In 2 Timothy 4:3, Paul urged believers to be wary of false teachers, but how are we to know which teachings are true and which are not? How should we approach disagreements with our brothers and sisters in Christ?
The first step in guarding against false teachings is recognizing the distinction between Scriptural truths and church tradition. Just because something has been practiced by the church for a long time does not mean it is inherently true.
First, it is of value to start from a place of common ground. All believers should hold to certain doctrines that pertain to salvation, but this may not be the case for everyone.
“Protestants of all types view Scripture as higher authority than anything else,” Greg Hobaugh, Lecturer in Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, said.
As believers, it is crucial to verify that what is being taught is from Scripture and not from man or tradition alone.
In Acts 17:11, the Bereans are commended not only for hearing the words Paul preached but also for verifying their truthfulness by comparing them with Scripture.
One example of tradition superseding Scripture is in the way priests function in the Catholic Church.
Priests act as intermediaries to God for confession of sins and have historically been required to be celibate.
1 Timothy and Hebrews states that Jesus is our only mediator;his sacrifice has abolished our need for the old covenant and has replaced it with the new covenant sealed in his blood. There is no need for priestly mediation now that the old priesthood and physical sacrifice have been replaced by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Confession of sins to one another can be beneficial, but the distinction is that it is good to do but not necessary as a sacrament, as some believe.
1 Timothy 3 lists qualifications for leaders in the church, and being faithful to their wives is one of the first requirements noted. This clearly does not point to an obligation for leaders in the church to remain celibate.
This is not to say that every disagreement is based on tradition alone. Many squabbles in the church take place over issues known as peripheral doctrines. In regard to these issues, one must practice tact and discernment.
In Christian circles, especially those in which members have matured greatly in their understanding of Scripture, there seems to be much debate over minor doctrinal differences.
“What I would do is ask the why question,” Jenny Collins, Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies at Taylor University at Taylor University, said. “Ask open-ended questions just to learn.”
Without understanding why someone disagrees, it is difficult to engage in meaningful conversation. Ultimately, there are going to be some issues that will never be fully resolved because of there being enough biblical evidence to support both interpretations of Scripture.
This, however, should not dissuade us from seeking truth and deeper understanding of the Word.
“We need to be clear on what scripture says for how someone is saved by God,” Collins said. ” Do not just avoid disagreement but be humble. The more you study the word the more you’ll realize how much you have wrong.”
Approaching these issues with humility is key. There are times you will be right and times you will be wrong. What matters most is treating others with grace and dignity while also holding fast to the truth of God’s saving grace through the sacrifice of his Son.
“Trying to draw lines on who is in and who is out is risky, because we do not know the heart the way God does,” said Collins.
Finally, it is important to remember the words of Romans 11:33-36:
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?’ For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”