Productive Stables


Peggie and I didn't know each other well. 

We’d been in several of the same seminary classes, and I’d often seen her in the cafeteria, but we were just acquaintances. 

Peggie was naturally reserved, and I wondered if she might also be a little quieter than normal because she was African-American in a predominantly white seminary, a seminary that sixty years earlier wouldn’t have allowed her to be a student because of the color of her skin.

But my relationship with Peggie took an interesting twist the semester we both took “Principles of Christian Leadership.” One day in class, our professor explained that on the mission field, several denominations were doing more than all of the other denominations combined.

One student raised his hand and criticized the denominations doing the most mission work, explaining how their doctrinal views were different than his own.  He said it was better not to work with them.

The denominations to which he referred were Bible-believing and main line, nothing about them was border-line.  But his non-essential doctrinal beliefs did not agree with their non-essential doctrinal beliefs.*  Even though the seminary was supposed to be non-denominational, I'd heard these type of criticisms often in classes.

Peggie, who was sitting next to me, surprised me by raising her hand and saying in a gracious tone, “There are times we criticize other Christians without realizing they may be sitting among us.”

I knew it took all the boldness she could muster to make that comment, and despite my desire to remain anonymous, I knew I couldn't let her down. So I raised my hand and added, “I know what Peggie means. I come from one of the denominations that was just criticized.”

The professor responded by quoting an unusual proverb: “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, But much revenue comes by the strength of the ox.” (NASB95, Proverbs 14:4)

He explained that we can refuse to work with different denominations, and our “stable may stay clean,” but we will be much less productive. Ministry is always a little bit “messy,” but the harvest is worth it.

That day Peggie and I moved from acquaintances to friends, and we’ve remained friends for over ten years now. In the last decade, Peggie has taught me things I didn’t know about the African-American culture, and I’ve come to appreciate her race even more. And I think our friendship has helped Peggie understand white culture a little better as well.

In so many ways, religious and racial prejudice are alike. They are both based on pride, fear and misunderstandings. They are both unnecessary and ungodly. I am concerned with prejudice against blacks even though I’m white. In the same way, I am concerned with doctrinal prejudice even when my beliefs are not the target.

I’m not talking about non-Biblical views. We should always try to correct Scriptural errors when we hear them. But there are doctrinal areas where sincere, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians have disagreed for centuries. Since both sides have Scriptural support for their views, we must concede that neither of us have “God’s answer.” Most likely, we are both a little bit wrong and a little bit right. 

God reveals everything we need to know--everything we need to live godly lives, but He doesn’t reveal everything about everything. We wouldn’t be capable of understanding it if He did! That means that the most mature thing we can do is accept each others differences and concentrate on our similarities—we are, after all, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Seminary taught me a lot about the way mature and immature Christians handle doctrinal differences. There were professors and students who mocked those who didn’t agree with them, and there were people who carelessly made comments in class as if theirs was the only legitimate belief. Other professors and students showed humility and respect for those with different views than their own.

Whenever we start concentrating on the mysteries and controversies of our faith, we cause division and waste time that could be better spent. Our stables will stay clean, but we’ll be a lot less productive!

* essential doctrines are non-negotiable:  belief in God, belief in the reliability of the Bible as God's Word, belief in the Jesus described in Scripture, belief in the deity, death, atonement and resurrection of Christ, belief in salvation by grace through faith alone.  Non-essentials are views based on Scripture, but not clearly defined in Scripture (i.e. views for or against Calvinism, views on the end times, views on the operation of the gifts of the Spirit, views on church government and sacraments, etc.)

Though they live in different cities now, Gail and Peggie still keep in touch and occasionally still meet for lunch.  Peggie now serves on the faculty of Columbia Biblical Graduate School of Education in SC. 

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