Church isn't always a happy place.
As Christians, we should strive to treat each other with love and respect, but I often overhear words of hatred and anger exchanged between believers.
"Christians shouldn't listen to instruments during worship."
"Christians have to worship on Saturdays, not Sundays."
"Christian girls who wear pants are immodest."
And the arguments go on and on and on. Some arguments are big. Some are small. Many are hateful and filled with bitterness.
Why do you think there are so many branches and denominations within the church? Everybody has differing beliefs, and that's okay. Is there a definite right or wrong? Yes. Do most of these debates truly matter in the grand scheme of things? No, not really.
Despite our differences, we should accept one another with love, whether or not we agree with every point in each other's doctrine. Look at Colossians 3:13-15. "Bear with each other... And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace..."
It makes me sad when I see so many people fighting against each other when we should be of one body. Why should we squabble like we do? Why should we burn each other with mean words and hateful attitudes? Why shun our brothers and sisters in Christ? Why can't we love each other, even when we disagree?
The other night, I was reading Galatians 4-6. Its words impacted my heart and made me ache for peace and unity. Galatians 5:13-15 says, "...Serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other."
I hear so many stories about churches breaking apart, families shunning each other, fights and debates breaking out about such small points of doctrine that they become silly. In Galatians, the silly conflict Paul was writing about was circumcision. Some believers had declared that circumcision was required for someone to be a Christian, which defeated the point of Christ overcoming the law. Their words and arguments were discouraging many new and potential Christians. Paul stated in Galatians 5:6, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."
Do I think debating is wrong? No, not at all. Friendly debates are great ways to form and grow what you believe. When you debate, you realize more and more why you believe what you believe. However, it's very easy for a small debate to turn into a full-fledged argument. How can you express your faith and opinions through love while in a conflict? Here are five points I try to remind myself when I debate with a fellow believer.
No matter what we believe, we should still be unified.
The church was meant to be a place where believers could grow together and worship God as one body. There will be differing beliefs and varying doctrines, but there should still be a unity that brings us all together. Jesus Christ died for each one of us and we've devoted our lives to Him. That is our point of unity. Look at Ephesians 4:2-6. "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." We are of one faith. It's time to act like it.
Anger and sarcasm only makes things worse.
If you struggle with taming your words, I recommend James 3. James 3:9-10 says, "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be." When you're debating and feel impassioned about your beliefs, it's so easy to become angry that the person isn't saying, "Yes, you're right. I was wrong." They may even use their words wrongly and offend you. No matter how good it feels to put down someone else out of anger, your sarcastic or angry words will only hurt the situation.
You don't need to convince anyone you're right.
I know it feels good to "win" a debate, but that feel-good feeling isn't worth an argument. Which is better for keeping the peace: "I respect what you are saying, but I think we're going to have to agree to disagree" or pushing and pushing at the argument until you're both frustrated and red in the face?
Just because someone believes differently than you, don't love them any less.
Have you noticed that many Christians love on unbelievers in an attempt to be a witness, but often shun other Christians because of minor conflicts in doctrine? "I serve prostitutes breakfast every Wednesday, but I refuse to speak to him. He believes it's okay to read the NIV translation." Isn't that a little messed up? Yes, we should show constant love to unbelievers and to everyone around us, but we've been called to love each other as well. I love Galatians 6:10, which says, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong in the family of believers." Especially those who belong to our family of believers. We've been called to love each other. We're brothers and sisters in Christ. We're all children of God. Nothing should be big enough to tear us apart.
If it isn't a factor of salvation, it doesn't really matter.
Jesus Christ is God. He came down to earth as a human and lived without sin. He suffered and died as a sacrifice for our sins. Three days after He died, He came back to life and is still alive today. That's the basics of our faith. That is what unifies us all. If we have that in common, we are one body, one faith. We're united in Christ. In the grand scheme of things, nothing else matters.
Yes, there is right or wrong. When you're debating, one of you will be wrong. However, if debates that do not rely on salvation are tearing apart the body of Christ, then it's time to back off. Instead of alienating other believers, focus on your own heart and let others live what they believe. Love.
Ultimately, the truth will be revealed. When we're in heaven one day, we'll be shown what is right and what is wrong. You'll be right on some issues... and you may be wrong in others. But one day, the truth will be unfolded. For now, let the arguments and strife go. Focus instead on what sums up what we believe: loving the Lord and loving each other.