When Christians Disagree

Acts 15:36-41

Christians disagree about almost everything. And when we disagree, we usually start a new church. Which reminds me of a story I heard a few years ago. A Scottish Presbyterian is rescued after many years of living alone on a desert island. When he is picked up, the captain says to him, “I thought you were stranded alone.” “I was,” replied the castaway. “Why are there three huts on the beach?”

 

“Well, the first one is my house, and the second one is where I go to church.”

“What about the third one?”

“Oh, that’s my old church.”

Although we like to sing, “We are not divided, all one body we,” and “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,” Christians are mostly united about our love of dividing. If you doubt this, check out the Wikipedia article called List of Christian Denominations. The article lists hundreds of different denominations, including various branches of the Orthodox Church, various kinds of Catholic churches (some in communion with Rome, some not), a great many Lutheran denominations, a very long list of Methodist churches, then there are the Anglicans, Presbyterians, the Pentecostals, the Charismatics, and many, many other branches and twigs on the Christian family tree. I spent a little time studying the Baptists. You have the major groups listed–Southern Baptists, American Baptists, Conservative Baptists, Baptist General Conference, National Baptists and the Progressive Baptists. Then there are some groups that are a bit more esoteric: Old Baptist Union, Old Regular Baptists, Old Time Missionary Baptists, General Association of Baptists, General Association of General Baptists, General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, General Six-Principle Baptists, and my personal favorite, the Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists. The article also lists the Christian Unity Baptist Association and the Independent Baptists, two groups that probably don’t do much together. Given the wide diversity of opinions, the phrase “independent Baptist” is a redundant statement if you think about it. I’m teasing the Baptists because that happens to be my own spiritual heritage. But you could say much the same about all the other groups on the list.

For all our talk about unity, Christians not only disagree, we enjoy our disagreements. How else can you explain so many different “flavors” marching under the “Christian” banner?

Not a New Problem

In light of that reality, the question in this message is quite narrowly focused. How do you go discover God’s will in areas where Christians disagree? As we begin our discussion, let’s start with the observation that Christians have been disagreeing with each other since the very beginning. In fact, the New Testament itself records some of the early arguments among believers. When you read Romans and I Corinthians, you discover that Christians disagreed on things like eating meat offered to idols, on whether or not to observe the Sabbath Day, on whether to eat meat or be a vegetarian, and on whether or not to drink wine. In Colosse the church was torn by controversy over the proper role of angels, New Moon celebrations, and the proper diet for spiritual Christians. In Thessalonica the young church was deeply confused about the Second Coming of Christ. In Philippi there was evidently a major power struggle within the church, which is why Philippians contains such a strong plea for unity.

I should stop at this point and say plainly that there are some doctrines that Christians have always believed. These are fundamental issues having to do with the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ—His virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death and bodily resurrection, the nature of the Bible as God’s inerrant Word, salvation by grace through faith, the certainty of the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the reality of heaven and hell, and the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. While the precise wording has often differed, and while some groups have emphasized one doctrine over another, true Christians have always affirmed these doctrines. You can find these things, said in various ways, in the earliest creeds of the church.

In this message I am not speaking about disagreements over these fundamental, non-negotiable doctrines. These truths are not “up for grabs,” as if we could decide whether or not we believe that Jesus is God or whether or not we believe in the Second Coming. Those truths belong to the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). In this message we are looking at what we might call Category 2 disagreements–areas of doctrine or practice not involving the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

Reflections on an Ancient Quarrel

That brings us back to the basic question. How do you determine God’s will in those areas where Christians disagree? In order to help us answer that question, let’s study the record of an ancient quarrel between two old friends. Acts 15:36-41 tells the story of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. We pick up the story in verses 36-38:

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.
Don’t rush past that last sentence. It’s a reference to an incident that took place on their first missionary journey. Three of them had gone out together–Paul, Barnabas, and Barnabas’ young cousin, John Mark. In their travels they came to Pamphylia, a coastal province of Asia Minor. Luke tells the story this way in Acts 13:13-14, “Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia.” The most interesting fact about this passage is what it doesn’t say. We can’t be sure why John Mark left the team and returned to Jerusalem. In looking at the itinerary, it’s clear that the easiest part of the journey was behind them. Ahead lay long mountain treks into possibly unfriendly towns. Perhaps it was more than John Mark bargained for. Perhaps he couldn’t get along with Paul. Who knows? Maybe he felt that his cousin Barnabas should be the leader. Perhaps he was homesick for Jerusalem. Luke’s terse prose records the facts but nothing more. From reading these words you would not infer any problems behind the scenes.

