WHEN CHURCH LEADERS DISAGREE
Rommel J. Casis (5 July 2004)
How should we feel when our church leaders disagree?
What if we hear about church leaders who resign because
of disagreements with other church leaders? What if
we hear about a church leader preaching about a church
policy that other church leaders openly disagree with?
What if we see a furious exchange of e-mails and internet
postings where church leaders espouse opposing ideas?
How should we feel? Is it correct for us to say that
we can't be the true church if our church leaders
For many of us, this is a cause for concern as Jesus
himself said that a kingdom divided against itself
will be ruined (Mt. 11:25). Paul also admonished the
Corinthians "to agree with one another"
so that there may be "no divisions among them"
and that they may be "perfectly united in mind
and thought" (1 Co 1:10)
Clearly, church leaders must not disagree on the
doctrine on salvation and must not preach a different
gospel (Gal 1:8-9). To my knowledge, although some
churches have revised the First Principles series,
the essential gospel or the plan of salvation is still
consistent in all churches of the ICOC. But is the
existence of disagreement (other than on the plan
of salvation) among church leaders a sign that God
is no longer with us? Is the current state of affairs
so far removed from the experience of the first century
The Bible shows us that even in the first century
church, disagreements among the top leadership existed.
In Acts 15:36-40, we find Paul and Barnabas, erstwhile
partners in preaching the gospel, in "sharp disagreement".
The term in Greek implies incitement or irritation.
Could it be that Paul and Barnabas disagreed so fiercely
that they were irritated with each other such that
they had to part company? Thus, even Paul had disagreements
with other leaders that went beyond "intellectual
differences" but reached the point of "personal
irritation". But note that the disagreement had
nothing to do with issues of salvation. Barnabas wanted
to bring John Mark while Paul did not think it was
a good idea because John Mark proved to be unreliable
in the past. It could be said that both had valid
reasons. Perhaps Barnabas wanted to give John Mark
another chance. On the other hand perhaps Paul felt
that the mission was so important that he couldn't
risk entrusting it to a man who previously showed
himself unreliable. So it seems that they disagreed
on "ministry technique". They agreed that
they had to go on another missionary journey, but
they disagreed on how they were going to go about
it. They agreed on the goal but not on the method.
On anther occasion (Galatians 2:11-15) we find Paul,
the apostle to the Gentiles, rebuking Peter, the apostle
to the Jews. Paul writes,
11When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his
face, because he was clearly in the wrong (NIV).
Paul did not hesitate to confront Peter when he believed
the latter to be "clearly in the wrong"
and he did not mince words in doing so. We can speculate
as to what opposing Peter "to his face"
may mean. Other translations render the phrase "opposed
him to his face" as "opposed him in public".
But regardless of the exact meaning, we get the idea
that Paul directly and without hesitation pointed
out to Peter why he was wrong. In fact, he may done
so in full view of everyone. Thus, Paul was not averse
to letting his disagreement be known. After all, he
later told the entire Galatian church about it.
But lest we get the idea that Paul just loved picking
fights with other church leaders, we must note that
in his letter he also explained the reason for his
opposition of Peter. He was not simply trying to prove
that he was right or that Peter was wrong. Foremost
in his mind was the need to protect the faith of the
Gentile Christians as he noted that, "even Barnabas
was led astray."
Ironically, Peter's actions that caused him to be
in the receiving end of Paul's rebuke, may have been
caused by his fear of criticism by some members of
his own congregation in Jerusalem (the "circumcision
group"). Perhaps this is the group of Pharisees
mentioned in Acts 15:5 who proposed to the church
in Jerusalem that the Gentile converts "must
be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses."
This may also be the same believers who criticized
Peter in Acts 11:2-3 after he preached to and baptized
Cornelius and his close relatives and friends. Thus,
in the effort to not get into trouble with a particular
group in his church he found himself in trouble with
I am grateful that Paul included this story in his
letter to the Galatians, because it gives us a glimpse
of how the top leadership of God's churches in the
first century interacted with each other. Clearly,
top leaders like Peter were not immune from opposition
from other leaders or from criticism from members
of his own church. Perhaps the current state of affairs
is not so different from the situation then in that
respect. Perhaps when we were younger Christians we
believed that to remain as the kingdom of God, there
should be no conflict among the leaders. But now we
see that if men inspired By God to write the books
of the New Testament can disagree, what more our leaders