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July - August 2000 The Sabbath Sentinel

Editoral . . .

WHY Can't We All Get Along?

Royce Mitchell, Jr.

It's been over eight years now. We all remember the horrible scenes: there was looting; rioting engulfed a large portion of south Los Angeles; fires wreaked havoc in many lives; news video showed episode after episode of man's capability for directing senseless, mind-numbing violence at his fellow man. The area was a war zone and in the end, everyone involved lost. Even a man who had taken a savage beating at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department a year earlier, Rodney King, was brought out to plead with us in a cry that has now become famous: "Can't we all just get along?"

What about that? Can't we all just get along? A better question might be,"Why can't we all get along?" We can find the truth of the answer to this lying deeply embedded in what we are; our solution lies in recognizing the source of our motivation.

It is within our nature to want to be right all the time. We don't typically desire to be wrong. The need to be right at all times is inherent; while this is not necessarily a bad thing -- still what comes from that desire that can be a problem. How we deal with the situations where we are wrong, or where another points out our error, will often illustrate our human nature, or it can demonstrate the nature of God growing within us. The choice is ours.

In James 4 we find some scriptures that describe tendencies which we normally associate with the world's violent, non-Christians. We are right to associate such predispositions with the drives of those who are unconverted -- yet, we miss an extremely powerful point if we only apply these solely to those who don't know God. These scriptures, found in James 4:10-12, state: "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?" (KJV).

A profound insight is hidden in these verses for us to dig out, if we have the desire to do so. The point is that earlier in the chapter are discussed wars, fightings, lusts and other carnal actions, and then these verses go on to use the word "brethren" in the context -- and, they accuse those of us who speak evil of our brethren of being judges of the law, a position occupied by the "lawgiver." There can be no argument as to who the Lawgiver is; putting ourselves in His place is a grave error: it is to put ourselves in the same category as Satan, who also sought to put himself in the place of God.

Our desire to be right manifest itself in a twofold problematic manner. First, there is the defensive position taken when a supposed error in our beliefs is pointed out to us. It doesn't matter if the other was actually trying to point out an error or not; it only matters that someone is making a point that directly conflicts with what we choose to believe. As a result, we react in a manner that indicates our displeasure with the other: we become argumentative and assertive, sometimes even to the point of arrogance and rudeness. Has this ever happened to any of us? Speaking for myself, I know it has happened to me!

Some time ago a good friend tried to point out to me that a belief that I held was indicative of the Nicolaitans spoken of in the Book of Revelation. My first reaction was to quote the many scriptures that upheld my own position, and to discount immediately anything else this brother had to say. But, was that how the situation should have been handled? Did I need to degrade the situation to an argument between brothers- or, was there a better way?

Happily, there was a better way! It was sad that I had allowed a conversation get out of hand and abused a friend -- but it ended happily because I did learn something about a personal belief and a bad attitude harbored within me. I had allowed my beliefs to become the sacred cow and forgotten that gaining true understanding was more important.

How then should I have handled the situation? At the BSA, and within the pages of TSS, we promote the concept that there can be and should be cooperation between the various children God has called. Cooperation only comes by understanding. When I allowed the situation to degenerate into an argument, with accusations that questioned the conversion of my brother, I lost for the moment the opportunity to allow my brother to teach me, and I him. I lost the opportunity to demonstrate any wisdom that God had given me. Instead of working through the important point we were discussing, I became the issue.

Since that time, God has granted repentance, and bible study has brought greater understanding. Indeed, to my shame -- and joy, my brother was right! But, even if he had been wrong, it was still his belief, and a deeply held one. No spirit of cooperation was engendered by my rigid refusal to let the different belief go, and to work within the similarities that the two of us held. No sharing of insight was accomplished, no growth in love developed -- until, in personal humility, God's character prevailed.

This scenario is not uncommon amongst us who call ourselves true Christians. How often does someone with a different belief say something to us that we believe ought to be challenged because it does not gel with a belief that we hold? Unfortunately, it happens all too regularly -- and this happens to be one reason why we do not have cooperation among the people of God: people who ought to be the most cooperative of all mankind. How often do we jump to a blind challenge, instead of taking the time to hear what is being proffered? Again, all too regularly it seems.

