We Be Brethren

“And Abram said to Lot, Let there be no strife between me and thee…for we be brethren.”

Genesis 13:8

Let me preface this post by saying this: I am not against doctrinal distinctives, civil debate, or gracious disagreement. All of that is a part of our endeavor to have Biblical understanding, doctrine, and practice.

In “evangelical” Christianity it is common practice to create a preconceived, stereotypical image of those we disagree with based solely on our perception of what they believe. We then begin to attack that image, often with vicious attitudes and unkind words.

Take any doctrinal (or for that matter, political) debate you want to have, and this will be true. For some it’s the Bible version issue. For some it’s Calvinism. Still others disagree over music styles, standards of behavior, or outreach methods. Most of us would probably agree that there is room for a range of views for many topics while remaining within the framework of Scripture.

The problem is when we attribute motives, ideas, attitudes, or even words to the person we disagree with that are unsubstantiated or extra-contextual. We assume the worst. Whenever I see this, it has the appearance of an attempt to discredit a person by portraying him as the extreme example of his viewpoint in order to make our “side” look right. Rather than take the time and make the effort to discerningly evaluate the viewpoint, we take the easier route of attacking some perceived “bogeyman”. Forget mutual understanding of what the person actually believes or who they are, I’ve got my mind made up – don’t confuse me with the facts.

I have the, what I consider extraordinary, privilege to have friends that are on opposing sides of some of the debates mentioned above. In some of these, the two sides are not far apart, yet they are unable to see that, because they are blinded to reality by their perception. Sadly, for some, perception has now become reality.

I’ve thought about this for some time now, and come to some resolutions for myself.

I will strive to have a kind tone even in disagreement.

I will attempt to comprehend (as much as possible) the REALITY of other’s views, as opposed to my perception of them.

I will express my disagreement on the basis of principles rather than personalities.

I will seek civil disagreement where a common understanding is not possible.

I will endeavor to “remember my manners” in all debate and discussion.

Lofty goals?  No doubt.  Unrealistic?  Maybe.  Proper?  Without question.

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is
for brethren to dwell together in unity.”


14 thoughts on “We Be Brethren

  1. Great thoughts. I agree that there is room for a range of views for many topics while remaining within the framework of Scripture. So what do “you” do with aberrant views that seem to use verses of scripture but seem to ignore the bigger story of the scriptures. For example, Christian Universalism seems to be one of those doctrines that can give you many scriptures to support the idea that there is no hell but traditional orthodoxy tells us something different.

      • I would be interested in hearing your definition of “brethren” and whether a Christian who does not believe in hell as an eternal conscious torment could be included in that definition. For me, while I accept the traditional views of hell, I do not see hell as a deal breaker with regard to the breaking of fellowship with a friend.

    • I would distinguish between the “universalist” and the “annihilationist” (or the like-minded) when it comes to this issue. The person who believes that everyone is saved regardless of faith (in the boad sense, not the denominational sense) etc… is heterodox. A person who holds to orthodoxy in all aspects and believes hell is a metaphor for destruction can still be a brother, even though I’d take him to task!

      • I resonate with your views here. I also understand where “Christian” universalists come from. They see the cross as saving everyone where a Calvinist sees the cross as only saving some. In reality I find the Calvinist view more offensive than the Universalist one.. even though I do not agree with either. So I am not sure that I would break fellowship based on either view.

  2. Good post, and timely, especially in regards to the “New Calvinism” that has arisen in the last decade or so. According to some sources there are 20,000 different Christian denominations in the U.S. I wonder if this number could be halved by simply agreeing that there are a hierarchy of issues, and that brothers can disagree but still fellowship and worship together. I sometimes argue that there are really only about 7 or 8 denominations when it comes down to it, and that number might even be high depending on levels of agreement.

    • @ hayesworldview – The number of denominations is staggering, and while I hold to and see benefit in doctrinal distinctives, I agree with a “hierarchy of issues.”

      Civility should be a hallmark of Christianity, especially among ourselves.

      @KB – I certainly think Christian fellowship (as distinct from fellowship and friendliness to unbelievers) and cooperation is limited by orthodox doctrine. Each individual must determine for themselves the issues and beliefs that bind or divide. No one, however, is justified in misrepresenting those they disagree with. Ad hominem and strawman arguments should be carefully avoided by followers of Christ.

      • I am wondering how you delineate Christian and non-Christian fellowship. It seems that Jesus fellowshipped more with the later than the former and was often accused of being a friend of sinners. Guess I am just wondering what “Christian fellowship” looks like through your eyes. Is it simply the ability to discuss the bible and pray with friends or is it something else? Not really trying to be difficult but wondering where you all are coming from.

