Why do Christians have differing views?
Published: 14 September 2019 (GMT+10)
In response to the article Does CMI deal with end times?, Jaroslav L. from Czechia wrote:
Nice article! However, I do not understand why the living God allows sincere Bible believing Christians to have a range of views regarding interpreting the Bible. There is only one truth, so only one interpretation of the Bible is correct.
CMI-US Information Officer Lita Cosner replies:
Thanks for writing in with this question. I think it is important to consider the process of growing in Christ as part of the Christian life. When I was saved at the age of 16, if you talked to me the very next day, I wouldn’t have been able to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, and if I’d tried, I might have sounded like a modalist! But as I grew in the faith and learned, I became more knowledgeable about doctrine and what we as Christians believe. So sometimes we differ on things because we are still learning.
Another reason for different interpretations is different hermeneutical ‘lenses’. We often speak of the importance of worldviews, and this is one of the reasons why; it affects our interpretation of Scripture. I’ll limit my discussion to the range of interpretations of sincere Bible-believing Christians, since that was your question. But someone with one view of how God works in history might have very different interpretations from someone with another view. These are issues where sincere Christians can disagree without questioning the other’s salvation.
It is true that only one interpretation of the Bible is correct, but figuring out which one is the hard part. None of us is 100% correct about everything the Bible teaches. God apparently wants us to debate and figure things out and have room to disagree on things in the Bible; otherwise God would have inspired the Bible in a very different way—more like a textbook than a collection of letters and historical documents. That’s why it’s important to maintain unity around the things that Christians have always believed about Jesus and the Gospel, while allowing for different beliefs about things that have historically been regarded as ‘secondary matters’. Paul gives an example of this spirit of acceptance in Romans 14, having to do with practices that were a matter of contention in his day. So we can be gracious towards fellow believers even when we disagree with their interpretations of Scripture in non-essential areas.
In short, genuine Christians have differing views because we are saved by faith in Christ, and not by being 100% correct in all our biblical interpretations. Everyone who has ever been wrong about an interpretation of Scripture should be very thankful that is the case! None of this is to say, however, that we should tolerate false teachings in areas essential to the faith. Paul wrote very harshly against the false brothers and heretics that were active in his day (see the letter to the Galatians, for example).
After his first email, but before receiving the above reply, Jaroslav L. wrote again. Upon hearing that we would be publishing the answer as a web article, he wrote:
Dear Ms Lita Cosner, That is very nice to hear and I am glad you devote your time and effort to this issue. As I am trying to be sincere in searching for God and when God is alive, these questions arise.. Another thing that I ponder about and that concerns living God is as follows: it is normal to say “I believe in God”. But in case our God is alive then He EXISTS - In other words, in case we say “I believe in God” then, it also means that there exists a possibility that God doesn’t not exist. Do you understand what I am trying to say? The consequences may be, for example that atheists may think that Christianity is a kind of “hobby” where we just BELIEVE in a kind an entity. Thank you for all your work you and your colleague do!
Lita Cosner responds:
I am glad that you are sincerely searching for God; I encourage you to read the Scriptures, particularly the Gospel of John, which was very helpful to me in the days leading up to my own salvation. God’s existence is not dependent on whether we believe in Him or not. To give an analogy (which is limited, as all analogies are): If you read my response then thought, “I think an AI program wrote this response; I don’t think Lita exists at all,” that would not change the fact that I exist. You can be correct or incorrect about the fact of my existence, but your belief doesn’t have any effect regarding whether it is a fact. Likewise, you can be correct or incorrect about whether God exists, but it is a fact regardless of your belief, or mine, or anyone else’s.
But God has helped those who seek Him by revealing Himself. He has worked in history; and we have access to those works through Scripture; which itself is God speaking through the authors, giving an infallible record of what He has accomplished in history. The ultimate revelation of God in history is Christ, which is why I encouraged you to read the Gospel of John.
If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to find a church in your area. The pastor there will be able to help you and give you ongoing guidance in your search. I have just said a prayer for you that God will guide you to all truth in Christ Jesus.