The Blessings of Doctrinal Disagreements

We have all felt it at some point. It is extremely uncomfortable and profoundly disorienting. It is something that hopefully we don’t have to feel too often. It is that moment when you realize that the Bible disagrees with something that one of your spiritual mentors/heroes of the faith teaches. We have all had to face that moment and as difficult as it might seem at first, it is a blessing.

I am not talking about minor disagreements like preferences on worship music styles or whether they use unleavened or leavened bread in communion. I am also not talking about saints who have passed. How many young reformed folks find it very easy to acknowledge Calvin’s theological genius, but then reject wholesale his view on infant baptism as an example of Calvin really not thinking the issue through? After all he was still half Catholic, wasn’t he? No, I am talking about real doctrinal differences with living, breathing saints who have powerfully proclaimed Christ to the nations. This, I believe, can be a blessing.

On the one hand, doctrinal differences have their root in the sinful nature of man due to the fall. If you believe or teach something about God that is not true, you are in sin. So, in a very real way doctrinal error is sin and sin is not a good thing. So how is that I say it can be a blessing?

First, disagreeing with our heroes of the faith drives us back to the all sufficient Word of God. I remember when I first realized that apologist William Lane Craig was not reformed. I loved William Lane Craig and devoured every piece of material he ever put out. (At least the ones accessible to a layman.) When I realized I disagreed with him on theology the first thing I did was seek the Scriptures to make sure I really understood what God had revealed therein. There were some glorious and beautiful truths discovered in this process and without this starting point of disagreement it may have been a long while before I uncovered them. Doctrinal disagreement should always drive us back to the Scriptures, and this is a blessing.

Second, disagreeing with our heroes of the faith helps us to practice humility and grace in dealing with our everyday brothers and sisters. Does it bother you that some of the smartest, Christ honoring, sola scriptura believing, soul winning, scholars, theologians, pastors and apologists disagree with you about baptism? No matter what side of the issue you fall on there are brothers in Christ much smarter than you that completely disagree with you. And we can all agree this is a serious issue. One side could be seen to sinfully be withholding the sign of covenant membership to their children. Moses was almost killed by God for doing that. The other side could potentially be giving their children the sign inappropriately, disregarding the commands of God. Uzzah did the same thing and paid the price. When we realize that genius-level theologians can study the Scripture earnestly yet reach a different doctrinal position than we hold, it frees us to not hold our lower-minded brothers in derision for the same errant doctrine. It’s harder to throw around the “H” word when brothers like the Presbyterian R.C. Sproul and the Baptist John MacArthur can come together in the spirit of Christian unity. When we remember this, we should take a posture of humility and grace towards our brothers. This is a blessing.

Third, disagreeing with our heroes of the faith forces us back to the cross and to the forgiveness we have in Jesus Christ. My favorite theologian right now is Dr. James White. He has taught me more about Scripture, apologetics and evangelism than almost anyone. Dr. White is a first rate scholar. I also believe Dr. White is inconsistent regarding his position on baptism.  And the two times I have heard him speak on theonomy I found his position to be…I will say “confusing.” Dr. White always says that “everyone has blind spots.” I believe these are two of his. But the problem with blind spots is that you are blind to them. You don’t know you have them. If I am right about Dr. White’s blind spots, then every time he teaches on baptism or theonomy he is sinning against God. If I am wrong about Dr. White, then every time I teach about baptism or theonomy I am sinning against God. If a theological genius like Dr. White could be in sin every time he opens his mouth about baptism, then clearly a simple-minded brother like myself could be. All I can do is study the Scripture as best I can, pray to God to remove the scales from my eyes and throw myself at the mercy of the judge. Every time we disagree with a hero of the faith it should force us back to the cross to receive forgiveness for all the times we have sinned against God without even knowing it. Disagreement reminds us that Christ’s work is sufficient for us every single time. This is a blessing.

Would it be better if every Christian agreed perfectly with the Scripture on everything? Yes, of course it would be. Just because disagreeing with our spiritual heroes can be a blessing does not mean we should seek out disagreement. But I urge you that when disagreement comes, and it inevitably will, that you use it to remember that (1) God’s word is totally sufficient, (2) we should show grace to our brothers in Christ with whom we disagree and, (3) that without the grace of God every one of us would be a “capital H” heretic.