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Conflict Management — Part Two

Resolving Conflict In The Church

By Bryan H. Sanders

The church increasingly relies on the court system for conflict resolution in an ever-increasing litigious society. This tragic usage is a drain on the church’s resources and, more importantly, a stumbling block for those who seek to know Christ as their life-changing force. Does the God of our salvation not have power to help believers resolve conflict? Why do we trust Him to save our eternal souls and yet believe that He is disinterested or incapable of providing an answer for the resolution of conflict?

Consider this simple answer: We do not want Him to help us resolve our conflict. In other words, we want Him as Lord of some things but not our conflict. Could it be that we, as a church, have abandoned the principles God provided for us in the everyday area that we call conflict? Here are some basic scriptural principles to help us victoriously manage conflict as we live out His lordship.

Conflict Is Neither Good Nor Evil, Yet Our Response May Be

As mentioned in last month’s article, how we view and confront disputes is critical to our successful start of conflict resolution. Often we quickly demonize conflict and worry about our rights; thus we fail to see the eternal value created by the conflict. Since conflict is a natural part of the world system (Luke 17:1), why not practice viewing conflict as an opportunity to grow or to bless someone else in the process?

A Lawsuit Is Not Always God’s Best Answer

Paul admonished believers (1 Corinthians 6) to avoid filing lawsuits against fellow Christians. The beginning verses of this chapter spell out the conflict resolution options available to the Christian. Instead of taking a person to court, why not accept the wrong? Paul asked (verse 7). This suggests that accepting a committed wrong may be preferable to going to court. Verse 8 implies that those who wrong us defraud us. Could it also be that we, though wronged, may end up defrauding our brother by going to court?

The Church Needs And Has A Wise Man For The Resolution Of Conflict

Verse 5 asks a poignant question: Is there not a wise man in the church who can settle a dispute between fellow Christians’? In early America the church was a place to resolve conflict. Today have you heard a believer who is in the middle of a conflict shout, “I’ll see you in church?” For that matter, when has the church offered itself to the community as a forum for dispute resolution? It is a sad commentary on the church that we provide a place to heal individuals of physical illnesses yet turn our backs on them when they ache for a conflict healing. What is the eternal value being created when we do this?

Jesus Provides A Process For Reconciliation And Dispute Resolution

Feeling he has been wronged, the believer usually ignores the first step: going privately to the individual with whom he has a conflict to discuss the matter, allowing the offending party to explain the rest of the story (Matthew 18:15–20). It is not necessary to share one’s position and emotions with others before attempting reconciliation. Only when this process, fails are we to take one or two other believers with us as witnesses to the dispute. Why? To help both parties hear each other, find the truth, arrive at a just resolution of the dispute, and ultimately reconcile the relationship. If that attempt fails, the church should be ready to hear the conflict and to take appropriate action — frequently discipling in nature — to help the parties reconcile and resolve the conflict in a way that will not only help them grow spiritually but also help restore church purity. It is encouraging to know that Jesus promised to be in the midst of this whole process.

We Cannot Ignore A Dispute That Someone Has With Us

Matthew 5:23,24 focuses attention on what to do when we know that someone has a conflict with us. In this instance, we are obligated to initiate the process to reconcile the relationship and address the conflict issues. We cannot ignore the conflict simply because we feel we have done nothing wrong. Scripture indicates that Jesus does not want us to even worship Him until we earnestly attempt reconciliation. This is not a novel idea. For example, even many African believers will not take communion if they know someone has a conflict with them.

We Are To Bear One Another’s Burdens

Galatians 6 gives a principle that many would like to bypass when encountering a conflict: Conflict could be an opportunity for us to bear a fellow Christian’s burden. How quick we are, however, to advise someone to file a lawsuit to protect one’s rights. Examine what Christ would do. Would He sue, or would He seek to bear the burden of the offending believer? What eternal value is being created? The answer, of course, varies with each situation. Additional principles that address conflict situations can be gleaned from Scripture. Should we not purpose to do that? After all, God has equipped us, through the Holy Spirit, to search these timeless principles and to use them to reconcile relationships and resolve conflicts in a manner pleasing to Him. That is an eternal value well worth creating.

—Bryan H. Sanders, j.d., is associate professor of government and legal studies at Evangel University, Springfield, Missouri.

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