Divison or Dialogue?

One reason that I enjoy the blogging format is the wonderful opportunity of interaction that it provides. On occasion great discussion has broken out on this blog- as well as numerous others. It is dialogue- a wonderful exchange of ideas and perspectives. How healthy! How- can I say- biblical!

Scripture directs us to dialogue. Consider all the “one another” passages. Wow. Dialogue is at the heart of these commands. How can I love, forgive, have tender affection for, encourage and support others in God’s kingdom without talking to them- without getting to know them?

Then there is our responsibility to “sound doctrine” or “healthy teaching”. Check out Titus chapter two. It is all about the older demonstrating God’s will to the younger. How can this happen without dialogue?

And dialogue is key to working out misunderstandings and disagreements that occur. Jesus laid out some very clear teaching (Matthew 18:15-17) on how to handle these type of problems. It involves face-to-face discussion.

Yet with all of this divine direction, why is it that we sometimes choose division over dialogue? All discussion ends. Folks get entrenched, often angry, start completely ignoring the “one another” responsibilities and then go separate ways- all even in the name of truth and God! I don’t get it.

Even if the disagreements are sharp- our attitudes and tongues should not be. If Christians who disagree cannot sit down with mutual respect and dialogue through the issues- what kind of witness is that to a skeptical world?

Is truth threatened by dialogue? 

Does “defending the truth” give us licence to suspend clear biblical teaching on how we treat each other?

Dialoguing in the way Scripture leads us solves problems, builds trust, brings people together and generates good will. I think God is for that!

I know he is not for division.


12 Responses to Divison or Dialogue?

  1. Philip says:

    I believe that modeling this spirit of dialogue is critical. Being ministers who spend our time studying, who are told to have an opinion, and spend our time with folks who want to hear our opinions, we are wont to be opinionated & confident in the conclusions we draw. Augmenting that with humility is difficult. But it is CRITICAL.

    Look at Revelation 2. When Christ speaks to the Ephesian church, it sounds like they are solid on the doctrine end. But when Paul writes the Ephesian letter, he has to spend a whole chapter (chapter 4) on unity & “speaking the truth in love.” Why? I think we find the answer in Acts 19. When the Ephesian church was still young, they saw some false teachers get humiliated ruthlessly for trying to exorcise demons in false terms. They learned that if you are wrong, you are to be made an example of. I think we have many in our fellowship who have learned the very same lesson by example. And so I find that it is critical that I myself model a humble & dialogical spirit in Bible class, in the pulpit, in meetings, out at lunch, one-on-one, etc. It makes an impression in practice.

    We are currently spending our Sunday morning bible class at my small church learning that very thing: how can we better engage our friends dialogically rather than with a pointed index finger? One of my favorite sayings (from Dr. Paul Pollard at Harding University) is, “We’re told to ‘contend for the faith’ in Jude 1:3, not ‘be contentious for the faith.'”

    Still, there are passages like Acts 13:10 and Matthew 23. I’ve cooked my noodle long & hard on this one, and I’m still not sure I have a solid answer for when or where I would exercise Biblical precedent to engage someone else with language like I hear in those two texts. Got a good answer for me there, my panhandle brother?

  2. benoverby says:

    Maybe I’m just being a crank, Danny, but I don’t think dialogue is the scriptural way to bring people together, build trust, etc. Heck, I think we’d be better off if we called off all talking (dare I even included writing!) for a period of one year. What if we didn’t have words? Really. Think about how refreshing that would be in terms of effect. If we had no words but had love, we’d still be able to have a huge impact on each other and the world. What if I couldn’t just give you stupid “how you doing—-I’m fine thank you” handshake during the ridiculous Agape Feast which gets stuck at the beginning of too many baby-boomer worship services? What if I had to actually serve you, or treat you as if I thought your interests were superior to mine (ph. 2). What if I had to do love rather than fake it behind a moutain of words?

    A body with love and no words is still full of deep substance. A body with many words and little love is . . . well . . . a political machine, an ad agency, or perhaps even a typical 21st century church.

    Yes, I’m being a crank. : ) But at least we’re dialoguing! : )

    PS. I wonder if our confidence in dialoguing has lots to thank Hegel for. His dialectical method was to bring together opposite views so that a new truth could emerge and be embraced. Problem is, Jesus’ reality is what it is, some traditions are deadly rather than harmless, and the middle position between Jesus and religion is something rather like a wet noodle.

  3. Philip says:

    When we speak of dialogue, I think we’re speaking of mutually respect. I agree with Dr. James Dobson when he argues that you can’t have love without respect. Respect is the foundation where love can happen. And what we’re fundamentally talking about using words with respect.

