One of the most important lessons one can learn in life is how to handle a person with an opposing view or belief. Church history is fraught with opposing belief systems and examples of how they were handled. Usually, they ended with one side castigating, shaming and shunning the opposition, or, the murder of the opponent. Sadly, not much has changed today. When it comes to opposition of beliefs, there seems to be no room for logic or reasoning. Religious dogmas and doctrines aren’t open for logical and rational discussion. Even outside religion, people will not give those they disagree with the “benefit of the doubt” and reason with them respectfully and with grace. They do not know how to “agree to disagree.” Instead, they attack in anger that eventually leads to name calling and vitriol, and, public slandering. Why is that? One would think that with all the advancements in technology, the advent of the internet and, access to information, that people today would be better educated and better able to reason with others. Sadly, this is not the case across all religious denominations. No matter the culture, religious beliefs trump sound reasoning and logic and lead to war. What we see today is not only religious wars, but, we also see individuals pitted against each other! They take to the internet and use their words to defame and discredit and shame those who disagree. They have left off sound reasoning coupled with respect and grace and love toward those who disagree with them. So, is there a way to handle an opposing belief without going to the place of anger and attack? Yes! Let’s look at an example from around 232 A.D. of how any and all opposition SHOULD be handled. I have, thus far, found no other example like this and was simply impressed by this man’s love and grace. When faced with the opportunity to attack this man, he extended nothing but good words about him. THAT is unheard of in today’s culture.
Dionysius was born about 200 A.D. He was one of two of the most brilliant pupils of Origen and became Bishop of Alexandria in due time. He lived during a time when Christians were being persecuted off and on. Not only this, but the bishops and presbyters were also fighting amongst themselves to gain pre-eminence and control within the Christian communities. Dionysius exemplifies true Christ-like conduct toward opposition. This is something that I have not witnessed with today’s Christianity yet. Nothing would thrill my soul more than to see this attitude extended to all. The root of this type of behavior is evidently LOVE toward his fellow man. Let’s look at this amazing example:
An Egyptian bishop, named Nepos, taught that a millennium of sensual indulgence on the earth was to be looked for. His error survived him, and Dionysius undertook to write a refutation of it. In his treatise, however, instead of denouncing its author, he speaks of him with reverence and affection. “Not only do I in many things agree with Nepos; I loved him, both for his faith and industry, his knowledge of the Scriptures, and his careful attention to psalmody by which many are still delighted. I reverence him also, because he is gone to his rest. But the truth is to be loved and honoured above all.”
Besides undertaking to answer in writing the erroneous opinions of Nepos, he held an oral disputation with Coracion, the chief leader in the heresy, and his adherents. In his conduct on this occasion he has left a remarkable example of the manner in which Christian disputants ought to behave towards one another. “When I was at Arsinoe,” he writes, “I called together the presbyters and teachers, with those of the brethren who desired to be present, and proposed we should examine the doctrine together. They entrenched themselves in Nepo’s book as in an impregnable fortress. I sat with them three whole days from morning till evening, endeavouring to refute his arguments. I was greatly pleased to observe the constancy, sincerity, teachableness and intelligence of the brethren, the moderation of the questions and doubts that were advanced, and the mutual concessions which were made. We studiously avoided insisting upon our own preconceived opinions, however correct they might appear to be. We did not attempt to evade objections, but endeavoured as far as possible to keep to the point. When reason required it, we were not ashamed to change our opinions, but received sincerely, and with a good conscience, opening our hearts towards God, whatever was established by the Holy Scriptures. In the end, Coracion, in the hearing of all the brethren, confessed himself convinced by the arguments advanced, and declared he would no longer promulgate the erroneous doctrine.”
What a testimony this is! No arguing and screaming. No imposition of dogmas and beliefs! Just respectful, logically sound reasoning ensued, allowing for Coracion to save face and retain his integrity! Dionysius made sure that his opponent’s character, honor and integrity remained intact. He did not defame and slander. He did not publicly humiliate and castigate. If only people would love others THIS MUCH to do the same in areas of dispute! We certainly can apply this example to not just religious disputes, but all disputes. What a marvelous example God has left us of one of his children. Thousands of years later, Dionysius’s example still shines through with the light of Christ. My hope is that through his testimony, others will endeavor to emulate his behavior in handling those that disagree with us. Don’t take to being offended by opposition. Use it to show love and respect toward your fellow man. How you act in times of opposition speaks loudly of your TRUE Christian character. Let’s not give place to division and learn to genuinely love others enough to respect them and love them, even when we disagree with them.