Issues, Why Many Are Not Universally Resolved
Jesus prayed that his followers would be one, as he and his Father were one (John 17: 20, 21). The means of unity; hence, the avoidance of division, has been provided, the word of God (cp. Eph. 4: 3-6). The provision of revealed truth is so complete that the apostle Peter through the Spirit wrote: "3: According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (2 Pet. 1: 3, cp. 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17). Notwithstanding, the same scriptures teach that division will come (I Cor. 11: 19). While division always means some one has sinned, division has its positive, if you will, side as well (Ibid., see Acts 15: 1-29).
"Issue" is defined in the following manner: "A point in question or a matter that is in dispute, the decision of which is of special or public importance" (Random House College Dictionary, p. 710, nuance number six, also consider Acts 15: 1-29, the unity-in-diversity mentality sinfully eliminates the consideration of issues).
One thing that is pronounced from a study of church history is the presence of issues and how they have resulted in so much confusion and division among Godís people. In view of the Internet, etc. religious issues are probably more common today than ever in our history. The burden of this material shall be to briefly consider why so many issues are never universally resolved (see addendum 1). While an ascending and descending order is probably attendant, I shall not attempt to attach such to the reasons why issues are not resolved as they could and should be.
The matter of complexity. While I am listing complexity involved in certain issues or doctrinal differences, I do not really think it is necessarily a primary reason for the continuing existence of certain issues. However, it must be conceded that some issues are more complex than others. There is also a scale of gradation, especially pertaining to some disputes. There is perhaps a certain upper level where the doctrinal decision is rather mute and inconsequential. I say this knowing that I incur the risk of being misunderstood. This level would be relatively impractical in application. Yet, most issues considered on the lower levels involve people, practices, and issues of fellowship and sin (cp. 2 John 9-11).
Some issues such as the war question (how active may the Christian be in declared war) and self-defense contain what I believe to be shades of gray, at least, on a certain level. Other issues are rather simple to decide. Such as the plan of salvation for both the lost and the Christian and the work of the local church. Of interest, it is often the relatively simple issues that seem to result in the most division and confusion.
Family ties. It has been well said that blood is thicker than water and such is too often seen to be the case. In about forty-five years of full time preaching, I have often witnessed people taking sides pertaining to some doctrinal consideration based on blood ties and loyalty. I am always a little concerned when I see a local church that primarily consists of a couple different family heads. This situation does not have to be a problem, but too much of the time it will be. "35: For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law," Jesus plainly teaches, "36: And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. 37: He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10).
Friendships too often determine doctrinal positions. Friendships are too often shallow and selfish. People really do not care for those whom they view as friends and often they are afraid that if they are honest, they will forfeit the "friendship." Hence, doctrinal and moral purity in local churches are often compromised. True, substantive friendship is observed in the statement of the wise man: "6: Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful" (Prov. 27).
Traditionalism. "We have always done it this way or believed what we do; therefore, we shall continue with the same," is too often the criterion in matters religious. Jesus said of the type of reasoning that simply appeals to the past practice: "6: And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition" (Matt. 15). If we base our current belief and practices on the past, there would never be any room for change.
Cliques and schools. So many are where they are doctrinally due to the clique involvement they have and their associated schools. Through the years, I have observed different preachers forming relationships with groups who share a particular doctrinal affinity and have warned them. "I know the truth and they will not influence me," is the often heard affirmative. Yet, in just about every case, I have helplessly watched them go astray in order to maintain their clique acceptance. Various schools involving brethren become known for their different doctrinal stands and, alas, many who attend these schools are absorbed into the same thinking or lack thereof. Jesus said, "16: Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" (Matt. 7.) When we see the "fruit," we need to pay special heed, least we be tempted (cp. Gal. 6: 1, 2).
Pride and selfishness. Many do not ever determine and accept the truth relative to given issues because of their pride and selfishness. Perhaps they personally do not like one associated with the truth. They allow this dislike to set up pride on their behalf that sways them regarding what they believe and teach. Perhaps one has been wrong in a certain doctrinal matter, their pride and selfishness often prevents them from turning from their error. We are reminded of Jesusí teaching: "23: And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9).
Some favor a particular practice not because they think it is right and can establish such in the scriptures, but due to their desire simply to believe and do what they want to in the matter.
Prejudice hinders many. I am convinced that many never really understand an issue. The reason for this is their prejudice. They refuse to establish the facts; hence, they are unable to ever arrive at the truth. "15: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed," Jesus pronounced, "lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them" (Matt. 13).
An example of prejudice would be, "Do not listen to him, he hates orphans." Such is often the tactic on the part of those who want the local church to support various institutions for which there is no Bible authority. If one opposes the church having schools on their payroll, the prejudicial charge is, "He hates education and wants preachers ignorant and uneducated." Thus, the relevant and actual issue is kept from ever being discussed. The devil is very successful in hiding and obscuring the truth by deflection.
Being a student of church history has its rewards. I say this because there are few new points in dispute. This is because doctrinal points in question are seldom settled due to the foregoing and other hindrances that could be mentioned. In the First Century church, issues ideally were first defined, analyzed, and then God pleasing solutions were sought. In this situation and as a result, these doctrinal disputes were settled (see Acts 15). As Godís children, we need to honestly and forthrightly deal with problems and issues, always putting God and His word first and ourselves last. If we would do this, there would be few issues not universally resolved! (A related article to read is, "Issues, What To Do With Them" and, "Jesus and Issues".)
Addendum 1: I do not claim to be an expert on the subject of issues. However, I do think that my background qualifies me to comment on the subject. Even as a boy in the Baptist Church, I had a number of opportunities to consider circumstances involving issues. A number of Baptist preachers took special note of me and invited me to sit in on various discussions, church problems, and even debates among preachers. After I left denominationalism, I devotedly studied the science of dialectics, the art of the exchange of antithetical ideas and I conducted many written debates. While serving as a "consultant" to a number, I myself have conducted over two hundred written debates on a wide range of subjects or issues, if you prefer, and I have had many qualified disputants as my opponents. Therefore, I have a little practical experience regarding the subject we are exploring.