Opinions on faith and life

Community and Controversy

2006-06-01

I am thinking mostly about online communities (message boards), but this would apply to “church” as well. How should Christians deal with ’in-house issues’, conflicts, controversies? Where do we draw the line between unity and repression?

Romans 14

Accept the person who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of arguing over differences of opinion. 2 One person believes that he can eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 The person who eats must not despise the person who does not eat, and the person who does not eat must not criticize the person who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to criticize someone else’s servant? His own Lord will determine whether he stands or falls. And stand he will, because God is able to make him stand. 5 One person decides that one day is better than another, while another person decides that all days are the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6The one who observes a special day, observes it to honor the Lord. The one who eats, eats to honor the Lord, since he gives thanks to God. And the one who does not eat, refrains from eating to honor the Lord; yet he, too, gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8If we live, we live to honor the Lord; and if we die, we die to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9For this reason Christ died and returned to life, so that he might become the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 Why, then, do you criticize your brother? Or why do you despise your brother? ...12 Consequently, each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore, let us no longer criticizing each other. Instead, make up your mind not to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in and of itself. But it is unclean to a person who thinks it is unclean. 15 For if your brother is being hurt by what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not destroy the person for whom Christ died by what you eat. 16 Do not allow your good to be spoken of as evil. 17 For God’s kingdom does not consist of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy produced by the Holy Spirit... 22 As for the faith you do have, have it as your own conviction before God.

Paul is bringing up some important principles. One thing we see here is that there really are legitimate disagreements between believers. We are not automatons or clones, but human beings. Why does God allow this? I’ve written before about the fact that we cannot love God if we have no choice, but we also are told that we will be given rewards someday. How are we rewarded? On the bases of our deeds. And I think one of the tests of life is how we handle controversy. God allows us to disagree to test us on how we react to people who just don’t see things as we do. Of course there are firm areas of doctrine which are not up for debate, but many other things can be disagreed upon among true believers

Paul is making two primary points: that we can and should hold to our own convictions and must not violate our own conscience, yet that we have to be considerate of other believers and not rub our own views in their faces. This requires a delicate balance and a lot of discernment. Some people think there are no gray areas at all, while others are so ’tolerant’ they stand for nothing.

Is Paul telling us we can never express our convictions to people we know disagree with us? I don’t think so, because this would quickly escalate into a Pharisaical repression of freedom of conscience. What’s the point in telling us how to deal with controversies if this would never happen, due to our not being permitted to speak? Neither is he telling us the other extreme, to ignore those with “weak faith” and continually irritate them. But to be fair, some people are so easily irritated that it’s literally impossible to avoid hurting them!

What Paul is saying is to show reasonable consideration. And it is required of everyone, not just the “strong” in faith. Both extremes must refrain from bashing each other, and at the same time they must also practice not being so quick to take offense, because people don’t always know when they have offended someone. This is not to say we have to sink to the lowest common denominator, to never get out of bed for fear of injury. Instead, we need to allow each other to express their views without being overly judgmental.

People tend to be more restrained in person, but the internet is a whole different story. It’s so easy to jump to conclusions, to presume some kind of psychic ability to know the motives and emotions of someone’s writing. It’s easy to gang up on the nonconformists and mock them into silence. And, as I’ve written about before, there is plenty of hypocrisy on the part of the “holier than thou” types, viciously condemning all who do not share their particular views on “disputable matters”.

Am I guilty of any of this? Of course. Are you? Yes, you are. Everybody is to some extent. But what’s particularly distasteful is when people show a continual double standard, angrily slamming others for being harsh and negative! If you judge another for “not acting like a Christian”, you are guilty of the same thing because you are presuming the place of the Holy Spirit. There is a vast difference between privately going to a Christian brother or sister to express your concerns, and publicly chastising them and claiming some kind of spiritual authority over them.

So what should we do? I see no reason why we can’t just let people post whatever they want in a board, and if we disagree with what’s posted, just respond with our own view. There is no need to belittle fellow believers or try to silence them. Let everyone speak. For example, if a Calvinist writes that God predestines people for hell without giving them any choice, I can then post why I believe this is not what the Bible teaches. It would be as wrong for me to call the Calvinist lost as it would for them to claim I don’t believe in the sovereignty of God.

Now some more scripture:

1 Corinthians 12 12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body— whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free— and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many... 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

Yet this is exactly what is being said when one believer tells another, “Because you (do or don’t) believe [insert controversial statement here], you are backslidden and not acting like a Christian should! (according to my personal convictions)”. Or think of it as us all looking out different windows of the same building. Each person sees a different view, with perhaps a little overlap. If one sees someone coming, but the others don’t, should the one who sees keep silent? Should the others tell the one who sees that s/he is wrong or blind or divisive? NO! But it happens all the time.

Let’s get over ourselves and just let everyone have a turn on the soapbox.