 

But this much we know. At a crucial moment, John Mark suddenly left the team. No one knows the exact reason, but one day he said “I’m leaving.” So he left Paul and Barnabas and returned home. When the time came for the second trip Barnabas said, “Let’s give him another chance.” To which Paul replied, “Forget it. We’re not taking him.” So they argued over whether to take John Mark with them on the second trip.

And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches (vv. 39-41).
In the end Paul and Barnabas disagreed so sharply that they finally decided to go their separate ways. Paul found a replacement for Barnabas (a man named Silas) and went north toward Asia Minor; Barnabas took John Mark and sailed west toward Cyprus. Having found no way to patch up their quarrel, they separated and went their own ways.

 

Using this passage as a base, I want to share with you seven principles that will help you discern God’s will in areas where Christians disagree.

Principle # 1: Though all Christians worship the same Lord we don’t always agree on every point.

The list of denominations proves that point. Just pick up the Yellow Pages and look through the list of churches in your own town. We have different churches and different denominations precisely because we don’t see eye to eye on lots of issues. And inside every local church, you will find a bewildering variety of opinions. Just as an example, the March 10, 2007 issue of the Tupelo Daily Journal has a fascinating article called Church Attire Unfolds. It’s all about how what people wear when they come to church. I can still remember when mom and dad dressed all four Pritchard boys—Andy, Ray, Alan, Ronnie—before we went to church. We also had to “dress up” on Easter, which meant wearing a tie and a jacket. It used to be that everyone “dressed up” for church. Women wore dresses; men wore coats and ties. And the pastor always had on a dark suit, white shirt and dark tie. He never even wore a sport coat.

Things have changed, haven’t they? Now that I do quite a bit of speaking in different churches, I always have to ask about proper attire. When I spoke in Grand Rapids, the pastor kindly told me that the speakers always wore a suit. When I spoke in Colorado Springs, they told me I would probably be the only one wearing a tie. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California, generally preaches in a Hawaiian shirt. Other pastors wear liturgical robes. And the people in the pews increasingly tend toward more casual clothing.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I could start a pretty good argument on that point, couldn’t I? As a matter of fact, I have some thoughts on this but my opinions are preferences, not doctrinal convictions. And lots of good people view matters differently. And they dress differently too.

That’s just one example of the larger point. Christians unite around Jesus Christ and argue about almost everything else.

Principle # 2: On issues of deep personal conviction, our disagreements will sometimes be very sharp.

Let’s go back to Acts 15. Verse 39 tells us that Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement. The Greek text uses a word from which we get the English word paroxysm, which means a violent disagreement. This particular Greek word means a violent, hostile, angry, harsh, sharp, bitter disagreement. Most modern translations say they “disagreed sharply” or “argued.” Darby uses a euphemism by saying, “There arose a very warm feeling.” Eugene Peterson (The Message) spells it out this way:

Barnabas wanted to take John along, the John nicknamed Mark. But Paul wouldn’t have him; he wasn’t about to take along a quitter who, as soon as the going got tough, had jumped ship on them in Pamphylia. Tempers flared, and they ended up going their separate ways.
It’s not as if Barnabas said, “Well, I would like to take Mark.” “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” “But he’s such a fine boy.” “But he left us.” “Let’s pray about it.” No! They weren’t that nice about it. In fact, the verb is in the imperfect tense, which means a continual quarrel–unending, unyielding, ongoing, heated, intense, deep disagreement between them. Their argument was continual and it was contentious. They didn’t just argue once and then let it go. They argued over and over again. And the more they argued, the angrier they got. Barnabas knew he was right. Paul knew he was right. That raises a critical question. Who was right–Barnabas or Paul?

