The date was October 1st 1770 and the event was the funeral of noted evangelist of the time George Whitfield. Whitfield was a contemporary of John Wesley and Wesley had been asked by Mr. Whitfield to deliver the funeral message.
It is interesting to note that their relationship went back to their days at Oxford and they had both been part of the group who formed what was known as the Holy Club, a group that would eventually led to the formation of the Methodist Church.
Whitefield was a number of years younger than Wesley and although he was close friends with Charles Wesley, John’s younger brother, his relationship with John was more mentor and protégée.
A few interesting facts about George Whitefield. In 1739, when he was 25, he visited the Colonies, in what would eventually become the United States, and held evangelistic meetings. One historian said that George Whitefield became America’s first celebrity and by the time he returned to England that 80 percent of all American Colonists had heard him preach at least once.
It is said that outside of royalty he was perhaps the only living person whose name would be recognized by any person living in the Colonies. It was during that time that he became close friends with Benjamin Franklin and Franklin once estimated that without amplification Whitefield could be heard by more than 30,000 people.
After Whitefield preached in one community Benjamin Franklin wrote, “wonderful... change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seem'd as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro' the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street."
One source stated that during this relatively short ministry, he died at 56, which used to seem really old, that he had He preached at least 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million hearers. So you can understand what Whitefield meant when he said “I would rather wear out than rust out.”
But back to the funeral. I’m sure that there were those who were confused by the fact that Wesley was asked to preach Whitefield’s funeral, especially when they discovered that Whitefield himself had requested Wesley.
You see even though John Wesley had been George Whitefield’s mentor during the early years of Whitefield’s ministry the two had a falling out over doctrine. And for the past twenty years were at odds. You see Whitefield was a Calvinist and Wesley was an Armenian. And if you know what that means then you understand the rift, and if you don’t know what that means you’ll have to buy me a coffee because we don’t have the time to get into it this morning.
Suffice to say that Calvinist and Armenians often find themselves on opposite sides of the theological spectrum.
And for years their theological views separated these two preachers. They spoke publically against the others views and wrote theological discourses defending their stands. It wasn’t bitter or nasty, they didn’t call each other names they just didn’t agree and they didn’t pretend they did.
Neither one of the men was a stranger to opposition or disagreement, as a matter of fact we are told that Whitefield welcomed opposition, he was quoted once as saying “The more I am opposed, the more joy I feel”.
And then something happened. Listen to how John Wesley described what happened at Whitefield’s funeral.
“There are many doctrines of a less essential nature ... In these we may think and let think; we may 'agree to disagree.' But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials...”
Wesley and Whitefield had come to a place where they agreed to disagree. They decided that the kingdom was greater than their personal views.
I heard that phrase when I first began my ministry, when I discovered that one of my greatest supporters in our church and I differed theologically and Russell explained that we just needed to “Agree to disagree” and it worked. And through the past thirty years I have agreed to disagree with a pile of people.
It was only in the past couple of years that I discovered that was a Wesley phrase, but it wasn’t original with Wesley. In a letter to someone a few years earlier Wesley had written, "If you agree with me, well: if not, we can, as ‘Mr. Whitefield used to say, agree to disagree.’”
We are in week nine of our 3:16 series, which if you haven’t been with us through the summer we been preaching from various Chapter 3 verse 16s found in the Bible. We began back in June with the obvious one John 3:16 and have gone from there, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. And the staff has been really enjoying the series. Hope that you have as well, but if not then I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.
This week’s 3:16 comes from the book of James. We might be tempted to think this book was written by the Apostle James but it was in fact written by James the half-brother of Jesus, same mother different father.
And I love the book of James, it is so full of practical advice. Not everybody agrees with me, Martin Luther once wrote, “St. James' epistle is really an epistle of straw.” But that wouldn’t be the only thing that Luther and I would have to agree to disagree over.
And James writes about the dangers of the tongue and warns about playing favorites in church, he tells us that faith without works is dead, that’s a part of what upset Luther.
Over and over again James addresses issues that have the potential to damage the church.
And in this particular section James reminds his readers of the dangers that can arise when we disagree with one another. Which is where this week’s 3:16 comes in. In James 3:16 we read, James 3:16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
But like all the other 3:16 this verse can’t stand alone, and it begins in James 3:1 Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.
So specifically this passage is directed toward those who teach in the church, and while we might be tempted to narrow that down to pastors it really goes much broader.
