The Difference between an Argument and a Discussion

difference bet argument and discussion

Many people equate argument and discussion. They are two different things. Some people may say, “We’re not arguing! We are just having a discussion.” But argument and discussion are not the same.

The Bible warns us against arguing with others. In 2 Timothy 2:23-24, the Apostle Paul warns us, 23 “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” The word argument in Greek is zetesis, meaning argument or controversy or debate. There is a place for a healthy zetesis among believers, but the Bible warns us about arguments, controversies, or debates arising from meaningless questions. The foolish and stupid zetesis are controversies that are out of line and do not merit time or thought because it stimulates pointless and fruitless controversies.

Foolish and stupid zetesis are controversial questions that breed misdirected debate and unnecessary disputes.

These are the arguments that the Lord does not want us to be involved with because it only leads to quarrels. Romans 14:19 urges Christ-followers to live peaceful lives as Paul says, 19 “Let us, therefore, make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” In the same way, Jesus wants us to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

Among Christ-followers, there is nothing wrong with engaging in a healthy zetesis. A healthy argument, discussion or debate is good and can help build relationships. A healthy discussion or debate is a respectful conversation about a particular topic. It strives to keep unity and peace with one another. Even though both sides of the conversation may disagree at some points, they are not hostile or hurtful to one another.

This was demonstrated in the first Church Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15. The early Church was confronted with a major theological issue about salvation by grace through faith among the Gentiles. Some Jewish Christ-followers were teaching, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This was the primary and central theological issue that Paul and Barnabas strongly disagreed on and debated (zetesis) them about. (v.2).

In Jerusalem, we read that the apostles and the Church leaders came together to examine this major issue. In verse 7, we are told that there had been much debate or discussion (zetesis) on the issue. The Jewish believers and Paul and Barnabas heard each other and debated around the issue. After hearing the ruling of Peter and James, that the Gentiles are also saved by grace through faith without the requirement of being circumcised, we read the outcome that “it seemed good to the apostles and the elders with the whole Church, resolving a major issue on the salvation by grace through faith alone.

Ike Agawin
ServeBeyond Director

Do You Feel What I Feel?

do you feel what i feel

“Weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

I’m a huge sci-fi fan. In grade 3, I was rummaging around in an area of the school library that was probably not age appropriate for me and ran across Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. It was my gateway drug to the final frontier and beyond. Speaking of the final frontier, Star Trek: The Next Generation had an interesting character that wound up on the command deck. Deanna Troi was a character with the ability to sense others’ emotions – an empath. In the show, she routinely used this ability to provide counsel to the crew, enabling them to better face their challenges. I find it fascinating that in the late 1980s this kind of character was thought of as critical to the success of the ship. I suspect if the cast were redrawn from today’s polarized culture, an empath might not fare as well.

In this, my final blog post on the topic of Moving from Argument to Discussion, I want to us to think about the role of empath in that journey. Previous blog writers have asked us to be slow to anger, quick to listen, not just to hear but to understand, etc. But I’m not sure anyone has brought the “e” word directly into the discussion. I think they have hinted at it, however. So, what does it take to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? To feel what they feel? We will never truly know. We can’t live another’s experience. But empathy can take us at least a little way down that road. So, when we hear other’s stories of pain and hurt, especially from those who are on the margins, how do we respond? I say, especially those on the margins, because it is those stories that we hear least often, and they usually carry the most pain.

How do we respond, when someone asks, “how am I supposed to be a Christian in a black body?” How do we respond when we hear a land acknowledgment? How do we respond when Pride month rolls around?

How do we respond when people do not appreciate the fears I have for the future of my church? How do we respond when others don’t understand my heart when we disagree? How do we respond when we hear the stories of those who feel they have been used, abused, and discarded by the church? Can we empathize? I’m not asking us to throw our own beliefs in the garbage to adopt the beliefs of others. Absolutely not! I’m just saying, if we actually want to move from argument to discussion, caring deeply about what others feel is vital.

Neil Bassingthwaighte
ServeCanada Director & Interim Prayer Catalyst

Making the Move from Argument to Conversation more Natural

making the move more natural

The issue of how we talk to one another is current and important — as hopefully evidenced by our blog posts over the past moths. As I continue to read, and to hear from, writers, teachers, and all of you on the front lines of ministry, I keep hearing about “hearing.” Listening is so important if we are going to have productive, helpful, and grace-filled conversations.

