Agree to Disagree? NOT!!! Part One
Sunday Afternoon, September 26, 1999
Question: I know I have heard you say on several occasions that it is not okay for us as Christians to “disagree,” and also that it is not okay for us to “agree to disagree.” But what about the example in Romans 14 where there are issues of conscience? One person’s conscience may not allow him to eat meat, but mine does. Don’t we just accept those differences because God wouldn’t want us to crush weaker brothers?
A Missing Element
Some people have tried to hide behind that passage in Romans 14 at times. Some are sincere about it, and others are using it to suit their desire to go on doing what they want. Either way, there is one important thing that’s been missed as folks have read Romans 14. People miss the fact that in the one case, God’s favor rests on the brother with stronger faith, and in the other case, God is permissive of ignorance and weakness in the brother with weaker faith...But He does NOT DESIRE IT for the weaker brother! It is not admirable!
“But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
Relative to the total number of human beings that will have ever lived, Jesus said few would find everlasting life. Nevertheless, God’s promise to Abraham was that his offspring would be as countless as the sand on the seashore. So, there are a lot of saved people! However, God said that some people build with wood, hay and stubble and their work will be “burned up.” Others build with gold, silver and precious stones and receive their reward. Which way do you want to build? Those who build with wood, hay, and stubble have their work burned up and they escape “as one through the flames.” Now, they do escape and they are saved, but is that good enough for you? Is that all you want? Not me! Don’t you want to offer more to Jesus than that?
Do you want to spend your whole life building in man’s way with a bunch of Ishmaels all stuck to each other—all with a fading glory? Or do you want to build in such a way that Jesus views your work as gold, silver, and precious stones—with an ever-increasing Glory? Do you want supernatural or do you want well-intentioned natural? You can be saved as through the flames. You’ll be saved, and you may view that as “good enough.” But it’s not good enough for me. And if you ask Jesus, I think you’ll find it’s not what He wants either. That doesn’t mean He isn’t willing to bear with the flaws, the errors, the poor building habits, and the Ishmaels and allow people to be saved as escaping through the flames. Yes, He’ll do that. But is that really what we want to offer our King? Isn’t He worthy of more than just wood, hay and stubble?
We Are Our Brother’s Keeper
While Romans 14 does discuss a couple of issues of disagreement, there are ten trillion more that aren’t in the chapter. That chapter couldn’t be long enough to contain all the possible areas of disagreement! But the lesson in Romans 14 is not to “agree to disagree.” Once again, the thing that is made clear in Romans 14, but is often missed, is this: on the one hand, there is a brother who sees and knows God well, and on the other hand, there is a brother who doesn’t see God or know God nearly as well. His faith is weaker. Now, without faith it’s impossible to please God. So, if you’re someone with weaker faith, it’s not nearly as possible to please God as someone with stronger faith.
The question we have to ask ourselves is this: are we “agreeing to disagree” so that one of us can have our work burned up and “escape as one through the flames,” while the other of us goes on without him? Do you like the way that sounds? Not me. You have heard me say it before, but I’ll say it again: “agreeing to disagree” is from hell! And I intentionally say it that strongly because that particular way of thinking is like Cain’s when he was in the process of describing to God how he didn’t have to pay that much attention to Abel. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “Am I responsible for my brother whose work will be burned up and who will barely escape through the flames?” Well, the truth is, we are responsible. “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).
“But each one should be careful how he builds,” is what it says in 1 Corinthians 3:10. We are building on the foundation of Jesus Christ and we build up from there. Everything we build isn’t necessarily pleasing to God. Some things glorify Him, and other things distract. Some things dilute His work, while other things bring honor to Him and expand His Work. Which way do you want to build?
Spiritual Slum, or City Set on a Hill?
What are our lives about? Are we about merely surviving, or are we about being overcomers? Are we about being a “city set on a hill that can’t be hidden,” or are we about being a bunch of people living in a spiritual slum...surviving from day to day, finding our sustenance in what we scrape out of the alleys and the trash cans? Yes, it’s possible that we can be saved through the flames with weak faith...but that’s not my goal for you, and I hope that’s not your goal for me!!!
Any commentary on Romans 14 that I’ve ever read—any discussion or sermon I’ve ever heard—no one ever mentions the fact that we ought to desperately want the other brother or sister to have strong faith. No one ever mentions desperately wanting others to see and know God...to be seated with God in heavenly realms and experience rivers of living water gushing from their inner man!
Do you know anyone with weak faith who has rivers of living water gushing from the inside? That person doesn’t exist! You can’t have rivers of living water gushing from the inner man and the power of an indestructible life if you are living on subsistence living! If you’re barely surviving, you’re not bringing as much honor to Jesus as you could be! Your work will be burned up and you will escape as one through the flames. If you’re barely surviving, lukewarm, compromising, and playing around with things you shouldn’t play around with, then Jesus is not getting the reward of His sufferings out of YOU!
