One of the most common issues that our sidewalk missionaries have raised lately is struggles with other groups on the sidewalk, and they are not always pointing at the opposition. Disunity among others who are with us in proclaiming life is very disruptive and disheartening. But how can we strive for unity in the face of significant disagreement when ministering in front of an abortion clinic?
Unfortunately, no one can force another group to accept “our way of doing things” on a public sidewalk. We also cannot make them go home. When other prolife groups are at odds with our methods or specific message, discord can arise. Discord among prolife people will almost certainly impact our effectiveness in reaching abortion-minded women.
We are not alone in disagreements arising in important missionary work. Look at this classic example of disagreement to the point where compromise was not possible:
Paul and Barnabas Part Paths
36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.
This passage will be discussed further at the end of this article, but for now, take heart that your struggle is certainly not a new one. Also notice that Paul and Barnabas who had a sharp parting of the ways BOTH became heroes of the faith and were used mightily by God.
First, it is important to identify the main factors that cause disunity among different prolife groups:
- Territorial tendencies
- Insistence that one approach is superior
- Differing goals – i.e. evangelism vs. prophetic
- Faulty or differing theology
- Differing motivations — fundraising, salvation, saved babies, seeking favor with God etc.
- Pride or lack of love for others as Christ loves us
- Is it truly disunity or is it diversity of spiritual calling/gifts?
Second, it is important to identify the effects of disunity in reaching the groups’ goals:
For now, let’s assume the issue is the result of true disunity and not just diversity of gifts. There can be many effects but some of them are as follows.
- Abortion-minded women will not listen or approach in the face of the chaos and mixed messages
- Abortion-minded women do not differentiate groups but identify all those supporting life as a monolithic group and will brand us all with the least flattering aspect or lowest common denominator.
- Fewer interactions
- Fewer babies saved
- Justification in pro-choice caricatures of prolife people.
- Misery and attrition of willing volunteers
- Decreased church support
- Decreased public support
Third, what does the Bible say about unity?
- I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (Ephesians 4:1-6)
- That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:2)
- I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (I Corinthians 1:10-12)
- And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
Fourth, how does the Bible guide us in addressing disunity?
1. Participate fully in same Spirit
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (Philippians 2:1-3)
2. Aim for restoration, peace, comfort, agreement
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you (2 Corinthians 13:11)
3. Goal is to glorify God
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5-6).
4. Don’t be haughty; aim for harmony
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight (Romans 12:16).
5. Don’t be arrogant
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned (Romans 12:3)
6. Love lavishly
And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:14).
7. Pursue peace and mutual upbuilding
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (Romans 14:19).
8. Differences may have God-ordained purpose
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (Romans 12:4-5).
9. Stir one another to good works, encourage
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10: 23-25).
10.Seek and speak truth
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another (Ephesians 4:25).
11. Be wary of those who spread false doctrine
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them (Romans 16:17).
12. Forgive graciously
Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Colossians 3:13).
13. Be grounded in truth
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8).
14. Seek wisdom/assistance of church when all else fails
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18: 15-20)
- Ask questions of group to help them clarify their goals
- Commend any positives in the group you are confronting
- Pray with and for each other
- Seek compromise – but never of Biblical truth
- Affirm purpose if not methods
- Rebuke privately not publicly
- Discern if this is disunity or diversity
- Always use scripture to support your views or actions
Disunity that damages our ministry or dampens God’s spirit is rarely an easy issue to confront; however, when possible, we should strive to do so in a God-ordained manner. We may be unsuccessful in mediating differences as in the story of Paul and Barnabas. Ultimately, the differences were so profound that they found the only solution was to go to different places to serve the Lord. One must be very careful to prayerfully consider how God would have us proceed and respond.
As one author explains the apparent disunity found in Acts, he noted that disunity can in fact be due to diversity. Diversity can serve an important purpose.
If there is a prominent theme in the Book of Acts which is emerging it is UNITY IN THE MIDST OF DIVERSITY. The gospel which our Lord made possible and which His apostles proclaimed was one. Jewish believers and Gentile Christians are recognized as different in Acts, but the gospel they believe and the faith they hold is a common one to both. Paul and Barnabas did have different gifts, different perspectives, and even different callings, but they remained, to the end, one in the faith and in the bonds of love. Their parting was a division, but not a divorce.
Notice that the result of this separation was two missionary ventures, not just one. Others were involved in ministry, including Silas, Timothy and Luke. The Book of Mark was, to some degree, the result of Barnabas’ actions and ministry, and the birth of many new churches was the result of Paul’s actions and ministry. Neither Paul nor Barnabas later needed to repent of any wrongdoing in the matter of Mark, and Paul could say of Mark that he was now of profit to his own ministry (2 Timothy 4:9).
In the division of Paul and Barnabas, the result was positive. Mark was restored to become a leader in the early church, and two successful ministry ventures were accomplished. Disunity divides, but diversity multiplies.
It is always valuable to consider prayerfully if what you are facing is true disunity or just diversity in gifts and purpose.
Ultimately, remember that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. It is even possible God has placed “thorns in our side” to sharpen and refine us. We should pursue peace but never above truth. Our actions must always be seasoned with prayer, love, forgiveness, and mercy. Trust that God is fully aware of the situation and ultimately, He must convict the hearts of those who perhaps are ignoring Him in how they approach what He has commanded.