Neil Bassingthwaighte wrote (in one of this series’ earlier blogs), about the “Lost Art of Listening” and he challenged us to be people who “listen to understand.” I encourage you to go back and reread that blog.

There is a concept coming out of that challege that has been stuck in my head for some months now, and I want to offer it to you as a tool to help you “listen to understand” even better. It may not be as profound to you as it has been to me, but for me it put practical “flesh on the bones” of the challenge to “listen to understand.” The concept runs something like this:

You can’t really debate someone regarding their position until you can articulate their position better than they themselves can. That is truly “listening to understand.

This means that we need to listen long and well, until we are able to fairly describe the other person’s position – possibly to their satisfaction. This is a high bar. It means we understand what they are saying (from their perspective, not just from ours). It also means we have done the hard work to understand why they are saying what they are saying — we have listened enough to understand their heart and motivation. Admittedly, it is a lot less work to make assumptions about motives, perspectives, and conclusions, but the end result of assumptions is usually counterproductive. Quite honestly, my default is to “listen to respond” — looking to hear something that I can pounce on, correct, use to support my case, or simply reject.  But that is not “listening to understand.”

So, let’s be sure we are putting our ears to very good use in the journey from argument to conversation. We will never make progress without them. Yes, it is important to give great attention to our words — what we speak and how we speak. It is also very important to give attention to our minds — how we think, how we arrive at our own position on issues, and on what we are basing our conclusions. But it is equally important to give great attention to our ears, to the degree of understanding the other person’s mind and heart. If we shortcut this work, we might be wrestling with little more than a caricature of reality. And that is not particularly productive.

Can you accurately tell me what I believe and why?

If so, I know you value me as a person, and I will want to do the same with you. Our discussion will be deep and rich and healthy and will organically move from argument to conversation. How refreshing might that be – a natural progression from argument to discussion? Let’s lead the way.

Terry Kaufman
EFCC Leadership Catalyst

The Way of Wisdom and Discussion

the way of wisdom

“My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James 2:19).

“We all make many mistakes, but those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every other way…a tiny rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot wants it to go, even thought the winds are strong. So also, the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do.” (James 3:2, 4-5).

“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth…but the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace-loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.” (James 3:13, 17-18).

This is my last post on our topic of moving from argument to discussion. In an earlier blog post, Neil emphasized the need for us to listen to each other. The book of James, with his emphasis on living our life in Jesus wisely, always challenges me. His emphasis on being quick to listen – and slow to speak and anger is convicting. Chapter 3 speaks of how powerful the tongue is – for good or evil. James reminds me that when I have selfish ambition and jealousy in my heart, then my tongue will likely spew out that insecurity in ways that judge others and lead to quarrels. Ah, the human heart! It is deceitful beyond all measure. How often is the defense of my truth more about my insecurity than the issue I am arguing about?

We live in a world that is itching for a fight. Unfortunately, I seem to think God needs me to impose His truth (or my version of His truth) on those poor souls who have fallen for “misinformation.” Too many of us need to feel like we already have all truth nailed down and systematized.

Then when we are presented with new data from Scripture (or a different perspective on an issue), we lash out from our own inner insecurities. The wisdom from God (says James) is peace-loving, gentle, and willing to yield to others. Alan Alda says this about listening: “Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you.” It’s hard to let the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures, break through my insecurities and change me. It’s even more difficult to allow the Holy Spirit to use another person to break through my pride, prejudice, and insecurities to effect that change.

Yet if we are to ever grow in goodness, we will need to become better peacemakers who are secure in our God (not ourselves) and who are comfortable with what we do not yet know. We will need to clean out the insecure garbage (the jealousy, pride, insecurity, anger) of our hearts and be quick to listen and slow to speak and anger. What a powerful, redemptive presence we could be if we could submit our own ideas (and lives) to the Lordship of Jesus, embrace our peacemaker calling and be people who share the hope inside us with gentleness and respect (I Peter 3:15)! In a polarized world where opinions are entrenched and dogmatically defended, may we become known as those who live according to the way of wisdom!

Bill Taylor
EFCC Executive Director

Gray Zone Moment
Thoughts from the Prairie District Guy

gray zone moment

Perhaps the best book I’ve read since the start of the pandemic is Mark Sayers’ A Non-Anxious Presence. Sayers describes how we’re currently living in a gray zone moment: the world has changed, and we do not yet know completely how, or what, the world is changing into.

