The Bible is full of passages that reveal how a congregation might handle issues without leading to unnecessary division.
Stay busy. Join your brothers in the fields of harvest! Working side by side creates mutual respect and admiration so that when controversies pop up, they may be handled as fellow soldiers rather than strangers. Paul could appeal to Euodia and Syntyche as “women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel” (Philippians 4:3).
Furthermore, dealing with the day-to-day struggles of the seeker and new convert provides a new perspective on which controversies are worth wrangling about. The Pharisees accosted Jesus for picking grain on the Sabbath when He was on his way to teach and heal in the synagogue; Jesus said, “if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent” (Matthew 12:1-9).
Make accommodations. Scripture provides ways for us to handle many issues. They are not in the category of anti-Christian doctrine or behavior as described in part three, but I hesitate to dismiss them as “matters of opinion”; avoiding food sacrificed to idols and observing Jewish holidays were pretty important to those who held these convictions! The congregation could work and worship as one, while individuals did things or avoided things according to their own consciences.
While the church studies through doctrinal issues, Paul advises those who “know” what’s true to yield in love in order to protect the conscience of those who haven’t yet come to see it that way (1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Romans 14:1-15:7, both lengthy readings worthy of deep study). At the same time, individuals must be careful not to hold the whole congregation hostage on minor matters. There is a difference between things which cause one to stumble and things which cause one merely to grumble. Let active love be the guide.
Go to the source. All concerns should be taken directly to the person involved.
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you… If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matthew 18:15-17).
Gossip is gossip even when it’s true (Proverbs 11:13, 17:19, 26:20-21). The Bible tells us not to receive anonymous accusations (2 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Timothy 5:19). Face-to-face confrontations are not only honorable, but are God’s way of sorting out which matters are important and which aren’t. In the Law, the accuser couldn’t fling accusations and hide; he had to throw the first stone (Deuteronomy 17:6-7). Joseph is called “a righteous man” for seeking to spare Mary (Matthew 1:19).
Be careful when speaking to others about concerns. Sometimes we just have to get advice; this is normal (1 Corinthians 1:11) and often well-meaning. But beware of becoming a divisive man, who gathers supporters and draws up plans behind the scenes (Titus 3:9-11, Proverbs 6:19). Have pure motives.
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
The goal of rebuke is “for building up” to unity (2 Corinthians 12:19, 13:10). Read and obey Colossians 3:8-17. Forgive quickly and fully. “But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15).
Avoid labels. It is rarely helpful to label someone “anti” or “liberal” when what we really mean is “strange to me.” If we are part of the body of Christ, we start from the ground of brethren. Instead, be specific. Say, “this practice is not authorized in Scripture” or “this practice would be a better way to fulfill this commandment.” This forces us not only to define the real issue in Biblical terms, but to examine our own convictions in the light of Scripture.
At the end of the day, if brethren decide to go opposite ways (Acts 15:39), make sure the gospel work is multiplied not divided. Both Paul and Barnabas saved many souls in their respective areas of the vineyard.
There’s nothing so sweet as a close-knit church family. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is, for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1)! Remember, the goal of unity is to be able to reflect the glory of God to the lost and dying world around us. –John Guzzetta