Unity in the Church Amid Disagreement

An Interesting MeetingUnity_thumb

Tonight my wife and I packed the kids in the car and drove to our church, First Central Baptist, to attend the semi-annual business meeting.  As a member of the church, I believe it is important to take part in the workings of the church in whatever way I can. When I told a friend that I always find the church business meetings interesting she looked at me like I needed a hobby. 😉 I explained to her I find these event interesting, not because of the content, but because of the spiritual significance of the event itself.

There were several things to discuss tonight but the main issue at hand was whether or not to drop the name Baptist from Frist Central Baptist. The point of this was as a means of outreach to lost persons with negative connotations to the name. I will not bother with a for-or-against argument here. If you want that, check out Pastor Mark Wheeler’s post today about the subject, or his original post (What’s in a name) written about a year ago when the name change was first purposed.

The result was a nearly 50/50 split. We have a two-thirds voter requirement to pass issues being voted on, so we will remain First Central Baptist Church. I’m not writing about the result, however. I am writing about the Spiritual significance of the event itself. Both sides of the issue were discussed. Both sides had good points and disagreements. What is so important about tonight’s meeting–in my understanding– is not the result of the vote but

  1. How the disagreement was handled
  2. What happens next

It is these two issues that will have a bearing on the how we function as a church and how we are viewed by the world that is looking in at us.

How the disagreement was handled

People have disagreements; even born again Christians. Disagreement is not a bad thing in itself. It is how we handle our differences and how we treat each other that matters. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul stresses the importance of unity in the body. They were facing some bad times because of outside influences and Paul wanted to reassure them and exhort them to maintain the unity of the Spirit.

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [Eph 4:1-3 ESV]

      Community is part of what we are called to as Christians. We are called to gather together (Heb 10:25), to encourage and build up one another (1 Thes 5:11), bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and to love one another as Christ has loved us (John 15:12). This is a command, not a request.

What I found encouraging about the meeting was the patience and reasonableness shown by those involved. No one was name-calling or accusing. There was open and honest discussion between people with different opinions but who all love the Lord and each other. Disagreement handled with reasonableness and love will not hurt the body of Christ. John Piper says it like this, “Christ-honoring passions, Paul says, can unite us in spite of differences of application.”

What Happens Next

So now that the first part of this–the discussion and the decision–have taken place and were handled well, the important thing is what happens next. First of all, will it continue to go well? That is to say, will we walk in the decision made treating each other with love? Secondly, since we met with intentions of further outreach, will we do something about it or does it end in a discussion about changing our name?

I have confidence that we will continue on in love. We must. If we don’t we risk robbing those watching us of the chance to see the love of GOD at work in his people. Jesus said:

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” [Jhn 13:34-35 ESV]

I remember seeing this love between brothers and sisters in Christ as a non-believer. It is a powerful thing. It’s appealing. Seeing people who have to deal with all the same life issues as you do (disagreements?) but with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control, well, that makes you want to know how they are doing it. How we do that, when we do, is through the power of GOD. We love because he first loved us! (1 John 4:19)

Secondly, it seemed obvious to me that everyone there really wants to see us reach more people with the message of Christ. This is good. It was the motivation behind the year long discussion about name change, and behind many of those voting. So now what do we do with this energy? Do we let it settle down now that the vote has past, or are there other ways which we can reach out to the community in the love of Christ, spreading the message of reconciliation, forgiveness, and love to which GOD has called us? That’s a subject for another post I guess, but it is surely worth asking.

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