The nature of the Body of Christ is relationship, vertical and horizontal. It is vertical because each believer has an upward relationship with God. Each believer is relationally connected through the Holy Spirit to God above (cf. Rom 8:9). It is horizontal because the Holy Spirit has also relationally connected believers together (cf. 1Co 12:12-13).
Maintaining Harmony at Universal Level
At the horizontal level, it is the responsibility of all believers to work at maintaining harmony in the Body of Christ, at the universal and local level. At the universal level, the very least that every believer can do to maintain harmony is to stop criticizing other Christian groups that are different from their group. In Luke 9:49-50, John and other disciples saw someone else using the name of Jesus to cast out demons. They told this unknown man to stop using the name of Jesus because this man did not belong to their group. They reported their action to Jesus thinking that they had done the right thing.
Instead of appreciating what the disciples had done, Jesus corrected them. He says, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” (9:50). While the apostles directly received their power and authority from Jesus, this unknown man did not receive it from Jesus. Although Luke did not tell us how this man learned about the power of Jesus’ name, it is safe to assume that this unknown man believed in the power of Jesus’ name. When he used the name of Jesus to cast out demons, Jesus did not see a need to stop him.
Jesus reasoned that if anyone is not against the apostles, this person is for the apostles. While the apostles were the official group to propagate the teaching of Jesus, they do not have the exclusive right to the use of the power and authority of Jesus. Others who do not belong to the apostolic group can minister in the name of Jesus if they do not oppose the apostles. Simply put, the apostles do not have exclusive right in how ministry is conducted in the name of Jesus even though they are given the authoritative teaching of Jesus to propagate (cf. Matt 13:10-13).
This incident highlights the importance that we should not be quick to criticize other Christian groups that are not like us. If any Christian group believes in the same apostolic teaching, we should be generous with our comments about them. When we observe something about their ministry that is distasteful or different, we should be quick to hear their explanation, slow to criticize and slow to jump to angry conclusion (cf. Jam 1:19).
If we lack opportunity to clarify with the Christian group and have nothing good to say, we should avoid speculating that these groups have ungodly, selfish, boastful, evil, immoral or heretical motivation. Since we do not have complete information about their ministry, speculations of their motivations are careless words, which Jesus warned us that “on the day of judgment people will give account of every careless word they speak” (Matt 12:35). Thus, it is better to remain silent than to belittle another Christian group through speculation (cf. Pro 11:12).
Maintaining Harmony at Local Level
At the local level, it is even more important that we do not speculate about another believer’s motives based on our observation. If we observe an action, it is fair to state the action being done. If I see a believer coming late for worship on Sunday and I have seen the same person being late for the last four Sundays, I should accurately state my observation that this believer came late for worship on the last four Sundays and giving the date of each Sunday. By doing this, I have not speculated about that believer’s motives or reasons. I merely state an observation.
If I am concern about the lateness of this believer, I should not go around gossiping my observation to other believers, but I should find an opportunity to have a direct conversation with this believer about my observation. If, for some reasons, I should not go alone, I should call another believer to go with me to this believer. In the conversation, I should speak in such a way that my words are good for building up and giving grace to the believer who hears my words (cf. Eph 4:25, 29). If this is my desire, then I should be careful not to make speculative accusations or explanations against this believer.
If I merely state what I observe to this believer, I am not accusing him about his behavior. I could say, “I observe that the last four weeks you came in late for worship. Are there any problem?” In this way, I am merely stating the observable fact and enquiring about the welfare of the believer. Such an approach is a gentle tongue that is a tree of life (Pro 15:4a).
While we should adopt the above approach, we should also avoid making speculative accusations or explanations about people’s observable behavior. We should avoid making speculative accusations such as “you are always late,” or “you have no fear of God” or “you are uncommitted,” or “you deliberately make us wait for you,” or “you are selfish and arrogant,” or “you think that our time is not important.” When we make such speculative explanation, we normally do not verify whether our statements are accurate. We merely speculate based on our presumption or assumption.
Such speculative accusations or explanations will certainly stir up conflict. While we think that it is justifiable for us to make these accusations, the believer who came in late may think that we are unreasonable and be offended by our speculative explanation of their observable behavior. The believer may agree that he or she was late for the last four weeks but may not agree with the speculative accusations. These will lead to further argument and counter-arguments bringing hurts to all involved, but delight to Satan.
How do we avoid making speculative accusations?
How do we avoid making speculative accusation or explanation about a person’s observable behavior? The first step is to stop following the Korean or Taiwanese or Singaporean drama. There are a lot of speculative accusations weaved into these dramas. Everyone is second guessing each other’s motives or reasons. Everyone is responding not based on observable behaviors but based on one’s own assumptions about other’s motives and reasons for their behavior. The dramas show that this speculative game cause many unnecessary misunderstandings, tensions, hurts and broken relationships within the plots.
These dramas portray the usual interaction of people. It shows how people are hurt by others because of the speculative accusations or explanation. When we operate at a speculative level rather than accurately dealing with the facts, we open ourselves to manipulation by others’ speculations. Therefore, the first step is to understand how we are participating in speculative accusations or explanations and be determined to change our approach in interacting with others.
The second step is to separate the facts from speculations in our thinking. Facts means what happened or what had been said or what was the chronology of events. Facts are verifiable and can be checked. When I saw a believer came in late for Sunday worship, this observation could be verified. It could be checked. I could ask the person what time he came in for worship. I could ask other witnesses who saw the person. Thus, when we deal with the fact, we are not speculating but are verifying for accuracy.
In the possess of verifying, we should bite our tongue from giving speculative accusation or explanation. Speculation means it is not verified. The accuracy of the explanation is unknown. When I saw a believer came in late for worship and we have concern, it is natural to ask “why?” To know why, I should check with the believer rather than speculating about his reasons for coming in later. I could ask, “I saw you came in late just now for worship, is everything alright?” The answer could be “I was caught in a massive traffic jam caused by an accident” or “I sent my family member to hospital before coming here.” This explanation is not speculative because we received the explanation from the one who was late.
Certainly, we may raise the question, “Is he telling the truth?” This would start another cycle of sifting out the facts and speculations. We would have to verify the fact whether a massive jam took place or whether the person’s family member is hospitalized.
However, we cannot speculate that this person is telling lies or that he is hiding the true reason from us. If we do not have evidential facts to prove that this person is telling a lie, we should not speculate. Therefore, we need to separate the facts from speculation in our thinking.
The third step is to form a group of two to four friends whom you trust to help one another separate the facts from speculation in our thinking. The mixing of the facts and speculation is ingrained in our society. From young we learn to speculate based on what we see or hear or experience. We assume that our speculation is the fact to live or die for.
Since this way of mixing the facts and speculation is ingrained in us, we need each other to check our thinking. We should ask each other, “Are you stating the facts?” or “Are you speculating?” If I were to say, “This is person is always late”, my friends should challenge me with “Have you checked that this person is always later? Or are you making a speculative accusation?” In this way, we will learn to be circumspect in speculating about another person’s motives or reasons.
In any relationship, we should always give each other the “benefit” of doubt. This means we should focus on the facts of what happened, what had been said, and what was the chronology of events. When we do not know the reasons for the observable behaviors, we should be generous in our comments. We could say “There must be good reasons for this.” At the very least, we could say “We do not understand. We will find out directly from the persons involved.” By avoiding speculation, we are helping to build harmonious relationship among believers. This approach will make us different from the rest of society.