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Confrontation has become a curse word in many circles. It’s like the bubonic plague of social interaction. We can try to avoid it but there isn’t a cure to keep us safe from it forever. What makes confrontation so unpleasant is that it’s typically a result of conflict. We can try to avoid it like kids playing hide and seek or we can learn to see the opportunity that comes from conflict.
The church often mistakes uniformity for unity. In efforts to be “like-minded” we try to make everyone exactly the same. You select the type of Christian you want and then just copy and paste to fill the seats. This is in part why we have denominations for every variation of belief under the sun. Sometimes we forget that being “like-minded” does not require us to be “hive-minded.” Diversity does not equal disunity. In fact diversity may be exactly what the church needs. Not just diversity in background or wardrobe but diversity in Biblical beliefs. (I’m not suggesting that churches ignore the teachings of Scripture. We should recognize that in a lot of cases there is more than one Biblical interpretation. Would it be so wrong to have a church filled with people who saw God in different ways? What if the diversity that we so often fight over is the very thing that prevents us from growing?
Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” How? Do you find yourself learning and growing from someone who thinks like you, believes like you, and agrees with you? God is good. We can all accept that. So in saying it you haven’t learned anything. You haven’t been challenged to grow. You haven’t been convicted in any way. Cheerleaders are great but apart from elementary spelling they don’t teach us much. What often drives us to open our minds and dive deeper into God’s Word is conflict. When someone questions our position, challenges our beliefs and offers alternatives with Biblical support we face one of two options. We can avoid the discomfort that comes from their challenge or we can consider their position and investigate for ourselves.
I remember when the concept of Reformed theology was first presented to me. It shook the foundation of everything I understood about God. It made me uncomfortable. It kept me up at night. As a result I spent more time studying God’s Word and poring over it again and again with more fervor and tenacity than I had in years, maybe ever. The challenge, the conflict, the questions demanded answering and drove me to seek greater understanding. It started off searching for ways to prove the person wrong. It became a hunger inside that could only be sated by dwelling on God’s Word. If that’s not iron sharpening iron, I don’t know what is.
Like it or not, we all have times where we become comfortable, even complacent in our faith. Surrounding ourselves with choirs of people who think and believe like we do doesn’t tear us from our complacency, it drives us to it. What if the challenge and conflict that comes from diversity is the very thing that grows us in our relationship with God?
Look at the disciples who followed Jesus. They were diverse. He had a zealot and a tax collector in the same group. These two would have naturally hated each other. Somehow, the mission of Jesus challenged them enough to put aside their differences and work together. Their diversity is what made them great. Dissimilarities create obstacles that challenge us to see things from different perspectives; they force us to defend our positions, and create a tension that motivates us to grow. It’s easy to get lost in the choir. Without the challenge of facing objections we have little motivation to continue growing.
The disciples had problems. They were a messed up group of dudes. Somehow, despite all their differences they became a dynamic team who turned the world upside down. What if God used them to change the world not despite their differences but because of them? Comfort desires growing old together. Community desires growing up together.
Consider this: God is smart. If God wanted us all to be the same, to think the same, believe the same, or act the same, wouldn’t He have just made us all the same? If God wanted us all to see theology in the same way, wouldn’t it make sense to be so clear that there was room for multiple interpretations? Perhaps the reason different theological positions exist is to encourage us to grow together. God is bigger than our conceptions of Him and He is that way deliberately.
I’m not promoting we turn church into a theological cage match. What I’m saying is that conflict isn’t always a bad thing. It can be if we allow the issue to damage the relationship. Conflict in itself is like a knife. It can destroy, cause pain, or be an invaluable tool. It all depends on how you use it. Division is bad. Disagreement can be good. The difference is that division treats the issue as more important than the person with whom you have the issue. Disagreement loves the person more than the problem.
Here’s the up side. When you have conflict, if you care enough to work through it and resolve the issue, what you will often find is greater intimacy. As people we sometimes put up walls to protect our hearts and keep others out. When someone cares enough about us to work through conflict they are proving to be more than just an acquaintance or a fickle friend. They’re proving they genuinely care about the relationship. Conflict allows us to prove the depth and durability of our love to other people in way that few things can.
Disagreements are opportunities for us to learn to love people more. It’s easy to love people like us. Learning to love people who are different, who are challenging, who disagree with us can be difficult. Loving people in conflict, through conflict grows us. A love that isn’t based on comfort but on will is a love that makes us a little more like Jesus. That, after all, is what life is all about.