Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I thought a reminder via a post written originally five years ago might be in order.

What do you do when there is disagreement in doctrine between people on the same staff?

I'm not speaking of disagreement over essentials that have to do with those things necessary for salvation or eternity to be assured. These certainly include things like knowing how sinful I am [repentance] and resting in how much Jesus loves me and was willing to die in my place and, in light of who He is, believing that completed what was necessary to deal with my sin as evidenced by an empty tomb. [Faith] Things like this are essential for redemption and eternity and are not up for rejection.

I'm speaking of the non-essentials. By using 'non-essentials' I'm not saying unimportant things, just things not necessary for salvation to be experienced. These might include whether Adam was Federal head and I was present in him when the fall happened or whether I'm lost by my own choice or any combination thereof. Whether Jesus was Impeccable or could have sinned when tempted. Whether election is God choosing me before time because He determined to, or, seeing I would choose Him, chose me because of that foreknowledge. Whether repentance and faith are my responses alone or whether I can repent and believe only because the Holy Spirit has worked regeneration already in me and repentance and faith are the evidences of new birth rather than the causes of new birth.

I have my own understanding of all these. I lean toward [in fact I embrace] God having worked by His Grace and any abilities toward spiritual things are the result of His Grace being experienced not the cause. But my point is...I came to all this understanding after I became a believer... not before.

However, the unique situation of which I speak is when there are two guys/gals on the same staff who disagree over those non-essentials. How do you work together with integrity with differences? It has happened ...to me...several times on several staffs. I developed a certain way [method] of handling it. My way is not sacred and maybe not even the best way. But it is my way and I'll share it for what it's worth.

Two things, I believe, are important to remember. 

One is each staff person must be free to investigate and research scripture to grow personally in their understanding of the nuances of doctrine without fear AND to teach their understanding. 

An example...an Education minister on my staff had a different view of divorce and remarriage than mine. I asked him to preach in my absence. We were at a particular place in Matthew where divorce was being addressed. So I asked him to deal with that passage if he would. He was perplexed and even concerned. He saw it differently than did I. "How can I do the that? " was his question. I said, "You teach how you see it and be honest enough to mention that I [Bro. Paul] sees it a bit differently, but we respect each other as brothers in the Lord." Then I suggested he encourage the people to search on their own. He did and they did.

Interestingly, twenty-five years later, I hold now the position he held then, not because the text has changed, but because my understanding has changed as I've studied. That's one of the two important things I wish to mention. We were both free to search and share our understanding of truth without fear.

The second is when, for whatever reason, it is good to agree as a staff on a non-essential as a standard for the staff, knowing some one will have to adjust to something he/she doesn't hold to personally, be willing to do it for practical reasons.

 An example...I pastored a church near a University where drinking was a problem on campus. We chose as a staff to agree that abstinence would be our [the staff] standard. This was not based on agreement on the text of scripture because there were differences of opinion about that. 

[I don't personally hold to the view that total abstinence is taught in the text of scripture as the biblical standard by the way. However, drunkenness IS forbidden in scripture.] 

But by mutual consent we felt it was best for us as a staff to practice abstinence while on that staff in order to more effectively minister to those students. [It was the Romans 14:13-15 principle.] A couple of people had to defer [myself included] and abstinence was our practical policy while on staff there. 

This was shared with our church. We had no established church policy in regards to abstinence as we had developed our own church covenant and that particular non-essential was not an issue. It was shared for information only. But the congregation learned and was encouraged as they saw the method we followed to come to our agreement on what was best when good people stood on different sides of theological issues that are not essential to salvation and eternity.

I could give a multitude of other examples but post length will not permit.

My bottomline in all this is multiple...

1. People differ on non-essentials.
2. People who differ can work together.
3. No one should have to be quiet about their differences.
4. Respect for another's position is important.
5. When a policy is decided upon because it is best for the work... don't make the basis for it scriptural if there are good people on both sides of the issue theologically. Make it what it is...practical and good for the work.
6. Real unity is based on at least these factors...
      a) Agreement on the essentials...
      b) A right spirit/attitude toward people who differ on everything else...
      c) A willingness to have ALL share their views and, when necessary, choose a path that is best for the work by mutual agreement with all being heard and respected.

