Can Christians agree on anything? (Part 1)

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • Isaiah 28:9-10

Why are there different denominations?

Often, many people look at Christianity and when they see all the different denominations they get confused. Often, people look at the different views and say, well then what is true? Why can’t people agree on things?

Of course, this is a broad issue. You can look at this historical context of why denominations are the way they are. This can be several different facts. One can simply be the ability to have the word of God, to begin with. It wasn’t until the printing press that having the ability to own a Bible (or many books) was widely available for the average person. This causes a problem because you had a handful of people who had the text and told the masses what the text said and interpreted it for them. On the other hand, we tend to forget that our modern context comes after standing on the shoulders of many generations of shifting thoughts. We might think about the idea of everyone having equal rights, but that wasn’t always a widespread idea. Yet the Bible expresses how we are all created equal in the image of God. Even though people had the same text we do now, they didn’t always believe that applied to every person. Because of this, we have a lot of different traditions about what to believe about the scriptures. Not all traditions are right, and not all are wrong; regardless we should be looking at what the Bible says first above even the traditions we believe about the Bible.

So now the question comes in, what is the foundation of Christianity? Even though there are many different denominations, why aren’t their things we agree on? As a whole there are but the issue comes when people argue about things that are actually part of the foundations. But it turns out, we need to define what is considered foundational first.

Layers of theology

9 “To whom will he teach knowledge, and to whom will he explain the message? Those who are weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast? 10 For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.”

Isaiah 28:9-10 ESV

In general, you can look at different topics in the bible in three categories. The first is what would be considered foundational, these are the things that make what Christianity is. They are things that define Christianity. One would argue that if these are not taught or if they are taught differently than you are not talking about Christianity. 

After looking at the foundations, some people would say, these are topics that don’t affect one’s salvation, or whether or not someone goes to heaven and so on. The second category is things that don’t affect whether or not you go to heaven but affect how you express Christianity. Oftentimes this is what people think of when they look at different denominations. The third level is things that do not affect anything or may not change any interpretation.

Primary vs Secondary

Primary issues tend to deal with the core things that make Christianity what it is (which we will define later). At the bare minimum we would think about the core Gospel, what Jesus did, his life, death, resurrection, and all. It would be straightforward to understand that Christians are expected to follow the core teaching of Jesus. If anything contradicts this, then we are not talking about Christianity. These are things that are non-negotiable, if these are not the bases then we are not talking about Christianity. 

On the other hand, what about topics we debate about that don’t inherently contradict the basics? To give an example, what about gifts of the spirit? Of course, a controversial one is healing. It’s no surprise that Jesus did many miracles and we find them throughout the book of Acts. But the question is do they still happen today? And if so how should we interpret this? For instance, some believe that the gifts of the spirit were only for the early church and once the Bible and the Apostle were finished, they were no longer needed. Some believe that we all can perform miracles at will while some believe that God picks and chooses when to make a miracle happen. We don’t address this here, that is for another topic. 

Depending on what you believe it will drastically change how you express Christianity and how you interpret scripture. Regardless if you believe in miracles or not, the Bible never says that you being a Christain is determined by whether or not you can do miracles. Of course, many people don’t realize that even the pharaoh’s magicians who challenged Moses did miracles but we will leave that for personal investigation. The issue of miracles is separate from salvation, for one today that it is necessary doesn’t work because the core of the Gospel (which we will define later) that you use to define what it means to be a Christian doesn’t include this. 

Third level topics

In the third category, few outsides of extreme academic study will ever be affected by these topics. For instance, what is a cubit? When reading through the story of Noah’s ark, looking in Ezekiel 40 to 42 or other passages, you find this measurement. It is normally discussed as being the length of the forearm. The question then is, who’s forearm? Different cultures have their own cubit measurements so what is the length used? Different scholars will debate the details but regardless of what it actually is, not much changes in the Bible, if it’s 5-inch longer or shorter. Many people would never care about this measurement unless they tried to reconstruct pages where these measurements are used. Knowing the actual measurement will probably not greatly enhance your understanding of the Bible in a profound way unless it is an extremely specific situation. On the other hand, if you find out that what you previously believed was wrong, this probably wouldn’t do much to your faith than maybe get you upset and want to debate. But again it doesn’t change the core of the Gospel and you would probably be writing an academic essay on the topic if it was that important that few would read outside of your circle.

Indirect truths

There is another subtle layer as well, not just these three categories. There are some passages where things are directly stated, for instance, the ten commandments or any verse that talks about Jesus being the son of God. These are clear and straightforward. 

