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Agree to Disagree - Not So Disagreeable

In 1985 I received an invitation to attend a multi-denominational Prayer Fellowship and Bible study while living and preaching in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Along with the invitation came a cover letter stating some of the group's guidelines and objectives. Part of the statement read as follows: "We are pastors and leaders . . . born again in Jesus Christ, and we represent a number of different churches and traditions. Our faith in Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit offers us a fundamental doctrinal unity. Concerning peripheral doctrinal issues, we set them aside, accepting these differences and agreeing to disagree that the world might believe that the Father sent His only Son to redeem it." I know better than to pass judgement on the hearts and motives of people who differ with me religiously. Observation in 37 years of ministry has taught me that every church fellowship, including the church of Christ, is comprised of the same kind of crowd that fell in with Moses as he led God's people up out of Egypt — "a mixed multitude" (Exodus 12:38). That having been said, I also know there are doctrinal rats you can smell from a mile away. And one of the smelliest of all is the popular and widespread idea that all believers in Jesus can share a fundamental doctrinal unity even as they "agree to disagree." Truth be told, "agreeing to disagree" is not nearly as noble as it sounds on the surface. Why? The "peripheral issues" people often choose to "set aside" are not peripheral at all. Consider the apostle Paul's unambiguous statement in Ephesians 4:3-6 where, in context, the Holy Spirit defines what "unity in the Spirit" is. Nothing in this statement can be considered "peripheral" since the apostle is discussing the very foundation of unity. Hear carefully: "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.' Few believers in Jesus would dismiss the one Spirit or one Lord or one God and Father as being "peripheral" issues we can set aside at will, even for the purpose of staying united with other believers. But people/preachers are sometimes heard thanking God for "many different bodies, churches. faiths, and baptisms" from which they can choose! I have friends who differ with me religiously who say. -Ninety-nine percent of our beliefs are the same." But the simple truth is that is simply not true. Not when we can't agree there is one body/church (Ephesians 4:4a; 1:22-23), one faith (not "many faiths"), and one baptism (not a choice between necessary or not necessary or between pouring and sprinkling, and immersion).

In reality "agreeing to disagree" between believers is more about disagreeing with what the Spirit Himself plainly says in Ephesians 4. The night Jesus was betrayed he prayed in John 17:20-21 for His apostles and "also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me." Agreeing to disagree is not agreeable when we disagree with what Jesus prayed for in that prayer.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