Something that troubled me quite a bit as a new Christian is the fact that among those who identify as Christians, there are a wide range of beliefs. Since I held to sola scriptura (Latin: by Scripture alone, is a Christian theological doctrine which holds that the Christian Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice. source) it troubled me that there was one Bible, and only one Holy Spirit (who leads us into all truth), yet there were all of these conflicting doctrines. Why would this be?
One reason is that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is in fact a Christian. 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us that “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” With that in mind, it is understandable that some of the error in the Evangelical world is due to false converts.
There are plenty of genuine believers, however, that hold erroneous beliefs. Sanctification happens at differing rates among brethren, so as we grow in Christ and grow in understanding, we shed error and grow in truth. So, maturation is another fraction of the explanation.
We all still have the sin nature, along with our new nature, until we go on to glory. Therefore, it is possible that a believer will grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). That can come in the form of not giving the priority one should to studying the Word, or rejecting a teaching that one doesn’t like because of a love for the world. Another piece of the explanatory pie.
Other reasons can include lack of training, poor hermeneutics, ignorance, selfishness and pride, and undue emphasis on tradition. (source)
All of these reasons were valid but they didn’t help me to feel like I could put it to rest. It really troubled me. Why would God allow that? Why doesn’t He just rein them in and make them see truth? Doesn’t He want the church to be pure? I just couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer. When discussing this with a brother in the faith, he offered up this verse: “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19) Interesting. God allows error in order that the genuine can be recognized.
2 Timothy 2:15 admonishes us to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” God wants us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), and part of that is wrestling with His Word. Studying, learning, striving. He doesn’t spell out each and every little rule for us. But His Word is sufficient for every need we have. In His wisdom, He has fashioned it this way so that we aren’t spiritually lazy. I recently wrote about this in more depth here.
Anyhow, the 1 Corinthians verse really put it to rest for me, this puzzlement over one Lord, one faith, one Bible and yet various doctrines. We cannot know the mind of God. I am not claiming to have worked out all of His reasoning for why there are so many differences in Biblical interpretation. But knowing that He has set it up in part that those of us who are true believers can be recognized brings me comfort. It is motivation to hold in high regard His Word. To love it, study it, know it, obey it, and apply it. One day, when we are all in His presence, we will be in perfect agreement because we will know as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). What a day that will be!
Soli Deo Gloria!