OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #235 Warped Is Not Good
In one summer job the boss asked me to help build a deck. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but thankfully there were people around who did. Someone made me a spacer for the decking. Someone else showed me how to make the ends even.
No one told me about stacking lumber, however. The maintenance crew delivered more decking one day and tossed it off the truck. Not knowing any better, I left it as it was, looking like a giant game of pick-up sticks. Without the even pressure of laying flat, the planks twisted and we had quite a job to use some of them because they were warped so badly.
The Apostle Paul knew warped. He wrote in Titus 3:9-11, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”*
Evidently there were people dividing the churches in Crete because they continued to stir up religious and theological controversy. Genealogies and quarrels over the law were two examples. I don’t think Paul was condemning the keeping of family records as a matter of history and interest. Rather, it seems people claimed closeness to God based on the location of their branch on the family tree.
Controversies come and controversies go. We have no shortage of foolish controversy in our own age and in my first year of Bible college I was involved in more than a few. Sadly, we measured other people’s faith against the standard of our own doctrine. In our arrogance, we felt that we were closer to God because we saw things “correctly.”
We were obviously not the best judges of our own spiritual state. How ironic it must have seemed to everyone else that we thought we were so close to God, and yet we showed our immaturity, perhaps even warped-ness, by our divisiveness.
How can we tell the difference between legitimate theological issues and foolish controversies? When is it time to stand up for what is right, and when is it time to keep our opinions to ourselves to avoid being divisive? Primary doctrines are worth standing up for. These are the traditional and historic doctrines which define us as Christians - the trinity, deity of Jesus, personhood of the Holy Spirit, creation, fall of humanity, the incarnation, atonement, death and resurrection of Jesus, the second coming, final judgement, and the inspiration of the Bible are all examples of primary doctrine.
Secondary doctrines tend to be the divisive ones. The second coming is a primary doctrine, but the manner and timing is a secondary doctrine, with theological differences over the rapture and millennium. Believers ought to be encouraged to study for themselves and know what they believe, but should not allow themselves to become divisive over secondary doctrines.
There is also primary and secondary morality. The ten commandments are primary, as an example, and we are not free to tamper with this morality. Whether we dance or play cards, eat meat, or support gun registry, however, are secondary and we can look to Romans 14 for Paul’s handling of this.
How will I know if I am in a foolish argument? I need to check my own heart and actions. Do I need to win at any cost? Do I think that others are idiots because they don’t believe the same way I do? Do I doubt their salvation because they differ from my views? Do I find myself raising my voice (or fists!!) or making threats to make my point? Do theological discussions turn into arguments and quarrels when I am involved? Do people tell me I need to calm down?
Again, we are often not the best judges of our own spiritual state, but if we answered yes to any of these questions, we may be divisive and need to take warning.
Finally, we do not need to coddle divisive people. Because of their forcefulness, we are often afraid to do anything about them. Warning them is for their own good and ours. Like Ezekiel’s watchman, we need to look out for each other and this includes helping to set people back on track spiritually by warning them. If they do not respond, it is a sign of their hardness and Paul tells us not to waste our time and energy further.
Just as warped lumber is not good, neither is warped spirituality. There are ways to have theological discussion and debate, but they do not include divisiveness.
I hope this helps. Be on fire.
OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Sept 16, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email email@example.com. Archives are located at www.onfireletter.com. Blog located at http://www.onfireletter.blogspot.com/