Some commenters here wrote recently about disagreeing without being disagreeable. As a result, I thought it would be good to write about how to disagree with people you love. That should be everyone, right?
I’ve actually heard SCOC members mock the saying, “we can disagree without being disagreeable.” To them, that’s false unity, because disagreeing and remaining brothers in good standing are mutually contradictory. I’ll attempt to show you why they are not—in fact brothers in disagreement is the only way we can ever be. That’s because the basis of brotherhood is relationship, not shared opinions, and the basis for maintaining that relationship is love.
If you love someone as a brother, as a spouse, or as a son or daughter, of course you aren’t guaranteed to agree with them on everything. But you love them anyway, and you tolerate a lot, because they’re family. You have a pre-existing relationship with them.
But have you ever thought about the fact that we have a pre-existing relationship with our spiritual family, as well? Just as we aren’t the deciders of who gets to be our biological, or even adopted brother or sister, we don’t get to choose who gets to become our spiritual brother or sister. That decision is above our pay grade. Who is and isn’t our brother isn’t our decision. It’s God’s, and God’s alone.
In fact, brotherhood is the key to unlocking the related and wildly misunderstood topic of “fellowship.” Fellowship (the state of being “fellow” followers of Christ, or peers, or brothers) is not something that we establish ourselves, nor can we withdraw it. People talk of “withdrawing fellowship,” but this is a misnomer. Our job is simply to live out the relationship God has placed us mutually into. Stanton is big on emphasizing that we don’t join the church, God adds us to it. Exactly. And what God has added, we don’t have the authority to subtract. But I digress.
In both our family and brotherly relationships, love sometimes requires us to overlook a disagreement or fault for the sake of the relationship. Other times, love might require us to express our disagreement. In both cases, the criteria for voicing our disagreement or letting it go is love.
This, my friends, is how to disagree with someone you love, particularly a brother in Christ. Disagreement is inevitable. In fact, it’s impossible to be human and to agree on everything.
There are good reasons for that. The young have not yet learned all of life’s lessons (does anyone ever learn them all?). We all start out with beliefs and theories about life, parenting, and God; then those theories get tested by experience and (hopefully) scripture. The old may have misunderstood some of their early lessons of life, or lived a large portion of their lives apart from God completely. Now they’re playing catch-up, trying to make sense of life’s lessons from the rear view mirror.
As a result, no two people can ever be in the same place spiritually at the same time. And that’s OK. To pretend it’s even possible, as Stanton does—that unanimous understanding of the Bible is absolute and required—is ludicrous on its face. That’s not humanly possible, and this is evidenced by the fact that Stanton itself claims the Holy Spirit’s guidance “into all truth,” yet are constantly changing their “understanding” of that truth at their May meetings. If the Holy Spirit truly guided them into unanimity, pretended as it is, they wouldn’t need May Week to make It happen. It would just happen automatically, like Paul when he obtained the gospel directly from Jesus Christ without conferring with the other apostles.
The scriptures that have had the greatest impact on me regarding disagreement between brothers come from Paul, particularly Romans 14 through 15:7. Read the whole passage, then I’ll address some key points here. He writes:
Romans 14:1-4 – Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 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. 4 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.
First, what’s a disputable matter? Well, if we could agree on what’s disputable, it wouldn’t be in dispute, would it? Too many Christians like to limit this verse’s damage to their worldview by adjusting what’s a “disputable matter” and what’s not. That’s not a fair interpretation of this verse. Clearly, there is great latitude on differences of opinion between brothers. Paul’s instruction is to accept our brother without quarreling about those opinions.
Now notice a few more important verses:
Romans 14:19 – Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Romans 14:22 – So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.
This is a particularly powerful one:
Romans 15:1 – We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
We need to bear with, or be patient with the failings of the weak. That word failings is translated infirmities in KJV, which means an error arising from weakness of mind. This means our brother may be in error on something because they simply haven’t come to understand that subject. Or vice versa. Yet we are to be patient with each other nonetheless.
What can this mean other than that some people are going to be at different places in their faith and understanding than others, and we all need to be OK with that. Can it mean anything else? The real question is what’s our attitude and how do we act when we find ourselves in disagreement with our brother? Do we try to marginalize them and push them out of the church?
Paul gets even clearer at the end of this section of his letter:
Romans 15:7 – Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
We are to accept one another “just as Christ accepted” us, and this brings praise to God. Hmm. Let me ask you this: How did Christ accept you? Was it on the condition of a perfect understanding of the Bible, and all the ins and outs of doctrine? Did the Jews who were pricked in their hearts on the Day of Pentecost as recounted in Acts 2 have a deep knowledge of doctrine and the Christian faith?
I would suggest that we take this very seriously and think through the consequences of our answer. On the same basis Jesus accepted me, I need to accept my brother. If I was accepted into the body of Christ (not some denomination, church, sect, or cult) on the basis of the gospel and my obedience to it, that and that alone is the basis for me accepting my brother.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address Stanton’s go-to passage on unity, 1 Corinthians 1:10, when discussing differences of opinion. I discuss that more fully in the context of Stanton’s false idea of church unanimity, but I’ll briefly address it here:
1 Corinthians 1:10 – I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
The key to understanding this passage is (surprise) the rest of the passage:
1 Corinthians 1:11-17 – For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
The people in Corinth had serious unity problems, meaning they were literally dividing the church up according to their favorite teacher, or who baptized them. Paul’s letters don’t contradict one another. He didn’t tell the Roman church to chill about those different opinions and “judgments” and accept one another, only to insist that the Corinthian church be unanimous in all their opinions and judgments. No, being of the same mind is best undertstood as being of the same Christlike attitude, as he wrote to the Ephesian church:
Ephesians 4:1-3 – I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing [being patient with] one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
This is perfectly in keeping with his instruction to Rome here:
Romans 15:5-6 – May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, while we’re in the flesh, brothers will disagree. There’s no other way we can be besides in disagreement over something. This is evidenced by the fact that Stanton’s so-called agreement has to be forced at the threat of withdrawal for murmuring. The key to disagreeing with our brothers while remaining faithful is to seek truth, obey our conscience, and be loving and patient with our brothers whose consciences are different than ours.
These principles should be self-evident, because they can be understood from the Golden Rule. If I would like my brothers to be patient with my wrong opinions when I have them, then I’d better be patient and loving toward them with theirs. That’s not so hard, is it?