Yesterday, an interesting question was posted regarding why Christians have different opinions on serious issues.
I have to wonder how it is that the HS can teach opposite things to people, so opposite that they end up disagreeing on nearly everything political, and perhaps even a few things theological...What I don't understand is how I can be led by the Holy Spirit to different conclusions about the way Christians should be involved in and affected by politics. I believe the right is wrong on most things. For the most part, I have good reasons (theological, spiritual, philosophical and practical reasons) to think so. So why do we both come to different and opposite conclusions at the prodding of the Holy Spirit?
The premise of this question is wrong. It presumes that the Holy Spirit does, in fact, teach people opposite things. However, we know from Scripture that God is immutable. He does not change. He does not lie. He does not contradict Himself. (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Psalm 33:11, Psalm 119:89, Malachi 3:6a, Hebrews 1:12b, Hebrews 6:17, 18, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17b) The Holy Spirit cannot teach people opposite or mutually exclusive things. It may teach people different things based their circumstances (ie: how to preach versus how to deal with a wayward child) but that is clearly not the same as opposite things.
It is incorrect to assume that all thoughts and beliefs held by Christians are necessarily inspired by the Holy Spirit. In fact, such a belief is very dangerous as it will lead Christians into sin. R.C. Sproul illustrates this concept well in his book "The Intimate Marriage." He discusses the number of times he has counseled Christian couples who honestly believe God wants them to get a divorce, despite the fact that the Bible expressly forbids it (except for infidelity). The steps of this myth are typically as follows:
1. I wish God would allow me to do something sinful.
2. I do it.
3. I claim Divine approval for my actions.
4. I state that it was God who led me to disobey in the first place, therefore I was not actually disobeying but doing the right thing.
The most famous historical example of someone who used this line of "logic" is Henry VIII. This is exactly how he justified his marriages, divorces and beheadings. His actions lead to the creation of a state-run church of which he was the head. A Biblical example would be the life of Saul before his conversion. As noted in Acts and in Paul's letters, Saul believed that persecuting the early Christian church was the will of God. Clearly, he thought wrong.
Christians must examine their own hearts and minds to ensure that what they believe does correspond to Scripture. Paul admonishes us in I Corinthians 11:28 & 31 and II Corinthians 13:5 to examine and judge ourselves. Christians are to be humble, teachable and poor in spirit. This is a very difficult and humbling process, which will not be completed in us until we are in glory.
Sinful thought is not the only explanation for different opinions between Christians. Christians are often genuine in their desire to do good. Their similar views are supported by Scripture. However, two Christians may differ on how to achieve the same goal. Sometimes, it is because one person has a different method than another. Other times, it is because lies are told by the world about one Christian group. Rather than recognizing that these are lies coming from the world, the other Christian group believes what it is told. Dissent and strife result from something that should have produced unity.
As an illustration of both points, consider the poor. The Old Testament has many laws on how the poor are to be treated by their fellows. These laws were for society. They were not directed at the priesthood but at the people. Therefore, according to the Bible, the government does have some responsibility to the poor. Many of the indictments made against Israel by the prophets deal with how the poor are treated, how the laws were not properly followed.
In the New Testament however, society had changed. Under the Roman government, the poor were not adequately cared for. Synagogues, which later became churches, now took up this role. In fact, the early church was well-known for its treatment of the poor and sick. The office of deacon was created for overseeing the daily food ration for widows.
It is quite common for two different Christians to each take only one of these principles and argue that the other is wrong. The argument is typically framed as state-run welfare versus care administered through the church. In point of fact, neither position is wholly correct. The Old Testament does not prescribe Canada's current form of welfare and the New Testament does not exclude the role of government.
Sometimes, Christians accuse their fellows of total indifference to the poor. I recently saw an advertisement on YouTube for the Community Christian Church (look for Christian No More) that did exactly this. Rather than examining churches to see how their poor and the poor in their city were cared for, these ads came out swinging. They picked up the lie that the overwhelming number if Christians are white, rich, judgemental, self-centred bigots and ran with it.
Before any Christian posts and says "Well, Christians should be doing a better job," let me just say that there is always room for improvement. However, it must be noted that poll after poll and study after study demonstrate that Christians donate far more of their time and money to the poor than any other secular or religious group. Most churches have a benevolence fund designed to accommodate the needs of their own poor. In fact, I have never attended a church that doesn't. The church budget and the benevolence fund are arguably the top two uses of a church's collection. That there are still poor people is not an indictment against the church. Rather, it is an indictment against the rest of society. The church is being obedient. Society is not.
That brings us to another big difference between Christians (aside from their own sin): dealing with the sin of others and, in particular, the world. Where the religious right and leftist or liberal Christians differ often regards what to do where society is in direct disobedience to God. This topic is worthy of its own post.