If you are going to make peace within your church, you must “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph 4:3). Church unity is not something you can take for granted, but it is something to be sought with vigorous effort. Where you see the beginning of division, snuff it out. If two church members are stuck in disagreement, help them to understand each other. If something about the church begins to get on your nerves – and, believe me, something will! – don’t complain behind the leaders’ backs or threaten to leave the church. Rather, talk directly and humbly with those who are responsible. Don’t ever brandish the “I might leave” threat unless you’re facing a major issue of intractable heresy or unrepentance. (I once heard a faithful church member threaten to leave if the high school minister didn’t start sending out flyers on time. No kidding!)
In his letter to the Colossians Paul mentions one other activity that is essential to peacemaking within the church:
You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace. (Col 3:13-15)
Peacemaking requires forgiveness. Over and over again, our Christian siblings will hurt us. That’s too bad, but that’s the way it is. If we hold onto the offense and the pain, if we formulate plans to get even, if we fail to forgive or pretend to forgive without actually doing so, then we will contribute to the demise of our Christian community just as much or more than the one who wronged us. When we do forgive, however, our relationships with be renewed and the body of Christ will strengthened.
I remember a time when an elder named Tim helped the leaders of Irvine Presbyterian Church resolve a contentious discussion about worship. While he served on our elder board, Tim was an exemplary leader. He also drove me crazy at times, and I generously returned the favor. Both Tim and I are fairly active thinkers and robust communicators. We tend to like our own opinions a lot and to defend them vigorously. (Tim, in fact, is an attorney who once argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.) When Tim and I disagreed about something, the conversation could get hot. Both of us would sometimes end up saying things to each other that were more than a little inappropriate. No cussing or fist fights, just barbs that poked too hard or insinuations that punched below the emotional belt. (Photo: In this picture, I’m on the left, Tim is on the right. Our mutual friend Hugh is in the middle. Tim and I had the opportunity to travel together. Here, we’re in Florence, Italy.)
But Tim and I never let those offenses lie. On any number of occasions we’d be on the phone the next day, asking for and granting forgiveness. As a result, the leadership of our church was stronger. Our relationship, far from being injured, grew into deeper fellowship. Today, Tim is one of my dearest friends, even though we live half a country apart. My experience with Tim illustrates that genuine forgiveness not only preserves peace, but also makes it better.
In my next post I want to discuss one of the most important contexts for peacemaking: the family.
This post is part of a series: Seeking the Peace of Christ: Peacemaking and Christianity. You can read or link to the series by clicking on the series title.