By Bethany Pyle, Crosswalk.com
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
What is the most important part of our Christian faith? The one thing that we cannot compromise on – will not bend on – must agree on? The gospel, right? Our faith is built on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Afterall, as Paul says, if Jesus was not resurrected, then our faith is futile (1 Corinthians 15). That is surely the most important thing for Christians. If we agree on that, we can live in harmony. Right?
But boy do we love to tack on extras. Have you ever heard someone say, “you can’t be a Christian and vote for that candidate”? We draw lines like these all the time. Would you be a part of a church that only played secular, rock sounding worship music? Or a church that encouraged you to wear a shirt and tie, or a dress and heels every Sunday? Can you have a peaceful discussion with other Christian parents whose children attend public school? What about brothers and sisters who support, or oppose, gun rights? Can you be a Democrat, or a Republican, and be a real Christian?
I could go on and on and on. Some of the things I listed above are personal challenges for me. And it’s not a bad thing to have opinions and convictions. But when those opinions supersede our love of Christ, and our willingness to love brothers and sisters who think and believe differently than us, it becomes a problem. To quote the ever-wise Jedi Master Yoda, “fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
The modern American church seems to be so tied up in fear, anger and hate these days. We’ve put so many other issues before the command to love and live peaceably with all. And because of it, everyone suffers.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/zenstock
Disagreements in the Early Church
“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them” (Romans 14:1-3).
There are people in my life who have very different opinions than me. But we share our faith. It’s led to some interesting and difficult discussions over the years, and I’ve sometimes heard things like “well Bethany, if someone believes that, I just don’t think they understand the gospel.”
When my pastor preached recently on this passage from Romans, I could hear those words echoing. The context of this verse, in brief, was a disagreement over whether or not believers could eat meat that was bought in the market. If it was bought there, that means it was likely blessed by, or involved in, pagan rituals at the temple.
Members of the budding church were divided over this. Some thought that they had freedom in Christ, and what went into the body was not as important as the contents of one’s soul. So, they felt they had a right to eat the meat. Others thought this was sinful, to ingest food that had been blessed for pagan gods. So, they felt they should only eat vegetables.
Can’t you hear them now? Believers on both sides, pointing to the other and saying “well, if someone believes that, I just don’t think they understand the gospel.” But pay attention to what Paul says to this. He addresses both, but condemns neither. The one who eats freely should not scorn the one who doesn’t. The one who abstains should not be judgmental towards the one who eats.
Paul also, crucially, reminds his readers (and us) that we should not “quarrel over disputable matters.” This is not the most important thing, he says, because “God has [already] accepted them.” Fighting over this will not lead anywhere productive – it only serves to isolate the church into groups or cliques, where one looks with scorn upon the other.
That wacky early church. We’d never do anything like that now, right? (Please read that sarcastically.) But the fact is, disagreements are not a new thing for the church. That’s actually encouraging for us in two ways. One – we haven’t messed up any more than anyone else. Which means we can still course correct. And two – we are not surprising God. Scripture is God-breathed; it is as useful for teaching Paul’s first century audience as it is for us. God has already given us the guidebook, and the perfect guide in Christ Jesus, that we need to get back on course.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Deagreez
Is It Wrong to Have Convictions?
Being a Scripture-following Christian doesn’t mean we should float through life with no opinions or views on anything. Quite the opposite. If we firmly believe in the Bible and the truth of the gospel, then we should be able to hold that up as a looking glass for life. Whether you are deciding which politician to vote for (and you should vote, but that’s another article for another time), which career to follow, which cause to fight for, which newspaper to buy – you should measure it against Scripture.
Now, don’t jump on me just yet. I know that you can hold any politician up against Scripture and they will fall incredibly short. (By the way, that goes for your guy/lady too.) Scripture reminds us that “all fall short” (Romans 3:23), so we can’t have a 100% match for any politician, cause or belief, short of that person being Jesus himself.
But we can use Scripture as a guide, as it was intended. We can pray and seek the Lord’s wisdom. We can trust that the Holy Spirit will guide our hearts, minds and actions, so that we will choose our best option. And when we determine that, it’s ok to be convicted. It’s ok to feel strongly about a cause. Plenty of saints, in both ancient history and our modern world, have been passionate supporters or opponents of things they saw to be right and wrong.
But the way we interact with others, and where we place these causes in our hearts, is the crux of the issue. Leviticus 19:4 says “Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.” Anything that we view as more important than God is an idol in our hearts. It doesn’t have to be a statue or carving – it can be a cause, a politician, or a belief.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Miguel Bruna
How Should I Move Forward in Love?
I was in a church once, (I won’t say in which state) where I saw a man wearing a shirt that proudly said: “My governor is an idiot.” Clearly, this man feels very strongly about the governor, and as we stated above, it’s not at all wrong for him to feel that way. He should vote, and buy, and choose things based on his own convictions. He is allowed to dislike his governor.
But what are the results of wearing something like this? The best-case scenario is that it stirs up anger in people’s hearts – for the people who agree with him, it makes them angry and resentful of the governor. For the people who disagree with him, it makes them angry and resentful of their brother in Christ.
But the worst-case scenario is that it could drive a seeker away from the church, and perhaps away from any church.
Scripture gives us a list of fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. These traits should be evident in every believer’s heart and life. When we feel passionately about something, do we stop to think if it could be driving a wedge between us and another? Before we wear that shirt, make that social media post, say that scathing joke or remark, ask yourself:
Is this loving to my brothers and sisters? All of them?
Does this spark joy in mine and other’s lives?
Does this promote peace among the Body?
Do I need to be patient, with this situation, with my response, or with others?
Is this kind?
Is this good?
Do I have faith that God has control over this thing?
Am I saying or doing this thing gently, or aggressively?
If you say no to any of these things, then it’s likely time to pause and focus on the last fruit of the spirit: self-control.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/track5
Talk about Hard Things, in a Loving Way
“Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
The old saying is that you should never discuss two things in mixed company: religion or politics. That saying is garbage. For one thing, we as Christians are called to go and make disciples of all nations. It’s impossible to do that without bringing up religion somehow. But “doing everything in love” doesn’t mean that we never talk about politics either.
If you feel that you cannot discuss controversial issues without becoming inflamed or angry, then take some time to pray. Ask that God would quiet your heart and strong emotions on this issue, and help you to be patient and understanding. “Do everything in love” does mean that we talk civilly to each other, and don’t see every discussion as an argument to be won.
When you find yourself disagreeing with a brother or sister – when, not if – remember that they are you fellow in Christ first. If the issue at stake is truly grounded in sinful behavior and scriptural untruth, then gently rebuke them and point them to it in the Bible. Otherwise, if it’s a “disputable matter” as Paul says, then agree to disagree. Your relationship with the other person – your relationship to the Body of Christ – is not worth dividing over.
It’s so easy to feel self-righteous. And when so many of these issues are emotionally charged, we often start to think the person who disagrees with us is bad, or even ignorant or cruel. But before you yell, remember what David reminds us in the Psalms:
“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14, emphasis added).
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/fizkes