The world is a diverse place, not the least of which is our diverse opinions on life itself. This diversity can be an amazing thing, however, it can lead to some significant disagreements.
How should Christians handle disagreement? Christians should handle disagreement, with both Christians and non-Christians, with respect, humility, and the fruits of the Spirit. They should not allow anger or frustration to govern their actions but allow their life to bear the good fruit of walking with Christ.
Since I arrived at college I have had to learn a lot about how to handle differences of opinion. While there is unity in the important things, there are also some stark differences in theology amongst my friends and teachers alike.
In this post, I hope that I can pass on some of what I learned from my research and life experiences on how to handle disagreement in a way that glorifies God.
Disagree vs. Dislike
One of the things I learned this year is the difference between “disagree” and “dislike.” In its simplest form to disagree with someone requires you to have a line of reasoning. It requires a person to be well researched on what they believe to be true.
If you can’t answer why specifically, that the other person is wrong, there is a chance that saying you disagree with them would be irresponsible because you have no line of reasoning.
You can dislike what they are saying, but until you can point out specifically what you disagree with and why, it will remain dislike, not disagreement.
One of the tools I learned this year for distinguishing between the two comes from the book How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. According to the authors, to disagree with someone you have to be able to argue against their point on one of four grounds:
- Their argument is uninformed.
- Their argument is misinformed.
- Their argument is illogical.
- Their argument’s analysis is incomplete.
Why do I bring this up? When we disagree with people we want to do it in a way that is responsible, respectful, humble, and patient. If you haven’t done the research to understand both what you believe, and what they believe, it is difficult to do disagree in a way that honors God.
Simple dislike of the other person’s belief or argument without proper research often results in resentful banter and is disrespectful of the other person’s time and energy.
We all know that person who argues for the sake of arguing, always has to be right and always needs to have the last word in the conversation.
Recognizing the difference between disagreeing and disliking is the first step to not being or becoming that person and honoring God with how we interact with people who think differently than we do.
Disagreements Between Christians & Non-Christians
Disagreements between two Christians and between a Christian and a non-Christian are very different and therefore must be handled differently.
In order to handle disagreements with a non-Christian in a way that honors God, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Remember Their Condition
First and foremost, we need to remember that a non-Christian is operating out of a different worldview. They have no real sense of hope or truth.
They are not living by the moral guidelines established in the Bible and may not have any moral guidelines, to begin with.
They come from a different set of life experiences and may have had bad experiences with Christianity in the past.
You cannot hold a non-Christian to the same standard of behavior as another Christian. Neither should you pass judgment on them. Leave that to God and be an encouragement to them.
Present your understanding of the argument while recognizing that they are operating out of a totally different worldview than you.
Practice The Fruits Of The Spirit
The sentence “practice the fruits of the Spirit,” can be a bit misleading so allow me to explain.
The fruit of the Spirit are the result of a life spent with Christ. When we abide in him we become more like him.
This is the goal, to abide in Christ, not to bear good fruit. The good fruit is a result of abiding. When we set our eyes on the wrong thing and try to grow the fruit ourselves the result is disastrous.
The fruits of the Spirit are listed in Galatians 5:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.Galatians 5:22-23 ESV
Each of these fruits is essential to being able to disagree respectfully with a non-Christian. As you abide in Christ, ask Him to help grow these things in your heart, and be willing to put in the effort to practice what he is teaching you.
From my experience, the most important of these to act on are gentleness, patience, and an additional one, humility. Have patience to hear the other person out and to bring as much clarity as needed from your perspective.
Have the gentleness and grace to interact peacefully. If the other person feels antagonized it will quickly become an argument where no one is listening instead of a polite discussion.
And finally, have the humility to recognize when you don’t have the answer. In a disagreement, it is possible they will ask a question you don’t have a good answer to. Admit when you don’t know and commit to figuring it out for next time.
Disagreements Between Two Christians
In some cases, it is more difficult to handle disagreements among the body of Christ than it is to handle disagreements with other non-Christians. Most of the time it comes from the right place.
