In a recently published article David Atkinson considers the broken relationship between Euodia and Syntyche as a starting point for a more general consideration of why Christians disagree. He proposes five common factors that lead to Christians disagreeing and these are very enlightening. However, the truth is we just do not know what has caused the conflict between these two significant women that is causing so much pain in the church.
"We do not know why Euodia and Syntyche were in disagreement. Did they look to different sources of authority? Did they think differently about God? Were they influenced in their choices differently by genetic make up or environmental factors? Did they have a different vision leading to different values? Did they express their faith in different ways? We, of course, do not know."
What we do know is how Paul proposed to transform the conflict so they would stand firm together once again.
We do not know why they were in disagreement because the text does not tell us. This is what it says:
"I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life." (Phil 4.2-3)
Commentaries devote pages of text to the futile attempt to identify the ‘loyal companion’ but rarely more than a line to the work she or he may be called to do. The work is to help the women repair their relationship.
Paul is calling for a facilitated conversation and for the loyal companion to be the facilitator. He is not calling for someone to sit in judgement and decide who is right and who is wrong, he is begging them to remember their relationship with one another and with Christ.
He reminds them that both of their names are written in the book of life. They are not to describe the other as a heretic: they are not to ‘de-church’ the other or to dehumanise them.
This is where Atkinson’s article is of help. He reminds us that Christians disagree and that if we are to live together we need to remember that ‘not all difference is destructive’ and that ‘the unity for which St Paul prays is not a uniformity of view, or an identity of ministry, but a personal unity, by baptism into the one Lord.’
We also need to remember that when disunity appears facilitated conversations are the Biblical way forwards.