 

The Ministry or the Man

After studying the matter, I have concluded you can make a good case either way. I believe Paul was thinking about the ministry. He had the big picture in mind. He was thinking about the fact that they were about to leave on a missionary trip. This was no Sunday School picnic. They were going into uncharted territory to take the Gospel to lost people. They were going into mountainous regions. They were going into places where they would face death every day. On the first missionary journey–the one John Mark had left–Paul was stoned and left for dead in Lystra. They could hardly expect anything better this time around. They would face opposition, persecution, hardship, and sickness. Paul knew that there was no place for a quitter on a trip like that. Paul focused on the people he was trying to reach. He couldn’t take the risk of having John Mark walk out on him again. He needed someone he could depend on 100%. That’s what I mean when I say that Paul was looking at the ministry.



Barnabas was thinking about the man. We know that John Mark was his cousin, which means there were family issues to consider. When Barnabas looked at John Mark, he said “We serve a God of grace. He is the God of the second chance. Our God never gives up on anybody.” Barnabas saw real potential in his young cousin who had turned away when things got rough. “Paul, maybe you’ve written this guy off, but I’m not writing him off because God has not written him off. I believe in him even though he has failed. I want to give him another chance.”

So who do you think was right? Your answer tells us more about you than about this text of Scripture. I don’t think the Bible clearly tells us who was right or wrong here. Everyone has an opinion. If you’re people-oriented, you’ll probably move toward Barnabas. If you’re task-oriented, you may side with Paul. Regardless of who was right or wrong, we know that there was a sharp, almost violent disagreement between these two men. That leads us directly to the third principle.

Principle # 3: Separation may ultimately be preferable to continual disagreement.

When they couldn’t agree, only one solution remained. They split up and went in separate directions. Verse 39 says they “separated” from each other. That’s a good translation. The Greek word means “to part asunder.” It means a total break in the relationship. They were so angry that when they left, they didn’t just part company, but their friendship at that point was torn apart. As far as we can tell from this text, when Barnabas went one way and Paul the other, they evidently left unreconciled. Nothing in the text indicates that they got on their knees and prayed together. Maybe they did, but I don’t see it. All I see is a sharp disagreement and a separation. There’s no happy ending here.

At this point it’s important for us to review the biblical teaching on unity. I find it interesting that Paul–the man who didn’t want to take John Mark–writes more about the unity of the church than any other man in the New Testament. Do you remember what he says?

“Love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10).

“Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16).

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

“(Be) eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).

” Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2).

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).

All those verses came from the pen of Apostle Paul. I find that phrase in Romans 12:18 very interesting: “If possible.” Sometimes outward unity isn’t possible. This is hard for some of us to admit. Sometimes separation may ultimately be preferable to continual, unending quarreling and disagreement. If Paul and Barnabas couldn’t agree, then perhaps we won’t always agree either.

We can summarize the matter this way. The command to unity is always there. Sometimes we will have to obey it separately. In that light this text is helpful because it is so searingly honest about two men and their disagreement. Isn’t it interesting that Luke includes this in the Book of Acts? He could have glossed over the whole ugly affair. But he chose to tell the truth. This text is both honest and very comforting because it tells us that men of the Bible were not angels. They were men with strong feelings and with strong convictions.

Principle # 4: God’s work is sometimes advanced through disagreement.

Let’s do a simple before and after analysis:

Before

Two men

One team

One place



After

Five men

Two teams

Two places

Before the trouble, there are two men (Paul, Barnabas) on one team going to one place (Asia Minor). After the argument is over, you have five men (Paul, Silas, Timothy, Barnabas, John Mark) in two teams going to two different places (Cyprus, Asia Minor). Thus the Gospel is now being spread by more people in more places than ever before. That happened as a result of this sharp, strong personal disagreement.

Let’s add Romans 8:28 (NIV) to the equation. “And we know that in all things”–even our sharp disagreements–“God works for the good of those who love him.” This does not justify anger or bitterness, but it does illustrate the biblical principal that God is able to make the wrath of man praise him.

