A classic strategy in times of warfare is to dehumanize the enemy. No sooner has a conflict broken out than the two sides begin to refer to one another as animals rather than men, as mere creatures rather than human beings. It is difficult to harm another person and abnormal to kill one. Our humanity naturally rebels against it. But the challenge becomes easier when the enemy soldier is an animal instead of a man. After all, it is human beings rather than animals who have particular rights and dignities.
Similarly, a classic strategy in times of church conflict or theological debate is to demean the person who believes what you do not. Even if you do not quite regard the other person as an animal, you can regard him as a heretic or an enemy of the faith, as something other than a Christian. If the strategy of military leaders is to make their soldiers regard the enemy as less than human, the strategy of many believers is to regard their theological enemies as less than Christian. After all, the Bible provides clear instructions about the love, respect, and honor we owe to our fellow Christians. We permit ourselves to circumvent such instructions when the other person is an apostate or unbeliever.
In times of conflict or debate among those who profess the Christian faith, it is crucial to relate to others rightly. It is crucial to bear in mind who this person is and how God calls us to relate to him.
We need to bear in mind that this person is a human being. He has been created by God in the image of God and deserves all the dignity that comes with this highest of honors. God made man a little lower than the angels but much higher than any other created being. Of man alone he said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” To man alone he gave the creation mandate and dominion over this earth. God regarded man as a special creature and one of special worth. Surely we ought to do the same.
And then we must also consider that this person is God’s child. Not only has he been created by God in the image of God, but he has been saved by Jesus Christ and is being re-created in his image. He was loved by God before the ages began, saved by God when Christ died for his sins, and indwelled by God when he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He has been adopted into God’s family and rightly considers God his Father. He is no longer under the dominion of Satan but is within the family of God—he is a precious child of our Heavenly Father.
That being the case, we need to also consider that this person is a brother. He is not a brother in a casual sense as if we are members of the same fan club or enthusiasts of the same hobby. He is a brother in a sense that is even more profound and longer-lasting than biology. We have the same Father and are therefore members of the same family—a family that has been called out of all humanity to be loved by God and to display the glory of God. The love, loyalty, and honor we owe to him is that of a brother to a brother.
And then we also need to consider that we will be in relationship with one another for all of eternity. The relationship we have now will continue past death and into endless life beyond. Of course it will be perfected and all will be reconciled and forgiven when we pass from earth to heaven. But there is a long and glorious future between us, a future in which we will live together forever, brothers who have been justified and glorified. God’s calling on all of us is to enact that relationship now, to begin to live on earth as if we were in heaven, to demonstrate heavenly virtues during our earthly lives.
And so in times of disagreement and times of debate, we must be careful to relate to one another in the ways God commands. We owe it to them and we owe it to Him to afford one another all the patience a human being deserves, all the dignity a child of God deserves, all the respect a brother deserves, and all the love deserved by a friend with whom we will spend all of eternity.