Can Christians disagree?
By Karen McNary, Director of Global Cultural Engagement and Community
Several years ago, I came across a saying:
“To live above with saints we love, oh that would be glory. To live below with saints we know, well that’s another story.”
Living with the saints can be hard. Selfishness. Pride. Division. Even believers struggle to find common ground with one another.
Conflict among God’s people is not isolated to one culture or even one historical era. Jesus himself was born into an extremely complex culture. Israel was under Roman rule, overburdened by taxes and restricted in religious liberties. Some Israelites, including the Zealots, expected a military-style Messiah to restore Israel’s autonomy by force. As politics divided God’s people, religious leaders varied in their interpretation of God’s Word.
But instead of just stepping into the fray, Christ invited people to rise above it. At the core of His ministry, He intentionally called 12 men with radically different backgrounds and temperaments. Instead of fitting into the world around Him, Jesus built a new community based on God’s Word and His ministry. And He called it the Kingdom of God.
In this community, the disciples were invited to learn together and participate with Him in sharing the good news of the gospel. They were united in their call to follow Jesus, but not always from the same perspective, as we’ll see in our upcoming Matthew study.
The same can be true for believers today. We answer the call to follow Jesus the same way – by grace through faith. Like the disciples, we bring our personalities, experiences, and worldviews into gospel community. We will likely find ourselves studying and serving in community with people who are very different from one another. And if we are honest, that community is not always comfortable.
Through Jesus’ relationship with the disciples, we learn some key practices in loving one another amid our differences.
In the cultural chaos of His day, Jesus spoke life-changing truths.
How can we respond when we disagree?
In Jesus’ time, as today, some teachings were just hard to understand. For instance, what did Jesus really mean when He said, “Follow me; and let the dead bury their own dead?” Some people read this literally, others figuratively.
Or how about Jesus’ lessons in Matthew 13? These simple stories with deep spiritual truths prompted the disciples to ask, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” Like the disciples, we are free to bring our questions before the Lord.
Jesus’ response to their question in Matthew 13:11 is eye-opening. “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.”
Jesus tells us that truth is revealed to each of us at different times and in different seasons. With this in mind, we can meet our brothers and sisters in Christ with grace as we trust the Lord to reveal truth in His time. There is room for differences of opinion when Christ is our foundation. We don’t have to carry the burden of argument or debate. Instead, we can pray, discuss and enjoy one another as God completes His unique work in His people.
What can we do with confusion or disappointment?
We each enter Christian community with expectations. We expect others to act, think, speak, and relate to us in a certain way. When our expectations aren’t met, it can lead to disappointment, discouragement, even doubt. We may question if we’re in the right place with the right people.
In Matthew 11, we learn a valuable lesson from John the Baptist. While imprisoned, John sent word asking Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” I’m sure neither he nor his followers expected a prison stay for John the Baptist. In fact, they probably expected Jesus to release him miraculously.
Like John, we, too, can bring our questions and disappointments to Jesus. But we are called to hold our expectations loosely. God often answers in unexpected ways. When we humble our hearts before the Lord, we must be willing to listen to how He answers, whether He meets our expectations or not.
What does Jesus expect of us?
The Sermon on the Mount, which contains “the Beatitudes,” details how gospel community should work. Here we learn that Jesus is more concerned about heart transformation than He is about behavior modification, like when Jesus says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Ultimately, through Christ’s forgiveness on the cross, we have the power to forgive one another. Conflict is inevitable. Opinions will differ. But when we are rooted in the gospel, we are united in purpose.
In His final words to the disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus said, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Through these words, Christ built His Church when 12 men set aside their differences to pursue a common call. Think about that: God changed the course of human history through 12 people who humbly united around His plan and will.
As you study Matthew in community, will you take time to pray for your new BSF group? Like the disciples who were called to follow Christ, each member of your group has responded to God’s prompting to study His Word within BSF this year. If we commit to learn from our differences and unite in our common call, we can expect God’s Word to change our hearts and grow our obedience. While it won’t always be easy, we have one another. Most importantly, we have His presence. In Matthew 28:20 Jesus promised, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
BSF Director of Global Cultural Engagement and Community
Karen served as a Children’s Leader, Substitute Teaching Leader, Teaching Leader, Area Personnel and most recently as a Skills Coach for BSF prior to joining the staff in April 2021. Sheis originally from Louisville, Ky. and for the past 20 years has called Charlotte, NC home. She has been married to her husband, Keith, for 27 years, and together they parent three three young adult sons who attended the BSF School Program for many years.
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