Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Why Can't We Be Friends?

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17.

There are lessons Christians can learn from our Jewish brethren. One is the ability to strongly disagree, voice our opinions and still remain friends.

In his book, The Bible Tells Me So; Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It, Peter Enns writes:

"This story illustrates something Judaism seems to have a good handle on but that many Christians do not; debating each other, and debating God, is what God wants.

We can see the same sort of attitude in the rich tradition of Jewish medieval commentaries on the Bible. The sages of Judaism debate the meaning of Biblical passages, often arriving at contradictory explanations - and all of it was recorded and preserved as part of the sacred tradition, without any need to resolve the problem and arrive at a final answer.

...But killing the debate is what kills faith. The debate keeps the conversation at the center of the community.

Ending the debate, getting to the right answer is not the prime directive of spiritual life. You can tussle with each other and with God (and win!), and its all good. The back-and-forth with the Bible is where God is found. Enter the dialog and you find God waiting for you, laughing with delight, ready to be part of the back and forth."  pg. 241-242 Kindle version.

According to Enns, Jews know how to have a good no-holds-barred, knocked-down, dragged-out argument over Scripture, and walk away as friends. They willingly pose opposing viewpoints and allow individuals to draw their own conclusions. There's method to this seeming madness.

I heard a speaker address this very issue from personal experience. Born Jewish in Nigeria, he came to know Christ as a youth. Immigrating to the U.S., our educational system afforded him opportunities unavailable in his homeland. He went on to earn two PhD's simultaneously.

In seminary, he and a group of African students would meet to discuss their studies. Word got out that these sessions could get rowdy and soon other students  ask to sit in and observe.

To their horror, the African students disregarded Robert's Rules of Order completely. The debaters screamed at each other, and pounded the table while defending their positions. Finally, when the verbal brawl ended, the atmosphere shifted. Former opponents laughed, congratulated each other on a job well done and went out for coffee. Their audience was dumbfounded.

The speaker explained that the purpose of the sessions was not to prove others wrong and convert them to your way of thinking. The debate forced the participants to critically think through their beliefs; intelligently articulate their positions AND not permit divergent and opposing viewpoints to drive wedges between them. None expected an arrival at a single consensus - that wasn't the point. It was also no surprise that this group of students graduated at the top of their class.

Jesus' response in Matthew 5:17 was typical for a rabbinical debate of His day. These words were part of the common language employed during theological discussions that could get heated. So, what's the point?

Often believers, in regard to Scripture, don't handle differing viewpoints gracefully. We're quick to draw boundaries around our version of the Truth. Those outside the lines are flat out wrong and not welcomed in our camp. Jews have debated issues of faith much longer than Christians. They know how to agree to disagree, allow all sides of the argument a seat at the table, and still stay friends.

How about you? How to you react to someone whose beliefs are contrary to yours? How open are you to listen to opposing viewpoints of Scriptural issues, carefully listening to them without going ballistic? How do you think the Body of Christ could be strengthened if we chose to come together on the essential fundamentals of faith and not allow the ancillary issues to divide us?

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