It’s OK to Disagree with Others (but there is a right way to do it) – from Philip Spener c. 1675

I was asked by a friend recently, “How do we possibly argue for biblical truth with all of the contentious issues in our world today?”

The answer I gave to my friend has not changed: “However we do it, we must do it with humility.”

We live in a culture that thrives on inflated opinions, disagreements, and conflicts. No genre of discussion is immune — whether it be politics, current events, sports, historical interpretation, entertainment, and yes, of course, matters of faith. We like to think that most of our strongly held opinions are about really important issues. In reality, though, our opinions about issues are probably not about the issues at all. They are actually opinions about others. Issues don’t make us angry; the people involved in the issues are what really raise our blood pressure.  In many cases, we feel like it is nearly impossible to keep our opinions to ourselves. Without a doubt, there are times when we ought to speak up and speak out. There are also right and wrong ways to do it. This is especially true when it comes to disagreements about our faith — with those who claim to be believers and with those who do not.

"Augustine of Hippo Refuting Heretic,” 13th-century illuminated manuscript, Morgan Library, New York SOURCE: http://www.princeton.edu/~heresy/
“Augustine of Hippo Refuting Heretic,”
13th-century – SOURCE: http://www.princeton.edu/~heresy/

SPENER

Philip Jakob Spener is known as the “Father of German Pietism.” The Pietists of the seventeenth century sought to reform the Lutheran church amidst theological, moral, social, and political corruption. As a result, they found themselves on several occasions in the midst of religious controversy and disagreement, more often than not against those who also claimed Christianity as their system of faith. For Spener, what was of the utmost importance was that believers found ways to disagree with humility, grace, and mercy towards each other; and even towards those who had been labeled “heretics”. In the selection included below, you can clearly see Spener’s reliance on the concluding words of the Book of Jude, reminding his readers that showing mercy to each other is a clear command of the New Testament.

spener
Philip Jakob Spener (AD 1635-1705)

In his short, yet brilliant work Pia Desideria (c. 1675), Spener offers six ways believers ought to learn to disagree with others — whether with believers, non-believers, or “heretics”.

  1. Pray for those who are “in error”. Pray that God might bring them to a fuller knowledge of His truth so that they might be saved from error or, more importantly, saved from death “like a brand plucked from the fire” (Jude 22). Remember: Jesus Himself demonstrated this kind of prayer in the first three statements of the Lord’s Prayer: “that God may hallow His name in them, bring His kingdom to them, and accomplish His gracious will in and for them.”
  2. Be a good example for them. We should do our best to not offend them, but rather to leave conviction to the Holy Spirit. Remember: “If we offend them unnecessarily, we might give them a bad impression of our true teaching and hence would make their conversion more difficult.”
  3. Present your arguments firmly, but always with humility, modesty, and decency. Those with whom we disagree ought to always know that “we do so out of heartfelt love and concern for them and their paths. We must be careful to never argue out of carnal and unseemly feelings, and never indulge in excessive vehemence unless we are sure it comes out of a pure zeal for the glory of God.” Remember: “We should always avoid personal attacks or accusations, for they will only tear down all of the good we have in mind to build.”
  4. Offer clear expressions of “heartfelt love” in our speech and actions towards those to whom you are opposed. We should always “demonstrate that we consider such people to be our neighbors (just as the Samaritan was represented by Christ in Luke 10:29-37 as the neighbor of the injured man.” To use harsh words against a person’s religious beliefs comes from pride of the flesh and such actions are likely to hinder the conversion of others who are lost. Remember: “A proper hatred of false religion should neither suspend nor weaken the love that is due the other person.”
  5. Hold to a strong desire for unity among all confessing Christian brothers an sisters. Remember: “True unity that is blessed by God will not be achieved by intense arguments, but ‘by true repentance and holiness of life.'” (1)

Spener’s conclusion: “Not all disputation is useful and good . . . proper disputation is not the only means of maintaining the truth but requires other means alongside it.” In other words, if we want to earn the attention of those with whom we disagree, our opinions and arguments that we consider to be on the side of truth should be accompanied by clear evidences of respect for the other person.

In parting, consider the words of Jude which Spener so clearly assumes in the teaching above:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 1:20-23 ESV)

Notes:

(1) Here Spener is quoting  his predecessor Johann Ardnt, a German Lutheran who sowed the earliest seeds of Pietism.

5 thoughts on “It’s OK to Disagree with Others (but there is a right way to do it) – from Philip Spener c. 1675

  1. don says:

    Thanks, Eric. Your doxologies always inform and prove worth the reading time. So I know they’re worth your writing time. Am being informed as well by your “Harbor for the Poor.”

  2. Jerry Jacobs says:

    So did the Pietists die out?

    Jerry M. Jacobs Minister of Education/Discipleship First Baptist Church of Tulsa, OK

    ________________________________

    1. Eric Costanzo says:

      Yes, apparently they were too nice!

      The Pietists eventually gave way to the Moravians in much of Europe following von Zinzendorf, and the movement never really emerged in the Americas. After the Great Awakenings in both Europe and America, the Pietists were all but gone.

  3. Carolyn says:

    Thank you this is timely. I am struggling with what do you say or do when you see a believer headed down a dangerous path of false teaching? I have remained mostly silent but concerned. Love and prayer have been my primary response. I have pointed to scripture when it is fairly obvious the teaching is not true. The apostle Paul confronted false teaching. Jude talks about snatching people out of the fire. What should we do or say when we have family or friends that are buying a lie of a false teacher? My only inclination is the continue to point to scripture when I disagree. I don’t pretend to have the answers and certainly not a Bible scholar. I also don’t want to be like the religious leaders Jesus rebuked. Any suggestions?

    1. Eric Costanzo says:

      Carolyn,
      It sounds like you are taking the right approaches and doing very well. Keep praying, being a good listener, and pointing to the Scriptures. In the end, the Lord is the only one who can really affect the heart. You and I are responsible to live well – to display God’s goodness and truth in our lives through words, attitudes, and actions. Sometimes the referral of a good book or article can be helpful depending on the situation.

      I also like this little list…Don Everts, in his book “I Once Was Lost”, lists what he calls the Five Thresholds that a person must cross before becoming a follower of Christ. I like this list and how it relates to our role in walking beside a person who we hope is seeking God:

      The Five Thresholds:

      1. Trusting a Christian – finding a Christian the person can trust to move from distrust to trust

      2. Becoming Curious – moving from apathy to curiosity

      3. Opening Up to Change – moving from being closed to being open to the gospel

      4. Seeking after God – from meandering to seeking

      5. Entering the Kingdom – from lost to saved

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