Theological Smackdown – is being wrong a sin?

At WCF last week (that’s Westminster Confession of Faith classes) we had a little discussion about oaths. I wrote about it here. It was more than a discussion. It was heated. It was an argument. Binary positions were taken. We “agreed to disagree”. Being the absolutist that I am, I hate agreeing to disagree. It’s a cop out. There’s a right and wrong on all issues. I’d rather find the right than be unsure. And if I think I’m right, I’d rather you be right than wrong.

Some people don’t like that.

The whole discussion got me thinking – especially when the other guy involved said he doesn’t think it’s a sin to be wrong, he just doesn’t do it. There’s a side issue of conscience here – where believing that something is wrong, and doing it, is wrong. But that’s not really my point. Saying that you don’t think someone is sinning when they do something that you think is wrong is a cop out. It is sinning (unless you’re wrong, then you’re sinning). It’s all forgivable though.

Mark Dever wrote a great piece on the issue of wrongness being sinful a while back where he managed to lovingly call his brothers (or himself) sinful on the issue of child baptism – depending on which position turns out to be correct.

He said this in an article in his journal:

“I have many dear paedo-baptists friends from whom I have learned much. Yet I see their practice as a sinful (though sincere) error from which God protects them by allowing for inconsistency in their doctrinal system, just as he graciously protects me from consistency with my own errors.”

That was quite controversial, so he clarified in a further post on his blog.

Some may think that such a "wrong" should not be called a sin.  I understand a sin to be disobedience to God (regardless of intent).  When I read Numbers 15:29-30 and Hebrews 9:7 I certainly see that Scripture presents some sins as being deliberate, and others as being unintentional.  I certainly do not think my paedobaptist brethren are intentionally sinning in this.  In fact, they even think that they are obeying God so, short of them changing their understanding of the Bible’s teaching on this, I can’t expect any "repentance," because they lovingly but firmly disagree with the Baptist understanding of this.

Sin taints everything. Even rightness and wrongness. It is, I think, as silly to expect that you can be purely wrong as it is to expect that you can be wrongly pure.

The question this poses is what to do with those who are wrong – do we respectfully let them stay in “sin”… I don’t know. I tend to think we should seek to lovingly speak the truth. Most objections to arguments are on the basis of conduct rather than intent. The act of speaking the truth is not the problem, it’s that it is not done with appropriate love. Wishy-washy tolerant people want to have their truth, and eat it too, while giving you the freedom to be wrong. Taking a position on a matter on the basis of “right and wrong” rather than personal preference removes subjectivity from the equation. Right and wrong, under God, are absolutes. I’m not talking about questions of taste – I don’t think anybody elevates what you have for breakfast to an absolute position. But once you’re discussing “truth” and providing any form or proof text or evidence from the Bible or elsewhere – you’ve moved into the grounds of “objective” and disagreement with your position is then, by definition, sinful. If my definition is correct.

In conclusion, I think we should be more prepared to call a spade a spade, a wrong a sin, and disagree heartily on things we don’t disagree about – so that we can work together to bring each other out of error, and sin. Oh, and we should repent of being wrong on areas we think we’re right. Agreeing to disagree is just a hollow cop out. Agree or disagree?

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

8 thoughts on “Theological Smackdown – is being wrong a sin?”

  1. There’s not a right and wrong on all issues. Agreeing to disagree is sometimes the best thing. I agreed to disagree with someone the other day on what the best Subway sandwich is.

    As for is it wrong to be a sin? I guess that depends what you’re wrong about :P If you’re wrong about the ingredients of a cake, then no. If you’re wrong about your opinion on whether Christians can marry non-Christians, then yes.

    As for sin itself, sin is a rejection of God – the actual acts we are doing are a bit irrelevant. So whether you have the intent to sin or not, you’re still rejecting God I would think. But I could be wrong :P

  2. I believe I address that point in the post with a reference to breakfast cereal. I did add that later so the cache may not have reset…

    Subway is a subjective thing. When it comes to objective things there is an absolute. Those are the areas I’m talking about.

    The acts of sin are not “irrelevant” how are we sanctified if we see doing the wrong thing as “irrelevant”. We are judged for rejecting God, or not rejecting God – but the specific times you reject God – or miss his standard (ie being wrong) – are still matters of concern. And they’re probably still matters for repentance.

  3. I agree to disagree when I feel like the argument is a waste of time. I’m not going to change your mind, you’re not going to change mine. We are going round in circles and I’m bored with it. But I still think you are wrong and on certain things, your wrong opinion will lead you to sin.

    Happy to reopen the argument if I think I’ve got new evidence that might convince you (or if everything else is so dull that a boring, waste of time debate seems amusing).

  4. Oh Nathan, I wasn’t saying doing the wrong thing is irrelevant. I meant that, in determining whether a person is sinning when they ‘unwittingly’ do the wrong thing, it’s not the actual thing we should be determining is a sin or not, but the fact they’re in rejection of God. I dunno, did that make sense?

  5. @Leah, a little – but I think if we think people are sinning unwittingly we should still encourage them not to – we should be prepared to use scripture to correct and rebuke (and have the same done to us).

    @Simone – Was that general or specific?

  6. Simply I agree and I like what Dever has to say too.

    I am a believer in infant baptism but at the end of my days when I meet my King and I am in deed wrong. Then I have sinned but this does not mean I won’t enter Heaven.

    To be honest though I think that God will be more annoyed by how people interact over the baptism debate than their actual view. Mainly because I have seen people act in a way that is unloving, selfish, rude and thoughtless. Sometimes arrogance and stubbornness (different to standing firm on your belief) are revealed. I am included in the above.

  7. I absolutely agree with you. There can only be one right and wrong in matters of truth. We have had a similar conversation in our house numerous times about whether Hillsong is essentially good because they bring people into church or mostly just bad because they have so much dodgy theology. I’m on the side of the latter and push away anything that I think has dodgy theology because we can’t both be right.
    I don’t think that innocently believing a wrong doctrine is anything different to innocently believing its okay to cheat your employer. And I don’t think we should be remaining innocent, but always striving to live more godly lives, in either ideology or behaviour (though both are obviously linked).

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