One time I was riding a Greyhound bus and I started talking to the guy across the aisle from me. It turns out He was a Christian and was on his way back to his home in West Virginia. We talked for the rest of the time that he was on my bus and got pretty well acquainted. He told me about his family and what was going on in his life, including what had led him to be on this Greyhound bus. He was a truck driver and had been let go under what sounded like less-than-honest circumstances by the company he had worked for. I told him about myself and my experiences travelling the roads and felt like I had found a friend, someone who loved God and had similar values as myself. We traded phone numbers and kept in touch.
As the days went on we texted each other on a regular basis. The guy was having a hard time finding work in the area he lived in and was really struggling. I tried to encourage him as much as possible and I prayed for him every day. I cried out to God on his behalf and hoped that something would happen in his favor, that somehow he would be blessed. I was sending out text messages to some friends and family at that time, texts with a Scripture passage and a short devotional-type comment attached. These were going to him, also, and I hoped it would help strengthen him in his faith as he struggled through his situation. Boy, was I wrong.
One thing I have learned from both Scripture and experience is that God will allow hardship and suffering into our lives in order to test us and build us up in our faith. God never randomly puts us through suffering but, rather, everything we go through is specifically designed in His mercy to bring us to a better place in Him. This is revealed in Scripture through the life of Jesus and the lives of the apostles, as well as being born out by the experience of Christians since the first century. Walking with Christ can be extremely difficult but it is always worth it in the end, as God always gives more than He takes away. That is something I find encouraging, as I have dealt with my share of difficulties in life.
This guy, however, wanted nothing to do with this kind of teaching. He reacted by sending me some very strongly-worded text messages indicating that it wasn’t God at work in his life, but Satan, and that God doesn’t treat His children like that. I tried to offer Scripture to back up the things I was saying but he was closed off to the entire thing and his mind was made up on the matter. I had gone from a friend and brother in the faith to a heretic in the short space of a few text messages. It really shocked me and shook me to my core, as I had never experienced anything like this before. I had seen, in my years of ministry, people get offended and leave over various teachings and other reasons, mostly personal, but I had never specifically been the one to experience it. I didn’t really know what to do.
The guy told me not to send him anymore text messages like that. I tried to explain to him that I was trying to encourage him with what Scripture plainly taught but he didn’t want to hear it. We ended up cutting off all our communication and I haven’t texted him or heard from him in years. I can only hope and pray that he is doing alright wherever he ended up. I have had to seriously search myself and see if I did anything wrong or could have done anything differently to prevent this from happening. It is always a tragedy when believers become divided over matters like these and is something I would rather have avoided if I had been given the choice. My problem, though, is that the word of God says what it says. I cannot deny the truth of Scripture and leave things out just as I cannot add things to it. It is what it is.
I believe one of Satan’s biggest strategies against the church is the old “divide and conquer” thing. It seems that there are so many different denominations and theological perspectives out there now that he has been very successful in this. We are not a united church, as they were in the days of the apostles, but a broken and fragmented group of people with some overlapping beliefs here and there. I find this to be a great tragedy and one of the things I hate most about what Christianity has become. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 that we, as believers, are one body with one head, Jesus Christ. What have we become over the centuries that have passed since the New Testament was penned and the apostles passed on their teachings? The modern church looks nothing like what Paul described. Surely this isn’t what Jesus intended.
I believe there are certain matters that are crucial to the faith. Things like the virgin birth, the full humanity and deity of Christ, the resurrection and salvation by grace are things that are foundational to Biblical Christianity. These things must be maintained and defended in order that the message of the apostles continue to be passed on and future generations come to Christ. I do, however, think there are some issues where it would be better to agree to disagree. Paul writes in Romans chapter 14 that we should accept people who are not as strong in the faith as we are without quarreling over disputable matters. There are clearly going to be times when we aren’t going to see eye-to-eye on everything and it is then that we must strive to maintain the bond of love if at all possible. Certainly, some positions need to be defended but others may be better off being saved for another day.
In all this, one truth remains: I lost a friend over a disagreement. I have to wonder what I could have done differently and if I would handle it the same way were I to get to do it all over again. I felt like I was doing the right thing, as people usually do. I was simply going on what Scripture teaches and attempting to encourage someone who I felt believed like I did with that truth. Maybe I should have simply prayed for him and not sent him the text messages. Maybe then I would still be in his good graces. But if I did that, maybe he would have missed out on something God was trying to teach him. Ultimately, I guess I will never know until I get to Heaven and then I can ask Jesus face-to-face about it. I sure hope I like what He has to say.