Willmore D. Eva is the former editor of Ministry Magazine.

Brandy was our female Dachshund. Baffy, our neighbor's male Pekingese. Between our properties was a chain-link fence which among other things kept Brandy away from the amorous advances of the likes of Baffy.

The two dogs clearly liked one another and spent large portions of their time running up and down the fence, each on opposite sides, trying to find a way through to one another. They would jump and bark and touch noses and paws through the barrier, but much to our relief and their frustration, the fence stood firm.

Within all of us there is a great longing to be close to someone, to have a sense of relationship, to be in uninterrupted touch with some other and really with all others. All of us spend significant portions of our time searching the barriers between us for a way through to more satisfying experiences of togetherness.

Barriers to unity and oneness are very common on every major and minor avenue of life, and the church is by no means as exceptional as we might wish. Many come to our churches hoping to find their need for closeness and relationship met, only to find that for them what they expected to be an experience of fellowship and friendship has become a source of frustration and painful friction.

It is sobering to realize that often the very things we have come to believe are so important to the validity of our faith are the things that, given our outlook and attitudes, are the most divisive within the actual everyday life of the church.

What kinds of things caused divisions amongst the New Testament believers?

As much as anything, it was the out ward things, the observable behaviors that could be noted and mentally or verbally "evaluated." Circumcision was a major one of these (Acts 15:1, 2, etc.). What should not be eaten, or which holy days ought to be kept were others (Rom. 14:1,2).

Reading the New Testament shows us graphically that conflict over these kinds of things challenged the leader ship of Paul and others as much as anything else they faced.

Each of these matters, along with the contention that goes with them, has its rather obvious parallels in today's church. How did Paul and the early church view and face these matters and the conflicts that seemed to gather around them?

First, in the minds of the leaders these issues were intentionally kept sub ordinate to that which was genuinely essential. They were kept in perspective in relation to matters that were clearly central. When it comes to these things, Matthew 23:13-30; Acts 15:6-11, 28, 29; Romans 14:17, 18; and other passages are worthy of our careful study.

Second, when dealing with issues that were actually tributary to the main stream, each member, whether of one opinion or another, was called upon to: 4 Freely accept the differences there were in others over these issues (Rom. 14:1-3).

  • Leave all judgment to God who was recognized as entirely able to guide one's fellow Christian (verses 4, 10, 13).
  • Allow each person his or her own convictions over these things (verses 5, 22).
  • Accept that a fellow Christian does what he or she does out of sincere devotion to God (verses 6-9, 22)
  • Concentrate on that which brings harmony and encouragement into the fellowship (verse 19).

But third, and very significantly, in order to discipline the freedom implied in these teachings and to encourage the harmony that was the overall intention, the fellowship was reminded:

  • That everything done within the community was done "to the Lord" and not merely in the light of one's own personal preference or pleasure (verses 7, 8).
  • That as a Christian acts, he or she must do so with sensitivity and consideration toward others, remember ing the weaker (not necessarily the more conservative) members of the community (verses 15, 16, 21-23; 1 Cor. 8:4-13).

There is no more pressing matter facing our churches today than that we find constructive ways of dealing with these kinds of differences among our selves. Because of the struggles of the first-century church we possess an inspired, tried, true, and practical model for working towards and achieving harmony within and amongst ourselves.

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Willmore D. Eva is the former editor of Ministry Magazine.

May 2002

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