Coming from a seminary where biblical exegesis and exposition is the main thrust, I find that TMS grads are among the best guys when it comes to handling the text of scripture. There is a common and well-developed hermeneutic that leads to a relatively common understanding of the scriptures; there are guys who have shown up for a year or two and gone off into theological bizarro world, but on the whole there’s a unity of belief built on the hard work of plumbing the depths of scripture with a high level of technical precision.
Along with that plumbing the depths of scripture comes not only doctrinal clarity and unity, but sadly often doctrinal elitism. TMS grads are sometimes vocal and proud about not being Charismatic, Arminian, seeker-sensitive, etc. and because of this some are nervous about associating with the local Pentecostal, Methodist, or even Baptist churches. I often hear this isolationist tendency expressed as a preference to connect and work with churches and ministers who are “likeminded”, generally meaning something along the lines of “in agreement with our doctrinal statement”.
After a year away from seminary and some conversations with TMS yolkfellow, I’ve come to the conclusion that a part of this stems from an exegetical blind spot. I have come to the conclusion that there’s a misunderstanding of the biblical idea of being “likeminded”.
So what does it mean to be “likeminded”?
Let’s unpack the scriptures on this point.
The phrase “likeminded” appears in the KJV in 3 passages; Rom. 15:5; Phil. 2:2, 2:20. It is a translation of autos and phroneo in Rom. 15:5 and Phil. 2:2 and a translation of isopsychos in Phil. 2:20. Isopsychos only appears in Phil. 2:20 and autos and phroneo also appear together in Rom. 12:16, 2 Cor. 2:11 and Phil. 4:2. So we have 6 passages that could help us work out an understanding of the same idea as packaged two different ways. I’ll place the quotes in context with the phrase we’re looking for in bold. (The following are ESV)
Rom 12:14-18 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
In Romans 12, the phrase is in the context of how you act towards people. It’s in the context of blessing those who persecute, rejoicing and weeping along with those who rejoice and weep, not being arrogant and not being conceited. It’s not in the context of discussion of doctrine but rather in the context of the outworking of doctrine.
Rom 15:1-7 – “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant youto live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
In Romans 15, it again is talking about how one acts; not pleasing self, building up one’s neighbor, and being like Christ. In Romans 15:5-6, it connects likemindedness directly to being in accord with Christ in the sense of being enduring, encouraging, welcoming, and glorifying God. Being likeminded here means acting in harmony with how Christ acted.
2 Cor. 13:11-12 – “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
In 2 Cor. 13 the phrase appears in the context of rejoicing, comforting, living in love and peace, and how you greet one another. This is not a discussion of doctrine but rather an exhortation towards specific practices.
Phil. 2:1-8 – “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, anyaffection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”
In Phil. 2:1-8 the phrase appears in the context of being encouraging, comforting, loving, affectionate, sympathetic, joyful, humble, selfless and serving. 2:1-2 basically suggest that if there is any involvement with Christ, believers must be of the same mind as Christ. In 2:5, the idea is one of everyone having Christ’s attitude towards service.
Phil. 2:19-22 – “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 21For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.”
In Phil. 2:19-22 the idea is of Paul explaining how Timothy is like Paul in being concerned for the church. Timothy is a servant of the church like Paul is, hence Paul is pleased to send Timothy to Philippi. It is a point to note that this is the only place in the NT that isopsychos appears, and it’s in reference to Paul. I’d guess that Paul uses isopsychos (lit. “equal souled”) here because he’s describing his concern for the church; his deep emotional connection to the church. Autos with phroneo would likely not transmit the depth of emotion that isopsychos would, especially in this context. I would also guess that Paul doesn’t use autos with phroneo because he consistently uses that phrase elsewhere in reference to Christ. I admit that I’m guessing, but it seems fairly reasonable.
Phil 4:2-3 – “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
In Phil 4 the phrase appears in a pleading for two women to “agree in the Lord” since they have labored alongside one another for the gospel with Paul and his fellow workers. This may be discussing a disagreement or something else, but this short text doesn’t give us enough details to know what Paul is referring to. Judging from the second chapter, I’d guess that there were two elderly saints who were struggling with humility and service that Paul was encouraging to keep emulating Christ and Christ’s servants.
So what can be said in response?
Well, there seems to be a clear pattern in the passages cited that being “likeminded” does not mean being in agreement in relation to doctrinal issues. Each passage is talking about Christ-like conduct, not points of belief regarding specific issues. Phil 2 specifically makes the point of being likeminded in reference to Christ, not other believers. Being likeminded means “thinking and acting like Christ”.
That basically drives me to recognize two things:
- When talking about being “likeminded”, I should not use the term in reference to an issue but rather in reference to a practice.
- When I’m thinking about other people who don’t share my doctrine point for point, I should think about whether or not they are likeminded to Christ, not to me. This means I should be looking for whether or not a church with “weak theology” is a place where the leadership seeks to cultivate practical Christ-likeness (manifested in service, humility, compassion, encouragement, etc.) among themselves and their members. Someone who disagrees with me on specific points of interpretation of scripture but is striving to obey what little they know of the scripture is likeminded with me since we are striving to think and act like Christ. It is a sad truth of many TMS grads (myself included) that our knowledge of scripture far exceeds our obedient conformity to it.
I’m not saying that doctrine doesn’t matter, or that right practice doesn’t flow from right belief, but I am definitely suggesting that some TMS fellows who I know (myself included until now) use the term “likeminded” very wrongly and probably hurting both their ministries and gospel influence because of the wrong practice that is flowing from that wrong belief.
I may be wrong too, but this is a blog and I couldn’t sleep and you get what you pay for.
Feel free to use my new online complaint management system here.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “I fear I lack the sufficient hardware for being like-minded” Unger