There is another layer and those are topics that are implied. Many denominations have doctrines that come about because you see parts of the teaching in different passages. For instance, what is hell like? What is heaven like? Many would argue that this is where the trinity falls under. 

You don’t find a specific passage telling all the details about these types of topics but many see that if you find the details that are there, you can connect the dots. This is an interesting property of the Bible. If everything you needed to know about love was in one place, what would happen if you lose that chapter? The Bible has many of its topics spread out through the whole of scripture. It helps to have multiple books of the Bible as a whole to get a full grasp of a topic. That doesn’t mean you need all the passage to understand something about this topic. For instance, just casually reading the new testament, you can find the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the old testament, you can clearly see the Father and Spirit and some passages that some argue either prophecies or implies about the Son. Yet understanding the Trinity is one that many would debate even to this day on exactly how it works and how to go about explaining and teaching.

Complexity in theology

One can take all the categories and put them side by side with the layers to see what happens:

Directly mentionedImplied
PrimaryDirectly stated, for SalvationImplied for salvation
SecondaryNot for Salvation, but statedNot for salvation, but implied
Other?Directly stated no changesImplied, no changes

Oftentimes some Christians will debate other Christians and put up walls and even say some are not really going to heaven. How do you make that judgment? Is it based on an essential foundation or is it based on secondary topics? Because of this, many people tend to not notice which category they are talking about. The question still remains, what is considered Essentials?

Debating and keeping things civil

The following is stuff I had in my notes but didn’t include in my podcast because of time constraints. If you read this far you get some bonus content.

Of course, there is some reason why different denominations have split is theology. Oftentimes the split isn’t because of basic core values, if it was then they would be a cult. But when looking at the secondary issues many denominations are split specifically because of secondary issues. This is not inherently bad because not everyone knows everything and some people are wrong on some topics, some are right. But it would be arrogant to believe that your denomination (and you) believe everything perfectly correct. This where there is room for differences but these differences need to be discussed in a controlled and healthy medium. Of course, new Christians don’t need to sit through long lectures on the differences between Arminian and Calvinism or whether or not babies should be baptized. But for those who are mature, it can be healthy to expose yourself to new ideas. That doesn’t mean all ideas are right or wrong. But it helps challenge you to study the Bible more to get a better understanding of what you think you know. Also, it helps to expose you to ideas and topics you would have never found, to begin with. With that, there are some things to consider.

There is a difference between arguments and debates. Many people treat them the same as if whoever is yelling the most is more right. First of all, you should be talking about ideas, not people. This might sound obvious but too often people can’t distinguish what they believe from themselves. In terms of Jesus, we are Christians, the spirit lives within us and from there we are one in Christ, but that is your only identity that matters (in the grand scale of things). The reason why is because if Jesus is your identity, it can not change. This goes beyond just debating (there will probably be a post just dedicated to this) but having your identity in Jesus is one of the most important things to understand to find deliverance and freedom. 

You can’t change your race or your gender (keep it simple). People may have stereotypes about you whether good or bad. That can change depending on your environment and if that is your identity, then culture can change the meaning and perception of your identity. If you care about how people perceive you and you want your identity to be an expression of who you are; then you will be disappointed. You can’t please everyone. If your identity is in Christ, no one can change this if we are using the Bible and what God says about you never changes other people’s opinions don’t matter. 

Getting to the point, there are also some things to consider. They are principles that steam from the Bible. 

13 If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

Proverbs 18:13 ESV

This first one is straight forward, we should be open to hearing what someone has to say. That does not mean we have the mindset that they are correct going into things. What it does mean is people should be able to state what they believe and give a statement. Often clarifying what someone means is an important part of the discussion. Two people can’t have a civil conversation without understanding what it is they are saying. Of course, this needs to be pushed a bit more. Oftentimes what a person says is not important, what is important is what they are trying to say. This means you need to put in more effect to try to understand what someone is thinking and get past the actual words they are using. Everyone isn’t great at expressing what they are thinking. After times arguments happen because of misunderstandings, sometimes simply because of wording. 

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Acts 17:10-11 ESV

When you think about this, Paul is the man who we think of as the go-to guy for theology. The book of Thessalonians is full of a lot of topics that Paul was teaching them. Yet here we find that the Bereans had a more noble quality. The reason is that they actually fact-checked Paul. Even if what someone says is correct, you should still make sure it fits in with the whole of scripture. You should believe in something because someone told you. You should believe it because you are convinced it’s right. 

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