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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God would have inspired the Bible in a very different way—more like a textbook than a collection of letters and historical documents.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.

Readers’ comments

James C.
"I believe in God" usually means "I trust in God", not "I believe God exists. The Devil believes God exists. Christians trust that God is our Lord.
Don V.
The first item of belief is the main thrust of CMI, Creation. Creation is clearly seen and can not be compromised or honestly misunderstood. Maybe a good verse that in my thinking would apply here is Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. I believe what it says and if I diligently seek him (my responsibly) God will reveal His truth to me as needed (His promise).
John C.
Dear Lita, A very poignant and vital exchange. I remember a special speaker at church told a story which applies here well. Seems he taught high school years ago. On the last day of classes, he was in the habit of driving his old model A Ford to school. The last year he did this, in the middle of his teaching, a student yelled in from the hallway that his car was on fire in the parking lot. He put it off as a prank until the principal knocked to say his car was on fire in the parking lot. His point was that not believing the first report of the fire didn't change the fact of the fire at all. His antique car was totally destroyed either way. In the same way, faith in God's existence is only for our benefit. It doesn't affect His own existence either positively or negatively.
Sam W.
Good afternoon. I think Augustine of Hippo summed it best with this: In all essential things, UNITY. In all non-essential things, LIBERTY. In all things, CHARITY. There is, to me, enough room to accommodate all our views without 'hating' on each other's individual style and idiosyncracies. This is also in line with Jesus' own words of His father's house having many rooms. Absolutely love this site and the subject matter you cover.
"The fact is, that Scripture differs from mere books of information and science, inasmuch as these are wholly irrespective of moral condition and may be mastered alike by the evil and the good, while that [Scripture] depends on our measure of subjection to the Spirit of God. And as the children of God are not equally spiritual, so they differ in the degree of their understanding of and relish for all that is of God. If all Christians had a single eye, every one would be full of light. But this is not so. Each has to contend with influences, prejudices, prepossessions, etc., which, as far as they work, obscure the judgment, and thus lead to differing views and practice. Hence it is that the evidence of the word which is irresistible to one is weak or null to another, rightly or wrongly, of course, as a man is led by the Spirit." (William Kelly)
Norman P.
Also, God has wonderfully contrived that we 'walk by faith, not by sight' - and the revelations about Himself are through his word and the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. Apologetics also as has a part to play, as per the defence of Genesis, that CMI so faithfully minister. But how awful it would be if we were like robots, without free-will - as indeed is the nature of some cultic sects, and even erring mainstream denominations. The Lord has promised that if we seek him with all our hearts, we shall find; if we knock, it shall be opened unto us; and if we ask, we shall receive - such an exciting journey of discovery, as we follow after Him who is the way, the truth and the life!
John N.
Prophecy is like that. No matter how man may try to sort it out, the reality of how it really works out detail by detail it is a mystery until it comes to be. I think when Jesus came it was much like that. And we see now the end times are like that. Lots of different views but which if any are really correct? We just have to trust God on that. And then there are some prophesies that are more straightforward. The Old Testament has lots of them that we can see the God is indeed the Master of it all. Many things are meant to be figured out exactly. And like you mentioned, many things are also very much more meant for teaching and correction. The things of sin nature are not really debatable, nor is the salvation message. Thank you for the excellent response. May God bless.
Jaroslav L.
“So sometimes we differ on things because we are still learning.” - Very likely That’s why it’s important to maintain unity around the things that Christians have always believed about Jesus and the Gospel” - yes! Based on your article, I realized that Bible is also a source of so many questions that we can discuss that we may miss the main thing. We may know the Bible perfectly but Jesus Christ is not preparing any graduation test for us. I think that in every minute of our life He has a simple question for us “do you love me?” And do you love more than anybody else on this planet? And we should sincerely ask ourselves “Can I get by? In our efforts to be well educated, in our efforts to get to the most probable version of a certain part of Bible, in our endless discussions over many biblical topics we should rather stop and remember the first ancient Church. What they got in their days ? They were happy to be visited by e.g. Paul or Peter or another disciple. For couple of days they were listening to the Good News ... and that was all. Can they get by? Thank you for this article Lisa
Roy S.
One thing to remember is that NOT all religions that call themselves Christians meet Gods definition. Their pastors/preachers do teach a doctrine that is “sprinkled” with the Bible, but have their own books. If you go to a religion, you must look to make sure it is based solely on the Bible. That is YOUR responsibility and Gods desires all men to be saved Question the things taught, not with contention, but desiring understanding and humility. There are LOTS of false doctrines. One of the ways Satan works is by creating confusion. There are fundamental, basics that a religion HAS to believe and teach or the candlestick of GOD is NOT there - No matter if they believe in Christ. The devils believe and even tremble, but they aren’t saved.
Thomas D.