        For me I have had some of the best fellowship with folks that disagree with me and folks that see the scriptures differently. We get past the superficialities and go pretty deep in sharing what the bible means to us. And I don’t worry about my orthodoxy being questioned or judged. Not sure if I am making sense so I will defer to you all.

        Enjoying the dialog.

  3. KB,

    Enjoying the dialogue as well!! A full answer on this one would take a post of its own (maybe in the future! 😀 ), so here’s my brief answer.

    To use the phrase mentioned above, I would hold to a hierarchy of issues – some beliefs that are deal breakers, some pretty serious and some not so serious – when it comes to evangelizing with, taking communion with, or endorsing as a fellow Christian. Obvious passages such as 2 John come into play with those who are false teachers (reject the biblical teaching of Christ, 2 Jn 9).

    There is also a hierarchy of “fellowship” to be taken into account. A distinction could be made between physical fellowship (things everyone does – meals, discussion, bible study) and spiritual fellowship (things only Christians can/should do – evangelism, bible exposition, communion).

    While I might not go so far as to say that Jesus fellowshipped with unbelievers more (His relationship with the disciples involved a great deal of that time), there is absolutely no doubt that He DID frequently spend time with “publicans and sinners.” He was NOT however partnering with them while engaging in characteristically Christian activities.

    OK. So this ended up not being as “brief” as I intended (I really could say more), but to summarize – I try to filter all associations/fellowships/cooperation through these two priorities.

  4. In terms of a framework for cooperation, I’ve seen two approaches. One approach is to affirm the “solas” of the Reformation, and then go from there. Another is to affirm the Nicene Creed, and possibly the Apostle’s Creed as well, and then proceed. As one from the Evangelical/Protestant tradition, I am more familiar with the first, but I am open to the second. Chuck Colson I believe is a famous example of a Baptist who believes that the affirmation of the Creeds is a sufficient framework for cooperation. In other words, denying that God is triune (like the Unitarians, JW’s etc…) would already exclude such from fellowship, as this is historic, orthodox Christianity.

  5. Cameron, I am with you. There should be civility in Christian communication. In no situation should we resort to calling one another vicious names or vicious attacks (verbal or otherwise).
    Sometimes the name calling, or harsh accusations are done for shock to get more readers, maybe. Not a valid excuse for unchristian conduct.
    Even when speaking with the unredeemed we should be civil; and even when we are not treated in a civil manner.
    Enjoyed the post.

  6. Just happened upon this blog while searching for a honest debate between Universalism and Annihilationism (did I spell that right?). Very interesting views here about which barriers to erect or not. As a former Seventh-day Adventist who has only recently come out of that sect and yet who remains with some ideas that might be considered unacceptable to mainstream Christianity, where does that place me with you guys? Would you exclude me from fellowshipping with you? Surely a Christian is one who sees all men and women as equally precious and prospective candidates for salvation, irrespective of their beliefs orthodox or otherwise? And if you must have a foundation to start with then surely the bottom line is that the person at least believes in the Bible as God’s Word and that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is his or her personal Saviour.

    • BritBrin,

      Thanks for your comment and thoughts.

      I can’t speak for the other guys, but I think there are varying degrees of fellowship (note my “hierarchy of fellowship” mentioned in my comment above). Would I fellowship with you? Yes.

      Whether I could consistently worship or evangelize with someone (a deeper level of Christian fellowship), would require a greater level of theological agreement than if I studied the Word/prayed/dined with them. I can also fellowship with those who are unbelievers, but that is distinct from the fellowship that believers can enjoy together.

      Thanks again for your visit and comments on this subject!

    • BritBrin, in regards to Christian fellowship, I would draw the line on the inspiration and authority of Scripture (as you say) and the ancient Creeds/Definitions (Apostle’s, Nicene, Chalcedon…even anti-creedal Baptists agree that the Christological statements found in these are accurate). I would argue that those who are confused about Christ’s nature or his relation to the godhead in the Holy Trinity, might not have the right Christ. Those just simply confused but open to education/correction are of course welcome.

      In regards to your statement regarding prospective candidates, they would become orthodox by becoming Christian. While it is true there may be some who assent to orthodox doctrine but do not practice it may be “goats,” there are certain essential beliefs regarding the person and work of Christ (and the Godhead in general), that becoming a Christian necessarily entails orthodox belief. I hope this makes sense to you.

      As far as non-Christian or heterodox fellowship (I live in a town that is 50 percent Mormon), it should be made clear that Christians do not hold to the same beliefs, although this should be done in a loving and kind manner. As Cameron has stated, there are different levels of fellowship. I would not pray with a Mormon (and most Christians leaders here say not to, because it gives them legitimacy), but I would happily share a meal or “hang out,” as long as it doesn’t damage or compromise the clear witness of orthodox, biblical, Christianity with those observing.

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