About ten years ago, I heard a lecture by a pastor that really stuck with me. It is from that lecture that I have gleaned pieces and stole whole chunks of to use today to bring this message to you.
The topic today is principles and methods, and how we should stop to distinguish which is in our focus when we are approaching a brother or sister in Christ to exhort or admonish them.
Many people seem to not understand the difference, and so our churches across the land today contain many individuals who are quarrelsome and divisive, and do so under the guise of being zealous for God. They are quick to force their own understanding of an issue upon the conscience of another.
Many people, when they get new light shed on some doctrine, are quick to want to go out and try to shine that light and shove that understanding upon others, and often time in less than a true loving manner. The internet has become a battle ground of doctrinal fights, where words are thrown out with little to no love of consideration for others. It becomes very impersonal as we just use key strokes to lob words at others with condescending attitudes and often including false assumptions.
When it comes to discussing things with others, what is needed for a greater majority of people, is a major boost in love and wisdom. Wisdom learns to see the issue - to see what the actual foundational point is - over against what is extraneous, or only seemingly connected. Folly, on the other hand, will latch onto what is extraneous, and forgets the actual heart of the issue.
I’d like to offer a neat little illustration at this point. Picture if you would, a four-lane highway, with two lanes going one way and the other two going the opposite way. Now, let us think of this highway as life. We have two lanes going to heaven, and two lanes going to hell.
Now, on this highway are four cars - let’s say two Chevys and two Fords. On the one side of the highway we have one Chevy and one Ford, driving neck and neck heading towards heaven. All the while they are making faces, beeping and yelling at each other – criticizing each other over their driving styles and choice of car.
Now, in the midst of this, the other two cars pass by going the other way towards hell, and the two drivers of the Fords, on opposite roads, make eye contact and wave, “Hey brother – solidarity! – You’re driving a Ford to hell, I am driving one to heaven - we have a lot in common. This bozo in the Chevy next to me, I can’t believe he thinks what he thinks.”
That is how folly operates – it cannot keep a sense of perspective. We in the church are to seek to strive and maintain unity, but that comes with wisdom that many are lacking:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call. (Eph 4:1-4 ESV)
The Spirit has given the body of believers this unity. It does not come from us - we do not cause it, we do not generate it, but we are told to maintain it.
We should be eager to maintain unity, seeking to avoid any of the sins that will cause it to be disrupted. We should approach others with all humility and gentleness. This is pretty much the opposite of many of the “discussions” we often see dividing the body.
It takes much wisdom and patience in order to avoid the types of sins that lead to disrupting this unity. It also takes much thought, study, and work. One particularly important area that needs much work is in the area of principles verses methods.
When we really get down to the nuts and bolts on many divisive issues, we should be able to see how many things come down to a difference over methods more than a difference in principles.
There are many principles – things we should do in our lives as we follow the teachings of the Scriptures. Those principles can be carried out by many various methods. Two people going to the same church may have two totally different methods for obeying and following through with the underlying principle.
As one body in Christ, we need to be understanding of this, and treat others with the respect and honor they deserve. Once we truly grasp the difference between principles and methods, we should be able to greatly sympathize with those who have different methods than we do – knowing that they too, have had to put up with foolishness from people on our side of the divide, just like we have put up with it from their side. Just because they drive a Chevy and we drive a Ford, it does not make us at odds.
Now, an ideologue is someone who is basically a blind follower of something, someone or some agenda. An ideologue cannot understand this distinction between methods and principles – it is lost on them. While this is the case, oftentimes an ideologue will grab onto a perfectly acceptable method – though they often miss the point of what they are doing and why.
Many of us may tend to be more of an ideologue than we know, and that is what we must flush out into the light in order to deal with it. Let me give a quick example of what I mean. Let’s look at the issue of education.
The church our family formerly attended runs a Christian Classical school, and many families in the congregation sent their children to that school. Also within the congregation, there were quite a large amount of parents like my wife and I, who home school our children. And there were also those families that had their children in other schools, whether Christian schools or public schools. Those are many different methods that all pertain to the one principle - that parents are in charge of their children’s education.
Someone with a grasp on the difference between methods and principles will have to admit that in almost anything, there are good and bad methods. For instance, there are great Christian schools, and there are absolutely horrible ones too. Likewise, there are great home schools, and there are horrible ones.
A dedicated ideologue homeschooler though, would cringe, argue and deny that there is ever such a thing as a bad home school, just like a Christian school ideologue would likewise defend their position as always the better option. Any such negative language against their view is looked at as an attack on them and anyone who participates in that option. Their method is right, and there is no weakness in it.
