Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable

There is no mistaking the fact that we all approach the study of Scripture in our own way. We all bring to the text our personal baggage, beliefs, and biases. The challenge for us as students of God’s word is to allow the text to speak. We tend to cloud the water with our own preconceived notions about what we think the text is saying, without really taking the time to simply read what God has to say. So, as we come together as a body of believers we project our voice, filled as it were, with all that we have been taught by our parents, elders, and preachers. Sadly, many have never taken the time to truly study the Scriptures. Many simply accept the interpretations of others without investigating it for themselves. However, we have a great example of a group of people who were not satisfied with taking the word of someone else, even the great Apostle Paul. The Berean Jews “were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

We must take the initiative to study and search the Scriptures. In doing so, we will become more intimately aware of God and his desire for our lives. Not only so, but this will also allow us to approach spiritual and doctrinal discussions in a Godly manner. We all have our own baggage, beliefs, and biases with regard to biblical and doctrinal issues. And as we bring these into a room, be it a classroom or worship setting, disagreements are sure to arise. These disagreements may never be verbalized, but certainly differing opinions will be present. It is no secret that we as God’s people disagree on many points. Just take a look at the religious world around us. Unfortunately, even among churches of Christ many divisions have taken place. The fact is, anytime we approach studies of Scripture disagreements are inevitable because we are all interpreters, whether we are conscious of it or not. The question is, how will we handle those disagreements?

Disagreements are often perceived as conflict, and probably rightly so. But conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. Disagreements are not necessarily negative. Dr. Randy Willingham, one of the leading conflict management specialists with regard to church conflict, suggests that It is not wrong to have conflict.” He says there are three arguments that legitimize conflict. The first is considered the weakest argument and is described as the logical argument. This argument says, “‘It is alright to have conflict’ is a very hard proposition to deny. Denial is itself an engagement in conflict and, therefore, behaviorally legitimizes conflict. To affirm the proposition opens the possibilities of seeing new and constructive dimensions of conflict.”

The second and stronger argument is known as the pragmatic argument. This argument would say, “Not only is it alright to have conflict but it is detrimental not to have conflict. The result is, at a minimum, decline and lack of growth.” Dr. Willingham gives as the strongest argument for conflict not being wrong what he calls the spiritual argument. “If Jesus is our model, the absence of conflict indicates too little commitment and too much comfort with a world that has rejected God.”

Would you say that Christians argue more over direct commands or matters of opinion?

Disagreements and conflict are sure to come. But we must understand that God calls us to rise above our disagreements. Paul says in Romans 14:1-4,

“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

Each individual must study the word of God for themselves and act or respond accordingly. We ought to make sure that we have done all we can to develop our relationship with God, that we have studied his word for ourselves and are striving to live in such a way that would please him. The important element to keep ever before us is that we are all human, we are all fallible. In our striving to grow and mature as Christians, we must come to an understanding that we may not have it all figured out. Sadly, our arrogance and pride are the catalyst for much of the division that exists within the church today. While there are certain truths that are plainly taught in his word, God has left some aspects of church life and our individual journey open for us to settle.

Whether corporately as a congregation, or individually as Christians, God did not dictate responses to every possible scenario that may arise. It is within these areas that we must be diligent to maintain a Christ-like spirit. When dealing with these “disputable matters,” we must humble ourselves and ask God to help guide our decisions. God desires for his people to have unity. And God knows that his people are not always going to agree. But that unity drives us to humbly approach disagreements without being disagreeable. Let’s make sure we are seeking always to stand for the truth found in God’s word. Let’s make sure we are not binding on others what God has not bound. Let’s make sure that we are humbling ourselves and responding to our fellow Christians in love and in a way that brings honor and glory to God.

Keith Harris serves as the Preaching Minister at WindSong Church of Christ in Little Rock, AR. He enjoys life in Little Rock with his wonderful wife and two great kids. Keith holds Bachelors and Masters Degrees from Harding University, as well as a Master of Science degree in Ministry from Lubbock Christian University. He enjoys playing golf, traveling, and the Arkansas Razorbacks.