I remember when I was a kid and my best friends and I would be hanging out, something would be said or done, and a fight would break out. I was typically not involved in it because I have never been one who enjoyed or desired to participate in fighting. In fact the only memory I have of being in a fight was a very small one in which my friend and I were in our club house (a big washing machine or dryer box his parents gave him after their recent purchase) and something was said or done and he started hitting me, and I made my way out of the box, and very frustratedly told him that if he couldn’t work out problems without feeling the need to hit me, then we couldn’t be friends anymore (except I probably did it a bit more incoherent and flustered, being a 7 year old and all). Well needless to say, we continued being friends, being neighbors and all, and we remained friends until I moved away. I did not come from “that” family who had several boys who liked to beat up on each other, throw each other in trash cans, vandalize each others stuff, or maim each other in the name of familial love. I grew up with an older sister, a mother who worked in Special Education, and a father who was and still is in student ministry in the church. I was raised to solve conflicts in way that extinguished anger, brought peace, and resolution without suffering (which makes me sound like Yoda). Have I always been perfect or even good at this? No. By all means, I’m still sinful, but we, through humility and repentance, can and ought to strive for peaceful resolutions amongst conflict, especially with our brethren in the Church.
Conflict is going to be a reality in our world today. Between Facebook, academic papers/presentations, magazines, articles, journals, and blogs we are going to offend someone simply by affirming a belief, proposing a question, being funny, romantic, or sarcastic…we will cause conflict. How we solve such conflict reflects what we believe about Christ and how we live out our theology.
There are many “hot button” issues that have been and will continue to escalate into the forefront of discussion…and conflict. Issues such as homosexuality, women in ministry, American politics, the authority of scripture, predestination, end times, alcohol, marijuana, sacraments, church politics, etc…
When it comes to friendship, what role does our theology take? Theology indeed can unify and it can divide even the strongest of friends. The impact one’s theology has on their ability to create and maintain friendships is in direct correlation to how much one believes his/her theology establishes right relationship with God. We are more naturally inclined to befriend people with whom we have commonalities.
To what extent, pragmatically speaking, can an egalitarian relate and commune with a complementarian, an outspoken “Christian homosexual” with a conservative Deacon, a calvinist and an arminian, someone for WIM (Women In Ministry) vs. a Conservative (only men in the pastorate/eldership), an inerrantist with someone who has a much looser stance/view of scripture, a charismatic with an secessionist, or any other such combination of theologies? We are going to have conflict. It’s not going to go smoothly.
We are not perfect, they are not perfect. We are meant to walk by faith. Knowing we are wretched sinners drives us to this conclusion; when it comes to interacting with each other from different theological realms we are going to believe our theology and stand firm in it, and because the majority of believers desire to become more conformed to the image of Christ, His grace needs to be at the forefront of our personal interactions with people with all, especially with those with whom we disagree. Even though we may disagree with individuals, this ought not be an invitation to berate or assault a brother or sister in Christ if they are indeed a part of the brethren. This does not mean we do not correct or discipline them that teach what is false and brush over it just to “keep the peace.” Our desire is to teach in accordance with scripture and if someone teaches that which is in conflict with scripture then they are self-deceived and the truth of God is not in them. Paul said to the Galatians, “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all…” (Galatians 2:14) – Paul publicly corrected Peter, a disciple who walked and talked with Jesus. Correcting was always and should always be done with reconciliation and grace being extended.
When we disagree, we are often moved initially towards prideful criticism of the character and position of the person in question in order to make our view appear superior. We can often come across as appearing as though we are more capable of complex critical thought and that the other person’s position is so ridiculous or “offensive” having ought never to have been voiced. I understand that not everything I say is going to be orthodox, and when I say something stupid, I am more appreciative and tend to be less defensive towards people who correct me in grace, who display through their concern for my soundness of theology, an attitude of love and respect towards me even though I may be wrong. Rather than approaching correction with an attitude to being shame upon the person, respond to them, no matter how brash their own assertions, with an attitude of love and you will see the brash veneer melt away.
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:18
There will be those who disagree with us and there will be those who despise the very foundational gospel we preach and thereby we become an enemy to them. The true gospel will draw people to Christ or it will repel them from Christ. Great is the repulsion of those who taste and see the goodness of the LORD and it is only bitterness in their mouths. The gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. This repulsion leads to many times to different reactions. A few specific reactions to draw upon:
1) Repudiation – the individual is led to utterly despise Christianity and the Church. They turn against the very source of joy and salvation in favor of their own lives.
2) Distortion – the true gospel is distorted to fit the culture one lives in, distorted to appease the people they have surrounded themselves, and/or distorted to fit their desired sense of morality and truth rather than to submit themselves to the Truth. Romans says this is when they suppress what is really true, replace the truth of God for a lie, they turn and worship creation rather than the creator (Roman 1:18-23).
3) Vilifying – individuals who not only disagree with the gospel, but who believe what we preach is dangerous to the health and happiness of others will often, well-meaningly, decide to take up arms against the gospel, seeking to destroy its influence and affects.