If we say there are bad marriages – that is not an attack on marriage in general. If we say there is such a thing as bad cooking – is that an attack on food in general? These are only true if you are an ideologue. Only if you believe that all Fords, without distinction, and regardless of the direction they are going, towards heaven or hell, are good. THAT is folly.
Ideologues cannot make these distinctions, and they stick to their positions and defend them without always showing love or consideration towards others. Dave has been preaching for some time now out of the book of Romans, and we have seen over and over again how brotherly love is a central attribute to those claiming to be within the body of Christ.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Rom. 12:3-5 ESV)
If we are truly loving our brother who has a different method than us, we will not think of ourselves as being more right than them, and therefore not look down on their method. Continuing on in verses 9-10, he says:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Rom. 12:9-10 ESV)
Now, here we open a door that some will be quick to run to. It says to “abhor what is evil.” Many Christians defend their view against others, because they believe theirs is a holding fast to what is good, while the other is somewhat evil to be abhorred. In most cases, this is how an ideologue will think.
Next time you start to bicker with a brother or sister in Christ, stop and think – am I fighting against some clear and open evil or sin, some clear violation of Scriptural principle - or am I dealing simply with a method?
Often times, when we come to deal with someone in the Church body, we come at things from one of two extremes. In one extreme, we approach them in disagreement, basically looking down upon them as a weaker brother than us, and constantly attack their methods.
The other extreme would be to approach them in a manner that would be a warped view of love, in that we pretend we must never challenge or admonish them, or ever bring up a discussion on issues of truth. Both are extremes that we have to work to not fall into.
We are to abhor and challenge what is truly evil, while holding fast to what is good, while loving one another and always seeking to outdo them in showing honor. Can you imagine a church where this is truly going on – and everyone is actually fighting to show more honor to each other?
When we are brought into the family of God, God receives us in as we are. However, he does not then just leave us to our own devices, but he continues a work in us to mold us into the person we should be.
Everyone who is received in is received in at different stages of life, and the work of the Spirit may be very different in one person as compared to the next. We must remember this, for the Spirit does not bring us in and make us all immediately mature in all things.
One method God frequently uses to help mold us is by the loving guidance and admonition of another member of the body. However, truly loving admonition is just that – loving. It is a challenge to our path or method, without ignoring the fact that various different methods are valid. If we are at the extreme view that we are not to challenge anyone, then we are breaking that unity by not being used as we should.
As Christians, we tend to have a work done in us by the Spirit, where something may be revealed as clear as day to us, and so we run off and begin shoving it in the face of all of those around us. However, we do not always stop and think of the practical application of the truth we have learned.
We may learn something and apply it one way, and then thinking that to be the only application for it, we seek to force others to conform to it – and this easily leads to disunity and often division. We must resist this temptation, accepting brothers where they are, and seeking unity and love in all things.
God accepts us, we are justified, brought into His family, and we are likewise to accept those others in the body who we feel differ some from our way. However, just as God does not leave us alone, we are to lovingly get involved in the lives of those around us, and be used to help with the wisdom we have.
That is why it is of the utmost importance for us all to understand the difference between methods and principles, so that we know how to guide others in the principles, while not harping so much on the various methods.
For instance, we know the Bible gives us a clear principle to study and stay in God’s word. It is not just Dave’s harping on it every year that we should be considering it. He harps on it yearly because it is a principle of Scripture.
Now, there are many ways to accomplish this principle. On the church website, we have a printable plan that can be followed to get you through the Bible in one year. That plan is recommended by many in this church who have used it, but in no way is it considered the best, preferred, or only method – or an issue worth debating.
The Bible doesn’t command us to read it through in a year. It just says to study and know it. The one-year plan is as Dave says, Christianity 101 – the bare basics. Reading through it one time a year is about 20 minutes a day of reading.
If someone were to come in and start fighting with someone else over how long it should take each day, or how often reading should be done, or which translation should be used, or reading method preferences, or when during the day to read, etc. then that would be crossing the line into the methods.
We can see how this type of scenario is pretty clear to show us the folly that can happen when considering methods versus principles, but other scenarios may not appear as clear to us, and require a bit more understanding.
This of course does not mean that lively theological discussion should not be a reality. There are firm truths that we hold that are not part of the principle versus method idea. When it comes to doctrinal understandings though, it is imperative that wisdom, love and patience be applied – again, understanding that not everyone is on the same level of understanding.
