Church conflict is a reality. No church is immune from it. The question, then, is not how to avoid it, but how to react to it. Philippians 4 offers a sort of mini conflict-resolution seminary in verses 4-9. Here are some general thoughts.
First, conflict can lead to opportunities to enhance unity in the Church. If a brother challenges someone’s lifestyle, and the recipient of the accusation says, “you have no right to challenge me in what I am doing…my life is my own.” The one who is sinning, whatever the sin may be, is providing a divisive view of the church to the world. It is proper that sin is confronted, particularly heavy sins—we will discuss sins of ignorance in coming weeks—so that the church might recover that image of unity before the watching world.
Secondly, and this plays to certain personalities in the Church—especially those who do not like any type of confrontation—when conflict arises some are tempted to wish it away, or to deny that there is any conflict. Two people are not talking to one another, the silent treatment has been activated, and we act as if the other person doesn’t exist. We pretend that the conflict doesn’t exist. Or we tend to think that time will make it go away. “These responses bring only temporary relief and make matters worse.” a This is the escape response to conflict.
Thirdly, Paul refers to the exercise of gentleness in conflict. Whether after a day of meditation, you come to the conclusion that you are right or wrong—every Christian has been given a conscience to ponder after some analysis if his actions were sinful or not—you have considered whether your words or actions were hurtful done or uttered in a moment of weakness, Paul would say that you ought not to wait for the other person to act, but you are to take the initiative. “Look, what I said to you was inappropriate; please forgive me for those words.”
This is nothing revolutionary, but a call to consider that gentleness is not only a fruit of the Spirit, it is a fruit of restoration and reconciliation in the Church. Gentleness in these church conflicts is a requirement, not only from the one intervening, but also from those who are at odds with one another.
For those of us who have little ones, our houses can seem like the headquarters of conflict. Sometimes you can hear conflict arising, and it is how we react to that that is the key. Perhaps a simple catechism would be: “Children, who is lord of this home.” Answer: Jesus. “What does Jesus expect from us?” Answer: A gentle spirit towards one another. If we are to be in the kingdom, then we must become like little children. The problem is not that conflicts exist—that’s a reality—the problem is that we don’t know how to act when it happens. The Church is not the English Parliament where members get to speak above each other and hurl insults as they please. The Church is the House of God where the celebration of Jesus’ kingship and the gentleness of the Church provide for the world a taste of what is to worship the King of peace, Jesus Christ.
- Ken Sande, Peace Maker, 23 (back)