Throughout church history, the Christian movement has often grown through disagreement. For instance, the Reformation started over a disagreement about indulgences that led to deeper disagreement over justification by faith. Martin Luther never intended to start a new church. He truly meant to reform the existing church. But when the Catholic Church booted him out, he established churches based on the teaching of justification by faith, and from that beginning the Gospel spread to the ends of the earth. I’m not in favor of church splits, but God is able to use disagreements to advance the cause of Christ. If the truth were known, there is some “dirty linen” in the family tree of almost every local church. Churches start for all sorts of reasons, some of them less than noble. Or perhaps I should say that there are mixed motives behind almost every church that gets started. People don’t this program or that emphasis, they want a new style of worship, they feel a certain area is being neglected, they disagree on the preaching or some aspect of doctrine, they think the church is too liberal or too conservative or not enough of this or too much of that. That sort of thing happens all the time. The church I pastored in Oak Park started 91 years ago because believers in five mainline churches weren’t satisfied with what they were receiving on Sunday morning. They wanted a stronger emphasis on the preaching of the Word, evangelism and world missions. So they met in a home and decided to organize Madison Street Church, which later became Madison Street Bible Church and later Calvary Memorial Church. That sort of thing happens more often than we realize. Separation–as painful as it may be–sometimes can be used for the advancement of the Gospel.

Let me make a personal application at this point. The Holy Spirit often uses conflict, disagreement and disappointment to reveal God’s will to you. God is able to work through even the most painful experiences of life not only to bless you, but to prepare you and to enable you to move on to the place where he wants you to be. I have seen that principle at work in my own life. Many years ago I came to a moment of serious disagreement with two Christian brothers. Months of pressure culminated in a late-night meeting that almost ended in blows. Awful things were said, unkind words spoken, harsh judgments made, friendships broken. When it was over, I went through a painful period during which I faced my own sin and failure. Months later, God used that terrible moment to pry me loose from one place and set my feet moving in a new direction. Through that painful experience, I learned that God is able to use the worst parts of life to show us his will. Nothing is wasted with our Heavenly Father. Out of the ashes of defeat we hear the voice of God. When the battle is over, when tempers have cooled, when our anger is gone, we hear the voice of the Lord saying, “Now follow me and I will be your guide.”

Principle # 5: If we must separate from one another, let us do so with respect, not with rancor.

Rancor means anger or bitterness. I think if there is any place to criticize Paul and Barnabas, it’s right here. It seems to me that perhaps they went too far in their disagreement. It’s not a sin to disagree. We don’t have to agree on everything. You want to play a saxophone on Sunday morning? Fine! That’s okay. Want to go fishing? Go fishing. Want to wear pants, grow a beard, home school your kids, listen to Bill O’Reilly, vote for Barack Obama, buy a pipe organ, pierce your ears or argue against women ushers? Go right ahead. We don’t have to agree on every detail. But we can disagree without being disagreeable. If there is one mistake that Paul and Barnabas made, it’s that they may have crossed the line from strong disagreement into something that became too personal.

Three Warning Signs

Our danger is that not only will we disagree and separate, but that we’ll cross the line from justifiable disagreement to anger and bitterness. Let me share three warning signs to help you know when you’ve crossed that line. Number one: When the issue becomes a controlling passion of your life. You’ve crossed the line when all you do is lie awake at night thinking about that saxophone on Sunday morning. You wake up in the middle of the night and you can just hear that saxophone blaring “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” and it bothers you. That’s all you can think about, it’s all you can talk about during the day. You’ve gone too far when the issue–whatever it is–becomes the controlling passion in your life.



Number two: When you begin to attack the person and not the problem. Attacking the problem means studying the issue, sorting out the good and bad points, thinking through other ways of looking at things, and so on. Attacking the person means losing your temper, questioning motives, and using intimidation to get your own way. When it gets personal, you’ve gone too far. In the heat of controversy it’s easy to spread rumors or tell stories or twist facts in order to make someone else look bad. At that point you’ve gone way over the line. It doesn’t matter how big or how little the issue is, you ought to be able to discuss it rationally without stooping to rumor and character assassination.

