September 12, 2012

Holy Disagreements

If two people are always agreeing, one of them is not necessary.”

My college professor tossed out the line in jest to encourage vigorous discussion in his classroom. But now, 35 years later, I am still blessed by the insight.

To be human is to disagree—at least occasionally, sometimes strongly. The God-given differences in personality and viewpoint between even the happiest spouses and the closest friends ought to make us respectful of the importance of careful disagreement to our lives as disciples. We learn, we stretch—we grow—as believers through the process of disagreeing. Our accustomed ways of seeing the world are challenged—and occasionally, reformed—by the experience and ideas of others.

2012 1525CalledTogetherYou say that chocolate is an invention of the devil, meant to tempt us into gluttony. I say that chocolate—in moderation—is a blessing meant to brighten a tasteless day. You point to studies that show that consumption of fat and sugar are contributing heavily to America’s epidemics of diabetes and obesity. I point to the recently published study offering convincing evidence that middle-aged men who consume at least a quarter-cup of chocolate per week have a markedly lower incidence of stroke.1 And we both appeal to the Word, which asks, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Cor. 6:19, NKJV).2

Is one of us fundamentally right and the other inescapably wrong? Or is our disagreement only a further illustration of the fact that we are each created in the image of a Lord who wishes us to employ our whole selves—intellect, personality, emotions, and opinions—in following Him? 

Fortunately, the disagreements between believers are usually over more substantial things than chocolate. Though we are loath to admit it, we read the Word through the lens of our own experiences with God; we tell our stories of how grace works with grateful enthusiasm, even as we listen to another’s very different story and wonder how it came to be. The most vital facts of the life we are called to live together are the respect we show to those who “know” differently and our mutual surrender to the authority of God’s Word that ought to be more important than our own life stories and opinions. 

2012 1525 page4Jesus says that He is present wherever two or three are gathered in His name (Matt 18:20). By definition there will be differences of opinion when two or three gather, even in His name, implying that Jesus also expects at least some disagreements among us. His church is founded, not on unanimity—and certainly not on uniformity—but on the covenant created by divinely given love and goodwill. As we learn to listen to each other, and bow to each other, and pray earnestly for each other, the disagreements that emerge will only serve to sharpen the quality of our thinking and our service to His body, His church.

In the coming weeks this magazine will highlight numerous articles and insights under the banner “Called Together.” These interviews, letters, features, and editorials are specifically designed “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14, NKJV), a time when the vigor of our disagreements over the appropriateness of ordaining women to gospel ministry and the process to follow in making that decision have threatened our ability to stay in civil conversation with each other. 

This journal, now 163 years old, was the vital bulletin board of ideas and visions around which the first generation of Sabbathkeeping Adventists gathered to learn how to talk and live with each other. I’m praying that what we read and ponder here in the days ahead will improve the quality of our conversations and our respect for those who disagree with us.

1 Neurology, Aug. 29, 2012;
2 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published September 13, 2012.