The Christian Purist
Ah, the righteous remnant! The truth is, I appreciate these dear people very much. Many of them are sincerely dedicated to the teachings of scripture and to the Kingdom of God. Many people who could be described as Christian purists love the Lord and want to please him. I affirm their devotion and assume their motives are good. Yet, they can create tremendous havoc among God’s people through their uncompromising stand on second and third tiers of doctrine. When I use the term secondary doctrines, I am not talking about the deity of Christ, the inspiration of scripture, or the Trinity, etc. I am committed to what I believe are the clear teachings of scripture on these “first tier” doctrinal issues. I also have my views on second and third tier doctrines. My purist friends, however, sometimes find it hard to separate the non-negotiable truths of the Christian Faith from the less central teachings of the Bible. They sometimes lose sight of the fact that faithful Christians make biblical arguments for secondary issues that Christians disagree about (Romans 14:4-5).
What to do about the objections and commitments of the purists? I keep coming back to the word ‘reasonable’. It would be nice if people who are committed to teaching the Bible correctly and in detail (as they understand it), would be reasonable toward the legitimate views of others. Of course, some reasonable purists do exist. These folks are able to balance their personal convictions with the concern for the biblically-based views of other sincere believers within the congregation.
Who controls the agenda?
In my experience, however, the true purist comes up short in the reasonability category. To them, their interpretation of when Jesus will return, or their view about how believers should participate in the wider culture is of the same importance as the doctrine of Christ’s deity. It seems to me that the best scriptural guide in situations like this is found in 1 Corinthians 10:28, which says, “…For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?”.
It is unwise to allow someone whose conscience is ultra sensitive to set the agenda for an entire body of believers and to allow them to insist that everyone conform to their scruples. Giving into them for the sake of appeasement is, in effect, to hand them the agenda. It only encourages such folks to force an issue every time something is said or done of which they don’t approve. When that happens, churches spend huge amounts of time and energy dealing with matters of conscience, often with little time remaining for constructive ministry.
In other posts, we discuss mean people, agenda-driven people, divisive people, and others who cause conflict.
Michael Bogart, EdD