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A Healthier Approach to Disagreement

02 Sep Posted by in | Comments

The most recent issue of Christianity Today contains an article entitled “A Healthier Approach to Disagreement in the Church Begins With One Unusual Word” by James Calvin Davis. This excerpt from Davis’s book Forbearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church offers sound and biblically-based counsel. The whole article is worth reading, but here are a few excerpts.

“The virtues that lend themselves to more constructive ways of living with disagreement are captured well in the practice of Christian forbearance. Forbearance is the active commitment to maintain Christian community through disagreement, as an extension of virtue and as a reflection of the unity in Christ that binds the church together.

The author of Colossians commends forbearance in a way that captures this fuller meaning. Teachers of an alternative theology had infiltrated the church, contesting the Pauline understanding of Christ’s divinity and humanity, appealing to gnostic ideals to urge excessive asceticism and a rejection of the material world. The Letter to the Colossians is not bashful in its opposition to this alternative theology; at the same time, it urges the congregation to practice forbearance with one another as they navigate the crisis….

Pulling no punches in rejecting what he thinks are wrongheaded teachings about Jesus and Christian duty, the author nonetheless recommends that the Colossians put on the character of Christ, and part of that character is the practice of forbearance. The commitment to “bearing with one another” is rooted in Christian virtues—compassion, kindness, humility, patience, and love. The author does not ignore the conflict in the community, but he insists that how the church works through that conflict should reflect their character, and that of the one whom they claim to follow.

In the Letter to the Colossians we see not only an acknowledgment that unity and disagreement can exist together but also an illustration of how forbearance can be practiced without the abandonment of principle and conviction. For forbearance is not a recipe for dissolving difference; it is a virtuous means by which to maintain community even in the face of disagreement. To do so is to reflect the character of the God who brings us together, as is made clear in another use of anecho in the New Testament. In the Letter to the Romans, Paul uses references to God’s practice of forbearance to indict our own aptness to judge those with whom we disagree…..

The forbearance we practice in a season of disagreement is a reflection of our gratitude for—and an extension of—the forbearance God in Christ shows us in the face of our alienation. In the end, our maintenance of church unity in the face of difference itself testifies to our faith: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).”

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