How to Disagree Theologically


How well do you treat other Christians with whom you disagree theologically?

Here’s an example of how J. L. Reynolds, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, and stalwart defender of Baptist convictions, treated his disagreements with Presbyterians on a secondary matter like baptism. In the first paragraph, you’ll observe how strident his disagreement was at the level of principles. Then notice in the second paragraph how he talks about them personally:

The recognition of uncoverted persons [infants], as members of a Christian church, is an evil of no ordinary magnitude. It throws down the wall of partition which Christ himself has erected and obliterates the distinction between the church and the world….A Church that welcomes to the privileges of Christ’s house, the unconverted…in reality, betrays the citadel to his foes…They have mistaken a device of the enemy for the work of God. They hailed, as they thought, an angel of light; they have received Satan. I admire and love the many sincere and zealous Christians that are found in such Churches; but I fear that this Trojan horse will finally prove their ruin.

…I impeach no man’s motives; nor do I question the piety and sincerity of those of my Christian brethren who believe that this practice is sanctioned by the divine command. Many pedobaptists are among the lights and ornaments of the age; their ministry has been blessed of God to the extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and their Churches present numerous examples of pure and unaffected piety. Such men would not, knowingly, contravene the law of Christ. They would welcome the obloquy of the world, and even the agonies of martyrdom, in obedience to the command of their Lord and King, and rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake. It is impossible not to admire and love men whose faith and practice associate them with Baxter, Leighton, Edwards, and Martyn, and who breathe their heavenly spirit. While I think I see and regret their errors, I would gladly extend to them the same indulgences which I ask for my own. (J. L. Reynolds, “Church Polity or the Kingdom of Christ,” in Polity, edited by Mark Dever, 9Marks, 2001, p 327; originally published in 1847.)

He accuses them of practicing an evil of no ordinary magnitude, and then he calls them the lights and ornaments of the age. Deep conviction, deep charity.

What about us today? Do we forsake conviction for the sake of charity? If so, we ironically end up with neither. Shallow convictions, meager charity.

Or do we forsake charity pointing to our convictions? If so, you can assume your children will end up with neither.

Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan (@JonathanLeeman) edits the 9Marks series of books as well as the 9Marks Journal. He is also the author of several books on the church. Since his call to ministry, Jonathan has earned a master of divinity from Southern Seminary and a Ph.D. in Ecclesiology from the University of Wales. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Cheverly, Maryland, where he is an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church.

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