Category Archives: Christian life

Why do Christians disagree so much about the Bible?

The Bible is an ancient and complex book, and not always easy to understand. That is why so many people have differing views about subjects as foundational as the Lord’s Table and baptism, and even more variation on topics like church government, spiritual gifts, and end times. Entire denominations and church movements have been formed around a collective understanding of what they believe the Bible teaches on these subjects.

Many assert that disagreements are a result of others who are unwilling to follow what the Bible “plainly” teaches. “Those churches,” they may think, “just don’t take their Bible seriously.” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it is often not true. The closer we get to the people we disagree with, the more we find that they are often godly, sincere, and informed individuals who desire to do and believe what the Bible teaches just as much as we do.

“It’s clear we just have two different opinions on this topic,” my friend jested. “You have yours and I have His.” Watching his finger point to the heavens, I couldn’t help but think how this humorous gesture communicated so much about how I often mistake my understanding of what the Bible says for what the Bible actually does say.

If we really listen to those we disagree with, we might not only start seeing their biases, but ours, as well. Our beliefs—like theirs—are affected by culture, economic status, family, place in history, and even our own denomination’s emphasis on certain doctrines and issues. Is it possible that we often don’t see another person’s perspective because we are looking to ourselves, not Christ, as the ultimate source of truth? Perhaps a way forward is to humbly and honestly admit our own imperfections and shortcomings. Then we can begin to work through our disagreements together with a focus on Jesus Christ.

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Do natural disasters signal the end of the world as we know it?

Natural disasters are not unique to our time. Terrible losses of life and destruction from many natural disasters and epidemics have occurred for millennia.[1] So no one can say for certain that such events mark the end of this “present age.”[2]

Jesus’ disciples once asked Him what would “signal” His return and the end of the world as we know it.[3] In his reply, Jesus cautioned them not to assume that natural catastrophes such as famines or earthquakes or even man-made cataclysms such as wars meant the end of the age was just around the corner. Instead, He told His followers to view such catastrophic events as “the first of the birth pains, with more to come.”[4]

Jesus’ caution is as applicable for us today as it was for His first disciples. Every generation since the time of Jesus has had to deal with disasters of all types and scales. But there is no way for us to know when a recent disaster might signal the end of the world as we know it. Jesus Himself told His followers that only God knows for certain “the day or hour” when Christ will return.[5]

Natural disasters do show us that the earth is not the way it’s supposed to be. It is groaning and longing for the day when Jesus returns and all of creation will be renewed.[6]

[1] Earthquakes: Antioch, Syria, ad 525, 250,000 killed; Aleppo, Syria, 1138, 230,000 killed; Shaanxi Province, China, 1556, 830,000 killed.

Famines: “Great Famine” of Europe, ad 1315–17, millions died; Indian famine of 1896–1902, millions died; Chinese famine under Chairman Mao, 1958–61, 20-40 million died.

[2] In Jesus day, Jewish teachers, (including Jesus Himself) divided history into two ages; the “present age” and the “age to come”—the good news of God’s Kingdom coming to earth as it is in heaven that Jesus preached.  Many who read the New Testament believe that these two ages began to overlap when Jesus rose from the dead, and that the “present age” will come to an end and the “age to come” will come in its fullness when Jesus returns to our present earth. Others believe that the “age to come” will not begin until this “present age” ends at the time of Christ’s return.

[3] Matthew 24:3

[4] Matthew 24:4–8

[5] Matthew 24:26

[6] Romans 8:19–21; Revelation 21:1–5

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Is it wrong to marry someone of a different ethnicity?

Some have tried to use Bible passages like Deuteronomy 23:3[1] and 2 Corinthians 6:14[2] to make a case that people should marry only within certain cultural and racial confines like skin color or nationality. But when these verses are examined in light of their broader biblical context, their case falls short.