Let’s use the example in Romans 14 where someone considers one day more sacred than another does. I can acknowledge this person as a brother or sister in Christ, and I can love him regardless of the difference in conscience. I can also acknowledge the fact that he can be saved, but what I can’t do is leave this brother or sister that way. God did not say, “Ignore a person with weak faith and let all their work be burned up. That’s their problem. You’re not your brother’s keeper.” That’s not what God said.
Paul said, “I wrestle to present everyone complete and perfect in Christ.” Do you think Paul overlooked the fact that some people considered one day more sacred than another did? No! In fact, out of Paul’s very own mouth, with his very own pen, he said, “I fear I’ve wasted my time on you because some of you hold one day more sacred than another.” I FEAR I’ve wasted my time on you. If a person has such weak faith that they think there’s such a thing as a “holy day” rather than Christ as their Sabbath, then they are missing something very fundamental and precious in New Testament Christianity. They are missing the precious truth that these shadows are fulfilled in Christ!
“The Temple...? Where’s the temple?” “THERE IS NO TEMPLE...because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). WOW! That’s very good stuff. And I feel sorry for anyone who misses that. I have to care about the fact that people are missing that. I don’t want anyone to think that God lives in buildings built by mere men’s hands. Stephen got stoned for telling people that God doesn’t live in buildings made by men. Those were some of the last words out of Stephen’s mouth. People didn’t like that very much. They wanted all the externals. Stephen tried to tell them, “It’s bigger than that, brothers. And you can have the real thing rather than just the signs that point to the real thing. The signs are necessary—you need to follow the signs. But, you can’t eat the signs to the bread. You’ve got to eat the bread.” Just like Jesus said, “You diligently study the Scriptures thinking that by them you have overflowing life. You don’t have overflowing life from reading the Scriptures. You have to come to Me.” You have to follow the signs to Him, otherwise you don’t get the real thing.
However, the separating point is not a different understanding about whether or not there is a sacred day. On the one hand, the Scriptures teach clearly that there’s no such thing as a “sacred day” in the New Covenant. “I fear I have wasted my time on you because you hold one day more sacred than another.” Galatians 4 is clear. Nevertheless, that’s not where everybody comes from. I admit that I was paralyzed the first time I tried to live holding no day more sacred than another. One Sunday morning I sat in a restaurant eating pancakes when I saw these people going by dressed in suits and ties. I felt like the biggest heel in the world. It was like, “Man, I’m some sort of heathen or something.” I used to go through the restaurant on my way to “go to church” on the “holy day,” and when I saw people like me I thought, “Oh, those poor guys. They don’t know Jesus. What a terrible thing. They’re out playing golf on Sunday. What a bunch of heathen.” And all of a sudden the shoe is on the other foot, and I’m thinking, “My conscience is giving me a little trouble here.” But was my conscience being guided by the Scriptures or by my “family inheritance” of going to Catholic mass every Sunday morning?
Wrestling through all that stuff was very painful and hard. I didn’t want to violate my conscience, and I didn’t want anybody else to violate their conscience. So, why was it so hard for me to understand this and 10 thousand other subjects even though God does have a truth about that subject, and some do have enough faith to see it? Think about it. Could the reason it was hard to understand be because I was driven by the culture around me telling me to do something that the Scriptures do not teach?
Babies Crave Milk
Our goal, our objective, is to wrestle to present everyone complete in Christ. To bring many sons to glory, and not just to salvation. We want to bring them and wrestle with them until Christ is formed in them, even if it hurts so badly that it feels like we’re about to have a baby. Those were Paul’s words, written to Christians, “I’m in the pains of childbirth until Christ is fully formed in you.” That’s how important it was to him. He was willing to hurt that badly in order to take saved people and make them great—not just people saved through the flames, but great! Bringing many sons to Glory, Complete in Christ, Christ fully formed in them.
The purpose of Romans 14 was to say, “You’re all coming from some place, guys. You all have your own baggage. You all have to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. So, please make a little bit of room for the fact that just as you have to grow, so do others have to grow. Nobody learns everything all in one day.” I can love somebody who doesn’t agree with me. But the nature of Romans 14 does NOT mean we stop loving the light. If a person loves the light, if they “love the truth and so are saved” (according to the Scriptures), then they are like newborn babes...they crave pure spiritual milk.