Just because we receive someone knowing that God has received them, it does not mean that we receive them and shut our mouths to any further assistance in learning additional truth. Nor does it mean that we should think we know it all and cannot be approached by another brother and glean from their teaching and wisdom.
The Bible commands us to strive for likemindedness and unity, and this comes about by loving one another while seeking to approach each other in humility to discuss things of a doctrinal matter. It means avoiding being obnoxious, cantankerous, or losing perspective when it comes to these discussions.
We are told in 1 John 1:7 that “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” – so if we are both walking in the same light – regardless of if in a Ford or a Chevy - we should both be moving closer towards God and our unity with each other should be growing more and more.
If along the way, I see my brother falling into bad things, like mistreating his wife or family, or failing in some form of a basic duty, then it is my duty in love to walk along beside him and call him out on those things – “look brother, I need to talk to you about this.”
That is showing love and that is our brotherly duty – it is being accountable to one another, and should be acceptable behavior that should be accepted by each of us. We do not avoid doing this just to keep the peace. We must keep the peace based on God’s terms, keeping it based on his ways and not based on our own ways.
Now, doubtful things are not to be defined by some supposed ambiguity in the Scripture. Many doubtful things do have a clear resolution in Scripture, if both parties are willing to lovingly set down together and study to work them out. Courtesy and love are not relativism.
A lot of the divisions come from the way in which we handle the situation too. There may be a fairly clear cut answer in Scripture but we muck it up with a mishandling of the person. For instance, let’s look back at the section in Romans 14 that was recently covered in our Romans series.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. (Romans 14:1-2)
Now here is a dispute that was going on in Rome, and Paul addresses it. But, if someone else comes along, grabs this letter and runs to his friend and says, “See, Paul says since you eat vegetables, you are the weaker brother. You’re the weak one pal – see, I’m right, you’re wrong.”
We often use the Scripture to prove something that in fact can be proven, while ignoring what the Scripture says about handling it. We can prove who the weaker brother is, but the verse tells us specifically not to do that with the verse.
So, while we know there is a right and wrong side of an issue, and we can prove which side is right and which side is wrong from the Scriptures, it doesn’t mean that we necessarily ought to.
Just because you can win the argument, doesn’t mean you can win the person. I have met plenty of people – and have probably been one of them at different times myself – who can win an argument while losing the person.
Let me side-step down a quick rabbit trail. Many of you may have been present and remember the short little comments I made a few months ago after Brother Glenn spoke here. That relates to this topic directly.
As I mentioned a few moments ago, it seems to be typical human nature for many people, that when we learn something new doctrinally, we get excited, and often times get absorbed into that doctrine, and begin to become obsessed with it.
It becomes our focus, and therefore we feel it should be everyone else’s focus. So we begin beating everyone else up over it, forcing it upon them in a less that charitable manner.
We try to force other people to our view. And we tend to look down upon others who do not agree with us. I know I have been guilty of this as I shared previously of my experience with one of my best friends. He told a mutual friend, who later told me, that my friend would not talk with me on doctrinal issues any longer, because I always talked down at him like a know if all. Now, this was at a time in my life where I had just been introduced to the Reformed faith.
The issue is, even if we are right, and we have solid Scriptural evidence on our side – it is not always in what we know, but how we use it with others. The study of apologetics and being able to aptly defend the faith is an important trait – as long as it is tempered with wisdom.
You can be a one-man demolition squad for truth, and win arguments, while at the same time offending everyone within a 50 mile radius, causing them to have nothing to do with you, the gospel or the Christian faith.
Winning the argument and winning the people are very different things. Paul warns about it in Colossians:
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom… (Col. 3:12-16 NJKV)
You may win arguments, but without tender mercies, kindness, humility, patience and wisdom, you give evidence that you do not truly posses the full understanding of what the Scriptures are telling you.
Looking back to what Dave has said about Paul and the early verses of instruction in Romans, there was this situation, and Paul was telling them how to handle the situation in love for the sake of the gospel message – and we can glean wisdom in that, when we consider our own situation:
Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. (Rom. 14:3 ESV)
This applies in or out of the church in discussions. This should be something that church leaders keep a handle on within their congregations too. As controversies arise in a church, the parties on both sides of a discussion need to be managed under this idea.
Both sides have to bear with each other peaceably in patience and love, until an end is reached. Otherwise, it will turn into a situation that breaks the peace and unity of the body.