And so it is in the section that Shawn read for us that James lays out guidelines for “Agreeing to Disagree”
The first thing we need to realize is that We All Teach While this scripture was specifically directed toward those who taught formally in a church setting it really applies to all of us.
Because anytime we attempt to persuade someone of our particular view we step into the shoes of a teacher. And that is where difficulties arise, because the only things we attempt to teach are those things that we feel passionately about.
Which is why Barclay wrote “One of the most difficult things in the world is to argue without passion and to meet arguments without wounding. To be utterly convinced of one's own beliefs without at the same time being bitter to those of others is no easy thing; and yet it is a first necessity for the Christian teacher and scholar.”
We might be trying to convince someone of our particular theological view, or political view, or preference for our favorite sports team or food or music choice but in all of that we are teaching. Or attempting to teach.
There was a time that was done face to face, or if you wanted to reach a broader audience you wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. My dad loved to write letters to the editor, he was that guy. And I must confess that I have written a letter or two in my day.
Today we have social media and people try to convince others of their view via Facebook or Twitter or whatever platform they choice to use. And because sharing a link or cutting and pasting is much easier than actually sitting down, composing a letter, writing a letter, finding an envelope, addressing the envelope, buying a stamp and mailing a letter, more people attempt to persuade others of their views.
Unfortunately, because it’s that easy we often don’t think about what we are saying or conveying. It’s a very passive aggressive way of getting our opinion across.
So what can we learn in today’s scripture.
James 3:14-16 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
The Wrong Side of the Argument
There seems to be a lot of stuff here but when you boil it down there are two factors that come into play here and colour our teaching in a very negative way. Two things that will make things go south, and James identifies these as Selfish Ambition and Jealousy.
Selfish Ambition is the need to win the argument no matter what. Ultimately that is what it’s all about. And this is the one I struggle with the most. Before I was a preacher I was a high school debater. And when I debated you argued both sides of the issue. So you weren’t crafting your arguments because you were passionate about the issue, you were crafting the arguments so you could win.
That for right or for wrong the goal was to convince people to believe how you believed. And when you are being scored on a win lose basis there is no problem, but in life it’s normally not that simple.
Not everybody will believe what you believe, no matter how passionate you are about it, and if your goal is to make sure everybody believes what you believe you will a very annoying person to be around.
I realize that not everybody will believe everything that Denn believes. That would require that everybody was a Habs fan, that everybody thought a really good hamburger was the perfect food, that everybody crossed their theological Ts and dotted their doctrinal Is just like I do, and everybody would roll their eyes when people talked about the moon landing. Sometimes even I have a hard time believe everything I believe.
And if my goal in life was to persuade you to believe as I did. . .I would probably alienate you and possible that would stand in the way of my sharing the really important thing that I have to share with you, the love and grace of Jesus.
You might not know it but I’m fairly passionate pro-life, and early in my ministry it coloured a lot of what I said and how I said it. And I was very public and very loud about my beliefs. And there were people who didn’t attend our church because of that stand. Was it a bad stand? Nope, I am still passionate about what I believe when it comes to protecting life from natural conception to natural death. But that can’t stand in the way of what I have been called to do and that is to help depopulate hell. And my political views, or how I feel about international situations, or the Habs, or the moon landing are all secondary to my calling. Now if you ask me how I feel about the subject I will tell you, and if I’m in a situation when I need to speak up, I do. But it no longer defines who I am.
And even in spiritual issues, I know what I believe but if my only goal is to make you believe the same way, it probably won’t happen.
There isn’t a person at Cornerstone or maybe in the world who would be in 100% agreement with me on everything. And that’s fine, hopefully we can agree to disagree.
And I have to realize that the Apostle Paul didn’t convince everybody to believe the same way he did, for that matter Jesus didn’t convince everybody to believe what he said. I can preach into your head but only the Holy Spirit can preach into your heart.
The second side of the equation is Jealousy. And maybe you are wondering how that works. I think that comes into the equation when you are arguing one side of the argument but wish you were on the other side.
And in this situation you are really trying to convince yourself that what you believe is right and in order to do that you belittle the other person’s beliefs and arguments. Because if you can convince yourself that their beliefs have no merit than you will feel better about what you believe.
Sometimes when I hear or read the arguments of those who deny faith it seems that they are jealous of the faith they don’t believe in. And there are times that I hear Christians argue against immoral behaviour that it seems that they are jealous of what they are missing.
James 3:13, 17-18 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.