I think this might be good for a family or a congregation as well as a staff.

I also do not believe this negates teaching the whole counsel of God authoritatively. I happen to believe in authority coming from the annointing of the Holy Spirit rather than a position because I take seriously the command to not Lord it over the flock. 

But, as I said, this practical approach is not sacred [though undergirded by biblical principles] nor perhaps even the best way, but it is mine...and God has, by His grace, blessed it.

Paul B


Bob Cleveland said...

Good post.

It just seems to me that, when folks are upset with those who disagree with them, as you have described in the post, one of two things must be true:

1) They are not strong in their convictions and the convictions of others intimidate them, making them feel they might be wrong. So the defensive armor goes up and the swords comes out. Or...

2) They think everyone has to agree with them.

Either case seems, to me, to reflect Spiritual immaturity.

And, once again, Word Verification has done it: "modero"


Bob Cleveland said...

Oh, and as respects Jesus and his "ability to sin", I always think of this:

I am not the least but tempted to leap the Grand Canyon. Poses no threat to me at all. I simply cannot do that. So .. for something to tempt me, it must be something I can actually do.

The temptation to do something Jesus could not have done would not have been temptation at all.

Paul Burleson said...


Good comment.

Some people would argue that the temptation was a testing to show He wouldn't rather than an enticement to commit sin which comes from the fallen nature within.

I've heard it said that it's much like a designer of a train bridge who has it tested with it's first train. From the viewpoint of the observers it is to show whether or not it will hold it. From the viewpoint of the builder it's to reveal what he already knew. It will not fail to hold because of the way he built it.

This is all good for discussion but we don't separate over them do we! There is a reason they are called non-essentials. As I said, good comment.

Aussie John said...


That IS good! I've always had to laugh (I'd have probably cried otherwise)at those who understand that there are no infallible human beings on this earth, but live and act as if they are, especially in the pulpit.

You said, "Then I suggested he encourage the people to search on their own. He did and they did."

"We were both free to search and share our understanding of truth without fear."

Those two sentences sum up everything else, and embrace your six points.

Throughout my ministry there was one thing I sought to impress on congregations to whom I was privileged to speak, and teach:
I was not a fount of knowledge regarding the teaching of Scripture,and how to apply it to life, the Holy Spirit is, and each of those hearing my words or reading what I wrote, is responsible before God to "receive the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so".

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

IMHO. this...

"Throughout my ministry there was one thing I sought to impress on congregations to whom I was privileged to speak, and teach: I was not a fount of knowledge regarding the teaching of Scripture,and how to apply it to life, the Holy Spirit is, and each of those hearing my words or reading what I wrote, is responsible before God to "receive the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so"...

..is worthy of a blog post of it's own.

Anonymous said...

Someone said the goal of a preacher is to inspire people to do what the Holy Spirit has already taught them.

Paul Burleson said...


Good comment.

I don't know that I would say authoritatively that it is, in fact, THE goal of a preacher, but it sure is a good goal for any one who does preach or teach. Thanks.

Dennis R. Boren said...

Bro. Paul:

As you know, since you were my pastor (and the most influential), I grew up in the SBC, but most of my adult life has been in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which subscribes to the Westminster Confession of Faith. So, our church officers (Elders and Deacons) must be in agreement with the Westminster Standards, but in recognition that it is NOT Scripture and thus subject to error. Yet, church members do NOT take any vows regarding the Westminster Standards. As you described, a credible profession of faith and an understanding of the core of the gospel is all that's necessary. So, church polity and whether the church is founded upon a foundational creed or not makes a difference. I agree that we must be tolerant of those in the congregation who are at different points of understanding, but I'm reluctant in giving a green light to opposing views being preached if they have are core issues. I consider all things regarding Soteriology as core. Yet, eschatology - that's open season. That's my view, but as you have said here, we must be sweet to those who hold other views lest we one day hold those views ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I believe your statement, “They think everyone has to agree with them”, describes the modern day Fundamentalist that’s in control of the SBC.

When they took control their first president (who was a great preacher) said, “If we say pickles have souls; then pickles have souls.”

Their job was to assist missionaries, but they made them employees. Their dominance was shown by demanding their employees sign their BFM 2000.

