When We Disagree
by Gary Corwin
Running through the Bible like an antiphonal chorus is God’s call to his people to pursue two goals crucial to Christ-like living—unity and purity.
Running through the Bible like an antiphonal chorus is God’s call to his people to pursue two goals crucial to Christ-like living—unity and purity. Some passages emphasize one more than the other, but both crash like waves of the sea over and over, in various shapes and sizes, upon the shores of our consciousness.
Both “unity” and “purity” as used here should be understood broadly. Unity encompasses all those thoughts, feelings, and actions that God has instructed his people to pursue in their relationships with one another. Purity embraces all God has instructed his people to pursue in order to maintain holiness before him. For Christian leaders, the mandate also includes the shepherds’ task of protecting those under their care from the “wolves” who sow both disunity and unholy teaching among them.
Historically, many in the church have had the tendency to pursue either unity or purity to the neglect of the other. For some, the call to be reconcilers obscures the necessity of standing boldly for truth. For others, the call to stand for truth obscures the need for humility and patience in dealing with others, and especially with fellow members of the household of faith. Here are some reminders that may help address both callings in a more balanced way:
Be serious in your commitment to both callings. It goes almost without saying, but we cannot hope to be successful in maintaining balance unless we are consciously and fully committed to it. Scripture gives us great encouragement in both endeavors:
• “…and be holy, because I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44)
• “As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 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. 4:1-3)
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 19:19). We all struggle with this one, but it is absolutely essential. The “Golden Rule” (Matt. 7:12) is a great compass to guide us. If we treat others the way we want to be treated, then we are on our way to success. What would that look like practically? Assume good motives in those with whom you disagree until proven otherwise. Speak to people, not about them. Seek to persuade rather than punish. Speak truth in love, but speak truth. The cult of “nice” is not enough. Seek to truly understand before seeking to correct.
Make humility a hallmark of your interactions.
• “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3)
• “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (1 Pet. 5:5)
• “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Gal. 6:1-3)
In short, our interactions must be anchored in the recognition that there but for the grace of God go I. And how much more must we tread in humility when the issue is not one of sin, but of differing opinion.
Don’t allow false humility to keep you from your duty to speak truth and stand for it.
• “I [Paul] know that after I leave savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31)
• “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Tim. 1:14)
“These are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.” (Tit. 2:15)
While how we do it is crucial, there is no substitute for boldly standing for truth.
Flee reductionism and the temptation to misrepresent those with whom you disagree. It is easy to take the worse abuses in a movement or position and paint everyone identified with it with that brush, whether deserved or not. How does one know whether it is deserved? By genuinely seeking to understand each person and what leads him or her to the positions he or she takes. There is rarely even a heresy that does not contain some kernel of truth. The antidote to reductionism, as difficult as it may be, is to genuinely seek to understand first. Only then should we seek to point out errors and pitfalls, or seek to persuade. And only after we have accompanied our efforts with prayer and tears dare we speak or write words of condemnation and anathema.
Unity and purity: in God’s design for our discipleship, they are conjoined twins. We must not choose between them.
Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and staff missiologist with the international office of Serving in Mission (SIM).
EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 134-135. Copyright © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.