Have you ever sat across from a friend and felt your theological disagreements strike up between you like a jagged fence? The conversation was going well, and you were laughing and chatting, but then the conversation drifted to your faith, and you realized you each held opposing views.
Your friend may have left that day on good terms—still laughing and smiling—but things may have taken on a bit of awkwardness. Perhaps it felt like a crack in the foundation of your friendship, and your heart ached a little—from wonder at how she disagreed with you to fears of losing your friend. Perhaps you wandered your house the rest of the day pondering, How do we move forward?
Diagnosing Your Disagreement
When our disagreement becomes apparent, we need to diagnose it. Dr. Albert Mohler describes this as theological triage. A first-order issue would be anything pertaining to the gospel or the nature of God. Are they questioning salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone? Are they questioning that we worship one God who is three Persons? Or are they questioning the deity of Christ or the Holy Spirit? To depart from these truths is to depart from true Christianity. If your friend is questioning any of these essential truths, your disagreement is serious and essential to salvation.
But not all theological issues change the gospel or the nature of God. These issues would be secondary or tertiary. Questions of the way we baptize or who we baptize, how we worship on Sunday, or what we believe about the last days would fall in these categories. There are faithful believers who disagree while falling within the boundaries of one of several biblically sound interpretations of Scripture. These issues don’t necessarily set someone outside the family of God.
This diagnosing must be done with care and attentiveness, like cradling a crying child and seeking to determine how serious their injuries are. Sometimes a new believer may not fully understand the essentials of the faith and communicate them poorly. This doesn’t make her an unbeliever, but someone in need of gentle correction and discipleship. Other times the underlying foundation of a secondary issue actually attacks the heart of the gospel. As Jesus told his disciples, we need to be as wise as serpents but gentle as doves (Matt. 10:16).
Responding With Grace
If our disagreement is secondary or tertiary, we can respond to her with grace as a sister in Christ. We should show her love as a fellow sibling that God adores, Christ has bought with his precious blood, and the Spirit indwells.
Don’t Question Her Love for Christ.
When we disagree with a fellow sister in Christ, we may be tempted to accuse her of sin or of being a half-hearted Christian. We begin to think that if others don’t passionately believe exactly what we do, they don’t have the same love for God. But that’s not necessarily the case. When we disagree on secondary and tertiary issues, our differences are a matter of each working out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12–13). Most likely, your sister has come to her position driven by her adoration for Christ rather than a love for herself. As you chat with her, look for the ways her love for God has brought her to this place.
Don’t Accuse Her of Unfaithfulness to God’s Word.
It can also be tempting to accuse a fellow sister of bending Scripture. But if we are to hope for the best in our sister (as love is described in 1 Cor. 13:7), we should believe that she has come to her stance by means of study and seeking to be faithful with God’s Word. When it comes to secondary issues, there can be multiple interpretations of a passage that do their best to uphold the truth of God’s Word. You can often find a variety of wise and well-studied theologians who disagree on an issue, yet each has spent hours exegeting the key passages to come to their conclusion. As you discuss the topic with your sister in Christ, seek to see how she has wrestled with the issue to come to her conclusions.
Do Listen with Humility.
When we have labored over Bible passages and books to arrive at our theological positions, it can stoke our pride. Rather than our knowledge equipping us to love others, it instead makes us haughty (1 Cor. 8:1). When discussing our theological disagreements with others, we need to be mindful that we are listening with humility. Are we willing to consider their position and proofs? Are we willing to be wrong? And are we truly seeking to know and pass along the truth or to further build our own case? Do we care more about being right or God being glorified?
Do Continue to Value Your Friendship.
When we realize our disagreements with a sister in Christ, our first response may be to distance ourselves from her and seek out other women who affirm our own views. But in doing so, we lose an opportunity for growth—an opportunity to be pushed further along in the truth, whether by realizing our own mistakes or becoming more certain in the truth we already hold to. What should bond our relationships within the church shouldn’t primarily be the secondary and tertiary issues we agree on, but rather our sisterhood in Christ.
The Gospel that Binds Us
After diagnosing our disagreements and seeing that we differ only in secondary and tertiary theological issues, we can rejoice in our citizenship in heaven. The gospel is like a cord that binds us all together despite our distinctions and differences. It’s our reminder that though we may worship in different ways and within separate buildings, and though we may see certain issues with different nuances, we will all fall to our knees before our perfect King and worship him in spirit and truth in eternity.