Disagreeing Without Dividing by Ted Griffin
Many assemblies today are facing varied winds of possible change. Some traditional points of church life are being questioned, or at least re-evaluated. New methods of witness and worship are being tried. Schedules are being revised to make things a bit easier for time-harassed families.
Not all of us agree on these issues and sub-issues, or even sub-sub-issues. Methods we have found successful, perhaps for many years, are being criticized. Positions we believe to be thoroughly biblical are not seen in the same light by brothers and sisters in Christ. Naturally, we feel compelled to defend our methods and interpretations.
Perhaps others of us, on the other hand, resent what appears to us as intolerance of anything new. We sense a prejudice toward views which fall short of majority acceptance. We resent what we see as a tradition-bound resistance to change.
As born-again, Bible-believing Christians, how should we react to these differences of opinion?
This article is not going to attempt to offer specific answers to every issue confronting assemblies today. Or even to identify such issues. It will not outline methods of discussion or dialogue (though such dialogue is deeply needed). It will urge one attitude for all of us, no matter where we stand. We must, at all times, no matter what the situation, keep loving one another.
Yes, there is a time when some Christians must confront other believers about deviation from truth clearly revealed in the Word of God. Paul was right to criticize Peter's double standard publicly (i.e., in the church). Peter's error could have easily led astray many sincere lambs of Christ.
There is a time for such confrontation. But not all differences of interpretation require a calling to account. And with the wrong timing, such a step--even when needed--can bring much harm.
Christians today need to learn how to disagree, how to teach each other, how to question one another without destroying their fellowship. A difference of views does not need to resemble Paul and Barnabas' dispute over whether John Mark should be given a second chance. That occasion produced "such a sharp disagreement that they parted company" (Acts 15:39).
Christian fellowship should never be sacrificed on an altar of personal argument.
Even when we disagree, or don't quite get along, or see each other as in the wrong, we need to practice the ultimate implication of Christian fellowship--love. None of us has a total grasp on biblical truth; not one of us is always right. Therefore we all need love and understanding.
Jesus said, "All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another" (John 13:35).
"Love is patient, love is kind. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Cor. 13:4,7).
It is easy to show love when we are all in agreement, but when we interpret the same inerrant Scriptures differently--that's when we need to love each other the most.
Disagreeing without dividing--that is a challenge many of us face today. Even though we don't see every issue through the same eyes, we can work together in harmony.
The apostle Paul shares words apropos to this situation: "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:2-3).
Humility, gentleness, patience, love, peace--all this grows out of the unity only the Holy Spirit can produce. And only through the Spirit can we face our differences without hurting the Body or bringing dishonor to its Head.
God has placed us in local assemblies where we can serve the Savior, be nourished in our faith and enjoy precious fellowship with our dear brothers and sisters in Christ. None of us wants to disrupt that scene, and we all recognize that we need each other's presence and encouragement. We realize that "the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' and the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!'" (1 Cor. 12:21).
We need each other. Unity always depends on a true diversity.
We are committed to our individual assemblies and have no intention of "forsaking the assembling of ourselves together." We are prepared to do whatever we can to maintain the assembly's health and efficiency for Christ. As part of this, we must deal with thorny questions in a Christlike way. We must not compromise or accommodate ourselves to worldly thinking.
But it is just as important that we face our differences in love. We must not label the other person as "too progressive," or "too traditional" and automatically assume he or she is guilty of misinterpretation. Rather, we must, in love, take the time to listen, to give the benefit of the doubt and to reconsider our own position.
Are we sure we have not misunderstood the Scriptures?
Disagreement doesn't have to lead to division. But it should lead to open, honest dialogue.
"The greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13).