Conflict is a fact of Christian fellowship. Now you may have thought: “Oh, if I could only be back in time of the apostles it would be great. Then the church wouldn’t be divided as it is today.” Yet, if you go back and read the New Testament carefully, especially the letters of Paul or the letters in Revelation 2-3 to the seven churches in Asia Minor, you realize that the church has experienced conflict almost from day one. Perhaps one of the most discouraging things about studying church history, from the first century onward, is to see just how often Christians have been mired in disputes and strife. This fact encourages us not to be surprised when we face conflict today. We should be ready to see it in God’s terms and to follow God’s guidance for how to resolve it.
And what is the intent of God for His church?
John 17:20-23 NIV reads:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Christian Essential Doctrines
There are many teachings in the Bible that we cannot gloss over. The divinity of Jesus, His being born in the flesh, His living a sinless life of perfection, His suffering and dying on the cross, and His being resurrected on the third day. These are things that all Christians must agree on or they are simply wrong and we can’t get these crucial teachings wrong. Our salvation depends on getting doctrine right and understanding Who Jesus is. To believe Jesus is not God is to believe in another Jesus, as some cults do, and if you don’t have the right Jesus, you don’t have the right Saviour.
These essentials of the faith are not open for debate.
They are true no matter what anyone else thinks or says. The Apostle Paul warned, “if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” (2nd Cor 11:4). Paul wrote about the “other” gospels, which are really no gospel at all, so he was “… astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6).
As we have indicated, any variation of the true gospel of God is not a gospel at all, because as Galatians 1:7-9 (NIV) states: “which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”
Any gospel without the need for repentance is only half a gospel. Today and even in Paul’s day, there are many false teachers.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15 (NIV) states: “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”
To warn the church, Paul often had to educate the church about those who proclaim a gospel that is similar in some ways to the true gospel. Galatians 1:8 (NIV) reads: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!”
This was of such great importance to Paul that he repeated this warning in several places and wrote again in Galatians 1:9 (NIV) “As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”
Paul wouldn’t have spent so much time writing about this if it wasn’t a serious problem. This “other” gospels are still around today and are masquerading as the real thing, so we must be diligently searching the Scriptures to see if these things are true or not. A good example of false doctrine would be the New Apostolic Reformation, on which I have already written a number of posts on.
Guidance from the Scriptures
2 Timothy 2:14-19 (NIV) “ Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarrelling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.”
2 Timothy 2:23-24 (NIV) “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.”
Titus 3:9 (NIV) “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.”
2 Timothy 4:2 (NIV) “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”
Romans 14:1-23 (NIV) Note: although this scripture deals specifically with food and days of the week to set aside for God, there is a mind set given that pervades all potential disagreements.
“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. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
Agreeing to Disagree
When Christians disagree over main doctrinal issues like the deity of Christ and His sinlessness, you must rebuke them and show them from Scripture why Jesus is both God and Man but is also more than just man. He is God, therefore He cannot sin. Don’t budge on these crucial essentials of the faith, but if things are less than clear in the Bible, in what we might call “grey areas,” we are better off keeping these areas to ourselves through private study and staying away from open debates unless everyone is in agreement that it is a grey area and not a critical subject and the discussion is acknowledged as a personal decision where different opinions are acceptable. This process avoids bitter arguments developing. When you do your private study on a non-essential subject be sure to look at ALL OF THE SCRIPTURES that are associated with the subject matter and not just those that support your opinion. No believer should ever engage in arguments over things where the Bible is not totally and specifically clear. We should agree to disagree on non-essentials. It’s okay; we can disagree with others and still not be disagreeable. We have no cause to use the Word of God as a sword in engaging other Christians. The Word of God was never intended for that and the Word of God, as the two-edged sword, is not to be used against other Christians. It is for us and for others to know the truth and be set free and receive eternal life, not to beat each other over the head with it to prove that we’re right and they’re wrong.
An example of a non-essential subject could be the requirement for a woman to cover her head in worship as found in 1 Cor 11:2-13
“I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.”
Tragically, Christians have ruined the witness of Christ by attacking one another over things such as watching TV and allowed such things to divide churches. How this must grieve Jesus Christ Who is the Head of the Church. While it is fine to rebuke or correct another person who is clearly wrong about what the Bible teaches, such as the gospel of repentance and faith, we sin when we start being antagonistic towards others just because they believe in the rapture and others don’t, or we believe in tongues while others focus on taming the tongue. How often have Christians unknowingly destroyed the testimony or witness of the church by fighting among themselves over things that will not matter in eternity? Let us just agree to disagree while not being agreeable. Let us dig our in heels in over things that are essential (Acts 4:12), but never let us wrangle or fight over things that are not-essential and over things that the Bible is not abundantly clear about. To do so is to divide the Body of Christ.