In gray zone moments, we seek out comfort and security in “strongholds” that have brought us identity and “safety” in the past. However, they fall short in the new context we’re finding ourselves in. And the result is anxiety. Sayers writes, “Most understand that the world has changed. However, the sheer rate of change has left many disoriented. We, too, have been left with a sense of the potent chaos in the world. We are not as in control as we thought. We are left with questions of how to lead at such a time when the rules seem to have changed” (p.20)

Sayers spends time looking back at how we’ve arrived here, and some time describing the current landscape. And then, he highlights how this is a time of opportunity.

We don’t grow when we’re comfortable. It’s in the “wilderness” where God grows leaders for the Church.

“Leaders move people toward growth. Comfort zones insulate us from development” (p.109).

God is at work during the anxiety-filled gray zone moments! He is growing leaders who will lead with a non-anxious presence in the midst of change and seeming chaos. These leaders are able to lead with a non-anxious presence because they encounter and are refreshed by the presence of God (p.145).

Our churches and our people, and I would add, our society, need us to be leaders who live daily in the presence of God. Our identity, our strength, our wisdom come from Him. As the psalmist declares, “He is my loving ally and my fortress, my tower of safety, my rescuer. He is my shield, and I take refuge in him…” (Psalm 144:2). Keeping our eyes on Jesus in the midst of the storm is the best thing we can do for the people whom we lead and serve.

“In an anxious, crisis-driven environment, the leadership leverage comes from a non-anxious person” (p.100). We become non-anxious persons by living and leading in the presence of God.


Trevor Brawdy
EFCC Prairie District Superintendent


The Hills are Alive with Dying?
(Apologies to my wife who loves the Sound of Music)

the hills are alive with dying

The phrase “a hill to die on” originated as a war time expression. According to Google’s Ngram Viewer (a place where you can track the usage of words or phrases over time) the phrase was used originally in the second world war. It was used again, but only about half as often, in the Vietnam war period. Otherwise, it hasn’t seen significant use until more recently. Modern day usage has spiked. Beginning in 1990 (interestingly just as the Cold War ends), usage moved from virtually none to over three times as much as its previous peak in the second world war. It peaked in 2017 and has only edged off slightly since. Apparently, we think we have a lot of hills to die on. But should we?

I would suggest we need to reduce the number quite a bit.

In theology, humans do the work (not divinely inspired, but hopefully guided by the Spirit) of attempting to make sense of God’s revelation. This is complicated work, since revelation was given to a specific people, at a specific time, in a specific culture and language, addressing specific issues, all of which are highly foreign to us. We read someone else’s mail. We do this with our own set of assumptions and blind spots as we come to the text.

Our theology attempts to interpret the revelation in the text in ways which shape and inform our context.

Even our “essentials” carry some of this contextual bias, let alone the “nonessentials.” Case in point, compare our EFCC Statement of Faith with the previous one. Some of the issues have changed and the ordering certainly has. Or compare it to some of those from evangelical churches in Africa. Some of the articles look virtually the same. Others are quite different. Some of theirs have whole articles on miracles, Satan, demons, unity, spiritual warfare, equality of faith across race, gender, and class. None of these issues has a whole article, or even at times a mention in our statement. Why? Different context, different issues. I apologize for the brevity here; whole books are written on certain aspects of this paragraph.

As we continue to think about moving from “Argument to Discussion,” this issue of context and the hills we choose to die on is important. Let me add one more issue. The next generation. As a former youth pastor; the next generation has always been near my heart. For me, Philippians 2 resounds with echoes of the future. How can we encourage the faith of those who will lead the church tomorrow? How do we put the interests of those yet to come ahead of our own? What “stuff” do we need to lay aside for the sake of the next generation? What faith and the church look like tomorrow might be quite different and we need to be okay with that. More than okay! We need to empower our youth and kids to move into the future with a robust faith that will address their issues, not ours. That may be very difficult for us. Especially if we are dying on too many hills. So, can you ask with me, “which hills do I need to abandon to see the church not only survive, but even thrive, in the next generation?” We haven’t even begun talking about how many of our young people are confused and hurt by the rhetoric we lob at each other (speaking of arguments) as we attempt to hold hills, including the ones we actually need to hold.

