You wanted to do a good deed for a member of your church, so you rented him/her an apartment in your home. The tenant loses his/her job and refuses to pay rent and to vacate the apartment. What should you do?
Maybe you sold your used vehicle to a fellow believer. You believed the recipient would make all payments, and you released the car to him/her. You received two payments for the car, but the new owner says, the car needed repairs, so he refuses to pay. What now?
Newspapers and news channels have dulled our ears to the conflicts that abound in the world. On any given day, we are assaulted with news of a variety of conflicts: husband vs wife, parent vs child, supervisor vs employee, teacher vs student and student vs student. The list can go on. Usually, if the dispute made the headlines, the results were probably disastrous. But we have come to expect that. What shocks us however is when those disputes occur within our own churches or among the Christian faith community.
Whether it shocks or disheartens, Christians should regard a dispute in the church as an opportunity to convey a larger truth.
According to Andy Crouch, the executive editor of Christianity Today, all mankind are image bearers. In Genesis 1, we read that we were make in the image of God. As image bearers, we carry the potential to project a true image of God. Conflict provides an opportunity for us to make a choice. We can choose to reflect or to refract a true image of God. That is to say our actions can mirror some aspect of God himself or provide a warped view.
Being kind and nice to another person is easy. Jesus says, “And if you are good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. (Luke 6: 33 NIV). “But love your enemies.” (Verse 34)
Jesus makes it clear what our goal should be when we are in conflict. Whether in a dispute with a Christian or a non-Christian, our goal should always be to demonstrate love and reflect the true image of God.
“Seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Peter 3:11 NIV) Whenever in conflict, our first inclination should always be to resolve the matter amicably.
Matthew 18 goes even further in establishing a protocol for achieving reconciliation when Christians are in conflict.
- We should request a conference to “point out their fault just between the two of you.” (Matthew 18:15) Here we are directed to be proactive in solving the conflict by inviting the offender to sit down for a mediation session where we carefully explain what offends us with the goal of resolving the matter. If, as in the examples above, the renter pays rent or vacates the residence, the case is closed, and we have restored a relationship. However, we know in this fallen world, our best efforts do not always work out as planned. If the offender refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing, we are then directed to take the next step.
- “If they don’t listen, take one or two others along so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Vs 16) For this step, we are directed to call another mediation session but to take two or three other witnesses along with us.
First of all, they can insure that no one becomes a false witness to the other. Secondly, they bring more more objectivity to the dispute, hearing with less emotionalism. In this position, they perhaps clarify statements that may be misunderstood which can result in better communication making reconciliation more possible. They may even propose solutions that are amenable to both sides. In the event step two fails, there is yet another step to pursue.
3. “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church.” (Verse 17). If, after two attempts at reconciliation, the offender still refuses to correct the offensive behavior, then the matter must go to the authorities in the church. By this stage, the offender has already heard between four and five people confirm that an offense was committed. If the offender stubbornly refuses to listen to church authorities, then the offender should be treated “like a pagan or tax collector” which some interpret to mean that the church should excommunicate the offender. If one doesn’t submit to church leadership, then perhaps that person is not a Christian at all. The offender has, in a sense, merely revealed his/her true colors. If the matter is so offensive that it rises to levels of legality, then the offended is free to take the matter to secular authorities, the final step.
- “. . .if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as a pagan or a tax collector.” (Verse 17) The offended, in the examples indicated, is free to take the matter to court. They will definitely reach a resolution there.
Where people convene, conflict is a possibility. Christians have the power to resolve their own disputes and achieve reconciliation; however, when all attempts at reconciliation fail, then the offended is free to lovingly pursue justice.