Unpacking Forgiveness: What if Christians Cannot Agree?

How Christians handle their disagreements and conflicts will certainly show the world whether or not they are really disciples of Christ. That is my conclusion after seeing disagreement and conflict in the church from the perspective of a pastor's wife and as a blogger. As a blogger I am on the Internet frequently, reading articles written by Christians and about Christians. What disturbs me most is the comments that many people who call themselves Christians leave in the forums. 

I am not sure what it is like in the rest of the world, but here in America, Christians are sharply disagreeing over many issues such as gay marriage, how the world was made, how to worship, the position of women, social justice, politics and everything in between even on down to the color of the carpet in the church sanctuary. The Internet seems to complicate our problems because people can leave anonymous remarks that leave fellow Christians bruised and bleeding emotionally and spiritually. 

In the early church, we read in the book of Acts that the early Christians had sharp disagreements over issues that were important in their day. They argued about circumcision, following the Law, and eating meat, among other things. Luke, the author of Acts, also notes that Paul and Barnabas, leaders in the church, disagreed so sharply that they separated company and went on separate missions. Later on, as we see from Paul's letters, he and Barnabas became friends again. The subject of their disagreement, John Mark, also became very useful to Paul and he regarded the young man with affection.

Certainly, if disagreement occurred in the early church - which many Christians hold up as the ideal church - it will happen in our modern, so-called enlightened age. I have described some of our disagreements in this post.

In the last chapter of his book Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds, author Chris Brauns discusses what Christians should do when they disagree and cannot come to an agreement. His suggestions are:

  • Accept that impasses happen. Doing this will help us not take ourselves so seriously. 
  • Fix our eyes on Jesus and continue on. We must not quit. Sometimes we feel like quitting, especially when fellow Christians say unkind things and show their disapproval toward us without the benefit of discussing their disagreement with us. It is also difficult to  go to church when we disagree passionately about issues in which proponents of each side believes they are right. However, we must remember that Jesus suffered through this too. He did not quit, so we must not either. 
  • Say less. Without a gossip a quarrel dies down.  This is also true for Internet arguments that are fed by anonymous barbs and false information. 
  • Submit. We must respect God-ordained authority. If your church people cannot agree on what color the carpet should be in the sanctuary, let the leadership make the decision and agree to abide by it. Although a seemingly silly example, this sort of thing does cause bitter divisiveness within our churches.
  • Wait. Time heals wounds that emotions and reason cannot.  Sometimes we just have to agree to disagree and accept each other from that point. If we do not do anything more to deepen the wounds, time will eventually heal them. 
In conclusion
Now we are finished with this series on forgiveness. Thank you to all of you who read it. I hope God was able to minister to you as he did to me. 

The Lord helped me gain a better perspective on forgiveness through this book. Although I criticized the author's position on solely relying on God's sovereignty as a way to overcome bitterness, I felt that what Brauns wrote is something that the Church in general needs to hear and and use as a foundation for taking action. This book seemed to sum up bits and pieces of what I have learned over the years about forgiveness. I realized that I had slipped into thinking that therapeutic forgiveness - unconditionally forgiving unrepentant offenders  - was what scripture required. Approaching forgiveness in a conditional manner has helped me accept people better and has not led to bitterness. Brauns' assessment that we need to keep our eyes on Christ is certainly true. Life is difficult. We cannot live the Christian life without Jesus' help. 

I like Brauns' definition of forgiveness, so we'll end with it here:
Forgiveness: A commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.
What did you think of this series?