Disagreements in the Church
Clarity on issues and interpretation of scriptures is very appealing for people who are looking at joining a church. Often you will find that the fastest growing churches in our nation have very detailed and expansive understandings of what must be agreed upon by anyone who joins a church. Today’s politicians take advantage of congregations as a quick way to reach a large group of people who will all agree with one or more planks from their political platform. They assumed that we would be all like minded on moral issues.
In fact, for some people, congregations where members disagree with each other, are somehow too worldly and must not be Spirit filled. After all, Jesus did pray: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:21-23)
But are disagreements among Christians always a sign of the lack of the Spirit in a church? Does being one in Christ always mean agreeing on divisive issues? I think not.
Take a look at the Christian church in Rome which Paul wrote to. In Romans 14 it says that they were divided over issues that were very deeply connected to their faith. Rather than settling the issues for them though, Paul as their spiritual leader, encouraged them to find ways to be respectful and tolerant of contrasting views.
One particular issue at stake, seems only to be a pragmatic scheduling problem. “Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.” (Romans 14:5) So here’s a problem, they are a congregation that can’t even agree on what day to have worship services. Seems kind of trivial - after all, doesn’t every Christian know that the best time to worship God is on Sunday mornings before kickoff.
The Christians in Rome knew both Law and Gospel and had to find ways to honor both. They knew the ten commandments. They remembered God’s command: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it Holy.” Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and continues to sundown on Saturday. So for many, Sabbath was God’s holy day - THE day to worship. To worship on another day was to break God’s law and to ignore the guidance of Bible.
Still other Christians saw that faith, not law, was the path to salvation. They saw that there was a freedom in Christ, that the law could not contain. Many Jewish Christians wanted to continue to meet at their local synagogue. But their new Gentile Christian brothers and sisters would not be welcome to join them unless they first were circumcised and followed the Jewish laws. So why not hold worship for all Christians on Sunday mornings and let those who wanted to go to synagogue, go on Sabbath. Hadn’t Christ been risen on a Sunday morning, wouldn’t that be a great thing to remember as Christians worshiped.
Certainly Paul must have had an opinion on these matters. Certainly he could have told them which one was THE right answer. But look again at what Paul says: “Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.” (Romans 14:5)
“Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.” Paul asks people not to come to an agreement. But rather for people to make up their own minds and deepen their convictions. Far from telling them to stop disagreeing, he encourages them to become even more opinionated. Doesn’t this imply that Paul sees something good and holy going on in a congregation with disagreements.
The Christians in Rome who followed Paul’s advice, were forced to live in a situation where they had to respect and tolerate their differences. They were forced as a body to hold together two vital gifts given to the church: the holy guidance of God’s law and the holy freedom for those who live by faith in Christ. Perhaps that was more important than the coming to an agreement on the day to worship. Perhaps living in that tension was an even better witness the power of Christ to keep them one - despite their deep felt differences.
Members of All Saints have a wide range of views on the moral issues and political solutions that face us in our times. May God send the Holy Spirit to us, that these disagreements might be a holy blessing to us and a mighty witness to the world that our unity is greater than the divisions that segregate our society.