A friend sent me an email saying she’d started getting criticism from those in her blogging circles. The criticism? She was perceived as interacting too much with me on line. I was not proper company for her to keep. The doctrinal lines were being drawn.
I’ve heard this before from people trying to tell me who to interact with. Sometimes people tell me to be careful of who I hang out with and sometimes they tell me my friends are bad people because of their doctrine. The criticisms can come from someone being Complementarian, Egalitarian, Young Earth Creationist, Old Earth Creationist, Evolutionist, Calvinist, Arminian, Pentecostal, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or any other matter of doctrine.
This happens in non-church circles too, of course. There the criticisms can focus on political matters – too conservative, liberal or libertarian – or they can relate to social issues – capitalist, communist, environmentalist, gun rights advocate, home schooling and more.
Then there are the criticisms that cross over both secular and religious issues, such as drinking. Go out for drinks with a friend and you can get ostracized in some circles, yet if you refuse to associate with those same friends you’re likely to find you get judged for that too.
Jesus faced the same criticisms.
Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (Luke 7:31-34.)
Jesus got called out for being with the wrong people. Then again, his cousin John was called out for not doing the things Jesus was accused of doing. Jesus’ accusers included the Pharisees, who thought they were above both Jesus and John. Yet Jesus welcomed a Pharisee to come to him (Nicodemus in John 3), and someone from the opposite party – a Zealot – as well. (Simon, noted in Mark 3:18.)
There was no satisfying some people.
Matters of Fellowship
Being a Pharisee or a Zealot did not disqualify someone from fellowship with Jesus. And as much as I might disagree with someone’s doctrinal stance, if they belong to Jesus then I am in fellowship with them as well.
This doesn’t mean ignoring doctrinal issues. I am in agreement with the creeds of the early church which correctly summarize Scripture and have guided us through the centuries. But a disagreement over doctrine does not draw a line that puts one Christian inside the kingdom of God and another outside.
This is the mark of a believer in Jesus:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9.)
Connections among those who belong to Jesus go deeper than merely coming to agreement over whether it’s best to be Calvinist, Arminian, Catholic or another gathering of Christian thought. Or whether to baptize infants. Or whether the communion bread and cup represent the body and blood of Christ or are transformed into those elements. Or whether to hold egalitarian or complementarian views (the particular dividing point that led people to criticize my friend according to the email she sent me). *
When it comes to deciding who has it right, I like the way Paul put it when writing to his friends in Philippi:
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:15-16.)
Paul did not reject those who held other views. Instead he had confidence God would bring everyone into agreement eventually. In the meantime Paul knew the important thing was to work together, living up to what God had already accomplished in their lives and moving forward from there.
Don’t let anyone’s criticism keep you from being in fellowship with someone else in the kingdom of God. Whether the fellowship takes the form of robust engagement over doctrinal issues with a friend, or caring compassion as you come alongside a person in need, or any other way God would have you interact within his kingdom, remember that it all is just that: within God’s kingdom.
Some might be tempted to use the comment section to argue the doctrinal issues I’ve mentioned, such as infant baptism or whether communion is merely symbolic of Jesus’ body and blood. Please resist the temptation, and instead discuss ways to engage in true fellowship with those who hold differing views.