One thing I have struggled with in my faith over my past few years in college is deciding where it is that I stand on certain issues within the church. All of those things that people seem to either have a strong opinion on one side because of several great reasons backed by scripture, or the other side because of several great reasons backed by scripture, and then the other group who doesn't have a strong opinion either way and feels horribly guilty because of it. And of course, you always have a few who really don't care. These are the issues that can't be painted as black and white as I may want them to be. Was the world created in six days? Can women lead men in a church? Are men really spiritual heads? Is their great importance in speaking tongues? Should churches be lead by a pastor? Should Christians listen to secular music? Is their such thing as secular in a world created by God? Do men and women have different gender roles? Is masturbation pure evil? Should Christians fight in and support war? Should Christians allow evil dictators to rule in this world? Is it OK for Christians to drink or smoke? Is it wrong for Christians to shop at Wall mart? Should Christians be involved in Politics?
These are some questions I have heard raised by Christians. Some of whom have opinions as strong as stone. Others who haven't a clue what to think. And those who simply don't care, and choose to stay that way. I myself have developed some pretty strong opinions in some of these areas, others I am still searching, and dare I say it, some...well...maybe I don't care as much as I should.
The thing that I have noticed as I went off to this school of many different Christian backgrounds and people from all over the world is that there is lots of different thoughts then I may find back home in my small town, Minnesota church. I've discovered that I respect many people very much on both sides of several issues. I deeply admire their faith and commitment to Christ. I also admire their desire to stand up for something they believe in.
There is one issue in particular that I have been struggling with for the past few years, desperately striving to see where I stand. I have been reading books about it, and listening to other people whom I respect share their opinions on it, and (this is really important though it seems easily forgotten, sadly) I've even read a few bible passages on it (and will continue to read more), and I thought that I had came to a conclusion...but now I am not so sure. Faith is a development, and it seems to develop rather slowly.
For the first time in my life, I am beginning to see things with different eyes then my parents (that doesn't often happen. I've always wanted to "make my faith my own" by beginning to see things in a different light then my parents, but that's really hard to do when you think your parents are generally right in what they believe). I find it rather intimidating to disagree with pastors, professors, and parents when I respect their knowledge and wisdom. But a spoon fed faith will continue in infancy until it chooses to decide what it believes on its own.
There are a few things I have learned in the struggle of finding where I stand in different issues. First. It is a big deal. Yes, I know. I'm supposed to say it really isn't a big deal, it doesn't define our faith, and that is true,...but it is still a big deal. If it wasn't a big deal, we wouldn't still be hearing sermons preached on gender roles, or news broadcasts on schools teaching intelligent design next to evolution. though these issues aren't "salvation" issues, they still are issues that greatly affect a person's faith. Some people come to faith in Christ because of the way other Christians have viewed these very issues, a view that another Christian may completely disagree with.
Second, I've learned that Christians can be brutal to each other. It is so easy to tear down another Christian who thinks differently, to belittle that person's belief (which often feels like belittling the person), or make their faith appear weak or foolish. For people who are supposed to be characterized by love, we sure throw a lot of knives at each other. And that is the scary thing. These are important issues because they are tied so closely to some Christian's faith. When we belittle a Christian for thinking differently then the way we do, we may very well be attacking something that is key in their faith, something that helped them come to Christ, or remain close to Him. And yes, they are not the most important issue. Jesus said our most important commandment is to love him, and second, to love our neighbor. It is through loving our neighbor, that we show our love to God. Instead of focusing on unity in Christ, it becomes incredibly easy to focus on disunity in opinion. This is one of the most dangerous areas for a Christian to be. Christians fighting against Christians, what could make Satan more ecstatic?
Last, I have learned that it can be easy to sit in the middle of the road, not deciding what it is I want to believe. But I don't want to do that. I feel it is important to decide where I stand. It is in the small (but still important) things that we make our faith our own. Though these issues should never separate us from others, they should none the less remain important pieces of our lives.
Paul says in Philippians 1:7 "...it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News."
We as Christians hold a great truth, the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ that we must confirm to others and fight to defend. But it is the truth of Christ that we must defend. Though the other stuff is important (and our opinions are worth defending), we are focusing on the shiny quarter sitting on a thousand dollar bill when we focus all of our energy on defending the small stuff before focusing on defending the true treasure, our unity in Christ.
So, I will push to come to my own conclusions in all areas until the day I die, not settling to be unsure. But as I do that, As Paul did before me, I will hold my brothers and sisters in Christ in a special place in my heart, remembering that they share God's special favor,...no matter who they voted for in the last election, or which kind of church they attend.