Why doesn’t CMI take a position on … ?
The rationale behind CMI’s focus
Published: 27 December 2011 (GMT+10)
CMI fans (and even opponents) are sometimes keen for CMI to take a ministry position on their own favorite topic. But like most organizations, Creation Ministries International (CMI) has a special focus. Especially because it is not a church but rather a parachurch organization, its purpose isn’t to address, or have an official position on, every possible issue having to do with biblical Christianity.1 While CMI exists to uphold Scripture’s authority on all things of which it speaks, its specialty—or ‘focus’—is the issue of Creation by the Triune God as opposed to evolution, and that from a scientific perspective as well as a biblical one.
Our final authority
Of course, for an organization with a primary goal of upholding the authority of Scripture, claims of ‘special revelation’, ‘personal experience’, ‘the Spirit led me’, or ‘God told me’ to believe such and such are rightly dismissed in favor of what Scripture clearly (or even less clearly) teaches—especially when such revelations contradict Scripture. A good rule of thumb is: “Don’t tell me you’ve ‘had a special revelation’ or that ‘the Spirit convinced’ you of a doctrinal position. Instead, tell me where in Scripture you read it or how you logically deduced it from Scripture. Otherwise I’m not interested.”
But even where a specific doctrine is dealt with in Scripture, debates on such may not be suitable for CMI articles, creation talks or Q&A times, or discussion threads on CMI’s Facebook page about those articles. As with a political party or any other large group of people, the entire collection of opinions on every issue will differ from person to person within the organization. A larger and stronger stand on the major issues is easier when 100% agreement isn’t required on every minor issue as well. And while all biblical doctrines have obviously been deemed important enough by the Holy Spirit to be included in Scripture, there remain more important truths and less important truths.
CMI has also pointed out that debates on many other subjects, such as the Millennium, mode and subject of baptism, Sabbath observance, etc., are over what Scripture says, presupposing that it’s the final authority. But the debate over Creation concerns whether Scripture or ‘science’ is the authority regarding Earth history (see End-times and Early-times).
Major doctrines and minor doctrines
But is that to imply there are no ‘correct’ positions? Not necessarily. The point is that many doctrines are relatively unimportant when compared to the essential doctrines—those that are basic beliefs before one might properly even be considered a Christian. Nor do such passages rule out ‘in-between’ doctrines as CMI would see them, doctrines that are important but not essential: issues like Creation vs. evolution, the extent of the Noachian Flood, and the existence (or not) of extraterrestrial life.
Naturally, there have to be some beliefs in common to even build a ministry around. It would be ridiculous for CMI’s CMI’s Statement of Faith to be nothing but ‘We believe in Creation’, since this could include adherents to almost any religion—even atheism (if only those adherents who accept the ‘creation’ of life by extraterrestrials) and polytheism. Here, an obvious consideration comes into play: If agreement on the issue of Creation is important, how much more the deity of Christ and other essentials of the Gospel? Thus, these are included in CMI’s Statement of Faith as well.
Of course, once it’s allowed that salvation isn’t dependent on one’s rejection of evolution (see Can Christians believe evolution?), it’s hardly appropriate to consider the lesser issues of one’s views on tithing, the acceptability of alcohol consumption, or capital punishment as important enough to establish battle lines (let alone determine one’s salvation).
Effective battle strategy
Even on scientific issues outside of Scripture, there’s wisdom in limiting the number of battles to be fought. Some Facebook commenters have gone so far as to accuse CMI staff of being unsaved because they don’t agree with their own strange and confused understanding of relativity (which they could not even articulate coherently enough that anyone else could agree or disagree) or because the Facebook moderators wouldn’t allow their own bizarre sidetracks to set the course of the discussion. As CMI has mentioned, there’s little point in adding to their battles, by joining disagreements on widely accepted and well-attested principles such as relativity (and quantum mechanics and natural selection). It is folly to try to fight a battle on too many fronts. Also, why not build arguments for Creation on ideas that creationists and evolutionists both accept? In the eyes of at least some evolutionists, that would increase the credibility of a creationist’s perspective (and scientific training as well). In the same way that a skilled Christian theologian would use the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own (corrupted) version of the Bible (New World Translation) to convince them of the deity of Christ and His co-equality with the Father, so are Creation scientists wise not to disagree on more subjects than necessary when arguing for Creation. Remember how Paul argued with the Athenians on Mars Hill, and started by appealing to their “unknown god” (Acts 17:22–31)?