We live in time. We have a past. We glean, gather, learn, and contextualize from the past. We are in the process of seeing Christ redeem our past. We hope into the future. We prepare for it. Yet we live in the present. It is a present that has come from somewhere and is on a journey to somewhere else, probably not in a neat linear pattern, however. We are not, as James K.A. Smith says, nowhen Christians. We inhabit time. Soon it will be someone else’s time. Let’s attempt to set the stage for them to inhabit it well.

Neil Bassingthwaighte
ServeCanada Director & Interim Prayer Catalyst

Truth is No Excuse

truth is no excuse

Over the past weeks we have been reflecting on the challenge we face serving at a time when it seems like “argument” is the default approach to everything, and extreme polarization is the posture from which we argue. Unfortunately, Christians have been infected by this cultural malady, despite the great harm it does to the Church’s testimony. The challenge, it seems, is to get our message of truth heard, and it seems the only way to be heard is to join the shouting match. Therefore, at times it is tempting to feel that if we have truth, then it matters less how we speak, for truth trumps disposition. As tempting as that may be, I would suggest that is counterproductive, and more importantly, antithetical to the examples and mandate of God’s Word to us.

No one had a better grasp on truth than Jesus. No one understood better than Jesus both the distortions of truth and the cost of untruth. Further, Jesus lived in context and time that was no more friendly to His message than today’s culture. God’s people (at least most of the leaders) didn’t like him or his message. Very few were cheering for him, and even less understood the message he was bringing. No one deserved to “shout the truth” more than Jesus. But, as we well know, he did not do that. John describes the very character of Jesus, from the beginning of his ministry.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV)

And, lest we didn’t catch it the first time, he repeats that only three verses later.

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17 NIV)

In his second letter, John again repeats the refrain: “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.” (2 John 1:3 NIV)

Additionally, the apostle Paul says in Acts 24 that his accusers did not find him “arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city.” (Acts 24:11 NIV)

Here’s the point: from what I see in the New Testament, mostly from the life of Jesus but beyond that as well, truth is never an excuse to be argumentative.

Truth is never an excuse to be mean spirited. I like to say that for the Christian, truth doesn’t travel alone. Truth travels with grace and love.

Jesus’s example makes it clear that we can stand for truth and also express grace – the two are not antithetical. In fact, they are coupled. That is made clear to us in Scripture, and it is made clear because we need to see it! Truth is never an excuse to leave grace and love in the dust.

So, how are we doing as a movement? Are we delivering truth wrapped in grace and love? Doing so, especially in the present age we are in, will more effectively draw attention to — and affirm the validity of — the truth with which we have been entrusted with. If we must argue, let our arguments be made through our grace and love, the only conduit through which we deliver truth.

Terry Kaufman
EFCC Leadership Catalyst

A Key to moving from Argument to Discussion – The Better Way

the better way

Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes … now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (I Corinthians 13:9-12)

These past three weeks Terry, Neil and Ike have challenged us regarding how we hold our convictions, how we ought to listen, and the theological mandate for unity. Terry beat me to one of my favorite passages – Romans 14. So let me focus for a couple minutes on Paul’s way of life; that is, the “better way” (I Corinthians 12:31). The Corinthians were a divided bunch: divided over knowledge (who was right), gifts (who had the best ones) and piety (who was the most). Paul repeatedly warned the church against division (chapter 12 of his letter reminds them that the church is a family of diverse people who are united as Jesus’ body). Each part is equally necessary, and no part should look down on another. In his book The Significance of Silence, Arnold T Olson declares that the Free Church Statement of Faith was intentionally silent on those issues that had divided believers: equal piety, knowledge and commitment to the Word. He reminds the reader that there were “to be no second-class members” in Free churches. Thus, while they had strong convictions forged out of persecution, they refused to break fellowship with those who disagreed with them on a myriad of issues that divided other churches.

This sounds much like Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians. His words in chapter 13 are not primarily intended for weddings – they are intended to challenge a church where members found reasons to view others as second class. Paul wants them to choose the better way of love. And so, he says that love is better than spiritual gifts, knowledge and piety. “If I could speak all the languages of earth… if I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge…but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. Love is patient and kind, love Is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude…prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless.  But love will last forever!” Love moves us to be patient, kind, humble, and respectful.  Further, in the verses I quoted above, he argues there are good reasons to choose the way of love over arrogant, dogmatic knowledge. In short, our knowledge is partial, incomplete. As mere mortals, we only see part of the big picture – and it is fuzzy at that!

Moving from argument to discussion makes perfect sense when we realize that we are not qualified to argue (with 100% certainty) our positions and opinions dogmatically.

