Read Acts 15:1-5
1 While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted.
4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. 5 But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.” (NLT)
There has never been an era in church history where Christians all got along just fine without any disagreements. Take this passage as a case in point. The Jerusalem church people said that Gentile converts had to observe certain Jewish rituals in order to belong to the church. Other leaders outside Jerusalem strongly disagreed.
Instead of breaking off into two warring factions, the two parties met in a formal council. They agreed that such observance of ritual was not necessary for the Gentile converts. They laid down some basic rules agreed by both parties as proper for these converts to embrace.
This disagreement had a good outcome. So different to some church conflicts. History shows us that religious wars are specially brutal. People are not just differing about tastes in music, or preferences for certain sports. They reckon they are engaged in life-and-death issues. So differences are magnified.
Many church conflicts are not really about life-and-death matters, though participants in them sometimes like to cloak them in such language. Our egos get involved, our particular doctrinal positions become elevated to core Christian beliefs, our desire to win and maintain power intrudes.
Some battles are worth fighting, as our passage indicates. But even so, there is no excuse for brutal warfare or character assassination. Some sober, Spirit-guided dialogue can mean that disagreements are understood and perhaps resolved. The God of peace becomes the only winner.
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