Monday, September 27, 2010

When Christians Disagree

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity. This maxim has served as a guidepost for Christian conduct concerning debatable issues for centuries. Nevertheless, there are times when Brothers and Sisters find themselves at junctures where differences of opinion strain relationships at the least, and lead to a parting of ways at the worst. How can Christians maintain Christ-like love when tensions are high, feelings are raw and dreams of accomplishing great things together for God seem out reach? As a vocational Christian servant who has logged in almost 25 years of ministry, I have witnessed some significant church conflicts. Scripture has comforted me in these times and given me some clear guidance to navigate the stormy waters that sometimes pose a challenge in the Christian journey.

I have come to recognize that though it is preferable to have a walk of faith free of conflict, tensions among Christians are part of the Christian life. This was true even at the genesis of the church. After the Apostle Paul’s Emmaus Road experience during which he become a follower of Jesus, his former life of persecuting Christians was a persistent memory in the minds of other Christians; so persistent, that church leaders were hesitant to accept the credentials of faith he presented. It took the strong advocacy of missionary leader Barnabas to gain Paul’s acceptance into the Christian community. This stance led to a deep, thriving friendship and ministry partnership between the two men. However, even this seemingly unbreakable bond of brotherhood was tested when a disagreement arose between them regarding another brother’s readiness for ministry. Acts 15:36-41 recounts how between them there arose “such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” Who could claim to be more zealous for the message of Jesus than the Apostle Paul? Who could claim to be more gracious, loving and accepting than Barnabas? Not many if anyone! Yet, even between these two spiritual Titans, a difference of opinion over a non-doctrinal issue arose that caused these two righteous and upright brothers to part ways. Conflict happens. Differences of opinion and approach arise, yet how we conduct ourselves in the midst of conflict says much about our hearts and the maturity level of our faith. The New Testament record seems to indicate that the two evangelists eventually arrived at a point of mutual respect, sharing resources and people even though they continued ministering independently, and never seem to have directly partnered in ministry together again.

Scripture calls Christian believers to act, speak and conduct our online activities with civility and love. It is not necessarily wrong to disagree, but the manner in which one disagrees and the attitudes displayed will dictate whether the debate leads to long-term resentment or to mutual respect. Colossians 4:6 admonishes us to “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Gracious communication should be reasonable, careful and courteous. We must handle our disagreements in an agreeable way. We have to constantly ask ourselves questions such as, “Am I venting or sharing?” “Am I being kind or cutting?” “Am I sharing in the proper context?” “Do I really need to share what I am feeling or is it best to ponder my thoughts a bit more?” “If I believe I need to share what is on my heart, what can I do to communicate my love for those I am trying to convince?”

I have been able to observe a few truths in action that I’d like to share. In my experience, no matter on what side of an issue Brothers and Sisters may have taken – even disagreements sharp enough to cause a parting of ways – those who walked in the light and love of Jesus were the quickest to heal and the first to reach out for some sort of reconciliation. Humility and love must guide truth and light. Right facts presented in a wrong way, “still ain’t right!” People we love deeply will sometimes disagree on a matter that hurts us greatly. Nevertheless, we must do all we can to peacefully follow our convictions while trusting that the brother or sister on the other side of the matter has righteous intentions but for whatever reason, just can’t see the situation the same as I do.

We should always seek to present our case in a way that demonstrates Christ in us and bears witness as His love shines through. In John 13:34-35 Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” It should always be our goal that in all our dealing, whether verbal, written or electronic, that others be able to clearly see our love for each other, even when we disagree. 1 Corinthians 13 gives us beautiful and unfailing instruction regarding the power of this kind of love – Jesus’ love:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away…When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

If along the walk of faith you find yourself in disagreement with a fellow believer, remember that the way you voice your disagreement is just as important as the truth for which you are trying to stand. Make sure that in everything you do you are representing the Lord with excellence and love. Bathe all your actions in prayer. Finally, as you press forward doing your best to prove your point, make sure that as you win your argument you do your best not to lose your friend.

Until Next time…