  4. benoverby says:

    Actually, Philip, I think it’s the other way around. Love is the foundation where respect can happen. If there’s no respect you can know that love is absent. I think my neighbor respects me, my stuff, my space. I don’t know if he loves me, however. And, I can love a person without respecting him or her. I love David Duke; I don’t respect him. I loved Sadaam Hussein and prayed for him often; I didn not respect him. I believe Jesus loved the Pharisees in his scope as per Mt. 23. I don’t think he respected the kind of men they had become. So we can dialogue respectfully without ever really loving each other.

  5. benoverby says:

    Oops, should have said, “If there’s no respect you can’t know that love is absent.”

  6. Philip says:

    I mean respect in the sense that we recognize that the person sitting across from me is one of God’s creation, has ideas that I may have never heard before, and is on an intellectual journey that deserves not to be stomped on just as I am. I don’t respect David Duke in the sense of who he is & what he stands for, but I do in the senses in which I outlined.

    In the end, we’ll probably disagree, but love neither exists or functions without respect.

  7. benoverby says:

    I do wonder if Jesus wasn’t stomping on the intellectual journey of the scribes and Pharisees. I wonder how interested he was in their ideas. I’m writing a book in response to Christopher Hitchens’ “God is Not Great.” I love Hitchens, but his ideas aren’t new and are deadly. Timothy was told not to have anything to do with irreverent, silly myths (1 Ti. 4). Timothy could respect the person as part of God’s creation without respecting the silly or irreverent myths. He didn’t need to give any space to those ideas because they adversely effected the church. “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1Ti 1:3-7 ESV)

    And when he told Titus to appoint elders he gave this instruction, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” (Tit 1:9-11 ESV)

    I’m not interested in the ideas of externalism and legalism. I’ve seen what they do to families, to young souls, to whole churches. Rather than respect the ideas we need to silence the insubordinate, empty talking deceivers. Paul also noted that we are in a battle of ideas. “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ . . ..” (2Co 10:3-5 ESV)

    Certain differences can be respected as per Ro. 14. There are other differences that are not to be tolerated (see Re. 2-3); that is, they are not to be respected. Because the Corinthians were supposed to love the man of 1 Co. 5 they were instructed to push him out of their fellowship. I don’t think we should even attempt to seperate the idea from the man. Ideas come out of one’s innerness; they express a person’s worldview. So Paul writes, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Tit 3:9-11 ESV).

    A person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned? I think Paul would get very little respect in the 21st century church. He even insisted, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” (1Ti 5:20 ESV). The cultural elevation of respect (which practically means tolerance) to the highest attribute (rather than love), has given us the most polite and impotent churches throughout all history.

    At least that’s my opinion, which is expressed with a warm smile. There’s plenty that leaves room for dialogue. But there are real and harmful worldviews that can’t co-exist with the truth of God’s kingdom as manifested in King Jesus.

  8. Ilia A says:

    Our church (Vilnius church of Christ) implemented a discussion forum on our web page. The forum is open for any public. So the purpose is to have discussions or dialogs but sometimes disagreements take place regardless the fact that mostly Christians are discussing there. Why? Well, because of different denominations, beliefs and views.
    When I call for a dialog on the forum I set forth my opinion or view and other people comment it just like here. So I call for a dialog but divisions/disagreements are inevitable if we stand for what we believe. I am not talking about hatred toward a person who disagrees but we just cant agree on something and that is a division.


    As a Christian I am open for a dialog to express my belief but not to compromise my faith and conviction. I am not going to be stubborn if I am mistaken but for the sake of peace I can’t give up Jesus. As a Christian I am not looking for troubles or divisions but seeking peace (“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord”. Heb. 12:14). Sometimes Christians will have to avoid dialogs for the sake of peace when a dialog become a cause of division. (1 Tim 6:5; 2 Tim. 2:16; 3:5; Tit. 3:9)

  9. dannydodd says:

    Great dialogue Ben and Phillip! Both of you guys make excellent points. I am loving it.
    And Ilia adds some good points of his own.

    Obviously there comes a time where truth has to repulse and seperate from error, but truth- in my opinion- always leaves the door open for further dialogue. The man in 1st Corinthians was given another chance after the seperation from him. (which he took- see 2nd Corinthians)

    We also have to remember that Jesus style of Rabbinic teaching used a great deal of hyperbole to make his point. Certainly (Matthew 10:35) Christ’s call seperated families, but do you think for one minute that such a seperation was done with such malice and with such finality that dialogue completely and forever stopped between the family members?

    This is my point- why does dialogue forever have to stop- even if we have sharp disagreements- especially if we share core beliefs?

  10. Adam G. says:

    This is a tough issue. We are all so good at taking sides and staking claims. It is much, much harder to humbly accept that we ourselves could be wrong. I was actually thinking about blogging on this, as I’ve recently been blogging on ecumenism. If I were too include only people who agreed 100%, or even 90%, with my views, I’d probably be completely alone. I’d also not allow myself any room for growth. I’ve actually been in that category, and DO NOT want to go back.

  11. dannydodd says:

    Amen Adam- nor do I.

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