working through disagreements

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3

If you think at all, you won’t always agree with others. That is life. It’s not that the others are always wrong and us right, or vice versa. It is simply a case for a host of reasons of us having different opinions and perhaps even convictions on some things.

I think a key for us as Christians is to listen well to each other, really listen. Try to hear what they’re saying in its entirety, and ask questions for further clarification when needed. If we have serious disagreements, we can then express our concerns. But at a certain point in order to maintain the relationship, we have to agree to disagree, and agreeably so, in a way in which we can get along well with the other, and maintain good fellowship together in our Lord.

The key for me from the passage quoted above is the idea of being “of the same mind in the Lord.” It is where we’re united that we need to land on, and we as Christians are one in Christ. And in that union, we’re to find, I take it, something like a consensus in which we find agreement in a relational, functional kind of way, which is willing to set aside whatever disagreement remains for the sake of peace and for the sake of the gospel. And with a dependence on the Lord that he will see us through.

The idea expressed in this passage of a Christian leader mediating is of course of great value, and part of God’s word for us here. God can give that third party wisdom and an objectivity which is not possible for the parties in disagreement.

In the end we all need to work through and learn to live well with our differences because of and through our union with Christ. The gospel being the uniting factor from which we grapple with all the rest. So that even when our disagreements on other matters remain, our unity in Christ and in the gospel helps us to remain united in mind and heart. As we look forward to a better day to come beyond this life in and through Jesus.

Advertisements

the prayer of examen during difficult times

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

1 Peter 4

I have been frankly unhappy with the continued tacit and even open endorsement of the Republican nominee’s candidacy for the US Presidency by some Christian leaders. And I’ve accepted as prudent to prayerfully consider recommendations from other Christian leaders to vote for the candidate of the Democratic Party. And Facebook and the media has been caught up in a firestorm.

All of this has given me pause. I’m left wondering, not so much just what we’re caught up in, and where it is going, though considerations over such matters are good, but where my heart and mind is in all of this. Is Jesus really central in this deliberation and exercise of mine? And just what does my reactions to what is going on in the American political scene reveal about me that is not altogether good?

I can’t dig this up myself, even though I need to be attentive to it. I need God’s help, indeed his light to shine on my darkness, so as to reveal what needs confessed, forgiven and cleansed. Of course this is not a once for all exercise, but ongoing. And we need to remember that God’s revelation to us of our darkness is always ultimately uplifting to us, for our good, and to help us be his witnesses.

This is not to put myself or anyone else on some guilt trip. But it provides an occasion and pushes us to come before God in prayer, and ask him to reveal to us anything that is offensive and not pleasing to him. In the tradition of the church what has been called the prayer of examen. And that is always a good thing.

And so that is what I’m hoping to do, as I meditate on scripture and go about my work today (and beyond). Better yet would be to spend some time alone in quietness before God, with this petition and question on our hearts and lips. In the words of the psalmist:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

agreeing to disagree agreeably

Yesterday I made a plea for grace to be practiced among us, especially during this contentious (to say the least) election, and time of ungrace. What about the fact and reality that Christians who are equally committed to the Lord, may completely disagree, and strongly so? I can’t help but think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who most think was in  a plot to kill Adolph Hitler, though based on a challenge to that (one I haven’t read), I rather doubt it. However there’s no doubt that Bonhoeffer spoke out against Hitler and Nazism early on, for years and years, and ended up more and more in the minority among professed Christians in doing so. So he stands out as an example of one who disagreed strongly with the majority of Christians of his day.

Now to the presidential election of this year: Some swear up and down that Hillary Clinton not only should not be elected president, but should be locked up in prison. Others decry Donald Trump as unfit for the presidency because of his temperament, troubling ethics, and lack of real knowledge. Maybe others are not sure on this.

For many, to be gracious means not to say a word at all, to simply be quiet, and perhaps in doing so, being above the fray. For others, to be gracious might not preclude speaking out, but would surely include being silent and listening well to counterarguments, and the claims of the other side, as well as to other positions.

I for one have spoken out some, and I likely will continue to speak out. But I will read and listen to other sides, as well. I am certainly open to further understanding. And there’s a time for silence. As we read in Ecclesiastes 3:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

…a time to be silent and a time to speak…

To practice grace with each other, doesn’t mean that we simply agree, or rationalize so as to agree. Nor does it mean that we never speak out on difficult, contentious issues. It surely does mean that we do so always with a full measure of grace, the truth as we understand and take a stand for, always done with love and respect for those who oppose that, and may be challenging us.

At the same time, by and large I think silence should prevail, and certainly so rather than a constant bickering and arguing. There can be a time to make one’s case, have the other make their case, perhaps receive counterarguments, maybe followed by each one giving a closing, summary statement, and letting it go at that. Refusing afterward to speak, even when inevitably more, and perhaps new, fresh thoughts arise on the contentious matter.

I think churches and pastors do well not to take sides in political elections for the sake of the gospel, so as not to alienate those who may be very much sold on one position, or another. And even in the most extreme cases, we might do well to ask questions, and hopefully by that increase awareness about a matter we consider to be of utmost importance. We should be careful of the idea that unless another thinks like us, or sees what we think we see, or acts as in voting (or perhaps not voting at all) the way we might suggest, that they are somehow being disobedient to Christ, and a lesser Christian. Remember, the same grace that they need, is exactly what we need, as well.

In the end, we all need to love, and make the most of it, whatever differences we may have, and whatever happens. It is no less than the gospel of Christ which unites us who are in Christ. We must continue on with that, come what may, and learn to do so together, even as we disagree on what amounts to lesser things, as important as they are. Knowing that even in the present, God is at work, and Jesus will return as Judge and Savior to sort out the inevitable mess that we humans will leave behind.

handling differences

If some thought evangelicalism was in a theological flux a couple of decades or so ago, we could say that is all the more so now. Over periphery matters to be sure, but issues which can well undermine the gospel and our reading of scripture, if we don’t take care.

How do we handle our differences? From my perspective I face those who affirm ordination of those practicing same sex intercourse, of course as long as they’re faithful to one partner, and with that gay marriage. On the other hand I face those who see “Creation Science” as being true to the Genesis account, and my acceptance of evolution as contradictory to that. Just two examples that are hot right now.

Everyone needs to be heard out, that is everyone should have their say. Let everyone make their very best argument, and then hold on to that. In other words try to put the very best construction on both intentions and what is actually said. We help neither ourselves or anyone else by not letting people have their full say as we attempt to understand them as fully and accurately as possible.

Perhaps two words come to the fore now, as I think about our spirit in handling differences, especially among us who are in the family of faith, but beyond that, as well. Forebearance and gentleness. Firmness too, in that, but those two should always be characteristic of us in our disagreements. The NIV 2011 in the Galatians 5 fruit of the Spirit passage interestingly substitutes forebearance for patience. I think that is apt since the patience that is called for is relational in that context. Along with that, gentleness is on the list as well. In Paul’s charge to Timothy (1 Timothy 6) this is evident as well; in conflict or spiritual battle he is to be gentle.

We likely won’t win an argument. But we may well be able to plant the seeds which will reap a harvest of righteousness later. And we need that input from each other. In our disagreements and in all of life.