Whenever we publicly express disagreement with a brother in Christ, we should ask two questions. First, we must ask if our response builds up the other person or tears him down. Does this response merely prove I am right or is it a gentle, loving correction? Second, does our response model the kind of God-glorifying unity for which Jesus prayed? If our answers tear down an individual or fail to model God-honoring single-mindedness of mission, it may be better to refrain from making a comment.
Scripture does not require brothers and sisters in Christ to agree about everything, but it does place certain expectations on the way we are to disagree with one another. Biblical authors—and Jesus himself—seem to place a considerable weight on the way we disagree with one another.
Glorifying God with One Mind and One Voice
Since its inception, God called the church to pursue unity. Jesus asked the Father for his followers to be “made completely one” so “that the world may know” he was sent by the Father (John 17:23). Peter instructed the churches in Asia Minor to “be like-minded” (1 Pet. 3:8, CSB) or to “have unity of mind” (1 Pet. 3:8, ESV). Paul likewise urged the Corinthians to “be united with the same understanding and the same conviction” (1 Cor. 1:10). He also challenged them to “become mature,” to “be of the same mind,” and to “be at peace” (2 Cor. 13:11b).
Yet the pleas of Jesus and the apostles for unity of mind were not demands for uniformity of thought, nor were they a total rejection of a diversity of opinions and practices within the church. This is evident in Rom. 14–15, where Paul contrasts those who are “strong” with those who are “weak” in faith. The “weak” here describes Jewish Christians who had practical and philosophical differences with their Gentile counterparts. The “weak” brothers do not appear to disagree with the “strong” about the requirements of salvation. (Paul did not accuse them of subscribing to a false gospel like he did with the Galatian agitators who required adherence to the Law for salvation.) But the “weak” do differ from the “strong” in their beliefs about what constitutes a mature follower of Christ. They seem to be working from different convictions about what is and what is not appropriate behavior. The “strong” “believes he may eat anything” while the “one who is weak eats only vegetables” (Rom. 14:2). The “weak” believes “one day to be more important than another day” while the “strong” considers “every day to be the same” (Rom. 14:5).
Paul ends his discourse on the ethics of disagreement with this intercession: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice” (Rom. 15:5–6). Paul sees the unity between Jews and Gentiles in Christ as the fulfillment of the promises of God across the Old Testament (2 Sam. 22:50; Ps. 18:49; 117:1; Deut. 32:43; Isa. 11:10). We who have many differences can glorify God by the way we come together to praise the Lord and honor his name (Rom. 15:7–12). But it is crucial to note that Paul sees this kind of unity as something only God can grant to believers (Rom. 15:5). We cannot achieve it by our own merit.
Christian unity is a gift from God for the glory of God.
Pursuing Gospel Unity Despite Our Disagreements
The differences between Jewish and Gentile Christians over matters of food are not identical to the theological differences between Christians today, as these differences largely stem from different approaches to the interpretation of biblical texts while Jewish and Gentile differences originated in competing traditions and customs. However, many of the same principles seem to apply.