One important thing everyone needs to realize - it is possible that your view is wrong. After all, someone in the discussion has to be wrong. But if both sides refuse to acknowledge there may be more to the story than what they currently understand, then unity and truth is near impossible to achieve. That is why it is more important to have loving and peaceful discussions, rather than just attacking others.
For people who are ideologues, they tend to be talking and arguing all the time. They have to stay busy and keep the sound going, because if they pause, the silence may cause them to reflect and see that what they are doing is not very good.
What is needed is a wiliness to stop and say, “You know brother, you answer to God, and I pray for you and support you. I don’t think that’s a great Christian school you just enrolled your kids in, I don’t think they promote a good world view, and they have areas of compromise, so I don’t think that is wise. But I pray for you and your family, and I believe you are honoring God in seeking to honor God.”
When you make a decision, and take that kind of approach - and you know when to apply the breaks to your mouth, it can be the first step in wisdom and a step away from being meddlesome.
Too often we want to be meddlesome – we want to be the Lord in someone else’s life. We say “This person is not answering to me properly. I wouldn’t have done that if that were my child!” Well, it is time to realize, it is not your child. The one whose child it is, they are answerable to God. You may be thinking they are making a mistake – so what should you do? What is the quickest way to be able to communicate that? By loving them, receiving them, and not be quarrelsome like this.
There are certain things that are important to remember when such discussions appear to be necessary, and I will just run through a few of them quickly.
First, methods are not bad. When discussing principles and methods, it is not to say we should just observe the principles without employing any kind of method. Methods are a necessity – you have to pick one to accomplish almost anything.
It is just important that you understand what the difference is between a principle and a method. What is it you are trying to do? I am driving to heaven in my Ford, and if the Ford breaks down I am going to walk. I know where I am going, and I always know the direction I am headed. I always have my eye on the ball. So, the method is not bad, it is necessary, and it may differ from person to person.
Secondly, what is settled in history, and what is settled in principle are two different things. Cultivate humility of mind. You might win an abstract argument, yet in real life the historical outcome may be very different from how you envisage.
Third, in controversy, if you guess or judge the motives of another, assume you are almost always wrong. Not when you judge what they did, but when you attribute cause or purpose to it.
When you assume the motive for something someone else did, you are almost certainly wrong. This one thing is a cause of all kinds of divisions. People would rather think the worst and divide over it, than to really deal with the issue through loving discourse. This type of thing needs to be avoided.
Fourth, God requires you to be a steward of everything he gives. This includes how you avoid controversy as well as how you conduct yourself within a controversy when it arises.
You may find yourself in the middle of a controversy – just remember, in God’s sovereignty, He has given you this controversy to handle just like he gives you anything else he has in life. So, you must be a good steward of it. Just like being a good steward elsewhere, you need to show a good return in the controversy – showing where some profit was gained or learned from it.
Fifth, it is wrong to give offense, and it is wrong to take offense. Now, when I say take offense, I am not saying it is wrong to get hurt. I am saying it is wrong to be resentful, bitter, to dwell on it, or to use it to become a resentful person.
Obviously there are things we can do emotionally, physically, or spiritually that wound one another, and it is not wrong to be wounded. It becomes a sin when we let that wound become infected.
Just like in life, when you get such a wound, it must be kept clean and dressed so that is does not get infected. In controversy, people are quick to say outrageous things about you – even to the point of making up things.
Controversies that come from ignoring the distinction between what is the central point or principle that we are after, and what are the methods that we employ to get there – neglecting this distinction - is the result of sin. It is a spiritual problem, and it is perpetuated by a certain kinds of individuals that the Lord calls fools and blind.
Let’s consider a controversy in Scripture, which is different as far as the actual controversy, but it displays the same mentality that we find afflicting some in our churches today. From Matt. 23:
Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Matt. 23:16-24 ESV)
So, it is important that we consider the weightier matter – the actual principle, rather than the various methods people take to get there. And the neglect of the distinction is a sin.
So, for instance, if you split a church over homeschooling, as a method, you are such a fool, and blind. I have personally seen and actually played a part in this very thing. It was a little deeper than just the issue of homeschooling, but the entire scenario was all about methods, not principles, and homeschooling was one of the key points.
There are many conservative Christians, who split relations and even churches in a way that is offensive to God. Over things like homeschooling methodology, or types of attire in worship, or any number of off-the-wall things that up-tight people use to cause controversies.
When it comes down to people saying something like “this is what God wants you to wear” or anything along that line, and it is referring to a method and not a principle, that is where the issue is. It is true - God does want you to wear one thing – tender mercies.