We are mere mortals who have at best a partial, fuzzy knowledge and understanding. Further, even if we knew 100% of all there is to know on every topic in the universe, God’s call on us is to pursue the way of love. That means arrogance, rudeness, and unkindness all ought to be off the table for God’s people. Love of our brothers and sisters, humility regarding what we think we know, and gentleness and respect (see I Peter 3:15) are the default settings for those who “set apart Christ as Lord”. The way of love is the “better way” that moves us from argumentation (meant to belittle and defeat) to loving discussion (that seeks to clarify and understand).  If our conversations generate more heat than light, then we are likely not practicing the better way.

Bill Taylor
EFCC Executive Director

When Theological Differences Divide the People of God

when theological differences divide

In John 17, Jesus prayed for unity for his followers in what is considered the greatest prayer recorded in the Bible. His prayer was for the disciples and immediate Christ followers and the Church through the ages. His prayer for believers today is a prayer for unity and a prayer for truth. In John 17:20-26, we read that Jesus prayed for his followers to experience a spiritual unity that exemplifies the oneness of the Father and the Son.

Yet far too often, the followers of Christ throughout the centuries have been characterized by controversy, infighting, arguing, disagreement, and disunity.

The Scripture warns us against arguing:

  • Do everything without complaining and arguing. (Philippians 2:14 NIV)
  • Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarrelling about words; it is of no value and only ruins those who listen. (2 Timothy 2:14 NIV)
  • Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. (2 Timothy 2:23-24 NIV)

So how should we approach theological differences or disagreements without divisiveness in the Body of Christ? Here are some biblical principles and guidelines that come to mind:

1. We must love those who disagree with us. The foundational truth of all Christian ethics is that every person is made in the image of God and is deserving of basic human dignity (Genesis 1:26-28; 9:6). In personal and Church arguments, it is easy to forget that we are not merely addressing ideas but the hearts and minds that are attached to them. We must remind ourselves constantly that even those in theological error are men and women deeply valued by God. Loving includes praying for those with whom we have disagreements with. (2 Thessalonians 3)

2. We must watch the way we conduct ourselves. Disagreements over the things of God do not excuse us to commands about Christian behaviour, attitudes and speech. We should be slow to argue and quick to listen (James 1:19; Proverbs 15:18; Proverbs 6:16, 19 – The Lord hates discord sown among brothers).

Remember, the unbelieving world is watching. Our lack of unity as Christians affects the world’s understanding of the testimony of Jesus Christ.

3. We must be aware of our own limitations. We must be humble interpreters of the word of God because “we see in a mirror dimly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

4. We must be aware of our own motives. (1 Timothy 6:4) and we should seek to glorify God in our disagreements (Romans 15:5; cf. 12:6; 1 Cor 1:10; Phil 2:2, 5; 4:2)

5. Despite theological differences, we must maintain good relationships and unity in the Body of Christ.
Ephesians 4:3-6 says that we are to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6).

We may not be able to resolve all our theological differences on this side of heaven, but we must maintain unity in the Body of Christ. The unity of God’s people is important to the Lord. Our hope is that all disputes will eventually be resolved when the perfect comes (1 Cor 13:10).

Ike Agawin
ServeBeyond Director

The Lost Art of Listening

the lost art of listening

How many arguments and conflicts arise because we assume we understand each other?

This season of the blog is about moving from argument to discussion. Bill Taylor and Terry Kaufman, in previous blogs, have highlighted the need to argue for a few key things but also recognize that we are diverse. So how can we build the kind of unity Terry talked about, in the middle of our diversity?

Well, one place to start might be by listening.

I’m not a very good listener. I developed an occupational hazard as a pastor – I talk way too much. Just ask my wife. A few years ago, I found a book, entitled “The Listening Life” by Adam McHugh that I thought could help. I had read McHugh’s “Introverts in the Church” and found it helpful. I figured this might be too. Let me just say, it was soooooooo much more than just helpful. In fact, in a previous blog, I listed it as one of the books I would recommend to any Christian.

So, for this blog, let me essentially share a book review.

In the Introduction, McHugh opens by saying, “Listening comes first.” He highlights that from the womb we can hear. Yet it takes months of life before speech begins. We are born listeners. McHugh also highlights that “the beginning of discipleship is listening.” Jesus speaks. We follow. As disciples we ought to be good at listening.