To require agreement even on every single biblical issue, though, is to inevitably break down the organization into smaller groups and, ultimately, to individuals—as it’s unlikely that, even among Christians, there will be agreement on every single issue. Is it really worth it to lose valuable allies on Creation as opposed to evolution because of a difference on gun control, speaking in tongues, or the timing of the Rapture? Certainly, those issues can be debated and discussed elsewhere, whether on other discussion websites or in Bible study groups, etc.
But when someone insists that everyone, including CMI or one of its representatives, take an official position on the proper form of baptism, for example, to avoid the commenter’s own accusations of being ‘unbiblical’, one wonders what he’ll do when he realizes that he’s suddenly acquired a vast number of new allies on that issue which includes an even larger number of people who disagree on the Creation issue? One doesn’t build a strong alliance by insisting on agreement on minor issues and hoping to retain agreement on the major ones at the same time. Much wiser is the ‘top-down’ strategy, i.e., to recruit those who agree on the major issues while leaving individuals free to decide for themselves on the minor ones, or at least free to save them for other discussions, in other venues, or for person-to-person conversations.
If 100% agreement on every single issue were a requirement for any functional alliance, there would be zero partnerships, zero alliances—even zero marriages—and as many church denominations as there are Christians. Paul himself made clear that not every minor issue needs to be agreed upon for there to be fellowship among Christians on the essential issues. In Romans 14:5–7, he says,
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.
Ironically—at least to those pushing agreement on every single issue—Paul doesn’t bother to identify ‘the correct view’ even on the issues he brings up in this passage! That should tell us something about insisting on absolute conformity on minor issues.
One Body of Christ, many parts, different gifts
Apart from the importance of some issues over others, there’s a certain practicality in limiting the number of issues to be addressed. Even regarding good and important issues—as well as actions—there is no necessary mix-up in priorities to focus on one or a few of them, as some have suggested when complaining that we should ‘quit worrying about Creation and deal with the more important issues like feeding the hungry and preaching the gospel’. Rather, that complaint merely demonstrates the ‘either/or’ (false dilemma) fallacy, i.e., the idea that only one or the other can be done, when there are really three possibilities—doing one, doing the other, or doing both (or four possibilities, if you count doing neither). See also Is charity more important than apologetics?
Doing one does not prevent doing the other; and who’s to say that the staff of CMI or other groups aren’t doing both, whether as an organization or as individuals? If ‘spreading the gospel’ is the highest priority, does that mean every person within the Body of Christ should be a preacher and evangelist? If so, who would perform the various other tasks of the church? And would that mean Christians could never work in secular fields like farming, repairing computers, or construction work? One of many good things to come out of the Reformation was valuing ‘secular’ work as honorable and serving the Lord.
While the disciples gave priority to ‘the ministry of the word of God’ in Acts 6:1–3, they didn’t dismiss the need to provide food to the widows (‘wait[ing] on tables’) but assigned others to perform that task—so that both could be done. Each person (or, in some cases, each group of people) has his part in the Body of Christ, which is a biblical description of the entire number of Christians within the church. If the ‘Body of Christ’ imagery applied to every person or group within the church rather than the whole, there would hardly be a need for the entire group to be considered such.
Ironically, the complaint about priorities often seems to assume that spending any time at all on one matter leaves no time for anything else. Yet the complaint is often directed at one good work as compared to another. We rarely hear it when it’s a matter of leisure activities versus godly endeavors: Why is it that it’s never directed toward the Christian as he’s shopping, going to a movie, or taking a hike in the mountains? Why is the ‘conflict’ perceived only when it’s regarding one good thing versus another good thing, and never when it’s a good thing versus a neutral thing?
