Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left…Acts 15
Disagreements are inevitable, even among spiritual giants like Paul and Barnabas! And sometimes it’s not a matter of right or wrong, but simply a difference of opinion. These Christian missionaries simply did not agree about the character of John Mark, and rather than demand that the other see his point as the more valid, they simply “parted ways”—that is, they literally took different paths. And it appears that they departed as friends.
Anyone that has really studied the Word of God would quickly come to the conclusion that there are valid points of disagreement in the Bible regarding points that are not essential for salvation but have nonetheless led to a lot of angry debates and name calling—even to torture and murder!
I was personally raised in a large, conservative, Protestant church. But at my university I was a youth pastor at a small church that was borderline “fundamental”. Yet in seminary the much larger church I served was far more liberal. In each church I found this to be true: The most tolerant, open-minded, even-handed, gracious and “ready to learn” were the mature Christians that were quite secure in what they believed, and therefore not easily angered by someone with whom they disagreed.
There is plenty of room at His table for various opinions about the Holy Eucharist (the “Lord’s supper”), the inerrancy of scripture, what we should eat, wear or drink, etc. But I don’t believe that our host (God Almighty) appreciates bickering and arguing at the table. I say this because I find it amazing that some very educated people seem far more dedicated to a denomination, or a creed, or a particular version of the Bible than for whom all this is about.
I have served in Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and non-denominational churches; my best friends are both Catholic and Protestant; the men that influenced me the most came from Assisi, Nashville, Glasgow, London and Berlin. The common thread with each of them was a modesty and humility that I found compelling and irresistible. If I am certain of whom I believe and know where I came from, I am able to listen and learn from the least and best.