But wait, there is too much input. In chapter 1, McHugh mentions, “people living in large cities are exposed to as many as 5,000 advertisements every day.” With that kind of overload, we can’t possibly take in everything. We become selective listeners. That’s good. We need to discriminate between good voices and bad ones. Between necessary ones and those that would simply waste our time. But McHugh cautions, “If only it were as simple as the proverbial whispering angel and devil on our shoulders. It is also a matter of whether we will choose to listen to different voices, voices that don’t sound the same as our own. Will we listen to the voices of different cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds, and beliefs? Will we listen to the voices that unsettle us and might make us feel anxious or guilty? If we choose to listen only to voices that echo our own, we will be limited in our growth and stunted in our spirituality.

Choosing to tune in to only one or two stations may be comfortable, but it is not transformative.

The rest of the book guides a reader on a journey of growing in listening. McHugh starts that journey with the God who listens. Then helps us grow in our capacity to listen for and to God both in Scripture and creation. Then he starts really messing around by talking about how we listen to others, especially those in pain, and even to ourselves. He ends with a chapter on the church being a listening community. He shares, “It has always been my hope to hear a pastor stand up in front of a worshiping community and say, “we are the body of Christ…that does not mean we are all the same. We are not. We think differently. We experience feelings differently. We have different experiences and perspectives and pasts and hopes for the future. We vote in elections differently. We read the Bible in different ways. We even understand God differently. We as a church are rooted in the great Christian tradition and the creeds the church around the world has affirmed for millennia, but we honor that people are coming from different places and moving at different paces. We honor the questions and the doubts and the struggles that everyone has, and we will never try to silence them or dismiss them…our goal is unity, not uniformity, and we aim for genuine community, not artificial conformity. That means we will disagree, sometimes bitterly, but we will stay at the table and keep listening.”

McHugh’s point is simply this – As much as we are unified in Christ; practically speaking, we must listen to one another to see unity grow.

Could listening – really listening to understand – help move us from argument to discussion?

Neil Bassingthwaighte
ServeCanada Director & Interim Prayer Catalyst

From Argument to Discussion — & from Disagreement to Relationship & Support

from disagreement to relationship & support

As our Executive Director Bill Taylor noted last week, the polarized nature of our culture ranks among the most divisive ever. It is not simply about how we disagree; it is also about the vast amount of items we divide over. It is no longer simply the “big” issues of life that get our dander up; it seems like everything is fodder for a fight. And while Bill’s point that we must take a strong and unwavering stand on the gospel is an essential one, I want to make a complementary point in this short blog – that disagreements on just about everything will always exist and holding them correctly and productively is also part of our call as Christians.

Once we are anchored and secure in our identity in God as provided for, and articulated in, the gospel, we should have both the confidence and compassion to navigate disagreements in productive ways. In Romans 14 Paul indicates that we will have differences on issues for which we hold strong convictions. Too often we hold those convictions not simply firmly, but also as universal, exclusive, and inalterable. In other words, we are convinced that everyone must hold the same convictions, and unfortunately, we then disparage anyone who dares to disagree with us. But that approach does not align with Paul’s instructions in Romans 14, where we are told that it is fine to hold those convictions, but such convictions are to be “between yourself and God” (Rom 14:22, NLT). As Langer and Muehlhoff put it in “Winsome Conviction,” those convictions are not primarily for “export.”

If our attitude is right — and our anchoring is truly set in Jesus and the gospel alone — then we need not be threatened by others who hold convictions different to ours on secondary issues.

The beauty of the gospel is not that we all look the same, but rather that we can be a mosaic glued together through Christ and His gospel alone. And mosaics requires differences!

But it is also worthy of note from Romans 14 that the greater responsibility Paul lays upon us is not simply to hold on to our personal convictions well (even though we are encouraged to do that). God’s words to us (through Paul) seem to indicate that our greater responsibility as it pertains to “personal convictions” is the welfare of the other person. In other words, how can we hold a conviction in such a manner that protects, builds up, and encourages brothers and sisters who hold a different conclusion on matters which fall outside the core essentials of the gospel? Romans 14:18 tells us that if you “serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you too.”  The “attitude” Paul is speaking of is a life of “goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” marked by a self-sacrificing love for our brothers and sisters.

