to that date had any way of knowing and being saved? And if not, how did they know and achieve salvation without the scriptures. Worse yet wherever the New Testament book refer to Scripture they are usually referring to the Old Testament only and when they pruposely refer to their own writings they many times sieem to include written and spoken teachings implying outright that not all teachings needed were committed to writing but hande on orally. Actually, given the paucity of books and literacy until the 1600s for printing effectively producing a volume of bibles and sometime in the 1800’s for the general spread of literacy, I wonder how any one was ever save if only written Scripture was the sole guide to salvation.

    2) That the inner light of a true believer can…

  44. Part 2

    2) That the inner light of a true believer can assuredly understand the plain truth of Scripture by the grace of God. This is another collorary to Sola Scripture emphasized by many reformers and repeated into modern time by such as John Wesley. But I cannot for the life of me find any support for this corollary except something was needed to somehow guarrantee the interpretation of Scripture form error. But what I see before me is a babble of conflicting voices sincerely disagreeing over the interpretation of Scripture to the ectent that they break off and found yet another Protestant denomination.

    Furthermore, since words assume new meanings and connotation over time, it is highly likely that we are missing the point of many Scripture passages simply due to the changes and elaboration fo word meaning in the intervening centuries. And this leads to the inquirer’s thought that we need an infallible interpreter which in Protestantism leads to the academic credentialed experts in exegesis and interpretation. But the majority of these now deny what were formerly essential doctrines of Christianity so we are being led astray by a tyranny of experts and pundits.

    3) I for one have recently ceased defending Sola Scriptura or even engaging in debate on the subject. I cannot find any historical evidence of this doctrine prior to Luther’s framing it in the 16th century and others of the reformers elaborating on it as well. But prior to that time, no…

  45. Part 3

    theologian, no doctor or Father of the church, no saint or sinner ever advanced this doctirne. Instead I’ve found in studying the early church that the Fathers of the church, the Doctors of the church, the bishops and patriarchs, the Greek and Latin monastics, the common believers all looked to a central authority developing over the centuries but present from the beginning climaxin in Augustine’s famous phrase “Roma locuta ests; causa finita est.” And these churchmen mentioned not one but three sources for Christian truth consistently, Scripture, Tradition and the Roman Primacy.

    I can only conclude that the reason for the lamentabel division among the 20 to 30K Protestant denominations is precisely the unintended result of Sola Scriptura and private interpretation of Scripture.

    Lastly I was told recen5tly by a friend, ” Christ did not leave the Apostles a book; rather he left them themselves as theChurch, the assembly. He entrusted his continuing mission to this group and their successors not to a book.”

  46. You write about disagreement, but a larger problem seems to be apathy. I come to this site from time to time, although I am Catholic, because it increases my faith to read work by people who write out of a real Christian faith, and also a belief that one can think about and debate that faith in a meaningful way. Ideas about God are generally considered to be little more than personal opinions about which there is nothing more to be said, since everybody is, as they say, entitled to their own opinion. It is just refreshing to find a site where the tradition matters, where theology is considered possible and important, and where people actually express thoughts and opinions on these things, even if not everybody can agree on everything. Almost everywhere in these times, apathy, or something worse, seems to reign.

    I thank you for what you are doing here with this site, trying to teach and clarify thought, so that we might all be one in Christ.

  47. The real possibility is that most of the beliefs that are held come from the weed filled period of the “Church” and are not true to begin with. We see within 20 years of Jesus’ death that false teachings were already present in the Church. By the end of the century it was rampant as we see in Rev chapters 2 and 3. Man’s belief in his own wisdom caused massive doctrinal debates and changes, including violence against those who would not agree. This was evidence of the weeds filling the Church until, as Jesus’ said, they were not to be separated as some genuine wheat might be pulled out. Only in the Last Days/Harvest would the wheat be separated from the weeds. The “Church” of the last nearly 2000 years is weed filled and many believers simply don’t see that and hold to many man made traditions and beliefs. HOW do we discern which are man made and which are truly Biblical is the real question?

  48. Tom,

    “Roma locuta ests; causa finita est.” Augustine was describing what happened when two councils (from the African bishops) had been sent to Rome (the Apostolic See) and Rome had replied and made the decision. These bishops/councils were WITHIN the see of Rome. He never made this claim about a dispute in another patriarchate. If you were trying to translate that phrase into “supreme papal primacy”, and looking for Augustine to defend your position, you are out of luck. No such treatise exists.

  49. Spurgeon once said he would as soon defend a lion, as to defend Holy Scripture! But the conviction that Scripture is or should be the primary authority in the church was shared by the ancient church, as well as the medieval church. Btw, Luther himself said that as early as among his scholastic teachers he learned that “faith” is due the Bible alone, while only an “opinion” should be assigned all others. But yes, I will go with the idea and truth (I believe) that ‘Holy Scripture’ is the absolute, and not some coequal of Church & Tradition. But hey, I am Reformational and Reformed Christian, but also a “Churchman” therein. The “Church” is certainly part of the “mainstay” of truth (1 Tim. 3:15), but always stands before Scripture itself.

  50. Is everyone here agreed on whether there is a difference between doctrine and dogma? As an Orthodox dogma is unchangeable truth that concerns salvation, i.e.- virgin birth, literal death of Christ, resurrection, second coming, Trinity, etc. Doctrine is flexible and open for discussion. To me this whole blog seems to beat a dead horse.

    Dogma was determined conciliarly over the course of hundreds of years. Doctrine, though some is more universally accepted, may not be universally accepted at all. Further, in a more modern context, when you and I, or a small group and another small group is fighting, I think staying humble and quiet is advised. My reading of Scripture and understanding of history (well my understanding in general), is limited. Who am I to assert that the I have something that you don’t? Maybe I do, and it may be only for my salvation, not yours, and to ram it down your throat as dogma is foolish and divisive.


  1. Overcoming a Low View of Scripture | Parchment and Pen - March 8, 2012

    […] Michael’s recent post on diversity of interpretation, I don’t want to give the impression that I am saying people should agree with me.  I know […]

  2. Why can’t we all agree ? A wise and ‘different’ answer « agnus dei – english + romanian blog - March 12, 2012

    […] excellent article, Why doesn’t everyone agree with me?  from the Parchment & Pen Blog by C. Michael […]

  3. Folk Theology: Twenty Urban Legends in Theology | Parchment and Pen - June 4, 2013

    […] here for my theories […]

Leave a Reply