Mark D. Roberts

Where should we start if we’re seeking God’s guidance for conflict among Christians? Here’s where my Protestant convictions come strongly into play. We should start with Scripture, with God’s inspired Word. Now this is always a good starting point, the best there is, in fact. But in times of conflict it’s even more essential that we begin with and cling to biblical teaching. There are several reasons why.

First, in times of conflict our natural human emotions often try to dictate our behavior. We feel anger and want to lash out. We feel fear and want to defend or attack. We feel wronged and want to get revenge. Yet if we allow our emotions to guide our behavior, inevitably we’ll simply make matters worse. Conversely, if we tenaciously hang onto biblical teaching, we’ll find the power to act rightly even when our feelings try to drag us in the wrong direction. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself wanting to get even with people who have wronged me. Yet by holding on for dear life to God’s Word I’ve managed to avoid behaviors that would have been both sinful and self-defeating, even if they seemed to be temporarily satisfying. (Photo: The copy of the Gutenberg Bible in the U.S. Library of Congress.)

gutenberg-bible-lib-cong-5.jpgSecond, in times of conflict we must stand solidly upon Scripture because God’s ways of dealing with conflict are generally very different from the world’s ways. When we’re in the midst of some church battle, we’re tempted to adopt the ways of the world. Chief among these ways is the desire to win. We can also be tempted to use human schemes to defeat our opponents. We spin like we’re in the middle of a dirty political campaign. We rally the troops. We get out the vote. We defend ourselves. We play the victim. We undermine our opponents. We conveniently ignore facts that don’t support our side. We hold grudges, and so forth and so on. It will feel natural to us to use the world’s ways to win church battles, and, as we do, the world around us will cheer. But rarely are these the ways of a God who says to us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). The world doesn’t have much room for one who tells us to turn the other cheek, who calls us to forgive seventy times seven, and who urges us to imitate his humble, self-sacrificial servanthood. So we need the Bible to show us different ways to operate in times of conflict: the ways of peace, the ways of the gospel, the ways of Jesus Christ.

Third, in times of conflict among Christians, we need the Bible as the source both of practical guidance (here’s how to act) and of theological insight (here’s how to think about God and the church). The biblical combination of ethics and theology helps to shape our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Though this particular blogging series will be fairly practical, it will also be replete with theology, because that’s the way of God’s biblical revelation.

Ironically, I hope this series isn’t directly relevant to your life, at least not right now. But even if your church is in a blessed season of harmony, you may be able to direct others to the biblical guidance I will convey. Moreover, if you take seriously what I will share with you, you may very well help your church stay out of serious conflict. And, if this doesn’t happen and conflict comes, you will be able to be a peacemaker in your own community.

In my next post I’ll examine one of the most important of all biblical passages for discerning God’s guidance in the midst of conflict.

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