Is It Wrong to Dispute Religious Error? (one of my favorite writers)
A reader complains that we are mean-spirited because we dispute points of doctrine with different religious groups who identify themselves as “Christian.” One lady thinks that our opposition to certain teachings is unkind and narrow. She offers her own rebuke as follows:
“I am sincerely asking whether we need to be loving and accepting towards all religious groups. I have never believed God to be exclusive or vindictive towards those who have different understandings of Him.”
We would respond to this dear lady in the following fashion.
Acceptance of Error
First, it should go without saying that the Christian is to demonstrate love towards all — even those who resist the truth in the most militant fashion. The love of God for rebellious mankind is portrayed repeatedly in the Scriptures. The Father commended his love toward us by giving his Son for our sins, even while we were hostile and sinful toward him (Rom. 5:8). That does not mean, however, that he ignores how we live, or what we teach.
In this same context, the lost are described as being “weak” and “ungodly,” as “sinners,” and “enemies” — worthy of divine “wrath.” (vv. 6,8,9-10). Love offers a remedy for humanity’s sinful condition, but it does not close its eyes to reality.
An understanding of Old Testament history would demolish forever the erroneous notion that God is unconcerned with whether men and women entertain “different understandings of Him.” For example, many of the nations of the antique world “understood” God to be identified in various idol forms, which they devoutly worshipped. But the prophets rebuked these base activities, and Jehovah destroyed nation after nation that persisted in this evil ideology and practice.
No informed Bible student will deny that Jesus Christ loved men and women supremely. When they ignorantly languished under the effects of sin, he tenderly sought to reclaim them (cf. Lk. 7:36ff; Jn. 8:1-11). The Savior came not to crush the bruised reed, nor to quench the smoldering wick (cf. Mt. 12:20). He was the compassionate Christ!
On the other hand, the Lord could be (and was) very severe in dealing with corrupt religious leaders who should have known better (and frequently did) than to act and teach contrary to truth. He cast out of the temple those who trafficked in religion for commercial purposes (Mt. 21:12-13; Jn. 2:13-17). He informed the corrupt Pharisees that they were not legitimate heirs of Abraham; rather, they were devilish in their actions (Jn. 8:33ff). One can scarcely read the 23rd chapter of Matthew without feeling the “heat” of Christ’s rebuke of certain corrupt Hebrew leaders. It is not, therefore, wrong to oppose error.
Further, it is a gross inconsistency to “rebuke” someone for being a “rebuker.” Why is it that folks cannot see the flaw in their argument when they are intolerant of those with whom they charge intolerance?
Disagree about God?
The most stunning component of our friend’s complaint, however, is the allegation that it is permissible for people to entertain “different understandings” of divine truth that pertains to the salvation of one’s soul. We must call attention to the following.
- God is infinite in his knowledge (Psa. 147:5). He is a “God of knowledge” (1 Sam. 2:3), who “knows all things” (1 Jn. 3:20). The riches of his knowledge is a reality too deep for human conception (Rom. 11:33). It is never accurate to say, or even to imply, that God is unconcerned with disagreements among men relative to the eternal truths that he has revealed to the human family. Disputes regarding what the Lord requires men and women to believe and practice is not the result of “different understandings.” It is because of misunderstandings on the part of misinformed people — even though they may be very sincere.
- God is a being of truth, i.e. faithfulness (Dt. 32:4, ASV). All his words are “pure” (Psa. 12:6). He cannot speak that which is untrue (Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18), for his word is truth (Jn. 17:17). Any disagreement as to what God requires, therefore, is a disagreement over the difference between truth and error. To suggest that God is not concerned with the difference between truth and non-truth, is to cast serious reflection upon the God of truth.
- It is a dangerous thing to suggest that folks may disagree about what God demands, and, at the same time, stand approved in his sight. In his letter to the Roman saints, Paul discussed the advantage that historically had been granted to the Hebrew nation. For one thing, they had been entrusted with the “oracles of God,” i.e., the sacred Scriptures (Rom. 3:1-2). The question then is raised: “what if some were without faith?”
- The meaning of that question is this. What would be the case if some of the Jews proved to be unfaithful to Jehovah’s plan on their behalf? What if some of the Hebrews decided to chart their own course, thus, by implication, entertained disagreements with the faithful about what the Lord required of them? Would they have nullified the divine plan? Would they have exposed God as being unfaithful? Absolutely not! This stinging rebuke is then offered: “… let God be found true, but every man a liar” (v. 4).
This conclusion must be drawn from the apostle’s argument. Any theory, opinion, or doctrinal position that is adverse to the revealed will of God is a lie, and those who perpetrate such are liars (whether they intend to be or not). Most assuredly this is strong language, but the force of it is designed to preserve the integrity of the Almighty.
By implication this text teaches that those who profess to be Jehovah’s people must agree with him, and among themselves. The Lord expects us to strive for a submission to him, and a united teaching on fundamental truths. It is exceedingly foolish to suggest that God does not care whether people understand his will or not. “Be not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17).