[Note:  This two part article was originally written as a portion of a larger piece prepared in 2002 for a joint meeting of the seminary faculties and Council of Presidents. Yet it is still just as relevant today and is offered for prayerful consideration by all.]

How do we work with each other when we have differences we ought not ignore and divisions we must not allow to stand? The answer is at one and the same time simple, yet also impossible for us – apart from Christ and His Spirit.

The simple fact is, we are called to deal with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Pastors, you are brothers in Christ and brothers in office. Brothers who live by and live under the same Word of God. Brothers with one teacher, one master, one confession, one Lord.

And WHEN we must deal with diversity and differences among us, we must do so as brothers. This is not an option, not an opportunity. This is the only way – for Christ has made us – pastors and lay people – brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now let’s review some specifics of what this means:

  1. We must be careful how we speak of one another – because we are brothers in Christ. We must be careful what we call one another because each of us is someone for whom Christ died. We must not call each other names or demonize those who are opposed to us. Even as we discuss differences, we must be careful to protect the reputation of a brother, because that’s what he is – a brother.
  2. We are mutually accountable to one another and are called to live as brothers in a relationship of trust under the Word of God. When we hear something about a brother, we are called to “put the best construction on everything.” We are not to spread rumors but when we have a question about someone, we are to go to the brother and speak with him privately. This also means that when a brother approaches us with a concern about something we have done or said, we do not ignore or belittle him because “we know we are right.” Instead we go together to the Word of God to examine the issue and find our answer. We must all recognize that just because we have God in mind when we are taking a course of action does not mean that we are right. We realize instead that we need one another to help us remain faithful to the Word.
  3. When one of us develops an idea that may be different from what has been commonly accepted doctrine or practice, we do not simply go forward on our own, but we bring it to our brothers, remembering we are committed to the same confession and remembering how easy it is to develop blind spots. We are not alone. God has given us brothers. And here it is disingenuous to go only to brothers we are sure will immediately agree with us.
  4. We are to be very careful about taking stands of conscience.  George Wollenburg, in an unpublished essay prepared for the Council of Presidents in 1975, writes, “It is therefore a most serious matter to say, ‘My conscience impels me to do this.’ A person who says this lightly or without the most agonizing searching of his own heart and the will of God as it is expressed in Holy Scripture is guilty of blasphemy in the most serious meaning of that word. By such a statement he is also seeking to persuade others to agree with him for he seeks to instruct their consciences as well as his own. To appeal to conscience can only mean that it is out of the fear of God’s judgment and out of terror before God that one acts in order that there might not be uncertainty and doubt about salvation.” (George Wollenburg, 1975 unpublished essay, p. 4)
  5. When we do believe a brother has given offense, we are called to go to that brother with the purpose of working to win him back, to be reconciled to him. In just a little bit of light heartedness, I have called this the “You Go Principle.” Compare with me Matthew 18 and Matthew 5. In Matthew 18 we read, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). And the implication is, keep on going until you are reconciled or until it is abundantly clear that you cannot resolve it without help from others to discuss the issues in good faith. And if you recognize that you are the one who has given offense, Jesus in Matthew 5 instructs, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Why? Because you have a brother or sister with whom you need to be reconciled. There are a couple of things I want you to notice about these two Scriptures. What does the Lord tell you? How do you treat a brother with whom you have a difference or who has given offense? YOU GO! In Matthew 5 you are the offender – so you go to be reconciled to your brother. In Matthew 18, he has sinned against you. No matter. YOU GO! Why? He’s your brother and you need to be reconciled to him. You need to gain him back as a brother.

There is much more that can be said on this, more than we have time for here. However, the basic point is very simple. Whenever we deal with diversities and differences within our synodical fellowship – whatever the arena, whatever the relationship – we pastors are called to treat each other as brothers, men who have one Lord and master – Jesus.

Continued in Part Two