It is no surprise when Christians disagree. At its foundation, it shows that the church is a family of different people, from different backgrounds, with different beliefs and experiences. This can be a beautiful thing, but often we see it in its ugliest form. Christians bashing Christians in comment sections, people claiming that another must not be a Christian based on what they believe, etc. I am sure we could all bring up many other examples.
But we must follow the word of God, you might say. We need to keep each other accountable!
Sure. But what things should we be letting go? And if we decide that it is important enough the disagree on, how should we go about doing so?
There are two things that Christians might disagree on. The first is central Gospel truths. These are things about Jesus, the cross, God, redemption, forgiveness, sin and reconciliation. A misunderstanding on these things can hurt a person’s understanding of the gospel and the love of Christ, so we should be of one mind on these things! This is Paul’s encouragement when he says,
“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor 1:10).
The goal here is to be unified in our mind and judgement about the Gospel. For Christians, disagreements over central things should be brought to light. According to Jesus in Matthew 18,
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
The order of how to deal with a rebellious believer relates to vital matters of the church, specifically when referring to unrepentant sins in a person’s life. This is speaking of the kind of person who is stubborn in their ways and does not let themselves be shaped by the church’s counsel. They are going their own way, towards destruction. The church should work to lead them back through counsel on their sins, hoping and praying that they be of one mind on central, gospel things. If this process does not work, the rebellious person can no longer be considered part of the church. Many find this unnerving, but the Lord has set up his church wisely, and we ought to follow when Jesus gives commands.
We may agree on central truths of the Gospel, which is great and necessary for salvation, but what about those peripheral conversations that get awkward: like male headship in the church and family? What about questioning whether something like universal healthcare is the best way to live out the command to love your neighbor? What about the infamous Calvinism Arminian debate? Should these conversations have a place in the church?
To muddy the waters, part of the problem is that we cannot agree on what are central and peripheral things. A person rarely gets into heated discussions about a topic about which he is not passionate.
I come from the perspective that engaging in conversation, especially when people disagree, is a good and helpful thing. It says to the other person, “I care about you and believe that my perspective leads to human flourishing and a greater love for God, so I want to convince you of this too!”
We do not need to ignore our differences and never talk about them, but we must learn to disagree in ways that are helpful and uplifting. Thankfully, the Bible gives good guidance about how to have conversations that are wise.
Before learning how to do something, we must understand why this is important or else our behavior will be short lived. Why should we seek to have good conversations with Christians? Does it really matter? A few thoughts on this: Timothy states that when we quarrel, it only “ruins those who listen.” When we care for those in the conversation and those who might hear it (think of the non-Christian on Instagram who is reading your comments that rips apart another Christian) we are prudent in our words. 1 Corinthians 6:1 asks: “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?” Paul’s point here is that we must not mention a case against another Christian in front of the unrighteous. This stains our witness and makes us look like fools. Instead, we ought to show the beauty and glory of Christ through our conversations when we disagree.
We have an obligation to the people around us to use words that build up, rather than tear down. As it says in Proverbs, “Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction.” (Proverbs 18:20) Through our words and conversation, we can satisfy others like a good meal.
When we engage in conversation, we must keep in mind to not let it become a quarrel. One way this may happen is through “foolish and ignorant speculations.” (2 Tim 2:23) Before going into a conversation, it is important to know what you are talking about. Simple enough? Yes, but in the heat of passion, it is often easy to forsake the integrity of the truth for quick soundbites or “gotcha” statements. These things do not encourage others in the Lord or towards truth, according to Timothy, instead, it only produces fruitless strife leading to only greater division and anger.
Another simple, but profound lesson from the book of Proverbs concerns the nature of our conversations. We are not simply presenting our side and then walking away. Proverbs advises us that “If anyone gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Prov 18:13) The best way to lose an argument is to not listen. Who wants to talk to a person only spouting their own opinions and beliefs, with no dialogue?
Scripture encourages us to use our words well, for “Wise words are like deep waters; wisdom flows from the wise like a bubbling brook.” (Proverbs 18:4) Our interactions and disagreements must stem from a place of love and care for our fellow brother or sister in Christ. We must keep watch about who is listening to our conversations and whether what is said helps build up the Church or hurts our witness to the world. Before we bash every disagreement as “ungodly,” let us remember that Paul disagreed with Peter when his words and actions were leading people astray. (Gal. 2:11-13) Disagreement is inevitable and can lead to the continuous reformation of the church, but it must be pursued wisely, not as “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal,” but from a place of love.