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19 July 2012

Can we agree to disagree?

Can we agree to disagree?

The Alliance recently revealed their ten most popular articles ever and out in front was, perhaps surprisingly, a piece entitled 'Can a Christian believe in evolution?' Actually perhaps it's not surprising. The beginning of everything is just as intriguing and relevant to us now as it has always been. A reply to this article was also published which robustly presented an alternative view. One expert feels he can accommodate evolution within the biblical truth of Genesis. The other, a young earth creationist is emphatic that evolution is not in any way compatible with the Bible. Both authors are highly intelligent professionals and Christ-followers. They have used their God-given gifts and skills to arrive in faith at quite different conclusions.

The question of beginnings has also been fuelling local debate with the completion of the new Giant's Causeway Visitor's Centre in Northern Ireland. The National Trust who owns the centre supports the view that the stones were created by volcanic activity around sixty million years ago. However, they have included within the exhibition a young earth creationist viewpoint that the stones were created around four thousand five hundred years ago at the time of the great flood.

The issue here is not just a difference of 59, 995,500 years. The scorn, fervour and discussion that has been generated is almost reminiscent of the Tennessee Scopes monkey trial in 1925. In fact, the media here has drawn comparisons between the fundamentalist/Republican relationship in America and the religious and political parties involved in the Causeway project. How should faith and politics openly share the public space? Has a precedent been set by the National Trust for future projects across the UK? What should happen when religious belief conflicts with what is deemed to be scientific fact in the public space?

On a wider scale the debate has again sought to pit creation against evolution, reason against faith and evangelical Christians against secularist scientists. (Un)fortunately things aren't always that black and white, even within the body of Christ.The Evangelical Alliance strives for unity within the Church which pre-supposes the Biblical truth that unity needs to be strived for. Christians will disagree - hardly a newsflash and its not confined to science. We disagree on issues of theology, morality and priority inside and outside the doors of the Church…..

Why can't we all agree on exactly how the earth was created?

Why can't we all agree a single position on ethical dilemma x, y or z?

Why can't we all agree on the most pressing biblical priorities in our world?

The independence of an individual's conscience informed by the bible has been a defining feature throughout the development of evangelicalism. Without this there would have been no Reformation. Jesus could have removed our individualism when we decided to follow him. He could have built his church/flock/body out of spiritual robots devoid of opinion and diversity. Yet each sin-scarred saint who surrenders to Christ is given a bold but biblical mandate of freedom. Back to the top and its clear that two Christ-followers, two co-workers in the Kingdom can disagree even while striving to honour Christ and each other. Now to the questions – How do we disagree well? How do we reconcile disagreement within the unity of Christ's body? How can we legitimately differ in opinion yet avoid disunity which breaks the bones of the body and ultimately damages our witness to Christ? How do we differentiate between 'allowable' divergences in Biblical interpretation and blasphemy?

Well these questions can't be answered in my lifetime let alone in this last paragraph. That said the bible is full of practical advice on how to deal with conflict with each other and with the world. So before we disagree can agree the following?:-

  • Let's never be ashamed to use our gifts and expertise to defend God's word and his honour - but let's not confuse spiritual authority and boldness with spiritual ignorance and arrogance.

  • When differing from other Christians, let's agree Jesus' place above all and let's honour others above ourselves.

  • The world is watching and our primary call is to glorify God and to love Him and each other. They will know we are Christians by our love, not primarily by our public debating skills.

And finally, let's agree to speak and act with an ever increasing desire to spread the life-transforming message of Jesus.