Sunday, December 21, 2008

Disagreeing Well

One of the biggest challenges Christians face is how to disagree well. Because we disagree everything - when to celebrate Easter, do you use leavened or unleavened bread for communion, should ministers robe up for church, should we take Mark on our mission trip or not (Acts 15). I was watching the Story of God on ABC this morning, and they remarked that in it's earliest years, the church was known by the Romans by how much they loved each other. But this didn't last long as the church was soon torn apart by schisms (of both theology and culture) that have continued even to today.

So the challenge then is for us who bear the name of Jesus to disagree well and maintain the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4). Andrew Katay put it like this:
"This is what is meant when we speak of unity in the gospel – that is, in the gospel, in other words in Christ, by being brought into a particular kind of relationship with God (a child) I am thereby also and necessarily brought into a particular kind of relationship with all other Christians (a sister/brother). Our unity is a unity in the gospel, and therefore also a unity in the truth, in which we are sanctified (Jn 17.17). However, what ‘unity in the gospel’ emphatically does not mean is unity by sharing the same theological /biblical/church views on various different kinds of things – that would a form of justification by ‘theological works’. Worse still would be a unity by social similarity, sometimes called the homogeneous unit principle." - Andrew Katay, The Unity of the Spirit, SUEU eQuip 2002.
The Model
One of the things I value most from my time in the EU was realizing that it's OK to read books by people you disagree. In fact, it is what we should do. It can be all too easy to just read books by one or two authors or publishers with the aim of giving them our intellectual assent. We don't read books so that we can give them our tick of approval - we read books to grow and learn, even if some of ideas are mixed up. Our goal should be to take what is good from a book whilst at the same time rejecting the dross. Doing this well - engaging with and appreciating the writing of someone you disagree with - is a sign of real confidence in your faith.

The end of 2008 has proved to be a delight with the release of On Rowan Williams - Critical Essays. More so than other books that have been published in recent time, On Rowan Williams provides an excellent model on how to disagree well. Rather than seeking to be polemic or score cheap points, it is sympathetic and thoughtful to a brother in Christ. However, the authors haven't slavishly agree with Williams and offer (sometimes quite probing) critique of the archbishop. I heartily recommend this book, not just for it's subject matter, but also for the approach the author's (including Byron and Michael) have taken in dealing with a some what controversial issue and still maintaining the fellowship based on Christ. As Bonhoeffer said:
Because God has already lain the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what he has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by his call, by his forgiveness and his promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what he does give us daily. And is not what has been given us enough: brothers and sisters, who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of his grace? Is the divine gift of Christian fellowship anything less than this, any day, even the most difficult and distressing day? Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ. Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pp. 16-17, 1954.


Mike Bull said...

well said. i might even give that book a read.

mike said...

thanks buddy,
though I had thought the post would be about a well, like a wishing well, where you throw a coin into the well, and then you get to disagree with everyone around you.

I guess that is what the offetory bag is for : )