How do we deal with differences of opinion in the church?

applesLast year Tanzania elected a new President, John Magufuli.  He is unlike all the presidents before him in that he is not interested in being a strong man with a lavish lifestyle, but rather a servant of the people. 

Soon after his election, he declared there would be no celebration of Independence Day because it would be “shameful” to spend huge sums of money on the celebrations when Tanzanians’ were dying of cholera.  

Instead, he has said everybody should pick up their tools and clean their backyards.  After his first official visit to the Muhimbili Hospital, he ordered over 200 million shillings marked for “parliament parties” be used to pay for beds for people lying on the floor and sharing beds.  He dismissed the hospital’s governing board and within days the broken MRI was fixed.

Three days into his presidential term, Magufuli announced a ban on all foreign travel by government officials. He said that’s what ambassadors were employed for. Instead, government officials have been instructed to make regular visits to rural areas to help solve problems facing everyday Tanzanians.

At the National Assembly, the President sent out the message that it will not be business as usual and now has an unprecedented 90% approval rating.

We love leaders who are willing to serve the people.  We dislike leaders who think they are above us, think they are high and mighty and travel in blue-light brigades.

Romans 15:8 says:

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised (Jews) to show God’s truthfulness…

Christ, the Eternal Son of God came, not to be served, but to serve. He became a servant. The word is servant is deacon. The word is used for a hand servant, a table waiter, a menial worker, a labourer, a helper, one who expends himself for others

Christ becoming a servant had several implications for the church in Rome and our churches where there are Christians with different opinions on disputable matters (cf. Romans 14:1):

We bear with each other failings

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings/ weaknesses of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)

We who might be more spiritually mature, have a greater understanding of the freedom we have in Christ and realize that it doesn’t matter if we eat meat or not, must bear with and love and accept Christians who might think differently.

Our aim is not to please ourselves, but others.

This does not mean we must be man-pleasers.  We never become compromising Christians because we value the people’s opinions more than God’s opinion.  No, we never compromise on the gospel-essentials, or godliness, or holiness.  But on matters of opinion, we please God by not creating disunity.

You might have you own opinions about baptism, home-schooling, Halloween, Christmas, alcohol, Israel,  Old Earth vs. Young Earth, and the End Times: by all mean share your views with others (the church is not the thought-police), but welcome and accept and  bear with those who differ from you.

We build up one another

Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. (Romans 15:2)

We don’t just not quarrel with each other; we actively seek to build up, encourage and be of spiritual help to one another.

If I disagree with you on drinking alcohol, I don’t keep sending you internet links telling you how wrong you are. Rather, I pray for you and invite you for coffee (not a beer!) to find out how you’re doing.

We live in harmony

Tim Challies tells us that the 58-story Millennium Tower in San Francisco apparently having some troubling issues.  Engineers have found it has sunk 40cm since it was built.  The building has developed a 5 cm lean at the bottom which translates to a 15 cm lean at the top.  All these problems begin at the bottom, in the foundation.  The first warning of the tower’s problems came when residents noticed floor-to-ceiling cracks on the walls of the underground parking garage.

Challies points out that great fall-outs in the church often begin with just one member gossiping about another, or two quarrelling members who don’t want to reconcile.  Great division often begins with a small group of people who make a disputable matter or an opinion into a matter of spiritual life and death.

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. (Romans 15:5-6)

Christ served us and we serve each other by not creating disunity over non-essentials.  A unified church, a church in harmony – despite difference in culture, background and opinions – glorifies God.

We serve God’s people

It’s interesting the word deacon (servant) is us in v8 to describe what Christ became.  That is the same word that came to be used in the church for a certain group of leaders (cf. 1 Timothy 3). They were to serve the church, just as Christ served the church.

However, in Ephesians 4:11-12 we see something very interesting:

And he (Jesus) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds/pastors and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry (diakonias), for building up the body of Christ… (Ephesians 4:11-13)

We don’t have apostles and prophets anymore, but we do have evangelist, and pastors and teachers.  The question is: who should do the ministry? The traditional view is: we pay the minister to do the ministry.  V12, however, says that you pay the minister to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.  Who is called to do the work of ministry? Who are called to be deacons, just like Jesus was a deacon? V12 says all the saints.  Each and every Christian in the church.  We may have “official” deacons or ministry leaders, but we are all called to be serving in the church.  Pastors and teachers are to equip Christians for the work of serving. 

How do we respond to those in the church who have different opinions to us?

We bear with them, we build them up, we seek to live in harmony, and we serve them and the church.