James Madison, the fourth president of the United States and often revered as the “Father of the Constitution”, in his “lutte” against the “violence of faction” wrote in the The Federalist Papers: “As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.”
The existence of different opinions is fundamental to any human social setup. Madison identified different opinions as often displaced and leading to the violence of faction. When a person’s self-interest and derogatory impulses override love, the violence of faction is bound to set the person in chains. Such a person refuses to tolerate the liberal views of others, which is fundamentally human and needs to be protected, and through a perfectionistic thinking seeks to control the mindset of others.
As Adventists, how do we cure the violence of faction (irrespective of how it may appear) between persons who differ in opinion with us? This short article seeks to avert the propensity of the “violence of faction” in the church, which normally arises as a result of different opinions.
Ellen White gives some counsels on how we should treat persons who differ in opinion with us:
“We must have greater wisdom than we have yet manifested in regard to the manner in which we treat those who in some points of faith honestly differ from us. It is unbecoming in anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ to be sharp and denunciatory, to stoop to ridicule the views of another. The spirit of criticism unfits men for receiving the light that God would send them, or for seeing what is evidence of the truth. Should the Lord reveal light after his own plan, many would not respect or comprehend it; they would ridicule the bearer of God’s message as one who set himself up above those who were better qualified to teach”1.
“In the advocacy of the truth the bitterest opponents should be treated with respect and deference. Some will not respond to our efforts, but will make light of the gospel invitation. Others—even those whom we suppose to have passed the boundary of God’s mercy—will be won to Christ. The very last work in the controversy may be the enlightenment of those who have not rejected light and evidence, but who have been in midnight darkness and have in ignorance worked against the truth. Therefore treat every man as honest. Speak no word, do no deed, that will confirm any in unbelief”2.
One of my elders in Ghana used to remind me, “Pastor, we may disagree but we’re not enemies”. In the church, different opinions do exist. There are sometimes misunderstanding during the Sabbath School or Bible studies; and on the theological frontline, diverse opinions do exist. As a result, we are often slain on the sharp edges of the faction, “liberals” and “conservatives”; which in my opinion is detrimental to comprehensive dialogue and unity among church members.
We need patience! We need Christ! It’s our response that matters here. Instead of attacking personalities with emotions, we should give, rather, a reasonable but Christ-filled responses to persons who think differently from us. It’s difficult to make too much sense when speaking with emotions. The Bible says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3: 15). Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 23). Respect gives us the opportunity to keep relationships, and when a person feels respected, he’s compelled to reciprocate.