Why can’t we just get along?

I’m sure you have said such a thing in exasperation when you have witnessed some of the picky things over which we Christians disagree. My pastoral ministry in the local church as well as in an academic community has given me a front row seat to the struggle.

I will spare you a laundry list of the issues; an exercise which of itself could bring disagreement.  Suffice it to say, these issues range from the theological to the political; from worship style to life-style. While we no longer go to war to settle our differences (it was to our shame that we once did), it is my observation that we often solve our disagreements the good old fashioned American way; separate and go to another church- or start our own.

I think the tragedy in all of this is that in our attempt to love the Lord Jesus and to be faithful to His Word, we end up not loving each other and being unfaithful to His Word. If we really desire to be biblical in our approach to dealing with disagreements on non-essentials (things not having to do with the centrality of the gospel), then we need to pay attention to Romans 14:1. “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One person’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another person, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.”

This entire chapter goes on to deal with disagreements between Christians in the church at Rome who were going after each other because of “disputable matters.” Luther called them “pebble in the shoe” issues; annoying disputes which cannot be settled because each person is convinced in their own conscience that they hold the correct position.

There were those whose consciences were “strong” and were convinced that they had the freedom to eat the meat sold at the temple meat-market (the only place in town to get good meat), even though all of the animals were first sacrificed to a pagan deity.

There were others in the church, however, who became vegetarians because they had a “weak” conscience— they believed that eating meat sacrificed to idols would make them participants in the pagan worship from which they had been converted. Although Paul identified more with the carnivores, he believed they were both right as long as they were acting according to their conscience (v. 5, 23).

Where they were wrong, however, was in their attitude toward each other. “The one who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him… Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another… Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification… So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (v. 5, 10, 13).

Thus, according to the Scripture, being”right” on a theological/political/worship/life-style issue takes a back seat to the love and unity which should be displayed by those who are in disagreement over that issue.

If someone is fully convinced in his own mind on a disputable matter, even if we do not share that conviction, then God forbid that we should demand them to go against their conscience. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (v. 7). I may have a strong opinion or viewpoint, but it should never trump my love for someone who has a different perspective.

And let’s remember what Jesus said in John 13:34, 35 “A new commandment I give unto you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” As Francis Shaeffer used to say something like; if we Christians do not love each other, we give the world the right to conclude that we are not Christians.

So, the unbelieving world is watching and I wonder if it moves any closer to the gospel when we argue over who’s right or whether we love each other???

Just a thought…