When We Disagree

As we have been making our way through the book of Acts at Connection Church there is a passage that I didn’t get to talk about during a sermon. I think it’s one of the most fascinating stories in the New Testament, but it gets little attention.

At the end of Acts 15, we read this brief report from Luke the author in vv. 36-41, 

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Think about what we’re being told. 

The Apostle Paul and Barnabas had a major disagreement as they were getting ready to leave on their second missionary journey. The issue was simple; Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark and Paul didn’t because John Mark had abandoned them on their first missionary journey. Two of the most prominent men in the HISTORY of Christianity disagreed so strongly about this that they literally decided not to work together. They went in two different directions. 

This passage has actually been really helpful for me as a pastor. I think about it often. In ministry and within the church, we often find ourselves seeing methods, decisions and issues very differently from one another. So what should we do when we disagree?

First, if we disagree about a major doctrinal or theological issue, the Scriptures must be our final authority. If we disagree about whether Jesus rose from the grave, that would be a dividing line between being a Christian and not being a Christian. But oftentimes our disagreements aren’t even in the ballpark of this level of importance. 

Usually our disagreements are about a difference of perspective and style. Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance, Paul didn’t want to risk being left high and dry again. This isn’t an issue of right and wrong. This isn’t an issue where we can find chapter and verse of what we are supposed to do. This is just two men who deeply love Jesus not being on the same page. 

When we disagree we have some options:

  1. We can choose to compromise which in Paul and Barnabas’ case didn’t seem possible. 
  2. We can choose to defer to one another which would have meant either Paul allowed John Mark to go or Barnabas agreed not to take him.
  3. We can choose to not work together.

This last one is admittedly tough. However, I believe that it’s the best option sometimes. Choosing not to work together isn’t an affront to anyone’s godliness either, it’s just how things may be best for everyone. Here is the big point I want to make: Just because someone doesn’t see an issue the same way you do, especially when it isn’t clear in scripture, you don’t have to assassinate their character or question the genuineness of their faith. 

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