Disagreements around anything non-essential (a future blog will suggest some ways to differentiate between the essentials and the non-essentials) are never to be managed by an argument intended to prove that “I have the right conviction and understanding.” Rather such disagreements should lead to a discussion about the welfare of the other, and how we can honor God in our differences. And I am convinced that as we do just that, the testimony of hearts shaped by Jesus will mark the message of the gospel as unique, in a day where not only is such an attitude rare, it is needed by people who need reconciliation (with God and others). Never before has gracious disagreement and humble self-sacrificing been so rare, and thus so powerful. As God’s ambassadors, we are to be about reconciliation and restoration of relationship — first with God, but then also with one another. That restoration is not based on us agreeing on every issue, but rather on what God has done for us in Jesus, uniting us as a wonderful mosaic of God’s creation glued together by Jesus — not united by our own wisdom or understanding or agreement on every “jot and tittle.”  From argument all the way to relationship and support — that is the path Jesus leads us on.

Terry Kaufman
EFCC Leadership Catalyst

Moving from Argument to Discussion: The When of Each

moving from argument to discussion

“We understand that some men from here have troubled you and upset you with their teaching, but we did not send them! So we decided, coming to complete agreement, to send you official representatives, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul… For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements…”  (Acts 15:24-28)

This week we begin a new series – Moving from Argument to Discussion. There have been many significantly polarizing issues throughout history, but I cannot think of many times and places where so many issues have coalesced at once and divided people into hostile camps who so fervently hate each other like in North America today. Let me be clear – there are issues indeed worth arguing over. Our hope as the people of God, however, is that argument would lead to discussion that resolves issues and preserves the unity of the body – and does not simply divide followers of Jesus into two or more factions mutually committed to each others’ destruction. I have modest goals for this short blog:  I want to outline when it is time to argue and describe how argument might productively turn to dialogue and lead to resolution of a problem and to unity in the church.

To accomplish that, allow me to highlight a few issues from Acts 15 and the controversy facing the early church. We see in verses 1 and 2 that teachers showed up in the multicultural church in Antioch of Syria (the same church that had sent Paul and Barnabas out on the First Missionary Journey in Acts 13) and insisted that all Gentiles must be circumcised as per Jewish law in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, “arguing vehemently.”   

My point here is pretty simple: One of the things we must argue about is the gospel – particularly against those who would mix culture with it and make it into religion.

Paul and Barnabas rightly argue about this, and the church rightly decides to move this from argument to discussion by sending them to Jerusalem to dialogue with the apostles and elders. So, notice: they don’t just divide into camps of mutual hatred – they reach out to other leaders for help and resolution!

As you read the story, notice further how they reach resolution. Paul and Barnabas reported “everything God had done through them” (15:4) and what the teachers were adding to the good news. Peter shares his experience with the Holy Spirit, how God makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile. He argues that God saves through faith and concludes that adding Old Testament Jewish laws (even as important a law as circumcision!) is challenging God and adding a yoke the Jews themselves had never been able to bear. James then speaks up and supports Peter’s experience from the prophets, showing that the salvation of Gentiles was foretold in Scripture. He further argues that the church should not make it difficult for Gentiles who are turning to God. Everyone at the counsel listens, discusses the issues, and arrives at a consensus regarding the core of the gospel. They will only present Jesus to the Gentiles – not extra cultural rules. They ask only that Gentiles abstain from practices that are particularly offensive to their Jewish brothers and sisters.

And so, they send messengers out to communicate the decision that “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”  It is a great picture of when an argument is worth having and how that argument needs to be transformed into a dialogue that brings resolution and consensus. Did everyone agree with the final decision? I suspect not! Yet this absolutely critical, core issue – the very definition of the gospel – was settled! Not all arguments lead to discussion and agreement – see Paul’s and Barnabas’ disagreement over John Mark at the end of Acts 15! Yet even that disagreement did not lead to two “camps” hating each other. I suspect they blessed each other, agreed to disagree, and simply took their ministries two different directions (literally). Paul later refers to Mark in very positive ways.

In the end, Acts 15 shows that there are at least two things worth arguing about:  the essential core of the gospel, and how we ought to treat people. The Jerusalem Council reminds us that the point of arguing is not to divide and condemn – the point is to find ways to resolve and unite. As people who hold the motto “in essentials unity, in non-essentials charity, in all things Jesus Christ,” may we be so gospel- and people-focussed that it becomes instinctive for us to know when to argue and how to move through discussion to resolution and to restoration of relationship!

Bill Taylor
EFCC Executive Director