They made this man-made paper higher than the Bible by proclaiming it is our “doctrinal guideline”.

I believe this ‘top-down rule’ attitude started with their hero W. A. Criswell who proclaimed the pastor is the ruler of the church.

He was close to imitating the first bishop of Antioch, Ignatius, who said “Look upon the bishop even as we would the Lord Himself.”

If we don’t learn from history how early Christians became Catholic, we are bound to repeat it. I believe the SBC is off to a good start.

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks for the comment and for stopping by the blog.

Just for anyone who reads who might not understand our frame of reference, I'll give a list of phrases we use to define certain doctrines.

Paterology - the study of God the Father.

Christology - the study of the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

Pneumatology - the study of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit.

Bibliology - the study of the Bible.

Christian Anthropology - the study of the nature of humanity.

Hamartiology - the study of the nature and effects of sin.

Angelology - the study of angels.

Christian Demonology - the study of demons.

Ecclesiology - the study of the nature and mission of the church.

Eschatology - the study of the end times / last days.

A fellowship [in my congregational background] would need to address these to determine the essentials and non-essentials. Southern Baptists have developed something of a three tier approach of late.

Tier one--Essentials [Those things relating to the person and work of Christ and salvation. But this would include some aspects of several doctrines as well.]

Tier two--Baptist essentials [Those things relating to aspects of doctrine that make us uniquely Baptist such as eternal security. These might include some things from several of the areas of doctrine as well.]

Tier three--Non-essentials [The rest of the things that might be found in several areas of doctrine.]

The freedom to teach our unique views on the non-essentials is worth the effort of a congregation dealing with each tier carefully, [if one cares to embrace that idea] as is the need to be very, very careful to never loose the essentials that are important as well.

Being as "wise as serpents and as harmless as doves" is an apt metaphor our Lord used for describing the attitude of christians in all of life as we live in relationship with one another isn't it! This is true especially in congregational life.

Paul Burleson said...


I'm thinking, unfortunately, that your evaluation of much of the present day SBC leadership may be correct. I'm not sure everyone would agree with you and me on that but, there we are!

I think it's part of the Priesthood of the believer to be able to express it and part of the reality of our life in Christ to do so with heartbreak instead of rancor. You've done both, it seems to me, and I join you.

Aussie John said...


But for the names mentioned, Rex's words apply to the Aussie Baptist scene as well.

Many in denominational leadership took upon themselves a pope-like mantle.

The church, which my wife and I joined, and which claimed to trust the Scriptures as their rule for faith and practice, became dependent on the rule of men, even to the appointment in the 70's of Regional Superintendents, who were in fact, bishops, who many times over-ruled congregational decisions, even regarding the calling of pastors.

Anonymous said...

Aussie John,
Your “pope-like mantle” is very descriptive of the attitude I heard of a longtime missionary in Australia.

He said, “When new missionaries complain, I tell them if they don’t like the way we do things; leave.”

He was ‘visiting’ our deacon bylaws meeting and told us he had lots of experience in bylaws.

Before the meeting was over, he had his finger in my face giving me the same advice he gave new missionaries.

Anonymous said...

I told him I was glad his finger wasn't a gun.

Anonymous said...

Paul and Aussie John,
Just read:

The article reads in part:

“The principal of the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zimbabwe has been fired for refusing to accept changes made to the school’s governing documents including adherence to a Southern Baptist Convention faith statement that forbids women from serving as pastors.

A new seminary charter, drafted without input from Mugabe, requires all academic staff to subscribe to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message upheld by the Baptist Convention of Zimbabwe, IMB and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Another issue, they say, is to guarantee that the Baptist Seminary of Zimbabwe shares theology with the SBC, including an article in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message that dictates “while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.””

I don’t know if the new president of the IMB, Tom Eliff, had anything to do with the above, but as exiting president of the SBC he told the new president, Paige Patterson, “All barnacles and parasites had been removed from the ship of Zion.”

This year when Eliff became President of the IMB, I predicted more would be fired.

BTW, thousand of miles away from this, our bylaws rejected a first draft that said:
“while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” which I believe was in keeping with the church being told we would be led to accept the BFM 2000.