The Right Side of the Argument: In this section James speaks of the characteristics of Godly wisdom. Remember he is telling folks how they should teach, and it is apparent that that if you are going to make an impact it has to go beyond the words that you use.
And he so starts by telling us that if we are going to teach then need to start by living your message. Doesn’t matter what you are teaching about, if your example is inconsistent with your message, your example will win out. And it all goes back to you have to walk the walk and talk the talk but you also have to walk the talk and talk the walk.
If you say you are concerned with the environment and drive a hummer, the environmental message might be lost. If you say you love God but you live like the Devil, you will have a pretty shaky witness. If you say church is a priority but you only make it out every six weeks or so. . .
And listen to the attributes of this type of this type of wisdom. We are told this type of teaching is Pure, Peace loving, gentle, willing to yield to others, full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.
Are they the attributes that you demonstrate while you are trying to convince someone of your point of view?
How many have been watching the Olympics, even a little bit?
So have you watched the sprints? It seems like the eyes of the world are on Bolt and De Grasse, this has been so surprising for so many. Here are two competitors, one will win one will lose. It’s that simple. And at least during the past week we’ve seen that they can still enjoy one another’s presence.
Here are some things I’ve learned, though years which are some practical ways you can demonstrate those attributes.
Don’t be Anonymous: If you have a problem with somebody or something then own it. It is really hard to deal with anonymous complaints or differences of opinions. Though the years I have received my share of “Suggestions”, and when there is a name signed to the “Suggestion” then you can at least talk about it with the person. But when there is no name you can’t enter into a dialogue and you don’t even know if it’s valid, a suggestion coming from someone who is committed to Cornerstone and it’s ministry has to carry more weight than the same suggestion coming from someone who attends another church.
Don’t draw Lines in the Sand: There are somethings in life that I don’t like. I don’t like anchovies on my pizza. I don’t like rap music. I don’t like Brussel sprouts and I don’t like lines drawn in the sand. You know what I mean. In the movie, the hero, or sometimes the villain will use a stick to draw a line in the sand and then they say something like “If you step over that line bad things are going to happen.”
And sometimes we do that, we get to the end of the argument or disagreement and we finish with an ultimatum, “If you don’t do this, or don’t do that then . . . “ We draw a line in the sand, and it’s really hard to back away from that.
The year I graduated from High School I went to work fishing with my father and that winter the boat was laid up having some work done so the crew scattered and found different work. I was working back at Tip Top and a situation came up and I told my manager that if it happened again I would quit. That evening I was telling my father what I had done and he said “You know if it happens again you are going to have to quit.” And he told me about a captain he worked with on the tugs who was always threatening to quit, and it became a joke and so did he.
Well you can guess what happened, the situation came up again and I had to quit, didn’t really want to but the line had been drawn in the sand.
I was wisely counselled when I accepted my first positon as a full time solo pastor “Choose carefully the hill you want to be crucified on.”
In the past couple of months, I’ve had a couple of people draw a line in the sand, one in effect said “If Cornerstone holds the same view as the Wesleyan Church on this position we are leaving.” Seriously? Where do you go from there?
There was a fairly significant vote this summer in how the Wesleyan Church defines membership, I voted against it, I was in the minority. But simply because I didn’t agree with it doesn’t mean that I take my ball and go home when it didn’t go my way. Have I been convinced that it was the right move? Not yet. But it was a move that has been made.
And finally, Don’t make it personal: This really goes back to the agreeing to disagree philosophy. We live in a society that speaks loudly about tolerance but has very little tolerance for those who don’t agree with society.
Sometimes you may want to say “The world is full of idiots, and you are their king”, but really, is it helpful?
The problem is that once you allow it to become personal then it’s all downhill from there. You eventually digress into name calling and demonize the person you are arguing with. And if you’re not careful even offline arguments tend to follow Godwin’s law to a certain degree. Are you familiar with Godwin’s law? First stated by American attorney Mike Godwin it states, “As an online argument grows longer and more heated, it becomes increasingly likely that somebody will bring up Adolf Hitler or the Nazis.”
You don’t have to convince everyone of your point of view. And if they don’t agree you’re your point of view, or your theology for that matter it doesn’t make them less of a person.
As a matter of fact you can have relationships with people who don’t agree with you. Reg Thomas is a Wesleyan pastor in Perth Andover NB, and we have been best friends since we were 14. And we disagree on pretty much everything. But we are still best friends.
In closing, listen to the words of Peter, 1 Peter 2:17 Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God, and respect the king.