We’ve all been there. Sitting on a comfy chair at prayer group, or in a Bible study circle, taking in the joyful fellowship of brothers and sisters in the faith. Sharing in truth and conversation between believers. Then it happens. Someone in the group begins to share their thoughts on a certain matter and you sit there in cringing silence, red flags going off at every syllable they speak. “Do they actually believe that? Is that how they think God works? Is that really what they think the Bible says?” Your thoughts go wild with all the things you think you ought to say to set them straight. Chances are, upon vocalizing your contradictory thoughts, you’ll be brought to the difficult place where faithful followers of Christ often find themselves. It’s an impasse, a disagreement of opinions, and you’ll both be forced to decide how to approach it.
It is these kinds of disagreements that can sever the unity that God designed for his church to partake in. Disagreements are the cause of great divides in churches and relationships, friendships and partnerships. While it’s a tragic cause of separation in any case, it is most difficult to see between brothers and sisters in Christ – a place where God designed us to stand apart from the world, unified in faith and in truth. The devil can use a simple dispute between believers to crumble the beautiful unity that God designed Christians to share.
If, then, we are resolved to stand firm in the purposes that God has set before us, resisting the devil at every turn, we must learn how to effectively disagree with other Christians.
Remember the Bible
There are many places in Scripture where it is easy to misinterpret the message God intended. Sometimes we are inclined to read things into the text that are not there; Other times, we omit certain passages from the text that should not be overlooked. Whether intentional or not, it so often happens that we read the Bible with our own agenda, willing it to say only what we think it should.
There are places where the Bible is not immediately clear in its meaning. That’s where theologians and biblical scholars are important. But there are many more themes that the Bible is explicitly definitive about – passages and verses that remain the same no matter what angle you look at them from. It’s these doctrinal truths that, if misinterpreted, can cause great disillusionment in the believer. The Bible is God’s personal word and instruction to us – his letter of love, and our source of knowledge. If there is any definitive answer to a disagreement between believers, it will be found in the very Word of God!
There are theological truths written into the text that simply cannot be debated. First and foremost is the reality of the death and resurrection of Christ – without which we would have no basis of faith (1 Cor. 15:14). The second is the reality of eternal separation from God should we not enter the gates of heaven (2 Thess. 1:9), by which we can only get to through faith in Christ (John 14:6).
The list of secure, undebatable truths continues as one studies Scripture. However, the bottom line is that every disagreement must begin with a careful and honest search through Scripture. God’s Word must be upheld as the source of our beliefs, and thus be the first place we turn to when a clash of opinions arises.
Grace is the single, most important aspect of our faith that sets us apart from any other faith in this world. Just as Christ continues in his grace towards us, so we are to replicate his example. That grace is extended not simply to those who do not believe as we do, but even those who share our faith.
1 Peter 3:15 is a familiar verse to many Christians, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” It’s an important verse, reminding us to be ready to defend the truths we uphold. The verse does not end there but goes on to say, “Do this with gentleness and respect.” A similar verse in Colossians reads, “Let your speech always be gracious . . .” (4:6). Also see Ephesians 4:29. The common link between all these is, of course, grace.
When approaching an argument between believers, we must remember the grace that God has shown us. There is no greater example than that of Christ himself. When in debate with other great teachers of his time, he knew how to best approach his point. Instead of harshly forcing his listeners to agree with his word, he would allow them to form their own conclusions based on the gracious truths he was presenting. If they still chose to hear his word and continue in their folly, Christ knew that arguing with them further would simply be like throwing pearls to swine (Matt. 7:6).
God doesn’t require us to win every argument, or be 100 percent right all of the time. Sometimes, it is better to know when to show each other grace by allowing a disagreement to remain, leaving God to convict their hearts on his own timing. By refusing to grow indignant or forceful about our own conclusions based on God’s Word, we confuse the schemes of the devil, maintaining our oneness in Christ.
What matters most to God
When it comes to disagreeing with fellow Christians, it is most important to remember the heart of the gospel. Perhaps you cannot agree whether drinking wine is a sin. Perhaps your views are different when it comes to how strict a modest dress code should be. Regardless of the source of the disagreements, it is important to remember what matters most to God.
We can be certain that he cares about how we interpret his instruction to us; however there is greater assurance that he cares most about where our hearts stand (Prov. 21:2, Jer. 17:10, Heb. 11:6). God concerns himself about our relationship with him over and above the trivial debates we choose to focus on.
If both hearts are genuine in faith in the truth of the gospel, and devoted to a loving relationship with our Saviour, then the small disagreements are of little consequence in the grand scheme of God’s will.
We must not let Satan divide us with his tricky schemes rooted in disagreements. Like the rest of the world, we are susceptible to crossing through testy waters and uneven grounds between beliefs. But unlike them, we are drawn together in a firm foundation that cannot crumble despite the many attacks against it. God has designed us to stand together against the torments of sin and Satan’s best attempts to win this war by dividing us from within. So we must remember the unchanging truths on which we stand, and agree to let nothing divide the unity we have in Christ.
“I appeal to you brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and judgement” (1 Cor. 1:10).
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