For the past twelve years, I have dedicated myself to study. The last seven formally and the seven before were informal. In 2005, I stopped watching television and decided to read and study instead. In 2007 I got a job at a bookstore for the deep discount and access to more books. In 2010 I began formal education in Bible, and now I am soon starting my last semester to receive my Master of Divinity. Throughout this journey of inquiry one thing that has stood out to me is the problem of legalism and its effect on relationships.
Unfortunately, it appears too many individuals do not understand that Jesus cares more about our relationships than our right doctrine. The fact is if an individual allows for their doctrine to destroy a relationship than they do not know Jesus. How is “right doctrine” treated ultimately by those who cherish it over relationships? It is treated as if it is an honor to God to believe the right things and it is a dishonor to God to maintain relationships with people who disagree with one’s understanding. As if, life and righteousness are a mystery where the human quest is to divide, harm, and fight over doctrine to the end of destroying one another in the pursuit of a “right” thinking instead of a righteous spirit. Sadly, those who end relationships over doctrine fail in their understanding of Jesus.
In Matthew 5:23-24 NRSV “23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” This scripture is an important one because it communicates to the listener what matters to God more is our relationship with each other over and above our gifts we bring to the altar. So, to destroy a relationship over someone’s doctrine is antithetical to the gospel of Christ. In fact, God doesn’t want one’s worship if one is destroying their relationships.
Ideally, the faith is very familial. Most families are full of all sorts of views. However, these views do not keep a family from coming together at the cookout, or for the holidays. If someone shares their view that you disagree with you, you just say, “Oh, here she goes!” or “There he goes again.” You might even argue with the person a bit until you are exhausted and then go back to talking about sports or old memories. Families stay together despite different views because of love. How come the family of God splits so much over differences of opinions? Love is like glue which bonds together. If there is no glue there is no bond. When there is no love, then there is division.
The sadness of study is the loss of relationship with people I sincerely cared, enjoyed their company, and loved because they disagree with something I discovered during my studies. It is painful. I don’t care if they disagree with me. I don’t require agreement with me to fellowship. In fact, I believe in the argument. Not the nasty, insulting, yell at one another stuff, but I believe in the wrestling of ideas while employing logic, reason, scripture, and experience. Fruitful and civil discourse helps people to grow and learn and at worst they’ll end with a kindly, “We can agree to disagree.” It’s hatred, indifference, the lack of love which prompts someone to destroy a relationship because of doctrinal indifference and this is sad.
~Lawrence W. Rodgers