One of the sad realities of church life is that disagreements and conflict seem to be present among Christians just as much as non-Christians. The unity and peace of the Church may be destroyed over the color of choir robes and other “indifferent” matters. Jesus prayed to the Father: 22 “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17) Churches today are still striving to obtain the unity of oneness that Jesus spoke of. We have this high calling to be a witness to the world in our relationships with other Christians. Why is this so difficult and what do we do about it?
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. . . . God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:14-26)
The body of Christ (the church) is made up of many members. The people found in your local church have different talents and gifts. They also have different personalities and backgrounds. They have similar and different problems that they face each day. Each has a personal point of view through which they evaluate what is taking place within the church; and because they are sinners, continuing in need of growth in grace, they each have their own personalized church agenda. Unfortunately, that agenda may not always be Biblical or pursued in a Scriptural manner.
Nevertheless, the church is blessed by the gifts and talents which God distributes throughout the congregation. This same diversity of gifts and people, however, can also be the source of disagreements about how worship and other areas of ministry should be conducted in the body of Christ. We may all be Christians, but we are still works in progress. The level of Christian maturity and holiness varies from one Christian to another. None of us are without sin. Nor do we make the best decisions consistently. Often, these disagreements destroy the unity and bond of peace within the church.
So, what do we do when we find ourselves or the members of our congregation in conflict?
23” So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:22-24)
All conflict within the church must be approached from the teachings of the Scriptures. This is important because our worship of God is spoiled by disunity and unforgiveness.
For instance, conflict is a source of anger which is the response of a person’s frustration with things not going the way he believes they should. His anger may be justified or not. How he handles his anger determines his level of maturity as a Christian.
26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4)
Imagine that we disagree with the way a certain ministry is being done or a decision that our church officers have made. What are we to do? Do we remember the commitments we made when we joined our church?
In our church denomination, new members covenant with God and His Church by affirming questions asked in front of the congregation. One of those questions asks: “Do you submit yourself in the spirit of love to the government and discipline of this church, and seek the peace, purity and prosperity of this congregation so long as you are a member of it?”
When we disagree over an issue in the church, we must not forget our vows.
We should also ask ourselves, “Is this disagreement over an ethical/moral issue? Does it concern the truth of the Scriptures?” If it is either, it certainly raises the level of seriousness with which the issue should be approached.
If, however, the issue centers on one way of doing something versus another way of doing it, I would recommend that we tread softly (This is my primary concern in this article. I believe that most disputes within the church are based on personal preferences.). This is when we should ask ourselves, “Why do we join a church?” A person should not become a member of a church for its great music program or because its youth ministry takes the kids on great field trips. We should choose to become a member of a church because of its faithfulness to the Word of God. Otherwise, we have made music or the youth ministry our god (idol).
16 Never be wise in your own sight. . . . 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12)
8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3)
5 Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5)
Have we considered that we might be wrong? Have we considered that we have made this issue more important in our lives and thinking than it is to God? Heaven forbid, but it is easy to make such a dispute more important than God and His Word.
Through the church, God builds a Christian community. God desires for us to continue in that community and avoid “church hopping.” A legitimate reason to leave a church (for example) is that the Word of God is not being taught or immorality is openly practiced and the leadership of the church fails to enforce church discipline. The process of settling differences of opinion may be difficult, but when it comes to “indifferent” preferences – we must allow the Holy Spirit to bring us to reconciliation; not winning an argument or getting our way. Through this community, God is using other Christians to shape us for His purposes. A brother in Christ may rub us the wrong way, but God has placed him in our church life for a purpose. We should pray to understand what God is teaching us through His providential care.
17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27)
How do we solve disputes with our fellow Christians? Jesus provides us with an appropriate response (even if sin is not involved):
15 “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. (Matthew 18)
What if our disagreement is with a ministry or administrative policy of the church? In this case we should go first to the person who is the immediate supervisor over the area about which we are concerned. This should be done with humility. If this does not resolve the issue, go to your pastor and ask for counsel as to whether you should ask to be on the agenda at the next church officers’ meeting. Ask yourself if you are willing to submit to your church officers’ decision no matter what the outcome. Follow the appropriate steps and remember not to gossip in the meantime.
5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (James 3)
9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3)
Gossip is one of Satan’s most effective tools – particularly when there is disagreement over an issue in the church. Why are Christians, of all people, so willing to believe the worst about a person or issue before they have all the facts? When another person disagrees with our personal agenda, do we automatically assume they have a character flaw and wrong motive? The fact is that we all, Christians and non-Christians, continue to have character flaws throughout our lives. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. Yet, we ignore our own character flaws because we are self-centered and we try to hide behind the flaws we so quickly point out in others in order to keep our own selfish motives from being revealed.
Without the facts, some people in the church will sadly spread and believe the most vicious rumors without checking directly the facts for themselves. Instead of going to the persons directly involved and getting the whole story, there is too much of a tendency to accept second hand information as the absolute truth and then go about sharing it as a “prayer request” with others. How many church officers have been confronted by a disgruntled member of the congregation accusing someone or some practice in a particular church ministry as being scandalous? Then, when the facts are checked, the complaint is found to be false because the accuser did not know all the circumstances and facts. The disgruntled member failed to go directly to the person responsible and check the facts.
What do we do when we find out that we have repeated false accusations or rumors to others? Do we go to each person we spoke to afterwards and ask them to forgive us for spreading lies? Do we go to the person who was the subject of our illegitimate rants? We should. We should fall down on our knees and ask God to forgive us for slandering our fellow Christians.
14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1)
Have we prayed for God to change the person or persons’ minds we are in disagreement with or to please change us? Are we allowing the circumstances to help us grow in our Christian maturity and faith? Have we prayed for reconciliation, unity, and peace in this matter? Have we prayed for God’s Will to be done? Are we willing to accept God’s Will?
9 “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6)
Do we personalize our disagreement into a dislike of the person or persons involved? Mature Christians separate their feelings towards the person from their feelings about a disagreement. We must be willing to believe that a person has honorable reasons for disagreeing with us.
5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. (1 John 5)
If we are experiencing conflict within our church, we must examine ourselves and our motives. We must humbly accept the possibility that we could be wrong or the issue is really an “indifferent” (unrelated to ethics, morals, or Scriptures) matter that may not be as important as we think it is. There may also be many other ways than our’s for dealing with the area of concern.
Problems in the church can be resolved when we allow ourselves to be guided by Scripture and the Holy Spirit. We may also begin to see that what we think of as a problem is not really a problem at all. If we are truly submitted to the authority of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we may see that the problem is really us. We have been declared justified by God and yet we all continue to sin. Let us not forget to remove the plank from our own eyes before we begin surgery on someone else with a sharp tongue.
.1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! (Psalm 133)
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 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. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17)
Just as Christ prayed, we should always pray for our church, its officers, and the congregation. We must pray for the peace, purity, unity and prosperity of our church consistently. We must remember to ask God to conform us to His purpose in order that we may be useful members of the body of Christ. God is faithful.
29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4)
If we follow the Biblical principles above, will we still experience conflicts and disagreement within our church? I am certain that we will. However, if these Scriptural teachings are taught and consistently applied in our churches we should experience these problems less. Christians are not a perfect people. On the other hand, should problems arise; mature Christians will quickly resolve them by applying these Biblical teachings.
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