The Bible’s writers give a lot of instruction when it comes to the way Christians should treat each other, as well as people who are not part of the body of Christ. I’m always puzzled by the hostility and the occasional outright viciousness expressed between people who claim to be members of the same body of Christ when there are differences of opinion about interpreting scripture, or living out the Christian life, or in particular, when it comes to tending to the business of a church or church related organization.
There have been occasions when this hostility and discord has caused me to question the faith of those who participate in it. Have they not read the Bible? Do they not experience the control of the Holy Spirit in their lives? I’ll be the first to admit, my behavior is not always consistent with my faith. It’s a daily struggle, submitting to the Spirit, recalling scriptures that govern my behavior, and applying them. It took me a long time to learn that diversity of opinion regarding the scripture was a fact of life, because as long as we live in the world in the flesh, we are not going to see things the way God sees them, or the way others see them.
Having been on the receiving end of the wrath and hostility of someone whose goal became the separation of me from my livlihood as a result of the difference of opinion I held on an issue, I gained a different perspective in a hurry. When I see similar actions in fellow church members, or denominational leaders, I grieve. I become very sympathetic with those who are the object of the hostility.
In Matthew 5:47, Jesus says, “And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Do we even measure up to that standard?
In that same passage, Jesus has a lot to say about how Christians should treat others, whether or not the “others” are Christians.
“You have heard that it was said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-44 NIV
For those who justify their hostility toward others over doctrinal issues or church or convention politics, there is no room for the justification. Jesus requires us to treat our enemies with the same love we show to our fellow believers. I’ve heard people attempt to justify their hostility by dismissing the object of their anger as an unbeliever. That doesn’t wash. Aside from not being in a position to judge (Matthew 7:1-5), the spiritual condition of the other person is immaterial.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:9-10
Paul had a lot to say about the way Christians treated each other. I’m sure he saw examples of quarrelling and bickering between leaders of the church over selfish desires and their own ambition. It was extremely important in that young church for the conduct of believers toward each other to be above reproach, or the non-believing world would have reason to discount the message of the gospel they preached. Is it any less important for us today?
Worldliness, including selfish ambitions, is the cause for hostility in the church. “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” I Corinthians 3:3 NIV
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” I Peter 3:15-16
I can’t find any place in scripture where hostility is an acceptable reaction to, or method of resolving, doctrinal or political disputes among believers, regardless of what it is over or where it takes place. People are watching. Church fights have casualties just like family fights do. People divorce themselves from the body, in many cases, without looking for another one, and sometimes there are children involved. I’ve ministered to many families where children were embittered against the church because their parents had suffered an attack and dropped out.
The media is going to report on what the SBC does. Wouldn’t it be great if the only thing they could report was a spirit of harmony and cooperation as various leaders worked out their differences, recognizing that no one holds the perfect position or view?