To Brother Jaroslav L. from Czechia: Romans 8 tells us of the Holy Spirit's abiding support and chastening care by which our new life is applied through faith. The Holy Spirit assures of our full future inheritance as God's children, and comforts in the present as we bear with the dogging consequences of our remaining mortality of body. Read the whole chapter to fully appreciate the complete victory our Father is intent on producing in us! In this meanwhile, we're enabled to move forward by His great gifts of faith, hope and love. 1 Corinthians 13.8-13: "Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." Thank you, Lita, for calling us to mutually support each other through humble prayers that God Himself perfects on our behalf! For now, let's all enjoy "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit."
Kathy K.
I agree wholeheartedly with Lita. It certainly has been a learning-growing process for me. For that I am thankful. I can’t keep my head out of anything biblical. I want to learn something new every day. The scriptures are the same but I see something new that I must have missed. I love to read and study the scriptures. I also get into all the subjects CMI puts out. I have to make sure I understand words correctly, look for Hebrew and Greek meanings, look on maps, look in commentaries, testimonies, devotional, prophecies, characters, cities, cultures, countries, customs, and definitively the creation account to relate to the children, apologetics, archaeology, the historical people, how we got the Bible. And with technology today, it’s absolutely fascinating how the body works, from the tiniest atom to the furtherest star! It’s all from our living God since the beginning! Amazing. See, the answers from God are unending. And I wouldn’t know all this if I hadn’t been in such a mess in my life, crying out for help, and God hearing me and tenderly, day by day, guiding me. They can say all they want that there is no God, but if one is truly saved, they “know” it. Don’t quit searching for him! The truth will fall into place. God bless all!
Mitchell D.
To begin, the questioner is obviously not a native English speaker. That plays into the answer. While the Bible is meant to be understood by all people in all times, there are cultural aspects to the Bible and the translation you are reading. Secondly, 3 words that help us understand are: Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy and Heresy. I'll try to keep it short. Orthodoxy - what is known & "non-negotiable". Who gets to say what is "orthodox"? There's a few thousand more words. Heterodoxy - There is only ONE right interpretation, but there might be some "wiggle room". Obviously the original questioner might not understand the colloquialism "wiggle room". And there lies the discussion. While all might believe "baptism" is Orthodoxy, the method might be considered Heterodoxy. Of course, someone might even disagree with that. Heresy - Just wrong. Another way of looking at it: Orthodoxy is something you'd die for. Heterodoxy is something you'd talk about. Heresy is something you'd, well not really but I'll use the phrase for clarity, kill over. Do NOT misinterpret that definition of Heresy. I do NOT advocate killing over any aspect of doctrine. It merely completes the example through hyperbole. In today's Politically Correct Culture I guess you could say "Heresy is something you would tell someone that they are wrong about." The Bible itself provides a lot of instruction on how to determine the "right" interpretation. It talks about testing, studying, examining the fruit, etc. Proverbs contains much wisdom, but even there culture and translation come into play. Is it Thou shalt not kill? Or "murder"? Understanding that there are some things you cannot compromise on (orthodoxy & heresy) and some things you can (heterodoxy) is the beginning of wisdom. Which God promises to give.
Dear Lita; Re: Your advice to find a church. I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that you have the man's address. If that's true you may ahve been able to provide him with a more specific recommendation of a "fundamental," Bible believing church. I would hate to tink that he would wander into a Mormon, Seventh Day Adventist, or Jehovah's Witness church. Out of the frying pan into the fire, so to speak. Yours in Christ, David W. Clagett
Lita Cosner
In fact, I did not have his address, and the fact that he lives in Czechia complicates matters further in terms of advising him. In such cases I have to trust that God will guide them, as I prayed for him, which I referenced at the end of my second message to him.
Jaroslav L.
I grew up in communism so I was reliably delved in atheism and there was practically no way to become Christian. I think that I am a typical person that falls in group defined by Isaiah in Romans 10:20. Church organizations always repelled me (sorry), I know what organizations that David mentioned, are. I am on my own so far but I have connection to a small group of Christians that follow Bible. I have understood New Testament it has made sense but once I turned to Old Testament, particularly Genesis, well, it was difficult to swallow. Luckily, I found :)
Pete B.
There are basic problems with ‘secondary’ issues approach. I am in a church that firmly places creation/evolution as a secondary issue. I could add other issues that might raise eyebrows which are frequently toted out as secondary issues. How can a Church or Church organisation decide where to draw that line? Does the church even have the authority to invent that line? It has become fashionable to make the nicene creed the ‘essentials’ of the faith. But as we have seen in recent years. Many Christian groups would affirm that creed while affirming sexual ethics that Paul would have called obvious error, and would have been unthinkable among Christians until recently.
Lita Cosner
CMI is different from a church in that CMI is a parachurch organization that focuses on biblical creation. So we have a Protestant evangelical Statement of Faith that is available for anyone to read, and we take a stance on issues that are directly linked to creation and biblical authority. We do not take a stance on denominational issues like modes of baptism. Clearly churches cannot choose to focus only on one issue like CMI does. But the sexual ethics issues would be another area where all Christians who believe in the authority of Scripture should be able to agree.
Stephen N.
I agree with the article by Lita Cosner. I will add my own late comment. One big reason that followers of Christ disagree with each other is that we live in an age of deception. The struggle against deception is a life-long process. After all, Rev.12:9 (NIV) says that Satan "leads the whole world astray."

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