Dealing with Doctrinal Differences


Challenges to Christianity don’t always come from the outside, from atheists committed to removing every vestige of religious faith from society. Challenges can also come from committed Christians, whose beliefs are shaken by philosophical ideas that are, most likely, designed to make people stumble.

From time to time, this question gets raised: “There are numerous Christian denominations, many of which accuse other denominations of doctrinal error. Doesn’t this amount to proof against the existence of God? After all, what kind of God would allow his “inspired” word to be understood so differently by different people?

This question has considerable surface appeal. If you raised your eyebrow and said, “Good question,” you certainly wouldn’t be alone. Of course, there is a trick to such a question, a premise hidden within it, which needs to be teased out and confronted. I think the full argument, the one in which the premise is explicitly stated, would go something like this:

  • If God exists, he would make himself known directly and personally to prevent, and safeguard us from, doctrinal error. 
  • There exists doctrinal error. 
  • Therefore, there is no God.

When you make explicit the premise, you can see that it isn’t necessarily true. Why? Because God may instead value free will higher than He values freedom from doctrinal error. After all, it certainly seems that God values free will quite a bit, since without it there can be no such thing as love. It’s been said that He gave us enough evidence to believe, to make our faith rational, but not so much evidence that we have no choice but to believe. While He has made Himself known to us through general revelation – i.e. His creation – and through the Bible, there is simply no reason to conclude that He seeks to ensure, on a direct and personal level, that we never make mistakes about Him, or about His will. After all, if He did directly and personally ensure no mistaken beliefs, would this not amount to removing our free will not to believe? 

Perhaps God desires that we work at knowing Him. Sometimes we get it wrong, but it’s the process of developing a deepening faith – of inclining our hearts toward him – that matters. That involves reading the Scripture, reflecting on what the authors meant to convey and attempting to reconcile apparent inconsistencies; it requires prayer and discussion. In short, it helps make sense of God’s command that we not just live in his Word, but that we do so in community with other believers.  As Paul wrote to Timothy, “Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly 

The Bible was never meant to be a math or science book; we weren’t meant to use it simply to find the “right answers” and be done. We were meant to spend a lifetime studying, meditating upon and discussing it, spreading the good news of salvation as we go.   handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15-16) And later, Paul urged his readers to “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:13-17)

That’s why we should take to heart Peter’s admonition (1 Peter 3) that we prepare  ourselves so as to be always “ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,” but do so with gentleness and reverence, keeping our consciences clear. 

 Who knows, we might even end up with fewer disagreements.

 Posted by Al Serrato

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