When Christians Disagree

coffee-beans-1082116_640It’s likely that you and I don’t agree on everything.

Theoretically, we know that. Theoretically, we still love one another, you know, because we’re one family under God. Theoretically, we, in the church, form a beautiful tapestry, our differences of opinion devising the colors and textures that give depth to the work of the kingdom. Theoretically, we’re generous, inclusive, and kind even when we disagree.

Face-to-face, though, or in conversation, when we stumble onto one of these IED’s (isolated entities of disagreement), they detonate. We reel from the flash, dodging shrapnel as we try to recover a sense of equilibrium and find solid footing on which to continue our love relationship. It ain’t easy.

It’s ain’t easy because these places where we disagree aren’t just theories. They are the fabric that make the decisions that create our daily lives. They aren’t just theological places of contention between Christians – they determine whom we’ll choose to marry – or not, how we’ll use our gifts, how we’ll treat the most vulnerable among us, and where we will worship.

It’s easy to forget on how often we do agree. To enter the church, we all admitted we are sinners and cannot save ourselves. That because of our sinful state, we are worthy of eternal separation from God. That God, in His great love, put into process a plan for our redemption and sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross in our place. That Jesus, in obedience to the Father, lived a sinless life on earth, died a cruel death on that cross, and rose sheep-17482_640again, victorious over sin and death. That each of us, if we believe He died for us, enter into a saving relationship with Him and receive, by grace, forgiveness, and eternal life. That we know all this through His Word. That our call now is to know Him, worship Him, obey His Word, and further His Kingdom on earth until we die or He returns, whichever comes first. That is the wide and sturdy platform on which we meet.

But, there are things. Issues. Potholes. Places of contention where we haven’t understood what He’s commanded in the same way. These things aren’t esoteric and distant such as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. These things are tangible and deeply, heart-achingly personal. Is it all right for my brother to marry another man? Can my aunt become our pastor? Does my teen-age daughter have to carry her baby to full term? Is there a Christian way to vote in November?

Even if we agree on the basic right or wrong of these issues, there are more disagreements about how we live them out. If my brother knows I oppose gay marriage, is it all right for me to show him I love him by attending his wedding? If I believe God has put an order in place that excludes women from being teaching pastors, is it wrong for me to meet with the local woman pastor to pray and study together? Do we celebrate the teen-age daughter with a baby shower? If I strongly oppose your politics, can we still have peaceful fellowship or should I just find another church? By staying, am I quietly condoning your views?

co-workers-294266_640There are more sticking points – how do we treat Mary? When is Jesus returning? Is Jesus returning? Is the earth getting warmer? How old is the world? Is it always wrong to have sex outside of marriage? What does love look like when we disagree?

It’s not easy but we don’t need easy. We’re the church. We do hard things. We follow Jesus Christ who did hard things. Our Father is the Creator of the universe who is capable of all things. We have the Holy Spirit who empowers us with the spiritual resources to love, live, learn, and obey supernaturally. All things are possible with God, even that His disagreeing church can work its way to inhabit the unity He’s given us.

Here’s some things I believe about these places of disagreement:

