It was a warm afternoon July 11, 1804, when two men decided to handle their disagreements like men should, with a duel. Having been at odds with each other for so long, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr met together in a field, their backs turned towards each other, loaded pistols in hand. Two men entered the fray and two men died that day, Hamilton losing his life, and Burr losing his political aspirations. 200 years later, not much has changed.

From CNN to YouTube, CEOs to churches, disagreements still abound. No longer handled with a flintlock pistol, our weapon of choice has become words, written or spoken. Differences in beliefs are met with scathing insults and aggressive opposition. We’ve been told for so long that we’re “special” and “so right” by loved ones that differences in belief are seen as insults to our intelligence. Unfortunately this way of thinking has permeated the minds of many in our culture and, even more unfortunately, the church.

Yes, even the body of Christ is affected by such an attitude. In fact, this attitude is rampant among many of us who wear the name of Christ (myself included). Fighting against a culture of change and “progressivism,” we’ve built up stronger walls and dug deeper lines in the sand. Though holding true to our beliefs isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it becomes a problem when we build walls so high and dig lines so deep that we leave ourselves isolated, unable to hear the thoughts and opinions of others. Instead of agreeing to disagree on some issues, we turn every issue into a matter of “agree with me 100% or you’re my enemy!”

Our inability to disagree is one of the many dangers that face the church today. How can we stop this culture of angrily disagreeing? To find the answer let’s take a look at the culture and examine God’s word.

Death on Every Hill

I’ve been given several pieces of sound advice over the years. Advice such as “face your fears” and “don’t eat the yellow snow” still comes to mind often, even today. Perhaps the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is “Pick your battles. Not every hill is a hill you need to die on.” This advice has been helpful in relationships, my writing and my ministry, and it’s advice that more of the world needs to heed.

I love the Internet because of all the ministry opportunities that it affords this generation of Christians. It’s never been easier to reach the masses with the Word of God. On the flip side, it’s never been easier to start fights and tear people down. Here’s an activity for those of you near a computer. Open up your Internet browser and head over to YouTube. Look up a religious discussion (something like a sermon, or even better a Christian/Atheist debate). Don’t watch the video, just scroll down to the comment section and read some of the discussions there. What do you see? Disagreements, vitriol, insults, and so much more.

To put it a little more poetically, we see death and not just dead people here or there, there is death on every hill. There is no listening to the thoughts of others, only namecalling and excessive capitalization to get their point across. Isn’t that the problem?

Our culture has so much trouble disagreeing today because it’s all about having our voices heard. Twitter, blogs, etc. are all just megaphones created to get our opinions and thoughts out to the world. These resources teach us to promote and not to receive. Our opinion is perfect, and everyone else would agree with us if they were as enlightened as we are. Our beliefs are always correct and so we argue and insult. We fight every battle and die on every hill.Our culture is one of severe disagreement, and as usual, the Bible calls us to a much higher standard.

When Christians Disagree

Christians are not free from the practice of disagreement. The church started on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and it didn’t take long before the people involved found themselves disagreeing with one another.

In Acts 6 there arose a disagreement between the Hellenists and Hebrews because the Hellenist widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (6:1). The complaining got so bad that the Apostles had to step in and help them figure this situation out (Acts 6:2-3). Ultimately this disagreement was handled by some men being appointed to leadership positions.

When Christians disagree, they need leadership or a third party to step in. Sometimes the best thing an argument needs is for someone on the outside to come in and help the arguing parties make the right decision.

Later on in the book of Acts we see traveling companions Paul and Barnabas entrenched in a “sharp disagreement” (15:39). Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them, and Paul didn’t, so the two split. Later on in 2 Timothy 4:11, the very man that Paul disliked is listed among those that are very useful for his ministry.

When Christians disagree, they need to take some time away from each other. Disagreements often lead to emotions running high, and when emotions run high anything can happen. In fact, emotion can contribute to disagreements escalating far beyond where they ever should have been. Sometimes it’s good to take some time apart and cool off a little before trying to resolve the issue.

Just a couple chapters later in the book of Acts, we read about the evangelistic duo of Priscilla and Aquila. During their travels they ran across a preacher named Apollos. Apollos is described as being a fantastic speaker, but he was off on his theology a little bit (Acts 18:24-25). Priscilla and Aquila pulled him aside and addressed his error with him calmly and privately (18:26). He changed his beliefs and became a great force for good in God’s kingdom (18:27-28).

When Christians disagree they need to calmly approach one another. It’s important to note here that this particular disagreement took place over a doctrinal matter. Notice however that Priscilla and Aquila didn’t go write Apollos up in some paper or blast his name as a “false teacher” on Facebook. They pulled him aside, spoke with him privately, and calmly reasoned with him.

Our culture encourages and provides opportunity for disagreement unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. It can sometimes be tempting to join in with everyone else and react harshly and violently when we disagree with someone. Don’t give in to that temptation. When Christians disagree, whether it be a ministry (Acts 6), a matter of opinion (Acts 15), or a matter of doctrine (Acts 18), we ought to handle it as calmly and godly as we can. Christianity isn’t about disagreeing, but about living a life pleasing to God. Disagreements may get in the way of that goal from time to time, but they should never stop us from fulfilling it. 

By Jack Dodgen

This article appears in the May 2015 issue of Think magazine. To subscribe to Think, or for more information, click here.