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What if we disagree?
Sunday school lesson for the week of October 25, 2015
By Dr. Nita Crump
Lesson scripture: Acts 11:1-18
In 1995, Dr. Roy W. Trueblood published a work entitled “Partners in Ministry.” The “Partners in Ministry” program was designed to teach the skills needed to work as a team so that we, clergy and laity together, could become more focused on the work of Great Commission.
In the “Partners in Ministry” program, all team members agreed to live by the HEART principles:
H – Hear and understand me;
E – Even if you disagree, please don’t make me wrong;
A – Acknowledge the greatness within me;
R – Remember to look for my loving intentions; and
T – Tell me the truth with compassion.
It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Christians should be able to get along and, if we find that we disagree, we should be able to work through our disagreements. Why should Christians have to work so hard at loving one another? Why should we need a program to teach us to treat others with dignity, respect, and grace? The answer is simple. We have to work at loving each other because we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and loving with Christ’s love does not come naturally to us.
Even the early church had disagreements
In the first verses of chapter 11, we find Peter being criticized for the work he’s done sharing the gospel. People who had not known Christ before had received the gospel with great joy and were saved. But all the folks back home could see was that Peter had received hospitality from and shared the gospel with people who were not Jewish. This was the early stage of a disagreement that would later require a church conference in Jerusalem to resolve. While Peter’s response did not completely resolve the issue, it is an excellent example of how a Christian should respond when disagreements arise and criticism abounds.
Steps to resolving a disagreement
When Peter realized that members of the church in Jerusalem were not celebrating the salvation of people in Caesarea, but were instead fretting over the details of whether or not the people should have heard the gospel at all, he stopped celebrating and met the people of the church where they were. That’s the first step to resolving a disagreement – meeting the others where they are and seeking to understand the root of the problem. Peter listened to the people who were criticizing. He listened, not to find words to defend himself, but to find understanding and common ground. He took the time to let the church in Jerusalem know that he understood why they felt the way they did. He shared with them that he had felt the same way until he knew that God was calling him to change.
Then Peter took the next step – that of sharing and explaining his visions and the voice from heaven. He invited the church to understand that his work with the Caesareans arose out of the call of God to reach out to those who were different. The people in the church heard about Peter’s visions and accepted that it was God speaking to him. Peter also shared the results of his visit – information that the Holy Spirit came to the new believers, just as the Spirit had come to Peter and the others on the first Christian Pentecost.
For us today, a good next step in resolving a disagreement is very similar. It is to sit together and search the word of God, praying that God will lead us to his plan and path as we do so. Peter had the luxury of hindsight and could point to the fruit produced by his work. While we often do not have that luxury in working to resolve a disagreement, it is a measure that we should look for after the disagreement is resolved. If the resolution is of God, scripture will be upheld and the actions that follow should produce fruit for the kingdom.
The final step that Peter took was to acknowledge God’s greatness. In verse 17, Peter says that “if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” In making this statement, Peter acknowledged that God was able to do far more than any of the early followers could imagine. God is still able to do far more than we can imagine. The amazing part of this is that he invites us to come alongside and work with him. We, today, should certainly acknowledge God’s greatness as we move from conflict to resolution. Doing so acknowledges that is it God who leads us from dark to light, from human sinfulness and conflict to holy unity. It is God who leads all of us deeper and deeper into faith so that we become more and more able to love with the love of Christ our Lord.
Following Peter’s example
Peter was compassionate and gracious as he helped the church in Jerusalem understand that God was leading the way into the world so that we could follow and do the work of making disciples. Unfortunately, even 2000 years later, our humanness still gets in the way as we find many things about which to disagree. If we follow Peter’s example, we should find that God’s grace and his Holy Spirit can be found both in the process of seeking resolution and in the future that the resolution brings.
i Roy W. Trueblood, Partners in Ministry Participant’s Workbook (Partners in Ministry, 1995), 4.
Dr. Nita Crump serves as superintendent of the Southwest District of the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.