Each person wants to honor God and is seeking the truth. However, not everyone agrees on how to best honor God or how to interpret the truth about him.
Unity & Uniformity In The Church
Ephesians 4 describes unity in the church:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.Ephesians 4:1-7 ESV
However, some people mistake unity for uniformity. While unity is a being joined together as a whole, in our case being united by our submission to God, uniformity is when there is also unity in beliefs and practices.
It is no secret that not all Christians believe the same things about God or practice those things in the same way.
This is how the various denominations came about. Christians are unified, not uniform which allows us to stand together while remaining diverse.
There are some core beliefs of Christians, such that without believing these core things you cannot be considered a Christian. These are outlined in the various Christian creeds throughout history such as the Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian creed.
You can learn more about Christian creeds here.
Do Not Judge
Romas 14 has a lot to say on disagreements between Christians. He reminds the church that different Christians may be convicted in different things or in different ways.
By his example, what one person feels they can eat may differ from another because each have been convicted of different things.
When this is the case, remember that you are not their judge, God is. On the day of judgement He will determine who is right or wrong.
In the meantime, we ought to live peacefully with those people and not allow those differences to keep us from pursuing God and his kingdom.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.Romans 14:1-4 ESV
The reality is, you both act out of your desire to glorify God, and he can receive that glory from both of you in your different expressions.
When disagreeing, don’t condemn each other or criticize each other, but recognize that you are both accountable to God and he will make the final call.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.Romans 14:5-6 ESV
You can discuss your differences, however, do it in such a way that it is constructive and respectful. Do not risk causing the other person to stumble and fall in your desire to “win” the argument.
Do not risk creating division in the body of Christ just to feed your own pride by “winning.”
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,Romans 12:10-13 ESV
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
Heart of Humility
While discussing your differences, it is crucial to maintain heart of humility. To recognize that you don’t know everything and be willing to hear the other side’s perspective.
It is good to stand firm in your faith, however, it is not good to be so arrogant that you can see no other perspective but your own.
In my experience this is one of the most important things to keep in mind. It is good to process differing opinions and take advantage of the opportunity to learn from others.
However, if you don’t handle it with humility, a simple discussion can become a condemning argument that is not pleasing to God.
In addition, pride, the opposite of humility, is an abomination in the sight of God. Pride says that you are better than others around you and shows that you do not understand the level of hatred God has for sin.
Pride leads to foolishness and more sin, and is far from the character displayed by Jesus.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.Matthew 23:12 ESV
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”James 4:6 ESV
For the Glory of God
Ultimately, the goal is to glorify God with how we handle these disagreements. This is an impossible task without taking the time to walk with him daily and abide in him.
Just as you become more like your friends the more time you spend with them, so also the more you abide, the more like Jesus you become.
The more you walk with Jesus, the more good fruit you produce in your life. This allows you to handle disagreements with respect, humility, and the fruits of the Spirit, bringing glory to God.
In Your Anger, Do Not Sin
One of the dangers of discussing differing opinions with someone is the opportunity to get angry. When we don’t handle disagreements with respect, humility, and the fruits of the Spirit, it is very likely that we will become angry or frustrated in our attempt to “win over” the other side.
The Bible warns strongly against allowing anger to take control.
According to Ephesians, when we give anger a foothold in our life we are also giving opportunity for the devil to have a foothold in our lives as well. Do not allow this to be that opportunity.
Also recognize that just because you treat the other person with respect in your disagreement doesn’t mean that they will treat you respectfully in return. Be prepared to continue to honor God in these situations, even though the other person isn’t.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV
While the kinds of disagreements eluded to in this post are disagreements on what two people believe, recognize that many of these principles apply to other situations as well. At home, at work, out with friends.
For example, at work you may disagree as to how to best work out a problem in the system you are using. At the end of the day, the differing opinions on the solution are a result of each person having a different worldview and different experiences to support it.
The best way to handle disagreements with other people is to prepare for them by daily abiding in Christ. In doing this, you will become more like him so that when you face differing opinions you will be able to handle them in a way that honors God.