Thursday, April 7, 2016

When Christians Disagree

Growing up, I was very compliant for the most part. I did not make waves, and I did not ask questions, unlike Question Quigley. It may have been part of my ethnic culture or just my personality, but I never doubted what I was taught, whether it was in the classroom or from the pulpit. It also made life easier. In school, I was a model student who dutifully regurgitated the material for the sake of the grade. (Whether that was really learning is another matter.) In the church, I was a model sheep who went along with the rest of the herd, so there were no awkward conversations over doctrinal disagreements.

But the time came when I had to ask some hard questions. Circumstances forced me to examine what I believed and why I believed it, and my belief system was found wanting. This resulted in a shift from my previous theological position, and for the first time in my life, I found myself at odds with other believers.

This was extremely uncomfortable. I was so used to accepting pretty much everything from any authority figure in my life that it almost felt like treason to disagree with people who I had looked to as spiritual mentors. But like Martin Luther, my conscience was bound by the Word of God, so several awkward and difficult conversations followed. Some of my friends were glad I had not abandoned the faith and was part of a local church even with the differences in doctrine. But for others, the disagreements were deal-breakers. Fellowship was broken, and this hurt.

This led me to wonder, is it possible to disagree and still be in fellowship?

Well, I learned this is possible through the church I began attending. One of the first Sunday school topics was eschatology. I was only familiar with one view come to find out there were four?! And each view was represented in this little church?! How could this be? The teacher was upfront about his personal conviction, but his goal was not to sway us to his side. He took great pains to use primary sources and let each position speak for itself. We were encouraged to examine the views in the light of Scripture, but our teacher would not tell us what to believe, which was a huge eyeopener for me. There was spirited discussion between the opposing views, but when class was over, we were still one, just not necessarily in our eschatology. Even a few weeks ago, after a lively debate about the meaning of a verse in 1 Peter 3, our Sunday school teacher mentioned that we were going to celebrate the Lord's supper in the service to follow. He encouraged us to remember that our unity isn't based on the translation of a particular Greek word, but in the Gospel and what Christ has done on our behalf.

I need to take the example of these brothers to heart. They encouraged give-and-take and acknowledged differences in interpretation, but they did not lose sight of the source of our oneness. I am more than likely to jump into the fray, make waves, and ask questions than in former days. There are doctrines and issues that I hold dear, so it is tempting to look for oneness in agreement on these specifics. But I need to remember that unity with fellow believers flows first and foremost from our union with Christ. A day is coming when all will be made clear, and there will be no disagreements. But until then and even amidst the healthy process of iron sharpening iron, I want to hold fast to the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity. - Rupertus Meldenius
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Eph. 4:1-5

Update: For further reading - Polemic Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us by Roger Nicole


  1. Excellent! This is a subject many believers struggle with but it is often avoided. Thanks for tackling it head-on!

  2. Technically, there are at least 5 possible views of eschatology, when you include the "I don't have an opinion" position. While sure, eschatology can have implications for how a Christian chooses to live, it doesn't affect my own calling as a Christian.

    (I'm more of the "Dude, you just sabotaged your own argument" and "Okay, here's that transition your Christian friend didn't think to mention" type of person—where immediate statement and implication matter, particularly for what they indicate of current pattern, but the only way eschatology can affect that is if you need the incentive from…whatever view of the eschatology you have.)

    Me? I figure we have enough info to know we're closer to the end times than we used to be, and the current world setup means the prophecies for the end times could come true FAST, but… Why does it matter?

    We should be behaving the same regardless if we think end times are distant vs. if we think they could start tomorrow. God is looking over our shoulder either way, yanno, so our eschatology shouldn't really be affecting our ministry. :-)

    I don't apply that attitude just to eschatology.

    And I've found that when I post online to point out holes in others' arguments, to be iron sharpening iron—no matter how much I agree with someone or how politely I frame my response—I often get non sequiturs and ad hominems in response, or an outright lie about what they previously said. (Note that I'm not counting correction of a misread as "an outright lie.")

    I point all this out as answer to your question, "Is it possible to disagree and still be in fellowship?"

    Yes, it is possible—as long as both parties are willing.

    So…long way of saying, "Yep, same experience as you. Watch out for the folks who get offended and lash out." ^_^