Disagreeing well

So, the people have spoken.

A 48/52% split in the voting is, admittedly, hardly an overwhelming voice for change. But change there will be. After such a seismic vote, it’s difficult to know what the real impact will be until things have settled.

If I’m honest, the EU Referendum has been a rather depressing experience. Not so much for the result but for the way that debate and discussion have been handled. These are big issues, and we should care about them. But disagreeing well has never been so important, nor so sadly absent.

The reality is that there will always be disagreements. We will never agree on everything. But how we treat each other when we disagree matters. As Christians, we have another way of behaving given, and modelled, to us. In Romans 12:1-2 we read:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)

The world wishes to make us conform to its image – literally to be moulded into its shape. The gospel of Jesus Christ, however, transforms. It changes us completely. And one of the key ways it changes us is through our relationships with one another. We don’t have to act like the world, to do what the world does. We can – indeed, must – do it differently.

And the way that we can see this most wonderfully is in how we treat one another when we disagree. Real unity is not based on all thinking the same things. Acts 4:32 shows that an effect of the work of the Holy Spirit was to create astonishing and sacrificial unity:

“All the believers were together and were of one heart and mind.”

The word ‘mind’ actually translates the word ‘soul’. They were one in heart and soul. United at the deepest level by their shared experience of God’s redeeming love, his kindness in revealing Christ to them, and giving them his powerful Holy Spirit. That is what the church should be all about. Unity around the authentic, life-changing gospel of the crucified and risen Jesus.

I love the positivity and joyfulness of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. But it is not without its tension. Clearly there had been a falling out between two godly ladies in the church, Euodia and Syntyche. And Paul tells them to “agree in the Lord.” Not just to agree, but agree in the Lord. They weren’t to pretend that they disagreed, or that it didn’t matter. But their first responsibility was not to their cause or opinion, but to their Lord and thus to each other.

Churches need to find ways of disagreeing well, to be models to the rest of the world of the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. This is, I think, the real meaning of unity.

In the coming weeks, months, maybe years, there will need to be a great deal of healing and reconciliation taking place. We will need to have a desire for unity. And our churches should be places where such healing and reconciliation, forgiveness and generosity are modelled to a fallen world.




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