We live in a contentious era. It’s favorable and even popular to argue a point where you disagree. The invention of chat rooms and blogs and social media has allowed people from every walk of life all across the world to sound off on each and every topic of discussion that is brought to light in a public forum, and while healthy conversation and discussion is useful, one-sided arguments where others aren’t allowed to disagree never are. But it’s the one-sided arguments that don’t allow discussion that have become more and more prevalent.
In our culture, it is a social norm to immediately think that if someone disagrees with you, they hate you. I’m not quite sure where this concept came from, but we have been inundated with the idea that simple disagreement means a complete inability to live and work together. As far as most people are concerned, we must agree, or we can’t talk to each other.
Why is that? Why must we agree? Why must one person compromise his or her opinions or beliefs to make another person feel better about their own? I think there’s another issue at the heart of that matter. And there’s another issue in the lack of civility that has permeated our culture too. But in reading through Philippians, I realized something about agreeing to disagree: It needs to happen in the Church.
Today’s verses are Philippians 3:15-16.
Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.
I’d never really thought about it. Whenever I think about people having major disagreements, I usually go back to the debates I sat in on when I was in college. I remember having to I listen to one on homosexuality, and all I really took away from that debate was that my whole college despised the biblical view of gender and completely disrespected anyone who followed biblical principles. Of course, it didn’t surprise me, but I was shocked that the presenter onstage wasn’t even allowed to talk about his views because the audience kept shouting angrily at him. The moderator did nothing to stop it.
When I think about disagreements, that’s what I think of.
But you know what? Major disagreements happen in the church all the time. Even if you have an awesome church, disagreements are still going to happen. Why? Because everybody is different. We all look at each other differently. We all look at life differently. And our different experiences in life have shaped the way we live. And these differences extend to our walk with God too.
There are a lot of Christians in the world. Those people who believe that Jesus paid the price for their sins and because of Him alone they are going to heaven and they can have a relationship with God are everywhere, in every country. But if you put them all in the same room, it’s very likely that none of them will agree on anything else. Cultures are different. Personalities are different. Everything is different.
And it’s the same inside a church. A church is a group of people made up of different backgrounds, and if they don’t focus on what matters, if they don’t focus on what is the same, the differences will tear them apart. I’d like to say that disagreements in the church are more civil than disagreements in the world, but it’s not true. Oftentimes disagreements in the church are more vicious than what goes on in the world.
But no matter if your disagreement is with someone who doesn’t believe or with someone who does, the way to deal with it is the same:
Agree on what matters. Let God work everything else out. And keep moving forward.
Yes, sometimes it’s important to debate if everyone is given a voice. Yes, sometimes it’s important to argue as long as emotions stay out of it. Disagreements are healthy because they help us see other people’s points of view, but disagreeing doesn’t mean we hate each other. Disagreeing doesn’t mean you have the right to be vicious and mean to other people. Disagreeing is just someone with a different life experience trying to come to grips with you and your perspective on life. And if you listen to them, you’ll gain valuable insight. You may not agree. You may never agree. But that’s okay.
But you do have to listen. That’s part of a discussion. That’s part of a conversation. Listening. Not sitting still and clinging to your own perspectives, waiting for the opportunity to strike where your opponent is weak. That’s not listening. That’s premeditated attack.
And I can tell you from personal experience, the church excels at premeditated attacks. So do Christians.
Don’t misunderstand me. It’s important to agree. We do have to agree on the things that matter. But even if you get to the place where you can’t agree, that doesn’t mean you can be cruel. And within a church or a family or a business or whatever, when you disagree, let it go. Try to find a solution, but if you can’t, don’t worry about it. Don’t focus on it. Don’t press it. Don’t keep going back to it over and over and over.
Pray that God will make it clear, whether it needs to be clarified to someone else or to you.
But whatever you do, don’t move backward. Don’t turn back. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Hold on to the progress that you have already made because if you take a step back, Satan has won. And that’s what this is really about. That’s where strife and dissention really comes from, a ploy to hurt the cause of Christ.
You won’t agree with everyone. And not everyone will agree with you. Get over it. But you can focus on the perspectives that you share. And even if nobody agrees, you can still be civil. And let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to listen to someone who’s civil than it is to someone who’s rude.