A secular approach to theological differences

Published 10:07 pm Monday, May 15, 2017

By Joseph L. Bass

As a professional organizational consultant, I have helped many congregations overcome internal conflict.

It’s amazing the level of hostility that can develop among “good Christians.” They are not “bad Christians.” It’s two groups of people that differ on what is best for their congregation.

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Most of these situations involve congregations that have become social clubs, ministering only to long-term members. There is no interest in serving the community around the church building.

I call these “donut churches” because nearly all the members live far away. “Come-heres” moved into the area, but older members have not been welcoming to them. As neighborhood demographics change the older members move somewhere else.

Membership declines as older members of the social club die.

Social club churches become conflicted when there aren’t enough members and donations to keep the lights on. If members seek help, helping them isn’t difficult. Without help these types of churches close their doors and try to sell the building and property to another congregation.

The congregations that are difficult to help are the ones that are conflicted based on theology. Two types of conflict are often involved. In one, the conflict is among members. In the second situation, the congregation doesn’t agree with a new pastor’s theology.

One time I spent three hours successfully counseling with a young pastor that had stated in a funeral sermon his belief that the deceased was not saved and had gone to hell. The deceased was a well-liked, long-term member. The pastor’s sermon was not well received.

Two approaches are applied in helping congregations that are conflicted based on theology. First it is necessary to determine if any member is a smart as God and can do all the things God can do.

“Who here at our meeting will go to the local funeral home and bring a body back to life?” I haven’t had anyone willing to try. “Who here is as smart as the all-knowing God?”

Theological scholars have studied the Bible for 2,000 years, and there still isn’t agreement on many of the words and principles in the scriptures. For example, in the 1850s, major American denominations split based on whether slavery was allowed by God or not. Scholars on both sides of the issue cited numerous scriptures in support of their individual positions.

The other approach applied to theological conflicts is to discuss what Martin Luther called “the priesthood of all believers.” It is based on the belief that no normal human has a level of intellect equal to God. Each person should study the Bible and discuss it with other Christians and determine for himself or herself what God means in the scriptures and live life accordingly.

No two Christians are going to agree on everything in the Bible, but differences of opinion can be discussed among church members so that each understands and honors the beliefs of others. If an individual’s beliefs are very different, he or she should attend a congregation that shares compatible beliefs.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at ABetterSociety1@aol.com.