Written by Dr. Todd Mangum
Wednesday, 07 December 2011 00:00
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul was appalled that the church tolerated a man known to be engaged in “immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles” (1 Cor. 5:1); he regards their “tolerance” in this instance as a manifestation of arrogance and indolence (1 Cor. 5:2).
In 1 Corinthians 8-10, on the other hand, Paul rebukes the intolerance of each side engaged in a dispute over eating meat previously offered to idols. He says both sides have a point (cf. 1 Cor. 8:4-8 and 10:20, 26); the more important principle is how they treat one another in their difference.
So, some things are so crucial and important that we should insist on everyone towing the line on it in a unified way – to the point of applying church discipline, or separating from dissenters; and on other matters, maturity is made manifest by how tolerant and accommodating we are in the diversity.
Christians have struggled since the first century with how to tell these two kinds of issues apart, how to tell what is a matter of central conviction on which the church needs to stand united, and what is a “meat sacrificed to idols” type issue, in which convictions and consciences can differ for good reason, and mature tolerance and respect for the differing position is what is called for.
At Biblical, we believe that in this postmodern, post-Christian world, one of the greatest challenges we face is finding a responsible way of telling the difference between these two types of issues. We also believe that teaching and showing Christian leaders how to respect, love, and learn from one another despite our differences is one of the greatest gifts we can give to the church in our day and age.
We at Biblical have come to a theological rationale for sorting mountains from molehills, one that distinguishes dogma (points central to the faith that enjoy affirmation by the vast majority of faithful Christians over time), doctrine (points of less central importance but that enjoy affirmation by a significant strand of the Christian tradition), and opinion (or matters of personal conviction, in which there has always been a difference of opinion represented by faithful Christians, even between those of the same denomination or church).
Our rationale is that the Spirit of God is active and real in and among His people. Not only has the Holy Spirit inspired God’s Word, the Holy Spirit also indwells His faithful people. Where the teaching of God’s Word is central and clear, it should be clear to the vast majority of Spirit-indwelt people over time. Likewise, theological viewpoints or church practices that have secured the affirmation of large segments of God’s people, even if not unanimously over time, are worthy of respect and understanding, too. Matters of personal conviction that have not garnered the support of whole segments of the Christian tradition over time may be asserted with passion and abided by individually as a matter of conscience, but should not be adopted with a level of confidence such as would separate from or disparage those who do not share the viewpoint.
Our interdenominational faculty and student body at Biblical is therefore not a frustration we live with, but a strength we cherish. The generous orthodoxy – or generous evangelicalism – we enjoy as a school we believe when done well can serve as a model for the church at large. We also believe this is pleasing to Jesus who prayed that the Father would make us one, so as to point people to the “oneness” that He and the Father have enjoyed since before time began. (See John 17:20-23).
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.