How are the people of God to handle differences of opinion and conviction among one another? Often times the church can become disgruntled over matters of conscience. Two or more people hold a difference of opinion, and where there was once unity, now division. I believe it is safe to say all pastors will wrestle with encouraging the members of Christ’s church to love one another amid diversity. I also believe many Christians desire to keep unity, but they cannot compromise their convictions.
In moments like these, may I encourage a pursuit of wisdom and humility? The Bible teaches that “All the ways of man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives” (Prov 16:2). People stand behind convictions they deem most true. Indeed, It is not natural for us to take a position we believe is wrong. When confronted with a difference of opinion, we should allow others to be heard. Often brothers and sisters are labeled and judged too quickly. Listen and evaluate if the differences of opinion are heretical, hypocritical, cultural, uninformed, experiential, a simple difference, partly true, or correct. You might be supervised what you hear from someone else. I have changed my opinion before because someone had the opportunity to speak.
Further, respect one another. We are to understand that God is Lord of the conscience (Jas 4:12; Rom 14:4; Gal 5:1). Though there are some beliefs and practices that are considered clean, if one’s conscience is convicted by such a practice it is considered a sin for them to engage (Rom 14:22-23). Because of this I do not hastily persuade someone to take my position on a variety of issues! Below are other principles that I seek to establish when dealing with differences of Christian liberty:
1. Desire to know God’s Word. By knowing the Bible we can ask, “Is God’s Law being transgressed? Does Scripture clearly speak on the matter?” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” A knowledge of what the Bible says is paramount. It shines light on decisions like these.
2. Understand that man must obey his conscience (Rom 14:1-4, 13, 22; 1 Cor 15:5; 1 John 3:19-24). Though brothers and sisters in Christ may differ on an issue, understand that rebelling against personal conscience is done outside of faith.
3. Keep all words and deeds edifying so God may receive glory(1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:17).
4. Remember Christian liberty must be built on a foundation of spiritual freedom. Liberty is not a license to do whatever one pleases. Liberty is the right to do as God pleases without fear. Likewise, liberty must not surrender in a way that misrepresents the faith (Gal 2:3; Col 2:16-23). There are circumstances where it is appropriate to hold to liberty tightly.
I pray as we wrestle with matters of the conscience and liberty, our Lord sees His people loving and patient towards each other. May our conduct display His love and wisdom!
In Christ by His Grace,