So, after wearing tender mercies, can you go off and be a part of a sub-culture that dresses one way or another? Sure, put on tender mercies and go do what you want. Go, do as Augustine said - “Love God and do as you please.”
Now, we may see that and think he is advocating a do-what-you-want, anything-goes mentality, but that is not the case at all. As people of faith, a faith in and through the God of the Scriptures - we choose to adhere to guidelines and limitations that are part of that faith.
When we truly “love God” – then we are binding ourselves to what that means and how that plays out in our lives. That will lead us into a lifestyle centered on love, and guided by Scriptural principals, which will shape and direct us in what we do – and will not lead to an anything goes lifestyle.
If we are truly living in a lifestyle of love to God, that will also bring about loving others, which should bring us to where we need to be even amidst controversies like we are discussing.
Remember, the world is a big place, made up of a multitude of different types of people. Why can’t we just move around it without insisting, as if we were some kind of Unitarian Muslim, that everybody has got to dress the same way, act the same way, eat the same food or drink the same drinks? Why do we not act like we’re Trinitarians?
Trinitarian culture allows us to have a set, yet broad and recognizable culture which contains true variation and diversity within it, which is appreciated and loved. In a more Unitarian culture, it is a top-down, everybody in lock step with each other – that is what a true Unitarian Muslim culture is.
There are many sub-cultures of Christians who don’t have this distinction, yet they are behaving like Unitarians – everyone should do it my way - everyone should dress their daughters like I do - everybody should speak like me - everyone should worship like me. This is not the Christian faith.
An important piece of advice to keep in mind is – we should never react – but should always act. We act on things, but should avoid reacting to the another person’s things. Those of a Unitarian mind tend to react when faced with an issue, which leads to a tightening of the grip on things, which leads to more rigid methods.
There are many things in today’s pop-culture that make their way into our schools and churches. There is the modern mentality of diversity for the sake of diversity – doing whatever you want, regardless of how strange.
It is a lifestyle of no discipline, and one that acknowledges no cultural norms or boundaries at all. So, which such a frenzy of activity, people are scattering into fragmentation, and so people react to that.
Their response is - if you do not want to be this post-modern fragmented kid with orange hair, strange tattoos, and a total ignorance on where the waist of the pants should go, you should adhere to our tight set of methods as the only way. Rather than get to the root of the issue, it is a reaction to deal with the methods that come about from it.
So they swing to the opposite extreme and produce the super clean cut, perfectly combed hair, nerdy overly-polite child that is not allowed to watch TV or listen to anything but classical music and who pull their pants up to their chest.
What is it going to take to produce a kid who knows the belt goes in the middle?
Okay, while examples of this principle versus method idea can be almost endless, let’s turn back to education as an example.
The principle is – parents must teach their children. The methods can be: homeschooling, Christian schools, private schools, and yes, even government public schools. This is where most Christians in conservative and especially in Reformed circles, may gasp.
Oddly, there are parents who believe firmly in homeschooling, and will do so from K through 12. But then they have no issue with sending their kids out to a typical secular college after that. They may stand up and boldly proclaim it to be a sin to send your child to public school for 10th grade or whatever, but then may not even give a thought to that mentality when it comes to college - as if something magical happens during the summer between grade 12 and grade 13.
Now, for me personally, I do not support public government education. Do I oppose statist education? Absolutely. But I want to oppose it for the principle, and not by just drawing some arbitrary line that no one can understand.
The principle is – children of a young age, K through whatever, are vulnerable, and when lied to, cannot understand what is happening.
Now, when a Christian kid has received a strong Christian education, and is trained well in how to reason from a Christian worldview, and they can do more damage in 13th grade than will be done to them – then by all means send them to engage the culture.
For someone to stand up and just woodenly proclaim it to be a sin to associate with public education because it is secular, and not be able to articulate precise reasons for saying so, they are failing to understand the principle.
The principle is, you do not leave your kids vulnerable. When they are in their early years, they are vulnerable, and must be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Then, after being brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, at some point you can feel fine knowing they can handle themselves, and send them forth to engage the culture and do more damage to it - than they allow it to do to them.
One pastor related a story of his son’s experience with college. The son had been educated K-12 in a classical Christian school, and started college courses also in a Christian college. He then decided to also go to the local university at the same time.
After about half a semester at the local university, he told his dad - “Dad, I was prepared to fight these unbelievers, but it is not like a real fight. It is more like tearing apart a stress doll.”
