Loving Disagreement

Written by Victor Stanley Jr.

If you have ever expressed any type of views or opinions on any subject, whether it be ice cream flavors or your theological stance on soteriology, someone has undoubtedly challenged your views, and an argument has ensued. We have all taken part in arguments, debates, disputes, disagreements, or whatever else you want to call them. While there is nothing inherently wrong with arguing, arguments often times lead to hurt feelings, animosity, and division. There are many reasons why a healthy debate turns into a hostile argument, but I will focus on the one that has stood out to me in recent months; Pride. In order for us to have healthy and edifying debates we must set aside pride, and learn to lovingly disagree with each other.

What Is Pride???

Merriam Webster defines pride as inordinate self-esteem i.e. conceit, and proud or disdainful behavior or treatment, that is, harboring disdain, or being haughty.[1] Pride is when we let our self-confidence and proudness take us to a place where we become conceited and even arrogant. When it comes to disagreements, pride is what removes us from a position of healthy and loving debate where iron is sharpening iron, into a position of anger and hostility. Noted theologian and apologist R.C. Sproul puts it this way:

…we are to remember that it is arrogance that produces an argumentative spirit. Pride is seen where we are not interested in anybody else’s opinion, and where we just assume that anybody that disagrees with us must be wrong.[2]”

This is not to say that debates and/or arguments are wrong, but that when pride enters the equation we can no longer have an edifying discussion from which people can learn and grow in knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual maturity.

How Do We Deal With Pride???

The first step to dealing with any problem, if you will excuse the cliché, is to admit or recognize that there is a problem. We must realize that although we may know everything there is to know about a subject, and have wells of wisdom concerning some topic, that we must not let ourselves be overcome with disdain towards others. Romans 12:16-18 says this when it comes to interacting with each other:

16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.[3]”

As humans who are living in fallen and sinful flesh, we have a tendency to want to be famous, not in the sense of celebrity, but rather in the sense of notoriety. We want our friends, family, and neighbors to recognize our gifts, skills, and talents. We desire to be recognized for our accomplishments and successes. However, far too often we allow such praise and recognition to inflate our egos, and we begin to feel that we are superior to those who are not on our same level of ability. When it specifically comes to religious debates the measuring rod seems to be intellect and righteousness—or rather self-righteousness—which then leads to arrogance. The great Reformer John Calvin asserts that “…nothing swells the minds of men so much as a high notion of their own wisdom.[4]” This goes right along with what Paul says in verse 16 of Romans 12 about not being wise in our own eyes.[3]

According to Romans 12 we must do everything within our means to live at peace with each other. When we allow pride to get the better of us we end up fighting others in an effort to defend not the position we hold with regard to the debate, but instead defend our pride and ego. Borrowing from Sproul, it seems that when we have excelled to a high level of competence in a specific field, we tend to set that up as the standard. We elevate our own abilities as if they are more significant, as if they are the ones that really matter. This attitude is detrimental to the Church.[2] We have to love and respect our brothers and sisters in Christ even when their views differ from ours, and not only that, but we must also be patient with those who are not as intellectually astute as we may be when it comes to discussing theology and doctrine. It is key that we always keep in mind that we are wretched men and women who, but for the grace of God, would be walking in foolishness. Humility is a must when it comes to avoiding pride within the context of a dispute, and our goal should always be to seek meaningful debate. Bible scholar Dr. Paul Lee Tan describes humility as “not to think low of oneself but to think rightly, [and] truthfully of oneself.[5]” The Pharisees were guilty of doing the exact opposite of this, and we put ourselves directly in their shoes when we exhibit the same behavior.