While it’s true that passages like Deuteronomy 23:3 prohibited Israelites from marrying individuals outside of the Jewish community, the Bible is full of exceptions to this rule. Joseph married an Egyptian woman.[3] Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute,[4] and Ruth, a Moabite widow,[5] both married into the tribe of Israel and became ancestors of King David and Jesus. And Uriah, the first husband of King Solomon’s mother Bathsheba, was a Hittite.

But the most interesting biblical example of cross-cultural marriage in the Bible is found in Numbers 12. In this account, Moses’ sister Miriam is struck with leprosy for criticizing Moses because he married a dark-skinned foreigner.

“While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he had married a Cushite woman…The Lord was very angry with them, and he departed. As the cloud moved from above the Tabernacle, there stood Miriam, her skin as white as snow from leprosy.” [6]

While the Bible does not condemn what is commonly called interracial marriage, some contexts and cultures make it more difficult than others. Some have even suggested that it should be avoided because of the cultural pressures and potential rejection it invites on couples and their children. Yet the Bible does not address this issue. There are times and places where these concerns might be well considered, but the idea of setting up artificial barriers based on skin color or other ethnic differences is not what ultimately brings the most glory and honor to God.

So, is it wrong to marry someone from another ethnicity? No; neither the Bible nor the spirit of Christ places any such constraints on people who love and care for one another.

[1] No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation (NIV).

[2] Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (NIV)

[3] (Genesis 41:44–52)

[4] (Joshua 2&6; Matthew 1:5)

[5] (Ruth 1–4; Matthew 1:5)

[6] Tyndale House Publishers. (2007). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (3rd ed.) (Nu 12:1 & 9–10). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

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Should Christians be tolerant?

Let’s be honest about the emotional reaction some of us have towards the concept of tolerance as a principle. If there were ever a buzzword for our culture, tolerance is it, and many of those who uphold this principle are often doing so in ways that are synonymous with an anything-goes belief system. And if compromise and a wishy-washy belief system is what we mean by tolerance, then we can certainly understand why a Christian would not want to be labeled as tolerant. But in a strict sense, tolerance has nothing to do with compromise. It is simply the ability to allow for views different than our own.

So, should Christians be tolerant? Well, that depends. If tolerance means compromising our belief in the message of Jesus Christ, the story of the Bible, or historic Christianity to avoid conflict with others, then no. But if tolerance means that we strive to live unwavering in our convictions and at the same time love others unconditionally, then yes. In this sense tolerance would look a lot like embracing prostitutes, tax collectors, drunks, and other sinners like ourselves. It would look a lot like emptying ourselves of our spiritual pride, looking beyond people’s actions, and seeing them as people who matter to God. It would look a lot like submitting ourselves to the will of God and laying down our lives for those who desperately need His mercy and forgiveness.

In other words, it would look a lot like Jesus.

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Are some sins more wrong than others?

Many of us have a tendency to judge certain sins as worse than others. We say, “I have my struggles, but at least I don’t struggle with that.”

Surely some attitudes and behaviors carry the potential for greater, far-reaching consequences than others. But that does not make one set of sins worse than another. The New Testament calls us to take all sin seriously:

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. (James 2:8–9 nlt)

James, the author of these words, does not seem to be setting up a hierarchy of sins. He wrote to people who were guilty of such things as favoring the rich over the poor,[1] and he is confronting the self-righteous attitudes of those who don’t feel they have sinned enough to need God’s grace. He told his readers that this kind of thinking is not only prideful but also self-deceiving. Everyone sins and needs God’s grace.

The mercy of God is not just for those who commit obvious and heinous kinds of sin. A person who doesn’t murder or commit adultery but shows partiality to the rich while ignoring the poor is a lawbreaker, too.

Sin is a struggle for all of us. And none of us have reason to feel superior to those who sin in ways we don’t. Most of all, let us never forget that our gracious God longs to extend His hand of mercy to all.

[1] James 2:1-4

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