Is it enough to believe right? What if you believe the right things for the wrong reasons? Can it be wrong to believe rightly for the wrong reasons? Are you confused now?
Allow me to give an example to kick us off. We will make it a nice, juicy illustration: take cannibalism. Chuck and Willy agree that people should not be eaten. This is great (and to be expected!), but it really only scratches the surface. As Chuck continues to explain his position, Willy starts to realize that Chuck opposes eating people only because he thinks human flesh tastes terrible. “I’ve tried it boiled, butterflied, and broiled, and no matter how you cook it, it turns out tough and dry.” Willy, rightly appalled, acknowledged the absolute moral gulf between himself and his (former) pal Chuck.
Clearly, this is an extreme example, but it establishes the fact that agreement on an issue—whether political, theological, or practical—is not the end of the discussion. We live in a polarized society. Pressure grows day after day to identify with one camp or another; no middle ground is afforded on many issues. You must determine whether you are on the Left or on the Right, whether you support traditional or contemporary worship, whether you are for or against public education. However, as Mr. Miyagi would put it, I believe we must realize that “agree, disagree, no matter. You make good discussion and respect.”
I see two major issues that arise from our typical form of public discourse:
First, when issues as complex as public education or health insurance are turned into a flat one-dimensional yes/no question, it eliminates the ability to have legitimate and healthy discussion. Each of us is pressured to join forces with one camp or the other, and once each group has built sufficient fortifications and reinforcements, never the twain shall meet. We are no longer able to learn from others, because we immediately discredit their arguments as biased and conniving, as though their only motive is to win us over to the other team. Ultimately, the greatest concern is to hold rank with the rest of those who have voted “Yes” or “No” on the issue, which quashes any attempt to sink below the surface to examine complications and difficulties that may float in the murky waters.
Second, we begin to perceive others as friends or enemies based upon whether they agree with us. Logic is set aside. However, we just established that Willy cannot look at Chuck as a comrade in arms—the guy sees nothing morally wrong with cannibalism! The fact that they agree not to eat people is a mere technicality and is certainly nothing to celebrate. We cannot be satisfied to simply agree with an individual, a politician, or a theologian. The “What?” question is the beginning; we must dive deeper into the “Why?” When we discover the logic behind the positions and decisions of others, we truly begin to mature as men and women. Children desire simple “yes” and “no” responses. Maturity requires understanding of nuance and reasoning. Maturity requires the ability to have tough yet amicable discussions with our perceived friends and foes.
This gets at the heart of much that is happening in my church and yours. We are so satisfied to answer the “What?” of ministry without ever considering the “Why?” As long as we agree on what songs we will sing, it does not matter why. I may choose these hymns because they promote the unity of the body, contain rich biblical truth, and inspire glory to God. You may choose the same hymns because you are particularly fond of that style of music and want to have it your way in your church. We choose the same songs, but for very different reasons. You may support church dinners because it promotes hospitality, fellowship, friendship, and love among the body of believers, while I might choose to support church dinners because that’s how we’ve always done it. We agree to do church dinners, but for totally different reasons.
Jesus was not satisfied to agree with the Pharisees, though they taught the right things. He confronted the heart, showing the chasm that stood between His humility and their proud arrogance, between his true righteousness and their false self-righteousness. Right belief with wrong understanding is at worst hypocrisy and at best ignorance. We must be willing to challenge our own hearts and minds, continually returning to God’s Word ready to be changed. May we each rediscover a true love for neighbor that is willing to engage, listen, and reason with others for the purpose of discovering God’s truth.