Not dividing over little things, but seeking justice and mercy

Not dividing over little things, but seeking justice and mercy

Christians often disagree on things. That’s to be expected, of course. If we encourage people to read the Bible for themselves, they will draw different conclusions. You can find different opinions on baptism, spiritual gifts, church government, what will happen at the end of time, whether alcohol is OK for Christians, birth control, and many more topics among Christians. How can we handle such differences of opinion without constantly falling into terrible divisions?

Jesus has something useful to say about this when he condemned the scribes and Pharisees:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matt. 23:23 ESV)

The Pharisees thought that they were being very careful to keep the law. Instead of only giving 10% of their income away, they tithed things like their garden herbs. On first glance, while being a little excessive perhaps, it looks like it is driven by their love for God.

The problem was that this kind of action leads to self-righteousness and judgementalism. Focussing on the small things that are debateable meant that they were ignoring the bigger issues they should have been getting on with. It would have been easy to feel superior to those who didn’t bother with herb tithing. It is a way of puffing yourself up while ignoring the needs of others.

We could also fall into this trap with our minor theological squabbles. It is easy, especially as a passionate young Christian, to spend a lot of time showing others why you are right about something while they are incorrect. We can put lots of effort into engaging on internet forums. It is possible to focus exclusively on our own personal religious practices, which easily leads us to feel superior to those who don’t do exactly as we do. And the further we head down this path, the more we see other Christians as separate from us, and we will see others with less love and practical care.

Does this mean we should ignore theological difference, and that we should never stand up for our personal position on issues? Of course not. There are views we should argue for and not ever back down on. Yet we need to realise that well-intentioned Christians who hold the Bible as being God’s word might draw different conclusions from us. We can agree to disagree on some things while holding to the central things in common. On some issues, we might find it difficult to function in the same church, such as different views on speaking in tongues or worship or church government. In these cases, we should strive to be as united as possible, and not speak down about brothers or sisters who genuinely hold to views that are different from our own. On other issues, like alcohol or birth control, we can hold different views and still be united in the same church.

We must examine our hearts to see if our attitude is genuinely one of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all saved by Jesus and inherently equal in God’s sight. We must not then rank ourselves based on personal devotion or minor theological differences. Instead, we must do all we can to encourage justice, mercy and faithfulness. We must practically love one another and not set up some kind of practical division between us and others.

Let’s not fall into the Pharisee trap. Let’s unite as much as we can, living as a loving community of God’s people, and be slow to divide over minor issues.