I received this question from a pastor friend. His question and the kind of issue he raises is very common and very important for churches to know how to handle.
” Mack, have you had any experiences with apologetic organizations, like Answers in Genesis, causing divisions?
I just had a long conversation with one family to calm down any misunderstandings, who were almost leaving the church, because of one comment I made, specifically that I don’t think from Scripture that we can be dogmatic about there was no animal death before the fall. I did explain that it may well be that that was the case, but that people read things into the ‘proof-texts’ that aren’t there in order to come to that position. i.e. Roman 5:12 is clearly talking about human death and the sin imputed to humans and nothing to do with animals. I also gently pointed out that the Hebrew names for animals imply the violent natures of some, although even on that I said, it could still be that they weren’t like that before the fall and that their names could have been prophetic.
I don’t even try to change people who have a view on that one way or the other, to me it is a gray area of Scripture that is not an issue. But they are big followers of Answers in Genesis, who do take a dogmatic position on it.
From this they have also since taken issue on my approach to evangelism. They have a problem with my just preaching the gospel rather than try to prove the existence of God and the truth of creation.
Any advice on how to handle things like this? These sort of problems seem to be coming up more and more, where people become divided over things which shouldn’t divide Christians?”
These kinds of secondary issues become too important for some people. They begin to focus on specific areas of truth and then judge all truths in light of certain truths. They then become dogmatic in making such secondary areas of truth more important than they should; but they don’t leave it at that; they then begin to judge a ministry, church, or a preacher by those standards and expect their church to agree with their position; if not, they will then try to influence the church leaders and families to come to see that their position is correct. If that doesn’t work, disagreement or criticism often follows.
This happens because such people are greatly influenced by such organizations as Answers in Genesis, Vision Forum, para-church ministries that focus on specific areas of truth, such as the family, creation, evangelism, abortion. They then become zealous about secondary areas, and see those areas as what the church ought to focus upon. If the church doesn’t conform to their views, they then begin to view the church as being wrong. They want everything to be in line with their views, because they see their views as being the most important area of doctrine. Normally, you cannot please such people unless you agree with them;
I find the wisest approach is to immediately talk with them concerning these issues and not wait. When people begin to evidence their strong views on such things and begin to bring them up in discussion, we must recognize that those views are very important to them and their zeal for them have real potential to cause judgment or division within the church body.
It is best for the pastor or one of the elders to set down with them right away and simply say, “I see that some of these things are important to you; let me share our church’s position is on this so you will know where we are.” Then give them a summary view, also telling them that these things are secondary in importance in the Bible in relation to the gospel and the glory of Christ. Tell them that the church and the ministry there doesn’t major on these things and often does not take a dogmatic position on them.
If you take the pro-active position at the front-end of the relationship with them when the problem first shows itself, you will save time and heartache and hopefully avoid them causing problems in the church.
We had two couples come to our church a couple of years ago who were very much into the family-integrated church movement. As they began to attend, it was the place of the family and the family-integrated church movement was the only subject they wanted to talk about with everyone, and all their questions to the 2 elders were about this, trying to persuade us that all churches should be “family-integrated”, majoring in their preaching and church life on the family more than anything else. Everything in the church ought to be about the family–such was their view.
So both the elders sat down with the men and lovingly and clearly stated over breakfast–“We know these areas are important to you. We want you to fully know, from the beginning, where we are coming from as far as our ministry and church is concerned. We do not major or focus primarily on the family. Though the Bible reveals that the family is a very important area, it is not the most important. The gospel itself and the person of Jesus Christ is what our church majors on. We have our children in the services with us, but our church is not focusing on family, it is focusing on God and the full revelation of truth in Scripture.”
When we made this clear and the men knew where we stood, they responded with understanding. After that, their families never came back to the church again. They began to meet in their living room–two families trying to be a church.
By doing this with them at the beginning of their coming to the church, we saved much time and energy, and avoided potential problems.
Such issues often split churches and cause great division, simply because they are not dealt with quickly enough.
Now we always take this approach–we deal with such issues head-on at the beginning and do not let weeks pass. It is always the best way. People will know that they cannot push their views on the church and will either settle in and accept the teaching or they will soon move on. But you don’t want their views affecting the saints and those attending the church. I hope this helps.
Love in Christ to you,