The second way this problem manifests itself is through a desire to convert others to our way of thinking. This time, instead of assuming a defensive posture, we take the offensive. Our assumption becomes that the other, who doesn't believe as we do, is in error -- and it should be our mission in life (our "Mission From God") to correct these brethren. If they are offended, then they are offended at the real truth. If we understand it, then it must be truth, and anything anyone else understands differently must be error -- therefore, we must correct them since their eternal life is in jeopardy!

What usually happens is that, instead of the idea we were trying to convey, we once again become the issue. In our brusqueness, we attempt to shove our understanding down the throat of "the unbeliever," who likewise believes that he or she is right. Again, an argument often ensues, and no point is made or remembered.

Yet, what has the Word of God to say? Romans 11:32: "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all." (KJV). Another appropriate scripture might be Philippians 2:12: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (KJV). As a shoal of fish in a net, we are all concluded in unbelief -- and unbelief comes from ignorance (unintentional or willful).

Is there a scripture that deals with disagreements between brethren? An obvious example is that of Abraham and Lot: when the herdsmen quarrelled, it became apparent that there was not room enough for both groups to live in close proximity; the obvious solution was to haggle back and forth, or for Abraham to insist on his right as the elder -- but, Abraham recognized a greater issue was at stake than who would get the prime watering holes! At stake was his relationship with his nephew (a future brother in Christ) and with his Creator. What was Abraham's response?

We find it in Genesis 13:8-9: "And Abram said unto Lot, 'Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left." (KJV). Abram, as he was still named at this point, did not insist on his way being right. Indeed, he apparently did not even propose any solution except to let Lot choose. Can we adopt such an attitude when our belief or opinion differs from our brother?

I believe we can. However, we have to realize a few things about ourselves before we can. The first thing to be conscious of is that we do not understand all things perfectly. Our understanding is at best imperfect, and is possibly in outright error.

When we come to this realization, two things happen. First, we are not offended because we don't have to be right on all things. Secondly, we are not so quick to dogmatically pontificate on our real truth, because we comprehend the possibility that we may actually not have it right. Indeed, we are charged with rightly dividing the word of truth -- but, that right division is for ourselves -- not for others, who are likewise charged with the same responsibility for themselves.

What then do we do when we disagree with another about sections of scripture? As an example: one brother believes the Feast Days of Leviticus 23 are to be kept by the Church today, while another does not. Both have scriptures to support their views. Is one an infidel? Is one a sinner and a nonbeliever? Is one looking to works for salvation instead of faith?

These are good questions -- but they are not the most important ones: they are not salvational issues! Perhaps they are not even relevant questions at all. There are some though... Isn't it more important to know whether or not we believe and keep the commandments of God? Shouldn't we be more concerned with believing that Jesus Christ came in the flesh and died for our sins? Aren't our common salvational beliefs more important than our non-salvational differences?

Isn't it far more important to realize that we are dealing with a brother and a fellow heir, and to act accordingly? Isn't what we Sabbatarians have in common far greater than the minor doctrinal differences that separate us? Which of us has been imbued with all knowledge and understanding so that we know the whole and absolute truth?

Perhaps another illustration will drive home the point. Which of us believes exactly as he or she did on the day of our conversion? That is, were our beliefs and understanding complete on that day -- plain or, have we grown in understanding since then? Have we come to see that some scriptures do not mean what we thought that they meant? Consider another scripture; 2 Peter 3:18: "But growin grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (KJV).

Why this admonition to the Church if they were given all understanding upon their conversion? Why do we need to GROW in knowledge if we have it all right now? This may be a hard concept to grasp for some, but we can be in error on what we believe! It doesn't matter if we proved a matter to our satisfaction 25 years ago. If we have the same belief, but can not articulate the scriptures, and the meanings of the Greek or Hebrew words associated with them, or explain how another scripture of the inerrant word of God doesn't counter what we believe, our belief may be wrong!

If wrong, who are we to attempt to foist our particular perspective on another. If our concepts are wrong, why are we defensive of them, rather than researching and proving them again? What does scripture say about this? Notice 1 Thessalonians 5:21, where it says, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (KJV).

Still, there is something that is not said in this verse which is just as important as what is being said. Can we see it? There is a word missing there! It does not say "Prove all things ONCE!"

With the word of God, proof is a lifelong adventure. We do not absorb it upon conversion -- that is why we are admonished to GROW in grace and knowledge. That is why we understand so many things differently than we did upon conversion.

What did Paul say? In 1 Corinthians 13:11-13 we find wonderful insight: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (KJV).

