Can we agree to disagree?
I came to the Medway Towns in 1970 as the vicar of an Anglican church serving two vast council housing estates just outside Chatham. It was the era when the BBC was establishing its local radio stations and I gave the early morning "Thought for the Day" for the opening week of Radio Medway (now Radio Kent). Following this I was invited to help present the weekly Christian programme with the Minister of Gillingham Baptist Church, Tom Rogers. Tom and I did alternate weeks for a while until the producer called us together and said, "You two are saying virtually the same thing; how would you feel about presenting the programme together?" – which is what we did for a considerable period and we became great friends. Only last month someone said to me, "I was a member of Tom's church and I remember you and he as presenters on Radio Medway; I used to listen every week." That programme was over 40 years ago now!
Tom and I had many discussions about the Christian Faith but I cannot recall that we ever had anything approaching a heated argument. We were both seeking to serve the same Lord and in the light of that our differences were insignificant. I am reminded of the college professor who, on learning that two of his students were professing Christians, commented, "Has it ever crossed your minds that if I find you two in heaven, it won't feel like heaven to me?" I love his humour, but there is a serious point to his remark. If everyone who has accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord is to be in the eternal kingdom, isn't it sensible to do all we can to get on with each other now? After all, we will have to get on with each other then. Surely, compared with the vast majority of human kind who have no faith at all, the finer points of doctrine – and indeed some which are not so fine – are insignificant if they do not affect the certainty of our salvation; yet we allow them to separate us. More than that, the manner in which we disagree is so often dishonouring to Christ and is, therefore, an appalling witness to the world. What encouragement is there for them to become a Christian when we argue as vehemently and unkindly as anyone else?
What is more, our arguments are often over matters on which, however strongly we may hold our views, we will not and cannot be certain until we reach heaven. For instance, I have long been concerned at the certainty expressed by some Christians about the doctrine of eternal suffering in hell for all who do not accept in this life the salvation offered by Christ. It seems to me that we are inconsistent. We are horrified by those regimes which practise the torture of human beings (or at least I hope we are), yet some of us confidently proclaim that we have a God who will condemn unbelievers to hell fire for eternity. What sort of God are we presenting to the world?
It is doctrines such as this, which I was taught when first I came to Christ, that have encouraged me to go back to Scripture and look more closely at what it teaches. What I have discovered has surprised and inspired me to amend many of my views and to set out my understanding of the Christian Faith in a book, I'm a Christian – so what do I believe? I do not expect everyone to agree with everything I say, but I hope it will challenge Christians to think through what they really believe, and if they can then give biblical reasons for why they disagree with me, then that is great and they will be strengthened and more confident to share their faith with others.
Ken Gardiner is a Canon of Rochester Cathedral who officially retired in 1993. "I'm a Christian – so what do I believe?" is published by Instant Apostle and is available in paperback or as a download on Kindle from www.amazon.co.uk