The Root of Many Christian Disagreements

I think that the majority of disagreements between Christians come not from doctrine and theology but on how to practically live out the beliefs that we have. We agree on principles but disagree on practicalities. Sometimes we even turn our differences of approach into arguments over doctrine and theology.

James P. Eckman wrote in Christian Ethics in a Postmodern World:

"The Bible warns against 'worldliness' and the devastating consequences of following the world and not Christ (James 4). From the Old Testament we see that the children of Israel got into big trouble when they imitated their pagan neighbors and brought their altars and images into the Temple. Yet, Christians are somehow to be in the world, but not of the world (John 17:14-18). Christians have been removed from the world's power at conversion (Gal. 6:14) and, because the cross established a judicial seperation between believers and the world, Christians are citizens of a new kingdom (Phil. 3:20). The Bible both discourages absolute physical separation from the people of the world (I Cor. 5:9-10), yet instructs believers to witness to this world (James 1:27; 1 Cor. 7:31; Rom. 12:2; 1 John 2:15). How does one resolve this tension?"

It is in resolving this tension that we come up with differing views on how to approach the world. There are four generally accepted approaches that Christians take when they interact with the world. I am going to allow people smarter than me to explain the four here. You might get my not-so-witty comments here and there. All quotes are from the previously mentioned Christian Ethics in a Postmodern World. Obviously the author, like myself, has his own views. We can choose to agree or disagree with them if we want, but coming to a unified view among the believers we associate with would be an extremely healthy thing for our spiritual lives.

1. The Seperational Model

This approach argues that a Christian "must withdraw from any involvement in the world."

This is exemplified in the Amish, Mennonites, and many Christian communes.

"There are dangers to this model. First, seperatism can quickly lead to asceticism, a lifestyle of self-denial that ends up denying the goodness of God's creation...Second, this model easily produces a dangerous sacred/secular dicotomy. For the believer, the Bible clearly rejects the compartmentalization of life into things that are sacred and thos that are secular. For the Christian everything is sacred...Finally, this model can lead to a complete withdrawal from culture, something clearly condemned in the Bible."

I came to the Lord as a result of the evangelistic efforts of people who were not afraid to be involved in the world. If not for them, I would not know the Lord. I do not see the Amish or the Mennonites actively involved in bringing Christ to the Lost or even shining for him in the world. They seem to be content to isolate themselves and be who Christ wants them to be. Although, that is important, it seems to be just a starting point. God doesn't feed us so that we can sit around and talk about how well fed we are. He feeds us so that we can feed others. He fills our vessels, so that we will pour ourselves out. Isolating ourselves from the world prohibits us from being used by God to change the world.

2. The Identification Model

Christians are "to live both in the kingdom of God and in the world." Christians have a "dual commitment to both the church and the state."

This view was exhibited by the church after Constantine made Christianity the state religion in 313, by the Catholic church from 500-1500, and by the teachings of many early Americans like Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, and Lyman Beecher.

"However, its weaknesses are glaring. Its principal danger is that the identificational model can lull the Christian into complacency, into a blindness toward the influence of evil in the culture's institutions. Anyone involved in politics knows that it is the greatest test of one's faith to work in politics. Evil is alwasy present and the pressure to compromise one's convictions is ever present...This model can also lead to an uncritical acceptance of prevailing cultural practices and attitudes...The more Christians identify with the institutions, the more the institutions influence the Christian...Finally, this model can lead to a loss of the Church's prophetic stance. The Church can almost become 'married to the culture.'...This model has the danger of producing a complacent and soft Christianity."

I've only seen bad things happen throughout history when the church begins to identify itself with the state. We need to be careful to not do that now. Evangelical Christians overwhelmingly supported George W. Bush and were the votes responsible, according to the national media, for putting him into office - especially in Ohio. It might be easy to begin to the think the United States of America is a branch of the Kingdom of God, but it isn't. We can never confuse it as being such. Service to the United States is not direct service to the Kingdom of God. We should never confuse the two. We are called to submit to and pray for our leaders, but God's kingdom is not the American nation. His kingdom is among us, but it has not totally arrived yet. No nation on earth exhibits his kingdom completely. They can only be dim shadows of the reality that should exhibit itself among us.

3. The Transformational Model

"This model takes the transforming power of Christ and applies it to culture. Despite the fallen nature of humanity and the subsequent curse of creation, Jesus's death, burial, and resurrection reversed the curse for both humans and culture. There is now hope of human release from the bondage to sin and for creation as well...This hope is easily translated into an optimism about culture's transformation.

This is seen in history when Calvin established Geneva and in the Puritan's establishing the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

"There are, however, several seious shortcomings with this model. The transformationist can neglect the radical nature of sin's devastation. Humans remain enslaved to sin and even believers daily struggle with its power...In addition, the transformational model can promote an unbiblical optimism, a near utopianism. The Bible rejects such optimism apart from the return of Christ. Humans, even those regenerated by faith always sturggle with sin and it will only be when Jesus returns that the victory over evil will be complete."

I've seen many Christians get so involved in the world that you can longer tell they are Christians. We need to avoid that at all costs.

4. The Incarnational Model

Robert Webber in The Secular Saint: A Case for Evangelical Social Responsiblity proposes a synthesis of all three models as proper for the beliver.

Jesus seperated himself from "the evils of His culture, identified with its institutions and people, yet sought to transorm it from the inside out...Christ seperated himself from the evil distortions of the created order. He had nothing to do with the distorted use of wealth, social position, or political power. Finayy, through his death, burial, and resurrection, He broke the power of sin and Satan and guarantees the world's transformation when he returns in glory and power. Similarly, the Churs is to move culture's institutions toward genuine, biblical righteousness, all the while anticipating His final transforming work when he returns."

"First, the Christian always lives with the tension, the tension between that which is transformable and that from which he or she must separate...Secon, there is no simple formula for living with or resolving this tension. Looking for the biblical answer to each practical question is rarely possible. Applying the principles of Scripture to each person's situation may well produc considerably different judgments. The bleiever's responsibility is to know God's Word, to knoo wthe mid of Christ, and then choose a cours of action that each believes most faithfully represents God's revealed will."

"Christians must always reconcile the tension of identifying with culutural institutions, seeking to separate from culture's evil distortions, all the while seeking culture's transformation. How we live with that tension is a mark of spiritual maturity."

Watch out for the potholes.