Resolving Differences

Disagreements and differences are bound to arise in any family, and that includes our church! Samuel Beh reflects on some ways Scripture instructs us how to resolve disagreements in the church.

What are we supposed to do when we disagree with someone in the church? Sometimes differences may be over relatively small issues that we feel able to overlook. But other times differences may be over big issues such as doctrine, which we feel should be addressed. In such cases, Scripture gives us some helpful (and clear) instructions to follow when resolving differences.

Do away with the middleman, go to the other party directly (Matthew 18:15-16)

Scripture tells us that if we have a disagreement with someone, we must go to that person directly. We shouldn’t use email or whatsapp, we shouldn’t go through a middleman, we shouldn’t send anonymous messages, and we certainly shouldn’t just let the problem fester and confide only in those we are comfortable with. Having the conversation face-to-face is vital because it minimises the possibility of misunderstandings, minimises the risk of mistranslations, and also facilitates creating an organic environment for all parties to respond appropriately and to build each other up.

Focus not just on what I say, but how I say it (Proverbs 15:1, Colossians 3:12-14)

I had a football coach who used to say that the team should "leave everything on the football field", which meant that any conflicts or bad-blood developed during the match should be forgotten as soon as the final whistle was blown. Unfortunately, I also tended to apply that philosophy to the way I spoke to people. I thought that in the heat of the argument, I could speak in whatever tone and language was necessary to bring my point across (poor Jess…). I even justified my behaviour by thinking of the combative styles many of the reformers adopted. But that’s not how God wants us to behave. As important as it is for us to watch what we say (and sound doctrine IS important), it is equally important for us to watch how we say it.

Do I love the person I am speaking to? (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Proverbs 12:18, James 1:19-20)

Two weeks ago, I was having lunch with the legendary Uncle Kok Pui. In the course of our conversation, what left a deep impact on me was how much Uncle Kok Pui so evidently loved and cared for the members of our church. God used the conversation to get me to reflect on whether my interactions in church were driven by love.

Whether we love a person would be very clear in the way we choose to respond in times of disagreement. It may mean choosing not to respond in the heat of the moment, but taking time to reflect on the issue and seeing things from the person’s point of view before responding. It may mean earnestly praying for the person before, during and after the face-to-face conversation. It may mean starting a conversation in order to clarify and understand. It may even mean being willing to overlook offence and forgive even when forgiveness has not been sought.

Preparing for this post left me rebuked on the need to deal with some of my own sinful ways of resolving any differences I have with others. Let’s seek to be a family that loves each other and seeks to build each other up. We can do that, and we should do that, because Christ first loved us.