Handling Disagreements among Christians

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This is the sixth in our series on how to start and operate a new church. This article concerns how to handle disagreements among Christians when they arise. Other installments in this series are listed at the bottom of this article.

When a group of Christians is not controlled by a denomination or local pastor, some people are concerned that there will be too many unplesant disagreements among the believers. There is good reason for these concerns.

Unpleasant differences can take away the joy that God wants for us. However, differences of opinion among Christians do not have to be unpleasant. This article will explore how the early New Testament church handled disagreement that arose.

Acts 15 gives the story of a great disagreement of opinion that occurred in what is often called the Jerusalem Conference. The debate among Christians centered on whether it was necessary or not to circumcise Gentiles who were becoming believers in Jesus - "And after much discussion had taken place, Peter stood up and said to them . . ." (Acts 15:7).

Later in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas were planning to make another trip together, but they could not agree on whether or not to take Mark with them, so they agreed to go on completely separate trips (Acts 15:36 - 41). Romans 14 is another great place showing that brethren have different opinions.

The Bible gives a very effective procedure for Christians to peacefully resolve their disagreements, even if the people making the decisions do not always make the right decisions. This procedure is found in Matthew 18.

Many people do not want to confront others with whom they disagree, even when they should. Others have a tendency to confront nearly everyone, whether they are right or wrong. Hoever, part of becoming like Christ (Romans 8:29) is learning to peacefully help people when they are wrong. Christ was bold and fearless, yet humble and loving at the same time.

Hopefully, all Christians would like to resolve all disagreements in the way that God would resolve them. Indeed, many times Christians will pray together and when they feel that they have received an answer from God, they abide by it. However, when the Eternal does not give an answer (sometimes He lets us decide), then we need a godly method to solve the issue. Below is a fictional example of applying the principles of Matthew 18 if the Apostle Paul went to Peter about a sin.

"So then, if your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault between you and him alone. If he is willing to hear you, you have gained your brother" (Matthew 18:15).

Result if Paul is right

Paul must take the first step and go to his Christian brother Peter if he expects any kind of resolution. If Peter listens and agrees to change, the problem is solved. Otherwise, they will proceed to the next step.

Result if Peter is right

A great many problems are solved by communication. If Peter listens to Paul, but then shows Paul how his complaint was wrong, then the problem is over. Otherwise, they will go on to the next step. The prospect of other people becoming involved in a disagreement often causes some to rethink whether they are right or not.

But if he will not listen, take with you one or two others, so that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established (Matthew 18:16).

Result if Paul is right

It is hoped others Christians will see the truth of the issue and be able to convince Peter to change. If Peter does not listen, or if the "others" cannot see that Paul is right, even though they should, then they will go to the next step.

Result if Peter is right

Since Paul chose the "others," it is more likely that they will agree with him. However, if they are believers, they should hear both sides and try to be just. If Peter can show the "others" that he is right, the disagreement will be ended.

The possibility of an entire congregation becoming involved and become aware of someone's mistakes may motivate them to rethink what they did.

"And if he fails to listen to them, tell it to the church. But if he also fails to listen to the church, let him be to you as the heathen and the tax collector" (Matthew 18:17).

Result if Paul is right

This is the third time that Peter has been shown his fault. If he finally accepts he is at fault, he can confess it before the entire group of Christians and receive forgiveness. If he still disagrees, he will have to leave the congregation. If necessary, Paul can treat him like an unbeliever and take him to a civil court.

Result if Peter is right

It is hoped the congregation will be able to see that Peter is right. They might also decide that the issue is not worth dividing over and advise both Paul and Peter to let it rest. If they erroneously decide that Peter must give in to Paul's demands or leave, then, even though it is unjust, it may be best that Peter does leave the group that so poorly judged him.

Anyone who handles disagreements among their fellow Christians, using the above method, can feel confident that he has done what God has commanded.

Recommended Articles
What Was the Jerusalem Conference?
Apostle Paul and Barnabas Split!
Where Are the Best Places to Pray?
How Do We Become More like Jesus?
Where Is the True Church of God?
How to Achieve Spiritual Maturity
Early Church Controversies
What Is Spiritual Depression?

How to Start a Church!
Why Begin a New Group?
Finding a Meeting Place
Finding a Name, Church Finances
Dress Code, Schedule and Music
Teaching the Bible
Handling Disagreements
Operating without a Pastor

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