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

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.

How following Jesus works in real life.

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