By Ron Price … I will be the first to tell you, even if others might not agree, that I am very easy to get along with. Even though I just ended a sentence with a preposition—which everyone knows is not to be done—I really am an easy person with whom to get along. I make this claim because I only place two requests (demands?) on others. One is that they do things my way, and two, that they do so according to my strict timeline.
While I write those words with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek, so to speak, you likely know people who do strive to live life on those terms. Imagine now, for a moment, that you belong to a church comprised of self-centered people, each of whom believes everyone should do things their way. Well, truth be told—you do.
In the vast majority of churches, most members can put their personal preferences aside for the overall good of the body. Unfortunately, however, most churches also have members who do not choose to make that decision. When that latter group becomes the majority, or at least the vocal, powerful minority, that church is well on its way to becoming irrelevant and anything but God-honoring.
Several years ago, I heard an illustration from motivational speaker Eileen McDargh about two people who were in a rowboat in the middle of a lake when a leak developed in the front of the boat. The person in the front saw the problem and responded by baling as fast as possible. Meanwhile, the person in the back of the boat saw the problem but simply folded his arms and said, “I’m glad that hole is not on my side of the boat.” Wouldn’t it be something if the old saying, “We’re all in the same boat together” was the standard operating philosophy of every church?
So, you may ask, am I implying that we should all be docile people-pleasers who dare not ever “rock the boat?” I certainly hope not! In that same presentation, Ms. McDargh also asked us to consider one person in a rowboat rowing with just one oar and continuously going round and round in circles. I hope what I am saying is that as we all row (and grow) together, we are far more likely to stay on target and reach our destination.
Since churches are comprised of FHBs (fallible human beings), it is a given that divergent ideas and preferences will always be in play. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Unity does not necessitate or even thrive with uniformity. It is how those differing viewpoints and preferences are handled that determines the outcome they will have on the church’s overall health.
The founders of the Adventist church were willing to challenge the status quo, and they welcomed divergent thoughts to hopefully arrive at Truth. They sought the greater good and put their ideas, beliefs, and preferences in submission. Am I the only one who fears we have, to a large degree, lost that aspect of our pioneering spirit? We seem to have devolved to a church, a culture for that matter, where if you disagree with me, you must be my enemy, and I cannot accept you as you are.
So how exactly should we as brothers and sisters deal with our family’s differing viewpoints and preferences? Well, since you asked, I have three suggestions to consider.
First, please always keep in mind that it is not your church, as we read in Ephesians 1:22-23: “God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is His Body; it is made full and complete by Christ, Who fills all things everywhere with Himself.” When tempted to request/demand that a particular matter be handled according to your wishes, please run it by the Lord before running it by the church leadership. Ask Him to show you your heart and reveal your true reasons for bringing up the matter. Depending on how controversial your thought, you may want to run them by a trusted prayer partner before you even bring it to the church.
My second thought stems from a sermon I heard several years ago titled “51 One Anothers.” Though I have not taken the time to verify, the speaker said there are 51 “one-another” verses in the KJV which tell us how God wants us to treat each other. You’ll find texts such as “Love one another,” “Pray for one another,” “Confess your faults to one another” and so forth. Search as you may, I doubt you will find “Criticize one another,” “Find fault with one another,” or “Ridicule and demean one another” though we, unfortunately, see these behaviors when brothers and sisters disagree with one another. Since I am nearing my word limit, please put this down and read Philippians 2:1- 11, if not the entire chapter. It will give you a wonderful picture of how we are to act with each other.
My third suggestion is to consider the difference between principle and application. A principle is universally true. By that, I mean it applies to every person at any and all times. Principles are unwavering. You may try to go against them if you wish, but you will do so at your own peril. Applications are how one puts a principle into practice. These, by definition, will vary widely and dramatically from person to person. All too often, it seems conflicts arise due to differing opinions on how to apply a principle. Somehow, an image of the Pharisees just popped into my mind, but we won’t go there.
I doubt that any faithful church member would want to see our denomination become just a loose association where anything goes, and all practices are welcomed. I heard the other day of a church that boasted they had “fun worship.” It’s not my place to judge, but is that really the purpose of the church to have fun? On the other hand, I also doubt any would want to go to the other extreme and insist that everyone toe the “company line” or they must be shown the proverbial door. There simply has to be a middle ground, doesn’t there?
Let’s strive to be a church where divergent views are welcomed and encouraged, so long as they are presented in love and with the body’s best interests in mind. Let’s strive to be so secure in our beliefs that those of others are not viewed as an attack on us. I say we should use our diversity to grow the church and hasten, as much as possible, our Lord’s return. What say you?
–Ron Price is a member of the RMC Executive Committee and lives in Farmington, New Mexico. Email him at: [email protected]