You Dropped the Bomb on Me: Overcoming Denominational & Theological Differences
A recent study illustrates how different we are, even for a group united under the moniker of Christian. The “splintering and polarization of American culture has made it more difficult than ever to have a good conversation, especially about faith,” says David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group and the lead designer and analysis on the study. “Even when two people agree, honest interaction can seem elusive.” https://www.barna.com/research/americans-struggle-to-talk-across-divides/
Many of us in denominational ministry are playing hot potato with theological ticking time bombs. Often this theo-bomb has been passed off from one board or general assembly to the next. Unless you a baby-boomer (pun-intended) you probably have no clue where this bomb started. It just dropped in your lap, and people are looking at you asking, “How do you diffuse it?” You, especially, if you are in youth ministry are just hoping the darn thing doesn’t blow up in your face. The question I am going to wrestle with is, “How do you overcome denominational and theological differences?” The simple answer is, and I learned this back in my elementary school days, “duck and cover.” Yeah, pretty much that theo-bomb is going to blow up and your job is going to be to mitigate the collateral damage.
Don’t be angry. This battle has been going on since the fall of humankind. First and foremost denominations and differences of theology come out our flawed need to be right as humans beings. Some group way back in the past decided that their understanding God and their understanding of his will for humankind was more right, better than another group’s understanding of God and their understanding of God’s will for humankind.
Your name isn’t Jesus. Plain and simple, salvation belongs to God. I realized long ago that I can’t send anyone to hell and I can’t send them to heaven. Each of us are responsible for our salvation. Scripture tells us “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 4:12 We need to avoid senseless non-life giving debates.
Keep your eyes on Jesus. As Christians, we ultimately need to focus on Jesus and not get distracted by the wind and the waves, which are the non-life giving issues of the day. Remember Peter’s brief walk on water? Peter was well on his way to being the second person to walk on water, that was until he took his eyes off Jesus. Matthew 14:30
Preach the Gospel. In our weakness and our fragility, God’s grace is sufficient. It is not about being perfect or be right about every detail.
Be steadfast, unmovable, and educated. Have faith in your belief system. There are bound to be others who think like you. Come together with like-minded people who can support you in the midst of dissenting voices. Make sure that you know why you believe what you believe and speak the truth with a gentle tongue. I would encourage you not to stand on tradition alone, but stand on a tradition that lines up with your studies, your prayers, and your fasting. Stand on the Word of God and never compromise your faith simply because people disagree with you or things are uncomfortable.
Read Acts 15: The Jerusalem Council. 6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. 7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between them and us, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Again, theological differences are not new. Thank God that circumcisions are not on the table.
The New Testament gives us many examples of the early church dealing with theological debates over spiritual practices. In the end we know that even Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways. Some say the dissension between Paul and Barnabas was not over a doctrinal issue, but whatever the case neither Paul nor Barnabas let the conflict distract them from their respective efforts of spreading the gospel.
As Christians today, and people called to serve, we must stay focused on the important work. As youth leaders, we must provide a strong foundation for our youth upon which to build. They need a strong base as they begin to mature and question their beliefs. In the end, we want people to be able to fully live into the gospel of Christ and spread the good news to others.
Glen Guyton is the Chief Operating Officer for Mennonite Church USA, but got his start in youth ministry. He is an advocate for bringing intercultural competency and innovative leadership practices to ministry so that people can find practical and meaningful ways to engage the world. You can connect with Glen on FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, TWITTER, LINKEDIN, his BLOG, EMAIL or WEBSITE.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.