Maybe a baby can’t do much calculus, but that doesn’t mean learning calculus is never going to be important for them. Will there be difficult things to work through? Of course. But we can’t embrace the placebo of “Let’s just agree to disagree. Stay a baby your whole life if you want. Let people change your diapers forever. Go ahead and suck on that bottle forever. Never eat solid food!” That’s not the intention of Romans 14—half of God’s people staying babies. The intention is to recognize that there is such a thing as a baby. Some have weak faith and need to grow into strong faith. And that might take some nurturing, but nurturing is not the same as “agreeing to disagree.” Nurturing is wrestling to present people perfect, and loving them while they are still babies. Now, if they don’t love the light—if there is no response, and no signs of hunger and life—then according to the Scriptures, they are not even saved. But assuming we are speaking of the truly converted, then we consider them like newborn babies. They love and crave and agape the truth—and so are saved. We can assume that they will love the light if they are truly converted. But, I also have to say that some of these things DO take a little bit of time. : )
Love Them Into Greatness
So, what do you do? You love them into greatness. And there’s no problem getting them to this place of greatness because they love the Truth and Light even if they don’t instantly understand everything. They will have conscience problems and misunderstandings at times. They will have various kinds of baggage. BUT, that’s not what divides us. According to Jesus, the thing that divides us is whether or not they love the light. This is the verdict, “some love the light, and some hate the light.” This is the message: “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.” And “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, then (and only then) we have fellowship with one another.” We can only fellowship with those who love the light, and love the things of God, and will obey those things when they see them.
Some are babies and are growing and wrestling through different issues, and it’s going to hurt them for awhile. I need to love them during that hurting period rather than “draw the line.” If they love the Light, that’s good enough for me. If they love the Truth and so are saved, then they are bought by the same Blood I am. Who am I to say that we’re supposed to separate and go different ways because of our different understandings of “pre-trib” vs. “post-trib”? (We’ll not separate over that ever again. Never again!) But if they don’t love the light, then we’ve got a big problem. If they love the light, then we’ll grow in the unity of the faith and the full knowledge of the Son of God. In this case, not only will everything turn out just fine, but we’ll be better people for the struggle. We will hold each other’s hands through misunderstandings and discover the Truth together. That’s what Romans 14 is about.
But when someone doesn’t love the light (they don’t care, they don’t want to change, it’s not important to them, they won’t wrestle with you, they won’t fast about it, they won’t pray with you about it), then there IS a problem. If someone isn’t working towards that end because they don’t care, then we have a problem because, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but some men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)
Some love the Truth, and while they may not understand everything...they want to understand. They want light, and they want correction. If truly converted, they are going to grow because they love Truth and they crave milk, like newborn babies. For others, the issue may be apathy. “I don’t care. I’m taking my stance. You’re the one with the weaker faith. Ha, ha, ha.” That’s not what it’s about. If a person loves the Truth and loves the light, we have room to resolve 10,000 issues...and we’ll have fun doing it! Resolving the issues will be genuinely enjoyable!
Only One Dividing Line
Where I live there are people from every conceivable background you could ever imagine. People that were never part of traditional “church,” to people that were part of very legalistic denominations, to those that were part of hyper-spiritual movements, liberal, conservative, catholic, orthodox, and everything in-between. And you know what? In fifteen years, by God’s grace, we have never had a division. We’ve never had any kind of split. We’ve never had any fights or slanderous little “cliques.” That’s never happened in fifteen years! Why? Because we’re building around Jesus with this one issue at stake: Do you love the light or not? Does a person love the Truth and so is saved? Is someone like a newborn baby craving the spiritual milk of truth? If so, everything is going to work out great. With that foundation stone laid, we’re all going to grow, and benefit, and be deepened by each other’s perspectives.
Frankly, everybody is a little bit right. Nobody is totally wrong on much of anything. There’s something we can learn from just about everything...but only if we love each other enough to hang in there and take the time to not be offended and insulted. And only if we don’t accuse or divide, but love each other. If you love the truth—if you walk in the light and love the light—there will be genuine fellowship. And Jesus is going to be honored! We are going to be brought together into a unity of the faith to the full knowledge of the Son of God, to the full measure of the stature of Christ. No longer being infants so easily fooled by every wind that blows through. We’re going to grow together because our only dividing line is whether we love the light or hate the light.
Now, some will say that the dividing line is simply, “Do you say you ‘love the Lord’ or not?” But, everybody says they “love the Lord.” I’m so tired of hearing, “Oh, he really loves the Lord. He’s really got a good heart.” Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. If someone loves the light, then they love the Lord. The Lord is the Light, right? He is the Truth. If they love the truth and are saved, then they love Jesus. If they are passionate about Him and are willing to change anything, then they love the Lord. Do they have that attitude that says, “I don’t see it. But if I ever did see it, get out of my way because I’m going to run faster than you in that same truth.” “I don’t see it, I don’t agree, I don’t understand it...but cut me loose if I ever did see it. And keep working with me. Bring two or three witnesses to me like Jesus said. I want to understand. I want to grow. And if I see it, I promise you—you have my solemn oath before Almighty God—I’ll change so fast it will make your head spin. Teach me, show me...I LOVE THE TRUTH!”? If everybody lives that way from the least to the greatest—they all know Him, they all love Him, they all love the light, they all love the truth—then there are no divisions that can ever separate us...because we’ll grow through IT ALL!
This is what Romans 14 is about. Not “agreeing to disagree,” but loving each other while we passionately grow into the unity of the oneness of the faith and the full knowledge of the Son of God. We’ll work together as we get there. Everybody starts someplace. Everybody’s wrong on most things. That’s okay. We can work through that as long as we are building on the right foundation.