Number three: When you would rather talk about “your issue” than about Jesus Christ. This is often where Christian disagreement ends up. Jesus becomes a casualty of our in-fighting. Sometimes our message to the world seems to be, “God loves you but we hate each other.” Too often we fight so much about secondary things that Jesus gets pushed to the side. Is it any wonder that the world shrugs off our message? When you would rather fight other Christians than share Christ with the lost, something has gone wrong in your spiritual life.

If we have to disagree–and sometimes we do, and if we have to go our separate ways–and sometimes we do, then let us disagree agreeably–with respect and not rancor.

Principle # 6: In Christ our ultimate goal should be eventual reconciliation and the restoration of friendship.

This doesn’t come easily. I know exactly what I’m talking about at this point. From personal experience, I can tell you that it’s not easy to restore fellowship with brothers who have been offended. As one who has been on both sides of that fence–the offender and the one offended–I can testify to how difficult reconciliation is. In the experience I alluded to earlier, it took seven years (and a lot of water under the bridge) before we could come together, put the past behind us, and be truly reconciled in the Lord.

Let’s go back to the story in Acts 15-16. The argument is over, nothing more needs to be said, both men are angry, hurt, and frustrated. There is nothing left to do but to go their separate ways. Paul goes north, Barnabas goes west. They separate and as far as we know they don’t meet again for years. Time passes, tempers cool down, a new perspective comes, they begin to see things in a different light, and the Holy Spirit does His healing work. Let’s run the clock ahead about 10 years. How does Paul feel about Barnabas now? We have only one hint. In 1 Corinthians 9:6 he mentions Barnabas as a fellow apostle and a fellow worker in the cause of Jesus Christ. Ten years pass from the time of the argument and Paul is able to look at Barnabas and say, “My friend, my fellow apostle, my partner, my co-worker.” Something had happened to bring about reconciliation and healing.

Paul thought John Mark was a quitter. Did he ever change his opinion? Two passages of scripture answer that question. Fifteen years have passed and Paul is imprisoned in Rome. At the end of his letter to the Colossians, he adds these telling words: “My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas” (Colossians 4:10). John Mark and Paul are not only friends, but now that Paul is in prison, who’s there taking care of him? That quitter, John Mark.

Three more years pass. Paul is in jail for the last time. Soon he will be put to death. From his prison cell in Rome he writes to his young friend Timothy. These are his last recorded words in Scripture. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul talks about the fact that so many people have left him-Demas has forsaken me. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). In his last days Paul wanted John Mark by his side. What a change from his earlier opinion. Once Paul didn’t want anything to do with him because he thought he was a loser, but at the end of his life, Paul says, “Bring him to me. I need him.”

That’s what the Gospel of Jesus Christ can do. Sometimes our disagreements seem so deep that we think that we are separated forever. But because we’re still in the family of God, there’s always the possibility of reconciliation even though it may take centuries. A few days ago I wrote an entry on my weblog called The Million-Dollar Infant Baptism. Noting that Christians have been deeply divided over baptism (Infants or believers only? Immersion, pouring or sprinkling? Required for church membership? Who can baptize? When? Where? What does it signify?), I closed with this paragraph:

This week I have enjoyed reading a delightful little book by Stephen J. Nichols called The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World. In his chapter on John Calvin, he notes that “only two heresies were punishable by death in the Holy Roman Empire–heresies relating to the Trinity and the insistence on believers’ baptism (in the place of infant baptism)” (p. 80). That made me sit up straight. Great issues are at stake in the baptism debate and I do not wish to minimize them. Where the gospel is faithfully preached and believed, we can recognize that we are truly brothers and sisters in Christ despite our deeply-held convictions in certain areas. We will sometimes have to agree to disagree and even to worship in different churches while still extending the hand of Christian fellowship across the watery divide of baptism.
A friend sent along this comment:
When I went to Moody Church I heard Pastor Lutzer talk about how anabaptists in the 16th century in Zurich were sentenced to death by drowning because of their beliefs. The sentence was literally, “If they want to go under, let them go under”.

 

I was looking this up and was pleased to see that in recent years the Swiss Reformed church and spiritual descendants of Anabaptists around the world have taken steps to reconcile with one another.

