There regularly comes a time in the mind of a believer as we search for truth that we come to have different convictions than we once held. This must be true for every person who humbles him or herself to the word of God. There is so much uncharted territory in our corrupt minds that have not yet been affected by God's gracious transformation. So it is imparative that we show kindness and love both to those who have been convicted to change in a different way than we are and also to those who hold the same proir convictions that we once held.
I've been reading through the works of Jonathan Edwards lately. This morning I read a letter he wrote to a fellow pastor of a church amidst some division and members parting ways with the congregation. It was very refreshing to read his words regarding the matter. I wish I had the capability to copy some of the letter here, but since I can't, I'll just share the thoughts it brought to mind while reading it.
Picture it in your mind, a congregation is getting along very well, their affections for God and for one another are so high that mere words cannot express the love they share. Then something changes, people elevate certain truths over others and there comes a bit of arguing amongst themselves over the matter. Some decide to leave one congregation and join themselves to another or form another group entirely. We'd call that a church split. I'm sure many of us are familiar with the emotions and pitfalls associated with this kind of disturbance.
When people's convictions change and their conscience leads them to take a different path, all too often the differences receive the most thought and attention. This is a bad thing when those changes become an end in themselves. It is not pleasing to God for us to focus on our differences. It is pleasing to God to focus on how our particular views and differences bring us a deeper love for Christ, a greater desire for truth, a higher regard for the welfare or others, and a stronger affection for our God. Do you see the difference?
For example, take organic church and institutional church differences and ask yourself: does the constant discussion of "the Bible says this and the Bible says that" lead to higher affections for God and others? Is our desire in these discussions rooted in an effort to see others come to a fuller joy in Christ or to have them think the same way we do? Even if our new convictions have brought us more joy in Christ are the two really the same? I think not.
No doubt, it is to our benefit to have fellowship with likeminded believers. It is also to our benefit to see the Christ exalting pleasure in others who are not so likeminded and to appreciate how the Spirit stirs us up in different ways. We need to realize that He is so great that He will never fit into the boxes we make for Him and so it does us no good to put ourselves in a box either.
It is possible to follow our convictions and not be contentious. I don't think there is a fine line at all. It is as simple as putting others before ourselves by speaking words of grace instead of pride. Simple? Yes, but impossible to do by our own strength and likewise impossible to do without some effort. Anyone who has been reading my blog for any amount of time knows that I fall into the sin of contention more often than any man would care to be judged for. Yet, I boldly enter the throne of grace based on Christ's righteosness and hold firmly to the promise that I am being transformed. This meditation is one facet of that transformation.