Avoid False Piety, Show True Love

As stated, the Pharisees were guilty of arrogance when it came to living for God. Not only that, but they tried numerous times, unsuccessfully I might add, to debate matters of theology with Jesus, and they always did so with a contentious spirit seeking to bring Jesus down. In Matthew 23:23–24 Jesus issues the fourth of seven woes to the Scribes and Pharisees saying:

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel![3]”

Jesus starts his charges against the Pharisees in verse 1 of chapter 23, and ends in verse 36. Christ’s introductory statement, the seven woes themselves, and his conclusory statement all accuse the Pharisees of having false righteousness and being hypocrites who have the appearance of keeping the law, but in all truth they are lawless and wicked. John Calvin offers some insight into the above passage when he writes:

“Christ charges the scribes with a fault which is found in all hypocrites, that they are exceedingly diligent and careful in small matters, but disregard the principal points of the Law. This disease has prevailed in almost all ages, and among all nations; so that men have, in most cases, endeavoured to please God by observing with exactness some trivial matters.[6]”

One of the significant phrases in the passage is verse 24, “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel![3]” This phrase keys in on one of the main issues when it comes to debates; it is commonly known as ‘majoring on minors’, which is when a person takes a rather small point and makes it the main focus. Jesus points out that the Pharisees tithe mint and dill, and in the parallel account in Luke 11:42 it says “every herb[3]”, yet they do not keep in line with the major points of the law. It is interesting that it seems that the Pharisees do not tithe money or grain or anything of great value, and instead tithe small herbs, but set themselves up as keepers of the law, as holy and righteous men. They keep the smallest and easiest parts of the law, and make sure that they are seen doing these things publicly in order to then attack others who do not keeps these small facets of the law.

Like the Pharisees, some of us have a tendency to create arguments out of small issues, and make them appear as if they are the end all be all when it comes to living as a Christian and serving God. Many arguments of this nature are a result of the same legalism of which the Pharisees were guilty, and those who aggressively cause major disputes out of these minor issues usually speak to their own righteousness as a result of supposedly being on the ‘right side’ of such disputes. Ironically their defense more often than not is that they are simply upholding the scriptures and completely abiding by the word of God, yet in the midst of their attacking and tearing down others in order to show that they are right, they forget to live by God’s commands to love one another, to show compassion and mercy, that a soft answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1), that we are not to cause strife among our brothers and sisters, and so on. Again I turn to John Calvin who in reference to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount teaching on loving one’s enemies makes the point that “Christ was speaking to a common prejudice. What he really meant is that there are people who are so bereft of humanity as to pursue their private interests even while they make a show of doing their duty.[7]” If we are to have healthy and edifying debates, then we must avoid false piety, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy in our lifestyle.

Love One Another and Help Each Other Grow

I’ll conclude with a scripture, and then a quote from R.C. Sproul. Proverbs 27:17 famously says, “17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another,[3]” This should be our focus when engaging in debate. We should not only seek to provide wisdom, insight, and knowledge to whomever it is we are debating, but we should also be looking to gain those things from them. R.C. Sproul puts it this way:

“We know how easy it is to disagree and to enter into debate and arguments that can tear relationships apart. There is no way we are always going to agree with everybody that we meet, but there is a way to handle disagreement. We can seek unity and try to find that place where our minds can come together. And even if we do disagree, we should have a certain attitude in the context of that disagreement, an attitude of charity. For the sin of disagreement can become the occasion for more sin, where it degenerates into a free-for-all of hostility and divisiveness. So unity is something which we should seek.[2]”

We must always check our pride and ego at the door when we decide to enter into a debate with a brother or sister in Christ, and for that matter even an unbeliever. Doing this is the only way we will be able to avoid hostile arguments, and instead engage in healthy debate.


[1] Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

[2] Sproul, R. C. The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans. Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[4] Calvin, John, and John Owen. Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

[5] Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996.

[6]John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 89.

[7] Haroutunian, Joseph, and Louise Pettibone Smith. Calvin: Commentaries. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958.


Bibliography

Calvin, John, and John Owen. Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

Calvin, John, and William Pringle. Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994.

Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

Sproul, R. C. A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke. Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1999.

Sproul, R. C. How Should I Live in This World? Vol. 5. The Crucial Questions Series. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2009.

Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

Turnbull, Ralph G. Baker’s Dictionary of Practical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1967.

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