How can we establish Christian unity when there is so much disagreement within the Church?
Pastor Terry, our wives, and I attended the Pre-Trib Conference in Dallas, TX this past week. The conference was intense and the speakers overwhelmed us with information. In fact, it was like trying to drink water out of a fire hose. The exciting part of the conference was that we all seemed to have agreement over the theological issues we discussed.
Time was spent examining various alternative theological views that conflicted with ours. Several of these views are going in acceptance within the Church. Specifically, we discussed theological views which reflect the belief that Israel has no future in God’s kingdom plan. These approaches arise primarily because of the manner in which people interpret the Bible.
At TFL we approach the Bible with great care. People will naturally approach the interpretation of Scripture with theological convictions; however, there is great danger in twisting the text into one’s preconceived notions of what it should say. We should always approach the Word to extract the author’s intended meaning from the passage in the true and literal sense.
When one reads his own prejudice into the text, false doctrines (falling away or apostasy) occurs (2 Tim 4:1-4). Each passage should be allowed to speak for itself even if it creates unresolved problems of harmonization with other Scriptures; however, we hold to dispensational premillennialism, and few issues arise with which we must address.
After all, we are dealing with the revelation of God who intended His Word to be understood by man through the illumination and guidance of the Spirit. The purpose of the Bible is to communicate doctrinal truth.
My intent here is not to open a theological debate, but to deal with the issues that arise when Christians disagree. I do hold strongly to the doctrines we teach at TFL, but we still need to relate properly to others in the Church, some of whom do not understand the Scriptures the way we do.
Peter makes several points regarding how we are to relate to one-another. In his first epistle, Peter writes:
Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For “He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:8–12)
Our attitude toward other believers
Up to this point, Peter has been discussing various relationships within Church life. Now he wants to sum up this section. To do this he uses five adjectives to discuss our relationships with other Christians.
- Christians are to be like-minded. This adjective emphasizes harmony and unity of character, not of opinion. Differences of opinion are permissible according to Peter. In the instances when true Christians disagree, a loving attitude should be displayed. Believers should display the mind of Christ as presented by Paul in Philippians 2:3 (Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.)
- Christians are to be compassionate. Christians are to be sympathetic toward one another. This involves sensitivity. It involves consideration. It involves caring. When our brothers and sisters in Christ are going through the issues of life, we are to share in that suffering…we are to suffer together. But in the same way, we should share when things are going well. So, we suffer with those who suffer and we celebrate with those who are joyous. This echoes Paul’s directive in Romans 12:15 (Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.) We must remember that Christ shared in all of our experiences and He understands that which we must endure.
- Christians are to be loving. Peter does not use the term for Godly love (agape), but instead he uses the word philadelphia. The word is used to describe the love of physical siblings–brother for brothers, sister for sister, brother for sister, and sister for brother. Peter in this case is calling for us as spiritual brothers and sisters to love one-another because we are all children of God. Sometimes we think that the war between our children will never end and that they must really hate each other. But I have noticed that siblings generally step up to protect one-another when the need arises.
- Christians are to be tenderhearted. The concept behind tenderheartedness is similar to that of compassion. The tenderhearted Christian is to be sensitive toward others; the Christian is to be possess a warm and tender attitude. Paul expressed this similarly–And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32) Imagine if Christians were to follow this directive. Imagine if Christians were kind to one-another. Imagine if they were to forgive one-another. Imagine if Christians were tenderhearted toward one-another. Imagine practicing this even with those of whom we disagree.
- Christians are to be courteous. Peter is calling on Christians to have a humble attitude. Proverbs 29:23 informs us that a man’s pride will cause his downfall, but his humble spirit will bring him honor. Peter is instructing the Christian to demonstrate an inner attitude of subjection to those in authority. Courteousness is in this way the opposite of being conceited and self-righteous.
Our attitude when we are reviled (cursed)
Christians can really attack others especially when there are doctrinal disagreements. In fact, the ad hominem attacks become quite severe in such situations. These attacks are against the person instead of the position being maintained. Peter says that as Christians we should not return evil for evil and we should not revile when we are reviled. In this case, evil refers to deeds–so the Christian should not repay evil deeds with evil deeds. Similarly, reviling has to do with words. As Christians, we are not to respond in anger when we are reviled–when people speak rail on us.
As Christians, we are to inherit a blessing, we are to be a blessing. So, even when people attack us personally–they curse us, we are to respond by blessing them.
Why should we be so nice?
To answer this, Peter quotes Psalm 34:12-16. In short, Peter makes the following points:
Our goal: to love life and see good days.
Our expression of love: to refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.
Our actions to love: to turn away from evil and do good AND to seek peace and pursue it.
Why? Because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. For that reason, believers are to impart a blessing for a curse.
This seems so difficult in the current environment within the Church. People are far too eager to rail against those with whom they disagree. I know I have that difficulty. I don’t see why people don’t see things my way. But in the end the command is certain. We are to be like-minded, compassionate, loving, and humble in dealing with others in God’s family.
We will not always agree with one-another, but we must remember that we are of the same family.
Let’s apply Peter’s words so that we can love one-another even in the heat of argument.