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How Much Bad Theology Can You Believe and Still Be Saved?
Posted by Clare

Decades ago, I attended The World Conference on the Holy Spirit, held in the Superdome in New Orleans. I’d only been a serious follower of Jesus for a half dozen years, and knew very little about the spiritual gifts of tongues, prophesy or divine healing. What I did know came from the Bible, but growing up in the Reformed tradition, we weren’t exactly on the cutting edge of “sign gifts.”

So, I was there to learn along with 8, or 10 pastors from my denomination. For three days, we heard and saw some things that had us occasionally scratching our heads and  scrambling for our Bibles. Every day, we began asking the Holy Spirit to be our teacher and give us the gift of discernment. We didn’t want to be governed by what we just didn’t understand if the Spirit wanted to teach us something new.

At dinner one evening, I asked one of the pastors I had a great respect for this question, “How much bad theology can you believe and still be saved?” His answer surprised me, “I hope a lot, because I’m probably teaching some bad theology and don’t even know it!”

I loved his humble, honest response. He went on to explain that almost no pastor intentionally teaches anything he/she knows to be false. But with literally more than 1,000 denominations in the U.S. alone, each believing something not all the others do, the chances are awfully good that no denomination has a lock on biblical truth.

Of course, there are a few very important core doctrines like believing in a sovereign, creator God, Jesus’ salvational work on the cross, the resurrection and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and living a life devoted to loving God and others more than anything else. All Christians must believe at least these, to be able to call themselves Christians. 

But, there are all kinds of other things, people who love God and have a high view of scripture, disagree on. Believer’s baptism, or infant? Election or free will rejection or acceptance of salvation? Church attendance or not? Please hear me out. These are not unimportant ideas and doctrines. We are commanded to study scripture and do our best to determine sound doctrine. Paul, writing to Timothy about choosing good elders, gives this qualification; “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Titus 1:9

But in writing to the church in Rome, Paul also says, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” Romans 14:1

Here’s the point I want to make, if a person believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God, died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead and that person confesses his/her sin and trusts Christ alone for their salvation and is serious about living for and like Jesus, they are saved. If you also believe women can be elders or speaking in tongues is for believers today, or that the communion wine actually turns into the blood of Christ, you’re still saved, even if you are wrong. Believing that other disputable matters are true does not disqualify you from salvation.

Is this really a problem today, you ask? The good news is that we’re no longer tying Anabaptists to chairs and drowning them in rivers for baptizing adults, who were already baptized as infants. (Can you really “over-baptize” someone?) But we do have people in our church who’ve left, angry over us allowing women to be deacons, or over the elder’s authority to excommunicate an unrepentant person. If you disagree with your church leadership, voice your concerns thoughtfully and biblically. If they agree with you, you’ve won a brother over. If they do not, you have only two choices. Remain a member and accept the decisions of your leaders, without complaining, or leave the church, quietly and humbly.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:13-15

None of us fully understand all the mysteries of God, so do not let disputable issues separate you from loving others and embracing a wide variety of Christians as your brothers and sisters in Christ, even if you think they are wrong.

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Comments (6)
Comments
  1. Chris Treiber said...

    Thanks for the advice on disputable matters.

    I could use some advice on how to handle the interpersonal conflict that arises between professing believers because denominations disagree about indisputable matters.

    Some denominations hold to doctrine on indisputable matters that contradicts orthodox biblical teaching, regarding things like the definition of marriage. (ELCA, PC USA, for example).

    I have family and friends who point to their denomination’s doctrine as justification for human behaviors that I believe the Bible labels sinful.

    They find my unwillingness to support their position as condemning, judgmental. Discussions about what scripture says on the contested issues has not, to this point, lead towards resolution.

    Blessings!

    Reply
    • admin-3kr5M said...

      Chris, I’ve gotten the same treatment given my pro-life views,and my position on same-sex marriage. I still believe after we’ve made our case about what we believe, we can still be civil and kind with them, even if they never change. God will have to sort that out someday, not us. However, If my church and pastor ever held those views and I could not persuade them differently, I’d have to leave quietly and respectfully. There’s a serious difference between having friends who hold what I consider unbiblical views and having those who are your spiritual authority, hold them.

      Reply
  2. Russ Larkin said...

    That’s good preaching brother Clare! Except for the foundational Christian characteristics you articulated, I’ve shared I’m probably wrong about 50% of the other issues. The problem, I don’t know which 50%. One day I shall know and it’s better not to have made any of those issues a hill to die on…

    Reply
  3. Carolyn Klickermann said...

    Claire, how very sad that we have allowed such differences to divide churches, destroying unity and providing a poor witness to those outside our doors!
    However I very much appreciate the way in which you have explained and clarified this topic – I am now serving in a small Baptist church who would be shocked if they knew I prayed in tongues occasionally. Although they appear to be very timid in allowing Holy Spirit to move in their services, they do love the Lord and the Pastor is a wonderful encourager & expositor so I see no reason on introducing my personal feelings on it. I believe the enemy of our souls is at the bottom of this but pray the Lord will put a hunger in their souls for more than the basics. The rest is up to Him!
    Carolyn

    Reply
    • admin-3kr5M said...

      Carolyn, thanks for commenting. For the record, I believe all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are alive and well today, including speaking in tongues. Bless you.

      Reply
  4. Jason said...

    Can you over-baptize someone? I think those Anabaptists tied to the chairs might say “yes”…

    Joking aside, this is a wonderful reminder that we must be in relationship with those that we may disagree with on theological matters. This is especially pertinent in this current environment of polarization along political lines.

    May we be instruments of God’s Shalom to our brothers and sisters, and be humble in our own introspection while taking confidence in who we are in Jesus.

    Reply
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