  1. I do the best I can to study the Bible and godly teaching, to pray, and to seek God’s guidance in determining what I believe. I form opinions I believe are correct (if I didn’t think they were, I would change them) BUT
  2. I don’t believe I’m going to get to Heaven and hear God tell me, “Lori, you got every issue perfectly correct! You go sit over with the other correct people while I straighten out the rest.” I believe we’re called to conduct ourselves, always, with love and humility – not wishy-washy uncertainty (which is different) but with humility.
  3. I don’t apologize for what I believe because I believe it’s biblical, meaning it’s God’s idea, not mine. I pray for the strength not to compromise when what I believe God says is hard to live but biblical truth nonetheless.
  4. If we disagree but you’ve come to your conclusions out of love for God, for His Word, and for others and you support your stand biblically, I respect you and believe we can still work together toward unity BUT
  5. If you’ve reached your belief by dismissing the Bible as outdated and irrelevant or out of anger/rebellion, or because you just want what you want, you and I may have harder conversations, still in love, still with humility, but harder still.
  6. I will listen to you because that’s loving. I will hear you out without calling you names or putting you in a box or questioning your salvation hand-453220_640(because that’s not my job.) I hope you’ll do the same. I pray for strength to stay loving, gracious, and kind even if you don’t. We may still disagree when we’re through BUT
  7. God commands me to love, to live at peace as much as it depends on me, and to offer correction with gentleness and humility as I speak His truth. This informs my attitude and actions toward even people yelling at me on Facebook. I’m intentional about spending time studying the entire Bible, not just the places of contention, and I find there a constant call to lay down my life for others (not God’s truth, but my life.)
  8. I remember we have an enemy who is at work trying to exacerbate our strife and I am more opposed to him than I am to you.
  9. James 1:19-27 calls me back from the screaming brink whenever I lose my cool with another Christian over our differences.

I have more thoughts but I’m interested to hear from you. This is tough stuff. We’re not going to weather this next storm of disagreement with a campfire and a few choruses of Kum Bah Yah. Creating peace is serious work for serious Christians.

What Scriptures or practices guide you when interacting with Christians who disagree on contentious issues? What have you found helps the process of maintaining unity amidst difference? What habits keep you from compromising biblical truth? What do you do to cultivate love for differing believers and to demonstrate that love to them?

Never more have we needed this conversation, so let’s begin it here.

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13 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Linda Sami says:

    When issues arise I remember that Jesus says love one another. He doesn’t say to only love those that think like me or are like me. I like the people that are brave enough to tell me what they think, especially if it is a new slant on things. I love open minds that are not afraid to discuss things and even agree to disagree. The difference of opinion helps me to grow spiritually. To question is to grow.
    Yes there are those that will fight to the bitter end to try to prove their point. That’s ok with me. At least they are passionate about something. I also pray everyday for them.

  2. Jim Klock says:

    One verse in the New Testament that I find very helpful in these contentious arenas is ….”Speak the truth. IN LOVE.” I have to pause and examine my motive for my words. Am I truly saying only what God’s Word speaks to me? Or some other thing? Thanks, Lori, for this timely piece. We need His peace these days more than ever.

  3. Carla says:

    Over the last several months my heart has undergone some drastic changes. The Scripture that has been seared into my brain is John 3:16, but only the portion–‘For God so loved the world that He gave’–God loved us when we were vile and nasty. He loved us so much that He sacrificed up His Precious Son WHILE we were nailing Him on the tree and laughing and spitting on Him. The problem is we try to explain God’s love to our limited human minds and we come up with religion–God loves us only to the point where We are in compliance. God will love us till the moment we die. Until that moment we have access to His mercy and grace. That fills me with hope for those who beat their chests and proclaim their rightness despite the evidence to the contrary. So I listen to the Spirit and say what He tells me to, and pray for them the rest of the time. God will do as He pleases, and I know His ways are right. God bless.

  4. DS says:

    When people say to me (for example) : “But don’t you think gay people should be able to love who they want if they were born that way?” or “Don’t you think good people should go to heaven?”, my reply is along the lines of: “Yes. I love my gay friends and want them to be happy” and “Yes, I don’t want to think about nice people going to hell.” BUT: My opinion does not matter! All that matters is what the bible says.

  5. My family and I have recently been faced with issues where disagreements have shaken the fellowship of our little church family. As you wrote, seeking peace in love without compromising our beliefs based on the Word is the best way in some cases. Your words are advice to be studied and followed. Thank you!

