Conviction, Convenience or Conformity? A question of biblical application
Who struggles with the desire to be popular? Let us be honest, we all do. In many ways pride is the universal sin. If not a flat out desire for popularity, we all fight the constant need to at the very least be liked. The problem with that desire is that when we come to scripture and attempt to interpret it in order to rightly apply it to our lives we will often face areas that are evaluated differently. For us to then stand on our interpretations of scripture can cause division, if we are not careful, and even worse can cause us to back off of biblical conviction for the sake of convenience or popularity. What is particularly interesting about biblical interpretation is that two people can both evaluate the same passage using proper methods of exegesis and arrive at two separate and different conclusions. That struggle can be seen in the differences between Arminians and Calvinists, Pre-millenialists and Amillenialists, Congregationalists and Elder-led churches. I could go on and on. The difficult truth is that often, scripture simply is not clear. To be honest with you, I am convinced that God was purposeful in this apparent ambiguity in order to push us to work at our faith. He knew that a clearly defined faith walk would often lead to apathy and laziness and so He pushes us to work out our faith in an attempt to sharpen us. So how do we handle these differences and yet still honor God? Well, first there is a need to study diligently, to arrive at a conclusion and then determine that your conclusion is the correct one. At that moment our conclusion morphs into conviction. There is nothing wrong with this approach I am convinced. In fact, I believe it is a necessary approach for apart from it we become a conviction-less people. The internal (and external) struggle develops when we decide how to handle this conviction. Some in our ranks are attempting to force their conviction on all believers. Their reasoning is that their exegesis was faithful and accurate and so their conclusion is to be understood as right and therefore to veer from that conclusion is a sign of liberalism and should be rejected at all costs. This type of ideology trumpets itself behind the cloak of biblical fidelity and as such is often difficult to oppose. The second method of application in regards to biblical conviction is to espouse that conviction, teach it as your conviction, yet to allow that there is room for disagreement and in fact even partnership for the sake of the gospel in spite of said disagreements.
What we have come to, particularly in the SBC today, is a point where we must answer the question of what we do with biblical conviction. The question is absolutely not, What must be done with biblical truth? We are united on that front. Biblical truth is a must and cannot be forfeited for any purpose. What we must do now, however, is learn that there is a significant difference between clear biblical truth and personal biblical conviction in areas that are simply unclear.
Let me try and illustrate this with an actual real-life situation. I have someone who I know well who believes strongly (because of biblical interpretation) that Christians should avoid the use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. His conviction is grounded in biblical exegesis and he has been convinced of this in his mind because of his faithful bible study. Although I disagree to a point with his interpretation I am thankful for his faithfulness to teach his understanding. His teaching, however, would take a dangerous turn if he were to ever arrive at a place where he demanded uniformity in this area in order for him to consider you a faithful believer. Thankfully this is not something I see coming from him. He understands that although this is an area of conviction for him, it is not a clearly taught biblical truth and therefore he teaches it, believes it, and fellowships with others who are faithful and yet disagree with him. This is the kind of biblical scholarship and application that we need in SBC life.
So the question sits before us within the SBC; Can we be satisfied to hold to biblical conviction, and to encourage biblical conviction, while not forcing uniformity on biblical conviction? Or, rather, are we so sure of our position that everyone must tow the line of our conviction in order to be considered proper and/or faithful within the realm of SBC life? This question of biblical application is an important one and our answer to this question may fully determine the future of our beloved convention.