By Rabih Hasbany
I do not know if I should call it Facebook or The Present-Day Colosseum. In the first century, the Colosseum of Rome hosted organized fights for the spectators gathered at the arena. Today, Facebook has become an open arena, but the fights are of another kind. We witness verbal arguments between people driven by a lack of respect for differences of opinion, reflecting intolerance for a political system or religious sect, or the devotion to some other form of extremism. The problem is not in the debate itself but with its flawed methods and destructive consequences. Healthy discussions with the right methods contribute to promoting openness, correcting attitudes, and neutralizing extremism. As for the discussions and debates that I am referring to in this blog, they can quickly lead to hatred, defamation, virtual character assassination, and, ultimately, the dissolution of the unity of the body of Christ.
I admit that I used to engage in such arguments before realizing I was arguing with the wrong motives. As children of the Kingdom, our goal is the advancement of the kingdom and its values as characterized by justice, goodness, and righteousness. Our mission is not to promote the rule of political leaders, including heads of countries, kings of courts, or other influential people and political regimes. Neither is our goal to promote denominations or doctrines, regardless of the truth they possess, but to spread the good news of Christ in a desperate world. I have not refrained from posting my opinions about public affairs and clarifying them to everyone who asks, explaining them to those who question their validity.
Destructive debates transcend geographical boundaries due to the spread of information over the internet. For example, during the American presidential elections, the whole world was following news and updates, whether they voted or not, and whether they were US citizens or not. Many around the world had an opinion concerning Trump and Biden. There was a lot of interaction between evangelical Christians, both in America and in the Middle East. I saw posts of prayer raised for the victory of each candidate over the other, and there were debates between the supporters of both parties. All of it was done under the pretext that the preferred candidate would advance Christianity and its teachings more than the other. Followers of Christ have perhaps forgotten that the kingdom of God is not headed by rulers and kings of this earth, and that God’s people are not limited to the boundaries of one particular nation. Christ came to the whole world (John 3:16). Wouldn’t it be better if our discussions were about the dissemination of the teachings of the Kingdom and how to apply them in our communities, regardless of political leaders? Shouldn’t we delve into the Scriptures seeking a position for the Church in matters of public life and citizenship? If we did, perhaps unity would take precedence over division on our discussion platforms.
As for Lebanon, the country of sectarianism, many engage in arguments about national figures representing the Evangelical community. Some praise them while others criticize them, both parties throwing random verses from the Bible at each other – many out of context – in order to support their argument. Using the Bible for wrong purposes is a widespread plague in the evangelical world. The major concern for each party is whether the evangelical community is well represented or not in the public and political arena. Lebanese followers of Christ often forget that God does not demand loyalty to a denomination, but rather faithfulness to God. Let’s look at the difference between the two.
Loyalty to a denomination requires adherence to the denomination without asking questions, assuming that the denomination is faithful to God. Faithfulness to God, on the other hand, requires asking questions when necessary and examining behaviors and attitudes in light of the word of God. Proper Christian loyalty does not put the denomination first, but rather God, his truth, and his love and the love for the neighbor. Instead of debating how evangelicals can best be represented in the political arena, we ought to better represent the kingdom and strive to spread its values and ethics in our communities in both real and virtual worlds. We can seek to find common ground with those with whom we disagree in opinion, working together to achieve the common good of our country. Differences can become opportunities to build bridges of communication, consolidate intimacy, and strive for a unity that produces good deeds for the advance of the gospel of hope.
The Apostle Paul provides the Corinthians with a clear diagnostic about the causes of division among the people of God in the church, calling them to greater unity. And the letter clarifies the role of church leaders in restoring this unity in the church. Paul addresses the way that they became divided into factions according to the teachers they followed. He urges them to be united in and around Christ.
What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul;” another, “I follow Apollos;” another, “I follow Cephas;” still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:12–13 NIV)
Paul reminds them that all the apostles are vessels to bear the gospel of Christ, which is the indivisible foundation. When we choose to follow Christ, we choose him to be the first and not others, and if he is the first in the lives of all his followers, then his followers can be united in him. According to the biblical text, unity faces many challenges and maintaining it requires great persistence. There will always be different opinions, but rather than giving them priority, we should look to Christ first. Thus, unity can be achieved despite the differences.
Paul himself, though he persistently called for unity, did not remain silent when he disagreed with Peter’s positions. We find him arguing with Peter, who forced Gentiles to Judaize while he himself ate with Gentiles (Galatians 2:11–19). For Paul, Christ is the basis of faith, not the Jewish law. He presented the truth without hesitation, realizing that truth could not be compromised, even if it meant disagreeing with Peter. You might think that, after such an uneasy confrontation, the two apostles would have parted ways. Indeed, hurt feelings have wrecked many a relationship. But Peter was able to see Christ in Paul, and the truth that he represented. So much so that, in one of his letters, he praised Paul’s writings, saying: “just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him” (2 Peter 3:15). This incident between the two apostles reflects a difference in opinion, but later unfolds into consensus on the truth and preserves unity in the body of Christ.
What we learn is that it is not sinful to have different viewpoints and to express them appropriately. We should not refrain from expressing our perspectives, so long as we can maintain unity. Though we may legitimately argue,
Disagreements can cause a lot of grief between people, but they can also lead to discoveries and new thinking patterns. So share your ideas openly while constantly listening to others, and always seek the best outcome from any exchange with others.
If Rabih were not a translator and the Distributed Learning Program Lead at ABTS he would be an architect designing buildings with style.