We all wish that the scriptures spelled out everything so that we wouldn’t have to study and dispute about so many things. But as I’ve said many times, it’s likely that God is more concerned with how we disagree than whether we disagree. This means we have to think and talk to each other, but the problem is that we can’t seem to do so with civility and self-control. Often, we don’t even realize that we commit many of the same perceived offenses we see in others, further escalating the discord.
There is a fine balance between discernment and condemnation, tolerance and compromise with sin, healthy debate and destructive dispute. Let’s list some groups of scriptures that help to illustrate the tension various points of scripture present.
Unity or legitimate differences?
- 1 Cor. 1:10-- Now, brothers and sisters, I plead with you through the Name of our Master Jesus the Anointed, that you all agree and that there may not be factions among you, but instead that you are fully equipped with one mind and opinion.
- Rom. 6:17-- Now I plead with you, sisters and brothers, to make note of those who cause division and set traps, contrary to what you learned, and turn away from them.
- Rom. 14:5-- One person prefers one day over another, while another treats every day alike; let each one follow their personal conviction.
To judge or not to judge?
- Luke 6:37-- Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
- 1 John 4:1-- So, loved ones, do not believe every spirit, but test it to make sure it is from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
- 1 Cor. 5:12-13b-- After all, what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Are you not to judge those on the inside? God will judge the outsiders.
Freedom or restriction?
- 1 Cor. 8:1–13-- Now concerning idol sacrifices, we all think we know something. But though knowledge can make us conceited, love builds us up. ... So then, about eating food that has been sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God... But not everyone knows this. Some who were accustomed to idols still can’t eat the food that had been offered to them without considering it a sacrifice, and so their weak conscience is violated. Now food does not give us good standing before God, whether we nibble or stuff ourselves. But be careful not to let this right of yours become a stumbling block to the weak... If anyone sees you who have this understanding dining in an idol’s shrine, won’t you be damaging their weak conscience by being seen eating there? You would be destroying the weak one with your knowledge— and this is your brother or sister for whom the Anointed died! In doing this, you would be sinning against your sisters and brothers and beating on their weak consciences, and ultimately sinning against the Anointed. For that reason, if food becomes a trap for a brother or sister I’ll never eat meat again, just so I won’t lay a trap for them.
- 1 Cor. 10:27–30-- If an unbeliever invites you to eat and you want to go, eat whatever is placed before you and don’t ask questions. But if they say to you, “This was offered in sacrifice”, then don’t eat it, for the unbeliever’s sake and for conscience’ sake. Now by conscience, I mean that of the other person, not you. After all, why should my freedom be decided by someone else’s conscience? If I am partaking with gratitude, why should I be slandered over something I give thanks for?
And of course we could name the great debates that have raged throughout church history and continue to this day: Calvinism/Arminianism, eternal security / conditional security, hierarchy / equality, Bible versions, etc. Disagreements will always be with us, as I have mentioned before (Divide And Conquer, Heresy, Vaporware). So the question is not how to eliminate them, but how to handle them amicably.
When we use statements such as “I bet you would…”, “Anyone who believes that must be…”Those people are all…“, we are making blanket judgments without trials, condemning people we never met and ignoring the fact that people are not one-dimensional and easily stuffed into boxes. When someone points this out to us, we often react with ”I was only stating the truth, not judging“. But that itself is an untruth, even if we have convinced ourselves that we are honestly not meaning anything else. There is just no way to turn blanket condemnations into ”statements of truth".
Likewise, our personal convictions are not the standard of truth. We may be sincerely wrong about many things, and others may honestly disagree without being evil or lying or stupid or blind. We may be able to see inconsistencies in what others believe, but that’s all we should say-- that we see it as inconsistent. The expression of opinion is not wrong in itself, and we need to learn to allow others that same right. But to express it in a way that makes unreasonable or unfounded judgments is unloving at the very least.
How do we stop carving up the Body of Christ? Self-control instead of other-control; self-judgment instead of other-judgment; self-conviction instead of other-conviction; self-denial instead of other-denial. Recognize when a view held by someone else is at least possible; allow others the right to their convictions. Think sensibly and deeply instead of parroting what others say (Acts 17:11). Discern when it is right to debate (Acts 18:28, Jude 1:3) and when we need to walk away (Mat. 7:6).
I know this is all easier said than done. But The Golden Rule (Mat. 7:12) still rules! Jesus didn’t say it would be easy, but he did say it very simply.