I am an only child (I know, that probably explains a lot).
One of the side effects of this upbringing is that I got to play with all of my toys during my free time whenever I wanted to. There was no one to share with, no one to split chores with, and, consequently, no one to fight with.
Fighting is a normal part of the human experience. Not seeing eye to eye with a brother, sister, parent, friend, co-worker, or anyone else is part of the natural order. We all have our own opinions and God designed us to carry personal convictions.
Naturally, when a bunch of redeemed sinners get together to worship God, conflict arises.
The songs stink, the curtains don't match, the pastor is too soft, the money is being blown, the building is falling apart, Sunday School is boring, etc. etc. You know how it goes.
So, in order to deal with all of this head-butting, several different things can happen to alleviate the tension. Let's take the local church for example. Most often, God's people side-step disagreement in the local church by doing the following.
- Give in: Typically, a person who is new to the "church arena" who has an opinion about some aspect of methodology, practice, etc. brings a lot of energy to the table. Ideas are flowing at a high rate of speed and excitement builds as they want to help in any way. However, as time wears on, they start to notice that the ideas that sounded so good in their heads don't exactly match up with the vision of others. The balloon that has been growing and swelling with energy can be deflated with a single prick. A lot of people (likely new believers but probably not men who tend to be more strongly-willed) will step aside and let others in the church, for whatever reason, have their way. Doing this too much will make the person...
- Give up: After going round and round through committee meetings about every minute detail concerning the church and its practices, some people eventually stop caring about the decisions made by church leadership. Though these people certainly have ideas and opinions which may or may not be rooted in a desire to see God's kingdom prosper, they think their input isn't appreciated and the process isn't productive, so they retire. At this point they have essentially decided to...
- Give nothing: Every problem has a viable solution and these people know it. They see the needs of the church but never speak their minds for any number of reasons. It could be that they tried the church committee method and just got burnt out. Maybe they are just extremely introverted or shy. Maybe they just don't care enough about the Church to actually make a concerted effort to challenge dormancy or wrongdoing. Whatever the case may be, those who give nothing easily avoid disagreement by sitting on the bench. The real problem then starts to occur after the opinions bottle up and pressurize, causing bitterness and resentment take root in their hearts against church leadership.
Unfortunately, these three stages will sometimes occur along with the notion that disagreement is bad or sinful. A new believer might approach an elder and say that several of his college buddies would consider coming to church if it wasn't so stiff and liturgical. The elder likes stiff and liturgical. Who do you think wins this one?
My wife and I are polar opposites. We have had this fact proven even more in recent days as we have had to take a number of personality and temperament tests for the missions agency we are applying for. It is amazing to see the number of ways we differ. I tend to be dominant, she tends to be submissive. I am naturally outgoing, she is naturally reserved. I procrastinate, she makes an ordered list for everything. What is interesting about this in our marriage, though, is that we complement each other so well. Areas where I am weak, she is strong, and vice versa. It's almost like God has wired people differently on purpose. Hmm...
1 Corinthians 12:12-31 is the great passage that describes God's Church as a body. We all have different functions that make us unique, but when we're put together we collaborate to operate as a whole. The trick is, unlike a literal eye and nose, the figurative eyes and noses in the body of Christ think independently and have a sin nature, which leads to disagreements. Look at what verse 19 says:
"If all were a single member, where would the body be?"
The core truth that we all have to understand is that the Kingdom of God is not made of a single person, it's made of a group. Just as an ear by itself isn't a body, so it is with the Church. In order for the Church to be what it is-- a living organism sustained by God's working in salvation and sanctification-- several unique people need to be involved in the process.
Ah, but this is where disagreements begin.
"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together."
1 Corinthians 12:21-26
Notice what the eye and the head did? They immediately started opposing the hands and the feet. Either consciously or subconsciously, this happens all the time in churches. Most of us do not truly believe that everyone is indispensable. After all, we know that we are the ones with the best ideas, opinions, and methods. So many others just tend to be dead weight.
This is where a distinction needs to be made: disagreement is different from opposition. I've shown my hand from the start, I think disagreement in the church is a positive thing. However, so often, we move from disagreeing with an idea to opposing an individual. We go back-and-forth before writing the other off. This should not be so!
When brothers and sisters in Christ come together with differing views on any given subject regarding church, we should all hear each other out and work our way toward the common goal of magnifying Jesus. This requires learning about others' views, communicating clearly, and, dare I say, compromising, changing, and adapting.
[Note: This has nothing to do with changing sound doctrine. For my views on that, click here.]
Look at the end of the 1 Corinthians 12 passage. It says "...that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together."
As the Church of God, we're expected to disagree; however, we're required to move along together with the same goal. It seems so counter-intuitive, but it is so doable!
If we truly love Jesus and His Bride, we all have great ideas on how to fully accomplish our collective mission on earth. These ideas won't always match up with the ideas of others, though. As we all get together in different contexts to discuss how to tackle our God-given objectives, let's disagree. Let's put it all out on the table and make it clear that we really have convictions about what to do.
Then let's shut up and hear our brothers and sisters give their ideas.
After that, let's not ignore that person or force them to give in. Let's work together to get stuff done. Time is short, the world is big, and eternity is forever. Let's honor God by doing His work in the way He has mandated us to do it-- together.