It turns out that 2004 representatives of both sides met to remember what happened during the Reformation when the Anabaptists were persecuted and sometimes executed for their convictions. Without surrendering their core beliefs, the various groups met to remember, to reconcile and to find common ground where possible. Part of the event including erecting a marker on the bank of the Limmat River where Felix Manz, one of the founders of the Anabaptist movement was drowned in 1527. This sort of event, done thoughtfully and without asking anyone to surrender deeply held convictions, lays the groundwork for forgiveness, healing and true Christian reconciliation.

 

The Mark of the Christian

God used Francis Schaeffer to communicate the gospel to millions of people. Included among his works is a little book called The Mark of the Christian, in which he argued that love must be the defining mark of the Christian. That’s the label we must wear in all our relationships. He emphasizes that the world is not looking for outward unity, but outward love. We’ll disagree on a thousand issues. That’s okay as long as we love each other. If we disagree, we can disagree agreeably and so demonstrate that we are still part of God’s great family. If we must disagree, even if we must separate, we must disagree with respect and not with rancor.

I would also add that in dealing with secondary issues, we must always hold out the possibility of future reconciliation. How do you do that? The most important factor involved in reconciliation is time. Give God time to soften hearts. That may mean waiting months or years before the disagreeing parties can be brought back together. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but sometimes the passage of time allows a new perspective to develop. Eventually those issues that once seemed so important may recede into the background. Perhaps you will conclude that, yes, they were important at a given time and place, but they aren’t so important now.

Beyond that, it’s important not to continually bring up past disagreements. As long as you live in the past, you’re going to be fighting in the past. Eventually you have to move out of the past and into the present. That involves a conscious choice to forgive those who, in the time of conflict, brutalized you. It’s not easy to do that, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, you can rise above past hurts to discover the joy of reconciliation.

That brings us to one final principle.

Principle # 7: Hold your convictions firmly yet graciously knowing that God may lead someone else differently than He has led you.

What an important truth for the family of God. Romans 14:5 says that “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” If you want a beard, grow one. Do you like your pastors clean-shaven? Fine! Hold on to that. If you’re a home schooler, be fully convinced. Do you prefer the public schools? That’s wonderful. What about Christian schools? Great! Nothing I am saying implies that you shouldn’t have convictions. You should.

But that’s only part of it. Romans 15:5-6 offers the other side of the coin. “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God places a high value on Christian unity. Hold on to your convictions but do it in a loving fashion. After all, your convictions may change over time. What you oppose so strongly today may, in a different context, become less-than-crucial to you in the future.



We’re different and that’s okay. We don’t agree on everything and that’s okay. Sometimes in the family of God we’re going to disagree strongly and that’s okay. Sometimes we’re going to disagree to the point that we can’t even work together any more. That’s okay too. Sometimes we’re going to go our separate ways and that’s okay. We don’t all have to go to the same church or belong to the same denomination or believe the same way on controversial issues.

But we do have to love one another. That’s a non-negotiable command of Jesus Christ (John 13:35). No matter how much or how passionately we disagree, we still must love each other.

Here’s a simple, five-step outline for discovering God’s will in doubtful areas where Christians disagree:

Step # 1: Pray for guidance

Step # 2: Search the Scriptures

Step # 3: Seek godly counsel

Step # 4: Ask God to give you specific direction

Step # 5: Decide what you believe.

And don’t grumble when others see things differently. Do what you believe to be right before the Lord and let God worry about those other people.

That brings me back to the question I asked earlier in this message. Who was right–Paul or Barnabas? I don’t think the Bible really answers that question. But I’m glad about that. So many of our arguments end up the same way. When it’s all over, you’re not totally sure who’s right. Even after you study both sides, you can see some points here and some points there. As long we live in a fallen world, most of our disagreements will end up that way.

When we get to heaven, the Lord will reveal the truth to us. Between now and then, there are going to be plenty of disagreements in the church. That’s part of the price we pay for being human. But we have the opportunity to deal with our disagreements honestly and graciously because we know Jesus Christ. He makes the difference.

What do you do when Christians disagree? Hold your convictions but hold them in love. Amen.

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