    • John D. Seither says:

      Very tough stuff indeed. I’m not very good at patiently loving people who disagree with so many of the issues we are facing in the church due to our culture’s encroachment therein. I applaud your method of biblical study and prayerful submission to the Spirit’s teaching through study and teaching by others who are rightly handling God’s word. There are rules as to how it is to be rightly handled and they are not complicated. I see a major problem within the body of Christ being that there are so many who are getting their information from sources other than the scriptures, AND the corruption of language in general within our culture. Disagreement does not = hate and agreement does not = love! If I am convinced someone is wrong in their convictions and that the bible refutes their position, it is actually loving to try to bring correction so as to help that person avoid the consequences of unbiblical ideas. Very difficult to do when you’re tagged as unloving for disagreeing in the first place. Of course my Marine Corps training kicks in about that time and I start throwing grenades and now we’ve got a real mess! Love your blog and your heart. My wife is a writer.

      • I hear you, John. I do believe many people are silent, not out of agreement, but out of fear of conflict, apathy, or because they don’t know how to defend their beliefs. This isn’t peace, it’s laziness and spiritual neglect. Channel that Marine spirit into your passion for Christ (it appears that’s what you do!). Semper fi. Oo-rah.

  6. I pursue many of the habits you do to nurture my own growth and live at peace with others. I admit that when uncomfortable conversations start and I feel there won’t be any headway I’m likely to change the subject. I do so to keep my inner turmoil at bay.

    I don’t have much trouble with differences as long as someone doesn’t try to bind my conscience with their understanding.

  7. Lori, Romans 12:18 comes to mind “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” I study long and hard on the divisive issues. I feel like I only scratched the surface of knowing God and His Word.
    For believers who disagree, I ask them to look at scripture. I have changed my view on issues after I fully studied the topic. If believers cannot come to an agreement, they must agree to disagree. This holds true only for secondary issues.(Baptism, speaking in tongues, raising hands, women pastors, communion, etc.in this) You stated all the primary issues in this blog.
    For non-believers, I cannot expect them to follow the Bible. I show them the love of Christ, and when the Spirit prompts, I give them the gospel. All my gay friends know I am a follower of Jesus. They still want me around. They ask for advice, and I tell them what the Bible states. We must remember the Holy Spirit is at work. Every believer is at a different stage in their walk with God. God has the final say on everything.
    I love your heart and your boldness. You are here for such a time as this, my friend.

  8. Joyce Sappington says:

    The past decade has certainly been a learning and growing experience for me in these issues. With sarcasm as my second language it has been so easy to quickly becoming biting and condescending towards those whom I disagree with. Often the Spirit has caught me up short or, after hitting send, there’s a gnawing that “perhaps I could have worded that better”. Christ has been gentle, for the most part, in dealing with me on this (thank goodness!!!!), but I still find myself responding before thinking too many times. I realize all too often how this discredits my witness with some. At the same time, I have been growing and calling myself up short — considering whether responding is even worthwhile or taking a different tact in my response.
    Ultimately, though, I am realizing that all this is really preparation for the Church’s ability to make a strong and cogent stand as the days grow darker and the Enemy moves faster. So we’ve been going through a kind of “basic training”. Hopefully, our spiritual muscles are ready to engage.

  9. “Creating peace is serious work for serious Christians.” Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. I’m with Cherrilynn on Romans 12:18–as much as it depends on me.
    My frustration is more the LACK of real conversations than anything else. Out of fear, apathy, laziness or something, I find many church-goers who don’t want to dig into these difficult issues. Maybe, like you suggested, they think disagreement = hate. That produces a pseudopeace that feels much like a mask, which reminds me of ‘hypocrite.’ Hmm.
    I would love to grab hold of a thorny issue alongside a few other people who would join me in laying aside denominational opinions, tradition, cultural pressures, and everything else to simply find out what the Bible says…to the best of our ability.
    Thanks for writing this, Lori.

  10. Barb Irwin says:

    I have learned to go quiet and listen for the Holy Spirit in areas of division. I don’t have the wisdom in myself to reply with grace and truth, but His response is never wrong! When I can do that the encounter bears good fruit in the long run.