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Friday, July 31, 2015

Two Biblical Approaches to Dealing with Disagreement within the Ranks

Recent online discussions with members of my religious denomination (The Salvation Army) have become more inflammatory than I like. I would prefer reasoned discussion. I would prefer to begin from the starting point that those with whom I may disagree are still followers of the same risen savior – even if we disagree.

But this isn’t generally how things go. I’m told (directly and indirectly) that I am a blight on our organization; I am accused of being duplicitous, and twisting scripture to fit my own sin or worldly interests. And, what is more, the suggestion is made that I should just resign from my position within this organization. (And all of this also directed towards others within our community who share similar viewpoints and interpretations with me.)

I don’t think this is a very good way to go. Might I suggest two different lines of approach? (Both of which, by the way, are drawn from those scriptures that I’m told I don’t follow.)

Peter and the other apostles, following what they believed to be the guidance of the Holy Spirit, began preaching a message that challenged long held traditions and accepted truths. This infuriated some of his coreligionists to the point that they wanted to put Peter and the apostles to death. But one member of the ruling council urged caution and restraint. “If this enterprise, this movement of theirs, is of human origin,” argued the well-respected Rabbi Gamliel, “it will break up of its own accord; but if it does in fact come from God you will be unable to destroy them. Take care not to find yourself finding against God.”  (Acts of the Apostles 5: 21 – 39 New Jerusalem Bible)

Gamliel allows for some uncertainty – a measure of doubt, a question mark. Gamliel allows for the word “maybe.” Maybe they’re right. Maybe we’re wrong.  But “maybe” is a dangerous word for those who desire certitude. Many are unwilling to concede that their opponent may be following the leading of the Holy Spirit. 

The other scriptural approach I’d point to is for those who don’t have any time or use for “maybe” and it comes from Jesus in one of his parables: “the kingdom of Heaven," he said, "may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, then the darnel appeared as well. The owner’s laborers went to him and said, ‘Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does this darnel come from?’ He said to them, ‘Some enemy has done this.’ And the laborers said, ‘Do you want us to go and weed it out?’ But he said, ‘No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13: 24 – 30 New Jerusalem Bible)

Even IF (and that’s a very large IF – one that Gamliel wasn’t willing to gamble) you could conclusively, with exacting certitude demonstrate that the person with whom you are disagreeing is an absolute ungodly heretic with nothing of the light of the Holy Spirit guiding them, rip-roaring through the field to uproot them – to demand their immediate resignation and/or termination – is still not the best course of action; you’re likely to do as much (or more) damage that way.

So 1- allow for “maybe.”  And 2 – wait. 


  1. A good word, Jeff. To many dualist thinkers there has to be a right or wrong, a good or bad, in or out, black or white - no grey allowed. But we don't live in a black and white world. I would suggest we live, not only in a grey world, but a multicoloured world. For Christians, our certainty comes from experiencing God's grace, but never because we have absolute truth. We will never know for sure. If we did, it wouldn't be called faith.

  2. Seriously Jeff, as long as your born-again I don't give a hoot what you believe. I just want us both on the same side of the glassy sea. Bless ya.


  3. Maybe the Good Major Carter will say if he agrees 100% behind what the General has said and if not why ?

    1. 1) I'll answer even though I have nothing to prove to you,
      2) I'll answer in spite of your condescension and snark.
      3) Not knowing the full context of the General's quote, I would say yes. I do agree with him
      4) even if I didn't, is the General, like the pope when he speaks ex cathedra, infallible? Are we expected to agree without questions?


Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
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