In a world that is more connected than ever, people seem to be more divided. One place this stands out is in the church. Rather than being one as Christ prayed for (John 17:21), we separate ourselves by denominations, as well as our theological and philosophical differences.
Why do different sects of Christianity have such drastically different beliefs? Yes, we ultimately believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that only by him can we be saved. Well, that also sort of depends.
Do we have to get baptized to make it to heaven? What about the other sacraments such as communion or confession? Do we have to do those as well? Once we have salvation, can we lose it? Or is it totally secure, safe from even our own denial of God?
I’m not here to answer these questions. I’m here to give a suggestion as to why Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, and the rest of us come to such different conclusions about spiritual matters.
Most of us operate out of a worldview that was heavily influenced by the environment and the culture we grew up in. For me, that was a Southern American, traditional, Protestant household. For better or for worse, my entire view on life has been shaped, one way or another, by where and how I was raised. This is the same for those of us who grew up in charismatic circles dancing and shouting during church services. Also for those who grew up in the liturgical traditions of the Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, or Anglican churches. Whatever our background, we filter our experiences and our beliefs through the foundation we were given in childhood.
While God does not contradict Himself, Humans contradict each other daily. Even the most righteous of humans can be blinded by their own cultural interpretation. The godliest among us can be weighed down by our own biases when reading the Scriptures and seeking the will of God. Flawed and broken human beings try to interpret the Word of God. Sometimes we get it right, but so often we are dead wrong.
How then can we begin to interpret the Word of God correctly? If we, even as redeemed children of God, are flawed, what are we to do? Do we simply try the best we can and hope we get it right? Do we hold tightly to our personal interpretations, knocking down any opposing views as heretical?
I believe the Scriptures were “God-breathed” as it says in 2 Timothy 3:16. Every stroke of every pen (or whatever the forefathers of the faith used) was not only inspired by God but was divinely orchestrated by Him to be His divine message to the world. (Ironically, not all Christians agree with this premise, but I believe that this is relevant, regardless of your belief in the inerrancy of Scripture.)
If all of Scripture was inspired by the Spirit of God, then we would be remiss to interpret the same Scripture without the Spirit of God guiding us. Even if the Word of God was not divinely inspired, as some believe, it still benefits us to lean on the Spirit for understanding, as we should in all things. The most Spirit-filled of people will inevitably disagree on a multitude of ideas. There are issues that Scripture doesn’t directly address, and many godly Christians will have disagreements about parenting, worship styles, and certain political issues. There may not be a right or a wrong answer in some cases. It depends on individual needs and God’s plan for each of us. But if we are all truly seeking the Holy Spirit and His teaching, we should come to the same conclusion about the foundational truths of our faith.
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”
- John 16:13-14 (ESV)
Jesus said the Holy Spirit is with us to guide us into all truth. God does not desire to leave us in the dark. He desires to reveal His will and every good part of Himself to us.
“These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 (ESV)
I believe the reason so many of us come to so many different conclusions is that we don’t allow the Spirit to counsel us in our searching. Am I saying that what I believe is wholly correct and you all need to believe exactly what I believe? Absolutely not! There are many issues I’ve failed to seek the Spirit’s guidance in, and many that I’ve yet to even consider.
In my relatively short life, I’ve changed, altered, or radically redefined my beliefs on things like the spiritual gifts, church administration, and many other things. I’ve had to admit I was wrong about a deeply held belief more than once, and I’ll probably have to do so again.
While we will continue to disagree on many things, Christians should be seeking the Spirit in finding their conclusions, praying in earnest and meditating on the Word of God. If we want to know the truth, we cannot allow the beliefs we grew up in to overshadow the work of the Holy Spirit. If we truly wish to know God, we can’t value our personal feelings and desires over Him. It might be painful to let go of some deeply held beliefs. It has been for me in the past. But knowing God more deeply and experiencing His truth more fully is well worth it.