American politician Hubert H. Humphrey once said, “Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent and debate.” In our democratic societies we attempt to settle disagreements with rhetoric rather than revolvers. What about those in God’s Church who have differences? Should we forge agreement with hammer blows? Will forceful rhetoric bring us to consensus?
A War of Words
Let’s consider this in light of the greatest blot on U.S. history. Today it is difficult to imagine anyone who would not condemn slavery as a damaging and tremendously sinful wrong. Yet it was not always so. For years the debate about slavery raged and words sharp as lances flew across the country. In his book The Approaching Fury, Stephen B. Oates recreates the events that led to the United State’s worst disaster by speaking in the first person through 13 of the influential thinkers, writers and speakers of the day.
The influential and zealous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison wrote the following: “[The slave] system has no redeeming feature, but is full of blood-the blood of innocent men, women and babies-full of adultery and concupiscence-full of blasphemy, darkness and woe-full of rebellion against God, and treason against the universe-full of wounds and bruises and putrefying sores-full of temporal suffering and eternal damnation-full of wrath, and impurity, and ignorance, and brutality, and awful impiety…”
When George Fitzhugh, a southern patrician and the self-styled “voice of slave society” penned a response in defense of slavery as an institution, Mr. Garrison responded that Mr. Fitzhugh’s writing “is a shallow, impudent, and thoroughly satanic work and he is evidently a moral lunatic. Mr. Fitzhugh is the Don Quixote of Slavedom-only still more demented than his ‘illustrious predecessor.’ He is certainly crack-brained, and deserves pity rather than ridicule or censure.”
Mr. Garrison obviously felt that his position was righteous and as such justified the bitter condemnation of the opposition from the South. Mr. Garrison and Mr. Fitzhugh jousted with their pens, but what was the result of this conflict? Was it a bringing together, a meeting of the minds, a seeking of commonality and eventual unity of thought and purpose? Of course not. We can look back through the decades to easily identify these two men’s words as adding fuel to the fire that eventually erupted into the inferno we call the Civil War.
Today, everywhere you look there is conflict and strife, debate and discussion. Americans can see opposing views aired with distinction on CNN’s Crossfire or NBC’s Meet the Press. Or watch as the ignorant and unfortunate are goaded into exploding their most intimate conflicts into entertainment on exploitation television such as The Jerry Springer Show. Conflict, strife, debate and discussion are ubiquitous.
The German philosopher Freidrich Nietzsche said: “We would not let ourselves be burned to death for our opinions: we are not sure enough of them for that. But, perhaps for the right to have our opinions-for that we would burn.” We treasure them, we hold them dear, we preach them as dogma to all who would listen, and we will dismiss them only after the fiercest and most painful struggle. They are our opinions.
And so it is even in the Body of Christ. Among people there will always be differences of opinion-even about the truth of God. Of course, there is absolute truth that flows from the mind of God. But, we are weak, human and our search for truth and its application marches on. How should we manage our differences?
We must understand that conflict is not the same as disagreement. It is possible to argue or discuss issues in a positive way where iron sharpens iron. Granted, it may not happen very often, especially when our level of maturity is low or our emotional involvement high. Conflict, though, is disagreement so pointed and protracted that it cracks the sheen of harmony and causes separation between people.
Conflict Versus Peace
Perhaps the negative impact of conflict can best be understood by contrasting it with peace. With peace there is freedom from quarrels and disagreement. With peace comes inner contentment and a feeling of serenity.
Let’s read a few key scriptures and understand our heavenly Father’s mind on these matters. “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Timothy 2:23-25 2 Timothy 2:23-25 23 But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do engender strifes.
24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle to all men, apt to teach, patient,
25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
American King James Version×). Our society tenaciously seeks to uncover and then air disputes. Do you and I? Paul taught Timothy to avoid strife.
Notice what James writes. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:13-18 James 3:13-18 13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descends not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
American King James Version×).
We need to prayerfully consider this instruction asking God to give us an honest look into the window of our own heart. We’ve all felt the bile of anger, bitterness and frustration rise in our throats when others disagree with us. James is really saying to you and me: Don’t kid yourself! It doesn’t matter how “right” we are, how clever and forceful our rhetoric or how civil our discourse. If these attitudes are present, great evil is causing them to bubble up.
The wisdom from God is pure, peaceable, gentle, merciful, positive, consistent and willing to yield. This wisdom cannot be crammed down someone else’s throat in the name of truth. It is broadcast in peace by those who want to make peace. Christ taught us, as His disciples, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 Matthew 5:9Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
American King James Version×). This means action! You and I could separate ourselves from the rest of humanity, live in a cave on a remote mountain and have perfect peace. That is not what Christ meant. A peacemaker is in the middle of it all with sleeves rolled up and is on a mission to create peace where once there was conflict-to create serenity where once there was separation.
To me, this presents one of the greatest challenges in light of the current realities in the Church. How do we hone our convictions so we are willing to die for God and at the same time share our beliefs in a godly manner when necessary? How do we avoid giving unnecessary offense? (Christ said many would be offended because of the gospel message, not because of the messenger.) Here are a few of the many ways we could properly manage differences of opinion today. Perhaps you can add to the list.
1. Wisely determine if the topic under discussion is worth the time, effort and emotional investment for all concerned. Or is it trivial and do we find ourselves arguing for the sake of argument?
Some people love to immerse themselves in any and all disputes, gnawing on them like a dog worries over a bone. This is not godly! Do we love to hear the latest bad news? Do we eagerly watch for some new controversy within the Church so we can jump in the middle of it? We mustn’t kid ourselves-this is not godly!
2. When involved in a difference of opinions, we should examine our spirit-our feelings-deeply. Do we feel angry, bitter, determined to get our way, upset, resentful of the “opposition” and condemning of others?
It would be so much better for us to sit on the sidelines, keep quiet and pray for God to help our attitude than to dive into the middle of a conflict. We must make no mistake. To do otherwise may be a serious sin in the sight of God.
3. Consider the result of the debate. Is it godly edification and true growth? Do all part as friends? Are you and I making peace? Or, does the schism widen with each point we drive home with our compelling rhetoric like the blow of a hammer on a chisel?
What good is it to win the battle if it hastens the loss of the war? Even if we “win” the argument by the sheer weight of our logic and the power of our unrelenting attack, what good is it if we have offended our brother or sister and damaged a relationship? Whatever temporary satisfaction we may feel by winning the day will long fade with the blood, sweat and tears we may shed toiling to mend the cracks our hammer blows have wrought.
On April 12, 1861, all the passionate, but useless, rhetoric was buried under artillery fire and the United States was plunged into a bloody, protracted war. Pens were laid to rest and naked, unsheathed swords flashed in the sunlight. Six hundred thousand brothers died and $5 billion in property was destroyed. Benjamin Franklin’s words rang true: “There is no such thing as a good war or a bad peace.” Total destruction is the destination of Satan’s path.
No, God’s truth is not hammered into anyone by sharp, iron blows on any anvil. As Christ’s disciples we should always be ready to give an answer for our beliefs with meekness and fear! It will take God’s help and the Holy Spirit to enable us to be as convicted and courageous as Stephen, but as harmless as the Lamb. God’s truth should be carried in a crystal goblet and poured gently to begin to quench the thirst of those parched nearly unto death.
Since you and I are privileged to carry that truth, we need to learn how to make peace even as we settle differences of opinion. Then we shall be called the sons and daughters of God! UN