It’s doctrinal issues, though, that some seem particularly bothered by: They’re especially upset that CMI won’t take an official position on this particular issue or that. But as CMI has stated more than once, there’s wisdom in not trying to fight a battle on too many fronts and in choosing which battles to fight. It would certainly seem unwise, then, to devote unnecessary time on and divert energy to debates on minor issues. The more urgent need—concerning the root problem rather than the symptoms—is to convince others of the authority of Scripture. Thereby the seed of proper decision-making and doctrinal discernment is planted.
References and notes
- Don’t be confused, though. When a CMI article says that they ‘take no position on’ a particular issue, it’s not to be understood that no one in the organization has ever thought the issue through. It’s saying that there may be various positions on the issue among CMI staff members and/or that it’s not a big enough issue to require absolute agreement on. It also implies that the same issue isn’t to be a topic of discussion in the threads of CMI’s Facebook page. Generally, such topics would include issues disagreed on between Christians based on their interpretation or understanding of Scripture (as opposed to evolution and extraterrestrial life, etc., which are based on ideas outside of Scripture and whether they have authority over Scripture itself). Such topics to avoid would include (but not necessarily be limited to): alcohol consumption; baptism’s proper form; Bible versions (other than the merits of gender-neutral or ‘conservative’ versions); Calvinism vs. Arminianism; capital punishment; Christmas or Easter celebrations or observance (whether proper or whether the traditional dates are correct); claims of personal revelation; dancing; denominational differences; environmentalism (excessive or overly specific debates on environmentalism or ‘global warming’, etc.); eschatology (the nature, timing, or interpretation of future events, such as the Rapture, Tribulation, Millennium, etc.); forms of church government; gun rights or control and self-defense; observance of Old Testament feasts, laws, or the Sabbath (and whether required today); pacifism; piercings and tattoos; purely political topics (having no relevance to CMI’s topics); rock music; role of women in the church; souls (whether man is or has a soul and how it’s propagated, e.g., Traducianism); speaking in tongues (what it is and whether it’s appropriate today); or tithing (whether it’s required today). Also to be avoided are off-topic subjects in general and of course the pitching of heterodox views (such as annihilationism) and plainly heretical views (modalism, Unitarianism, universalism, and obvious cults or false religions, etc.). Return to text.
Excellent: very thorough.
The Lord gives to each one his work (Mark 13:34). This was also true in the jobs that were given to the Levites in Numbers 3. Today sometimes one finds that one person is trying to be a preacher, teacher administrator, etc. On the other hand there are some that expect almost every Christian to pull up his tent pegs, so to speak, and go as a missionary to a far off land. We should not be critics of other people’s work (Romans 14:4)
Yes, yes, yes! Our movement must not be divided on dogmas within our local congregations. It’s time for the Body of Christ to fulfill Christ’s mandate for His people to be ONE! I’m not highly interested in someone’s preference for “proper baptism” or which day to set aside for worship. I DO care for the implementation of the TWO GREATEST COMMANDMENTS–love God and our neighbor as ourselves.
You are correct in saying we don’t have to all agree on every single minor topic or issue. In fact I would go one step further and say there is no Christian church or person in existence today or ever before that has all major and minor scriptural matters correct (except for Jesus himself). If there were then that church or person would be equal to Jesus himself. We all differ amongst ourselves on the interpretations of certain scriptural matters. Otherwise we would not have so many different Christian churches in existence today. Any particular church that says they know all the truth or has everything correctly interpreted, and the rest do not is like saying I have not committed sin but everyone else has. Only Jesus Christ, God in human form has committed no sin on this earth. Only God the Father knows and understands all the truth. We all have to make up our own minds about all the doctrinal issues, major and minor, knowing full well we can’t get it all right as we are humans who have sinned. The pivotal issue though is we are forgiven for our sins though the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and as long as we focus on that fact the rest will follow even though we have interpreted some doctrinal viewpoints incorrectly.