He relayed how he had an English Comp teacher who had the whole class watch some existentialist movie.
Now, for those not familiar with the term existentialism, it is one of those philosophical terms that describe the belief that the starting point of someone’s philosophy must be their own personal experience. Your own personal experiences are what make your choices authentic.
So, the English teacher had them watch this film, and the point of the film was that you do whatever you feel, don’t let anyone tell you what to do, defy authority, live for yourself, and submit to no one. Then the teacher told them to write a three page paper interacting with the movie.
So, the son wrote one paragraph saying - I used to be conservative and pretty uptight, things upset me about the way things were going, but I learned from this movie that you shouldn’t let anyone tell you what to do, and I don’t feel like writing a three page paper. He stapled it to two blank pages and turned it in.
So, he was in the school, a secular college, and it was not a sin as some may proclaim. He was in there doing damage to their silly system. He was fulfilling the principle – he was not vulnerable or defenseless.
The main principle is that parents must insure that their children are taught and equipped with a strong worldview in order that they are protected from what will be thrown at them.
The methods employed to reach that principle, may vary from homeschool, computer education, good Christian schools, private schools, or public schools. In the end, the focus should be on the principle.
Principle: mothers are to feed their children. Methods: scheduled feeding or not – bottle feeding or not.
Principle: we should be good stewards of our body. Method: working out or not, eating junk or not, juicing or not, etc.
Principle: children are a blessing from the Lord. Method: birth control or not, planned pregnancy or not, natural child birth or not, hospital or not, etc.
Principle: modesty is a Christian virtue. Method: to wear make-up or not, jewelry or not, bathing suits or not, etc.
Hopefully you can see by now the difference between principles and methods. Churches or people who fight or split over methods are just wrong. People who go as far from one extreme to the other are missing the point.
While the principle should steer you clear of caking on makeup and jewelry, and wearing provocative clothing, it should likewise not be used as a justification for looking frumpy.
We need to stop and look and realize just how bound we are by the pressure of our day. We need to stop seeking to strain out a gnat and swallow the camel.
Our temptation is to reason something like “If they were really committed, they would employ my method. My method is the preferred method of choice among everyone I know that are sold out and dedicated.”
We have to first understand the difference in methods and principles, and we have to focus on the principle. We may differ greatly on the method, but it is amazing how many things will work themselves out if we keep the focus and emphasis on the principle.
If you gravitate right to the method, it becomes this gnat-strangling controversy over stuff that the Bible does not directly address.
For instance, if someone says “I want to prove birth control is a sin” - or maybe they want to prove to prove the opposite - it is a pretty peripheral issue scripturally speaking.
However, if I want to prove the principle that children are a blessing, you can’t hardly turn around in scripture without running into text that prove that – so focus at hammering away on the principle, and let the methods resolve themselves.
So, if you are fully convinced on an issue – that is a good thing. But if there is any occasion for troubling others for whom Christ died, then you should keep your convictions to yourself.
At the same time, know your own heart. There are many ways to steer a conversation into trouble without overt comments. “I don’t know why she got so defensive….all I said was…”
We have to pray for a love of peace, and strive for humility of mind, and we have to weight these things. We have to know that tithing mint and dill and cumin is a good thing – Jesus did not condemn that – being scrupulous in details is a good thing. Choosing your own methods is a good thing.
Going back to the birth control illustration, people may be quick to assume that an older family with only a couple kids – or maybe even no kids - had some conviction for a positive view of birth control and chose to only have a couple or none rather than allowing God to bless them with more. If you don’t mind your own business, or choose to assume the worst, you may say, “oh, she must be a liberal.”
That could be way off the mark – maybe that was all God gave them, and they wanted more, but did not have them. It could be that the husband has to comfort his wife nightly because she can’t have children, and then some busy body in church comes up to her in church and says “I can’t believe you and your husband aren’t having any children – are you a career women or what?”
The women barely makes it to the car before bursting into tears, and you, helpful Christian, chased her there.
It is amazing what we do to each other at times. We really need to stop and think before we speak. Are we speaking in love and humility? Do we seek to find the principles of the matter rather than focusing on the methods? Are we seeking to build one another up, or strike down?
In all instances, if we feel we must speak up, may we learn to think before we speak. May we always seek to use biblical wisdom and not be led by our own understanding. May we always seek to focus on the principles, and not the methods. And May we always strive to: Love one another with brotherly affection. [and] Outdo one another in showing honor. (Rom. 12:9-10 ESV)