Every good, thriving Bible study group will discuss controversial topics at times. When these come up, there may be some disagreement on an issue—whether it has to do with alcohol, entertainment or a specific theological view. Sometimes the discussion can’t reach a positive conclusion because no one can agree…or agree to disagree!
When your Bible study group can’t agree, there are a few things you can do to preserve peace and friendship while still facilitating a fruitful discussion.
Ask If It’s a First-Order Doctrine
The first thing to do when your Bible study group can’t agree is to ask: “Is this a first-order doctrinal issue?” If that sounds confusing, read on!
Theologian Albert Mohler offers a process for navigating difficult issues in the church family. He calls this “theological triage.” When you run into an issue on which you disagree with fellow believers, you can determine which “hill to die on” by asking the above question. Mohler suggests there are first-, second- and third-order doctrines. First-order doctrines are absolutely essential to the gospel of Christ, such as the deity of Jesus, justification by faith and “sola Scriptura,” or the authority of God’s Word. If the people in your Bible study are suggesting these principles aren’t essential to be a Christian, they need help understanding the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
Second-order doctrines, Mohler says, can be disagreed upon between believers, but those believers will not be unified in how they walk out their faith. Mohler uses the example of baptism as a second-order doctrine—those who believe in infant baptism and those who follow believer’s baptism.
Third-order issues are those on which Christians can disagree and still remain in close fellowship. These may include gender roles in marriage and the church, or eschatology (end times theology).
By determining if the issue is essential to the gospel (a first-order doctrine), you can show grace or provide resources accordingly.
Listen to Opposing Viewpoints
Take time to listen to the opposing viewpoint. If only one viewpoint dominates the entire study, the study won’t grow in maturity. We have to face difficult viewpoints and worldviews as part of our growth in faith. Listening to opposing viewpoints helps us refine our own views and teaches us how to defend them from Scripture.
Don’t view conflict in your study as a bad thing. Conflict is not bad! It becomes bad when we fail to resolve it in a godly manner. The best way to resolve said conflict is to listen first and then take time to discuss both sides of the issue.
Discuss Both Sides
By letting representatives from each side share their views, you can open up the floor for further discussion. But be sure that both sides aren’t just expressing opinion; our authority comes from God’s Word! Encourage people to use Scripture to back up arguments and support conclusions. If you have commentaries and Bible resources on hand, be sure to use them. This will help your study attendees deepen their understanding of the issue, not just disagree.
Finally, seek to have peace with everyone in your study. In the study I attend, there are several different theological viewpoints represented. But we are all close friends! We’re able to work through our differences because of the word of God and our desire to have peace with one another. If you place priority on these two things, you’ll keep unity in your group even when you disagree.