The Godly Art of Arguing Graciously
The Modern Pilgrim #21- New travelers joined the Good Shepherd’s journey while our foolish Pilgrim wasted time in the Palace of Pride. Some new ones come from villages Pilgrim’s never visited. Their speech and ideas seem off base to her and she’s surprised how comfortable the Good Shepherd is around them. Even worse, the Shepherd has invited sheep who barely know Him or the Guidebook to join the group also.
“Well, that may be true, and I know it’s in the Bible, but it’s NOT right for OUR church!” With that, a congregational member from a former church, stomped her way across the narthex and out of the church. My husband, Ken, who was her senior pastor, and I stared at her retreating figure, dumbfounded.
Her bone of contention concerned Ken’s sermon series about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly the topic of healing and praying for healing. All her life, this dear sister had been taught that since God is sovereign, it’s presumptuous and arrogant of any Christian to ask God to heal someone, since he’s already made his decision. As we patiently tried to dialogue with her after the service, she continued to become more and more angry until she finally exploded and left.
What that sister was trying to express is something many Christians experience. Our inner belief system feels jarred when a Christian from a different “tribe”, or denomination, shares a belief that is different than our experience and history. The depth of the canyon between our beliefs and theirs often determines the size of reactions on both sides. A small canyon can be traversed with a few conversations and perhaps an agreement to disagree. But a Grand Canyon of theological, political or any serious disagreement can be overwhelming and permanently separate us from someone. If we let it.
Resolving differences and maintaining relationships in the body begins with our own inner dialogue. When I feel jarred, my fleshy inner dialogue wants to sound like this. “How’s that now? Whoa, they think that? Where’d they get that idea?” I’m still learning to recognize and stop that reaction with a godly response that asks questions instead. Questions like this. “Hmmmmm, I wonder how they came to believe that or feel that way? What experiences brought them to this point? What scripture are they basing that on, I wonder? I wonder what other, wiser believers think about this?”
Once I start responding, instead of reacting, I usually discover, through research, godly, wise people on both sides of the common issues where Christians cross swords. That’s how I’m learning to respond now, but back in the day I didn’t. Instead, I retreated away from differences into tribes that shared my beliefs more exactly. I felt safer there. But Christ doesn’t call us to safe living. The cross wasn’t safe for him and the world into which he sent his disciples wasn’t at all safe for them either. He calls all his followers out onto dangerous paths and equips us to face them with courage.
Think about it. If I’m not even willing to disagree productively, passionately yet graciously with a fellow believer, how am I going to dialogue with unbelievers? Whose values are radically different from mine. Who maybe don’t know how to disagree without getting loud and emotional. Who are scared because I’m intimating, they might be living separated from the Creator of Love himself. Where do I hone my skills of speaking truth with love, if not in the body of Christ? (Ephesians 4:15)
How do we create gracious, lively environments where disagreement doesn’t make folks feel threatened? How do we allow the cell walls of our tribes to be permeable enough to allow people from different backgrounds to enter in? How do we make room for them to process belief systems without creating canyons between our tribe and theirs? How do we fluidly move between tribes so that the body of Christ can harness the power of many to influence culture?
This is something God has prioritized in my life, yet I don’t believe I’m fluent in this behavior. So, I want to refer you to a wonderful conversation between pastor/author, Carey Nieuwhof, and pastor/author Scott Sauls. Pastor Carey is founding pastor of Connexxus Church in Ontario, Canada. Pastor Scott is senior pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Together they discuss, on Nieuwhof’s podcast, this topic of disagreeing well. An area where the church needs to up its game. By a lot.
I encourage you to listen to the podcast yourself but for now, let me hit Pastor Scott’s three main ideas with my thoughts on them.
- Show grace to outsiders.
Jesus was a master at stepping outside his tribe of followers and friends to connect with sinful cast-offs and people who disagreed with him. He lived in a permeable cell. He did the work of listening and getting to know people. But he didn’t mince word about sin. Read the Gospels to see how he did it.
2. Avoid the cowardice of grace without truth and the cruelty of truth without grace.
The fact that much of the body of Christ lives in one of these extremes explains a lot about why people are not running to us or our churches to get right with God. Either our silence has them convinced that their sinful choices are fine with us or our dogmatic, unapproachable tribalism has crushed their spirits and turned them away. God wants us to be balanced between truth and grace.
3. Watch your tone.
In short, how we say something is as important as what we say. Tone of voice, body language and facial expression are critical.
The Great Awakening is upon us, I believe. People are wrestling with belief systems which are crumbling before their eyes. Are you ready for some challenging dialogue? Are you solid in your own beliefs? Do you know the why behind your what? I challenge you to take advantage of a couple resources. First, the podcast I will link here and secondly the book, “Culture Shock,” by Chip Ingram. This is a wonderful book and Bible study that teaches how to engage in the difficult conversations that are brimming up everywhere right now. Get armed and get dangerous!
It’s amazing how pertinent this podcast, created in 2014, is for our present cultural conversations and conflicts right now. Listen and see if you don’t agree.
Link for podcast: https://careynieuwhof.com/episode49/