What should we do when Christians disagree?
Posted By The Revd Dr Phil Groves
17 January 2014 2:10PM
In a recently published article David Atkinson considers the broken relationship between Euodia and Syntyche as a starting point for a more general consideration of why Christians disagree. He proposes five common factors that lead to Christians disagreeing and these are very enlightening. However, the truth is we just do not know what has caused the conflict between these two significant women that is causing so much pain in the church.
“We do not know why Euodia and Syntyche were in disagreement. Did they look to different sources of authority? Did they think differently about God? Were they influenced in their choices differently by genetic make up or environmental factors? Did they have a different vision leading to different values? Did they express their faith in different ways? We, of course, do not know.”
What we do know is how Paul proposed to transform the conflict so they would stand firm together once again.
We do not know why they were in disagreement because the text does not tell us. This is what it says:
“I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (Phil 4.2-3)
Commentaries devote pages of text to the futile attempt to identify the ‘loyal companion’ but rarely more than a line to the work she or he may be called to do. The work is to help the women repair their relationship.
Paul is calling for a facilitated conversation and for the loyal companion to be the facilitator. He is not calling for someone to sit in judgement and decide who is right and who is wrong, he is begging them to remember their relationship with one another and with Christ.
He reminds them that both of their names are written in the book of life. They are not to describe the other as a heretic: they are not to ‘de-church’ the other or to dehumanise them.
This is where Atkinson’s article is of help. He reminds us that Christians disagree and that if we are to live together we need to remember that ‘not all difference is destructive’ and that ‘the unity for which St Paul prays is not a uniformity of view, or an identity of ministry, but a personal unity, by baptism into the one Lord.’
We also need to remember that when disunity appears facilitated conversations are the Biblical way forwards.
In at atmosphere, at the moment, of profound disaffection in the world-wide Anglican Communion, Dr. Phil. Groves reminds us (via his use of an article by David Atkinson) of the Pauline model of advice; for Christians in disagreement to move towards reconciliation. He does not tell Euodia and Syntyche how to do this. Paul simply lets them know that their emerging disagreements ought not prevent them from accepting one another, in Christ, despite their differences.
That all presumes that the level of dialogue has not descended into mutual vilification – or, if it has, the advice is that this must be resolved, not necessarily by either party having to relinquish their conscientious position, but rather; by acceptance that there may be differences that each party can learn to live with. It seems, at present, that the issues of gender and sexuality that have caused schism in our Churches already have been ‘a step too far’ for the departing conservatives. Whether the conflicting views can even be reconciled – to the point where fellowship within the Communion can be restored – may seem doubtful, but we need to be reminded of the biblical tenet that, for God, nothing is impossible!
The greater difficulty here in the Anglican Communion, is that the party moving out of fellowship with the rest of us is convinced that any movement towards the inclusion of LGBT people in the life and worship of the Church is nothing short of heretical – based on their belief that homosexuals are disordered in their sexual orientation, and therefore, evil. While this view is irreconcilable for those of us who see this matter as ‘adiaphora’, and thus, not touching on the fundamental doctrine of the Church; there would seem to be no hope of reconciliation into the common life we had once enjoyed.
“For man”, says St. Mark’s Gospel, “this is impossible, but not for God; because everything is possible for God”. However, for recalcitrant Christians, we have to really want what, for God alone, is possible!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand