Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
August 23, 2020
Disputes can be settled without violence and hatred
The media remind us daily of the abhorrent political divisiveness that exists in America. The division is so ugly that one wonders if “a more perfect Union” can be achieved in our lifetime, though the hope for it does persist in the minds of many peace-loving citizens.
Political dissension, however, is not a new phenomenon in America. Historians remind us that our first president, George Washington, was so “bruised and disillusioned” by his critics that he said to a friend during his second term in office, “No man was ever more tired of public life, or more devoutly wished for retirement, than I do.” Washington spent an inordinate amount of time “refereeing” the fierce and continuing quarrels between two of his cabinet members, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Each man was the primary spokesperson for the two major political divisions of that era and constantly vilified each other.
The good news is that America slowly became a great nation despite the schism that threatened to throttle the birth of a new nation. Somehow, men and women of goodwill found a way to let unity prevail. Perhaps this can inspire hope that men and women of our day can resolve their differences and work together in the pursuit of “a more perfect Union.”
Students of the Bible understand that differences can be settled without resorting to violence and hatred. An inspiring story in the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles is a good example of how disputes may be settled amiably for the common good.
There arose in the church in Antioch a dispute about circumcision. As more and more Gentiles began embracing Christ as Lord, some of the Jewish converts insisted that Gentiles could not be saved unless they were circumcised. This resulted in a sharp dispute in the Antioch church so they sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to seek a solution from the apostles and elders.
In Jerusalem the matter was hotly debated. After much discussion, Peter got up and pled with the group to agree that circumcision was a “yoke” no longer necessary because God had purified the hearts of the Gentiles by faith. “We believe,” Peter insisted, “it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
At this point Barnabas and Paul shared with the group “the miraculous signs and wonders God has done among the Gentiles through them.” A great silence came over the group as Barnabas and Paul spoke. Then James stood and urged the group to “not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” by insisting that they be circumcised. So persuasive was James that his judgment inspired concurrence.
Embracing accord, the apostles and elders drafted a letter stating their opinion and sent two disciples to deliver the epistle in person to the Antioch congregation. The letter was received with great joy and the two disciples who read it “said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers.” Unity was preserved and the door to salvation was now more widely opened to Gentiles.
One may observe that in settling this serious dispute, neither side found it necessary to vilify the other. When goodwill is valued, people can share differences of opinion without denigrating those who disagree. In the centuries since Peter and Paul, the church has grown when Christians resolved their differences and worked together. On the other hand, disputing and despicable criticism of others have always stifled growth and unity.
Because we are all flawed, tranquility cannot be realized without the practice of forgiveness. In Romans Paul admonishes us, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” To live peaceably with others we must be willing to extend mercy to people with whom we disagree. Disputes are seldom settled until mercy is extended. This becomes all the more important when we recall that Jesus reminded us that we cannot receive God’s mercy unless we are willing to extend mercy to others.
There is a lesson here for us and our fellow American citizens. We can sow the seeds of dissension and remain divided, fomenting a culture of hatred and violence, or we can find ways to reconcile our differences and, with goodwill, mercy and kindness, work together to achieve “a more perfect Union.” The future of our nation depends upon the choice made by “we, the people.” + + +