It is a perennial temptation of Christians to get their eye off the ball, forget what real biblical priorities are, and go off half-cocked on some hobby horse which is not really important at all. They will take up a cause or an issue or even some biblical truth and blow it way out of proportion.
This has happened countless times in church history, and entire churches and denominations have been split over some of these less than vital issues. Something as silly as the colour of the carpet, the use of drums in worship, or the length of the service can actually split apart a church, or at least result in deep divisions.
People are going to hell, the gospel is under attack everywhere, and false religions and cults are on the move, but numbskull Christians will spend all their time arguing amongst themselves over things which really do not matter. They delight in majoring in minors, while the world continues to go to hell in a hand basket.
I have experienced this first hand far too many times. A secondary issue which Christians should be able to agree to disagree about is elevated to the status of some immutable and absolute truth, and if you dare to take a differing view, all hell will break loose.
People will break fellowship with you and refuse to talk to you again if you do not support all their favourite agenda items. While core biblical truths must of course always be insisted upon, all sorts of lesser doctrines should stay just there, as lesser doctrines.
But incredibly they are elevated to places of the highest importance, and defended as if they are gospel truths that we must die for. But plenty of these issues are not worth going to the wall over, and should not be causing major divisions in the churches.
Theological and ecclesiastical issues like one’s view of the end times, the style of worship in a church, particular forms of church government, and various views on financial giving should not be turned into inviolate shibboleths which cannot be questioned. There really is some room to move here, and we should not turn them into absolutes, nor go to war over them.
Any pastor or church leader will know all about such unnecessary conflicts and infighting. I was just reading today from a recent book by R. T. Kendall about all this. He was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London from 1977–2002, and the author of numerous books.
In his 2011 volume, The Scandal of Christianity, he speaks of false scandals and false offences. Yes the biblical gospel is an offence and a scandal to most people, but often we can be guilty of causing offence by trivial or secondary matters.
He offers some examples of this. He writes about how he once invited the American itinerant evangelist Arthur Blessitt to speak at Westminster, and how this upset the “more sophisticated” members. Here is part of that experience as described by Kendall:
Just before Arthur spoke for the first time he asked some questions about “when I give the invitation.” I swallowed. “We don’t do that here,” I said to Arthur. “We don’t?” he queried. Seeing the look on his face made me say, “Well, if you feel led, go ahead.” He replied: “I can tell you right now that I do.” He did – and it marked the beginning of a new era for Westminster.
He goes on to tell about how Blessitt did give an appeal for people to receive Christ, and how dozens of people responded. “It was a night of nights,” says Kendall. But for allowing this and other changes, it nearly cost Kendall his job:
As a result of having Arthur with us, and accepting the changes he suggested for us – giving an invitation, witnessing on the streets, singing choruses as well as hymns – I nearly got sacked! Half the deacons turned against me, seeing the issue as a theological one. But the church sided with the other six deacons and dismissed the deacons who had accused me of heresy. One of those who opposed me later admitted that the issue was not theological but that the changes we made catapulted them out of their comfort zone.
As I say, this happens often in my experience. People will get all bent out of shape over some trivial issue, and even break fellowship with you over it. As but one sad example, a person who I thought was a great brother in Christ and a like-minded culture warrior just dropped out of existence at one point.
When I asked about this, it seems I got him offside on a matter of seemingly great importance to him. So what did I do? Did I deny the deity of Christ? Spit on the Bible? Curse the Holy Spirit? Come out in favour of Obama? No, evidently it was something far worse – I did not press the “like” button on his posts about tattoos! Yes, tattoos.
Of every issue in the world, tattoos?! There he was willing to dump someone who was 99 per cent onside because of tattoos! I’d hate to see how this guy treats his real enemies! And given that I had not offered one single word on the topic ever in tens of thousands of posts on another social media site, it is even more mind boggling.
Simply for not liking a few of his posts on this topic, I became a persona non grata. Well, I guess people have all sorts of weird shibboleths that they ferociously cling to. The truth is, if I had to list the top 1000 items I would consider to be important concerns, tattoos would not even make it onto such a list.
But here we have a Christian who seems to think it does not get much more important than this! And this was enough to break Christian fellowship over. No wonder our side keeps losing. No wonder we are making no headway with the gospel. Some folks would rather fight to the death over utterly trivial matters, instead of dealing with those things which should be of major concern.
As long as we keep majoring on minors, we will continue to be ineffective for our Lord and the gospel in a very needy world.