One of the toughest things to wrap our minds around is distinguishing between opinions and inerrant truth. Until we do that, though, we’ll continue on the path of discord, because opinions are responsible for all the division we see in Christendom, not inerrant truth.
It is not possible to force ourselves to hold the same opinions. That is authoritarianism. But we are commanded to be of the same mind one toward another. We are commanded to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We are also told to receive our brother, but not to arguments over scruples.
Of course, putting these ideas into practice can be harder than it would seem on the surface, but if we can change our own personal attitudes and have a better understanding of brotherhood, I think we can get there from here.
Here are a few Alexander Campbell quotes on the subject of opinions, taken from an essay in Millennial Harbinger, 1830, pp. 146-147:
“Men cannot give up their opinions, and, therefore, they never can unite, says one. We do not ask them to give up their opinions. We ask them only not to impose them upon others. Let them hold their opinions; but let them hold them as private property.”Of a Unitarian: “What is a Unitarian? One who contends that Jesus Christ is not the Son of God. Such a one has denied the faith, and therefore we reject him.”
Note that a Unitarian is not rejected on the basis of a difference of opinion, per se, but on the basis that he has rejected the deity of Jesus Christ.
Of a Trinitarian: “If he will dogmatize and become a factionist, we reject him-not because of his opinions, but because of his attempting to make a faction, or to lord it over God’s heritage.”
Again note that he is not rejected because of a difference of opinion, but for making that opinion into a rallying cry for a faction.
“We will not hearken to those questions which gender strife, nor discuss them at all. If a person says such is his private opinion, let him have it as his private opinion; but lay no stress upon it; and if it be a wrong private opinion, it will die a natural death much sooner than if you attempt to kill it.”
This is one of my favorites. I love the idea of letting wrong opinions die a natural death, provided those wrong opinions aren’t advocating immorality, departing from the gospel, denying Biblical authority, or intentionally creating factions and strife.
More important than what a fallible man thought or wrote, here are some poignant scriptures that bear on the subject of disputes over opinions:
Proverbs 18:19 – An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel. (NIV)
Proverbs 17:14 – Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out. (NIV)
Romans 14:1 – Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. (NKJV)
1 Timothy 1:2-5 – And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. (NKJV)
2 Timothy 2:14-26 – Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.
There are those who might suggest that simply proposing a concept different than the status quo in any given group is promoting conflict. If this is the case, Timothy and Titus were promoting conflict when they corrected errant teaching in the congregations they visited. Instead, Paul tells Timothy to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” We ought be making peace rather than enforcing our opinions and deductions, and that includes my own.
We also ought to examine our motives to make sure we can answer for them before God. All attitutes and motives must be godly and we ought to be seeking the genuine welfare of God’s people. Let that be the case in everything we say and do, and I think disharmony will resolve itself–without contention and strife.