What marvelous insight is contained in these few words! Paul grew and understood differently as he aged. Was he referring to the difference between his understanding before his encounter on the road to Damascus and after? And notice one more thing -- he admits that NOW he knows IN PART! If, when he wrote the message to the Corinthians, he understood that he did not know all things, how much more should we be willing to admit that we don't know all things?

Let us ask ourselves some questions...is it possible that our brothers could be right about some point of contention? Do we spend any time in trying to understand why they believe as they do? Can we be right, but in a wrong attitude? Is it conceivable that all sides are wrong and that the truth remains unseen due to our hard heads and hearts? Could we have two different pieces of the right puzzle, and require communication and cooperation to put them together in order to see the big picture? There is much that we can still learn from each other, and that it is only the evil effects of our desire to be right that prevent our hearing out our brother?

So, as it was written so long ago, men and brethren, what shall we do? ... The first thing is to recognize our own sin -- the sin of discounting our brother, which most certainly must fall under the command not to murder (to love your neighbor as yourself). On repentance, we certainly must then accord our brethren the place of honor that God has given them, as His children, and coheirs with Christ. Anything less demeans them, and dishonors our Father.

Does that mean that we must all come into agreement on all issues of doctrine? A look at the book of Acts clearly shows that such agreement did not happen in the church -- only one generation removed from Christ's physical presence. It is therefore not going to happen now! What remains is for us to keep our carnality under control, to recognize that we don't have all the answers, that the answers that we think we have could be wrong and that it is not a problem for us to be wrong -- as long as we study the scripture and are attempting to follow it as we understand it. One final scripture would bring home this point clearly. It is found in Romans 14:22-23: "Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (KJV).

We must do what is right as we read it in scripture. It is vital that scripture (as discerned by God's Holy Spirit) be our sole source of guidance in all things spiritual. This includes how we deal with each other, as well as what we believe and practice: we ought to be able to hear the beliefs of another and not be threatened by them; likewise we should be able to convey our own beliefs without a misplaced evangelistic fervor. If we can do these things, we will be able to bring about the cooperation that God and Christ desire among us -- to get His purpose in us, and those around us, accomplished.

We have a purpose for which we have been placed on this earth. God has given us certain tasks to perform. One of them is to witness to the world concerning His coming Kingdom. That witness is best done through our example, by being ready to give an answer of the hope that lies within us.

Furthermore, God purposes to prepare us to reign as Kings and Priests with Christ. Kings do not roast and carve each other up, for surely a war would result. Yet, war is what we have had. We have been so consistent in defense of our own brand of Sabbatarianism that we forgotten God's brand, which is the seal that is supposed to be on our true Christian foreheads!

We have been straining at gnats and swallowing camels; the time has come for us to recognize what we are doing, and to use that precious gift of God's Holy Spirit to change what we are into what we are supposed to be. (What better place is there to begin than in our own house?) The world around us is indeed a horrible and evil place to be -(even on its best day, and in the best place on earth); but even those who are not among us recognize the value in peace, and that is what we are discussing here.

Rodney King's question is of primary importance to us. Even he wondered at the human state when asking the rioters if they couldn't just get along. If he can have the insight to ask such a profound question, can't we? And if we can ask, can't we also provide the answer? After all, we do have the Word to guide us!

Doctrine is important. Understanding is important. Actions are important. Yet, what is more important to God? Clearly, the accomplishing of His will in all of us is the most important to Him. ...Without leaving any of these things unconsidered -- we, nevertheless, ought to be formost concerned that God values "what we are" (character wise) over "what we know" (dogma wise). It is high time we look at ourselves and effect the changes required of us.

Let's do what we know is right -- what we read in His Word that we should do; but, let us also recognize that we don't know it all, and accord our brethren the dignity and respect due them as Children of God and coheirs of the promises. We can all get along. It is time we did.

The Conference in Tulsa that has been advertised in TSS for the past few issues will be taking place in the end of July. These are brethren who are endeavoring to find a way to bring cooperation among different organizations to accomplish a powerful preaching of the Gospel message to the world. We all understand that this world desperately needs to know that a time is coming when children will once again be able to play in the streets, and the elderly can enjoy watching them in safety. They need to know that the cruelty that we see around us every day will be brought to an end by the One who has the power to do so. We ask that you remember them in your prayers -- that you would ask God to move His Spirit in their hearts to set aside personalities, and to do His will. With God's help, they will.


July - August 2000 The Sabbath Sentinel