In Church Conflict (as in War), The Malice of the Wicked is Reinforced by the Weakness of the Virtuous

Over the holidays, I began reading Winston Churchill’s Memoirs of the Second World War (the abridged version not knowing if I would live long enough to read his entire six volume set!).  In one of the opening paragraphs Churchill writes of his purpose in setting to paper his experiences:

It is my purpose, as one who lived and acted in these days, to show how easily the tragedy of the Second World War could have been prevented; how the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous; how the structure and habits of democratic states, unless they are welded together into larger organisms, lack those elements of persistence and conviction which can alone give security to humble masses; how, even in matters of self-preservation, no policy is pursued even for ten or fifteen years at a time. We shall see how the counsels of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of mortal danger; how the middle course adopted from desires for safety and a quiet life may be found to lead direct to the bull’s-eye of disaster. We shall see how absolute is the need of a broad path of international action pursued by many states in common across the years, irrespective of the ebb and flow of national politics.

As I read those words I was struck by the truth that with some minor tweaking they would apply with equal force to the state of today’s church as it seeks to remain relevant:

It is my purpose, as one who has been active in the church, to show how easily the tragedy of the irrelevance of the church on modern culture could have been prevented; how the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous; how the structure and habits of so-called tolerant churches, unless they are welded together in the uncompromising truth of the Bible’s Gospel of Jesus Christ, lack those elements of persistence and conviction which can alone give security to proud yet confused masses; how, even in matters of eternal self-preservation, no consistent theology is pursued for even a few years until replaced with the latest spiritual fad. We shall see how the counsels of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of eternal immortal danger; how the middle course adopted from desires for safety and the quiet life may be found to lead directly to the bull’s eye of disaster. We shall see how absolute is the need of following the narrow path of Christ pursued by many churches in common across the years, irrespective of the ebb and flow of the popular, majority culture.

Of course, that parallel is not perfect and my attempt to draw comparisons may not satisfy you, but one element is clear: unless those who know God’s Word are without waver as they intentionally determine to faithfully live and practice the Scriptures as the virtuous strong, the malice of the wicked will be reinforced! Dr. Timothy Witmer’s wonderful statement concerning church leadership is absolutely true:

Faithful shepherds protect their flocks not only from harmful outside influences but from the self-serving among the sheep. Many congregations have experienced the intimidation of bullies within their midst when leaders fail to take responsibility to shepherd the flock. It is often the strong-willed, outspoken, highly opinioned folk who fill the void. There will always be leaders—the issue is whether they are the leaders called and gifted by God to shepherd his flock or those who push themselves forward so that they can push others around. (Quoted in Redeeming Church Conflicts at page 117)

Destructive, unredeemed conflict in the church usually is a result of some who are willing to compromise God’s clear plan and path for his church in total submission to Christ. Without virtuous church leaders and members willing to confront the schemes of the wicked, the malice of the wicked will be reinforced. Whenever we value tolerance over truth, lose persistence and conviction in the one Gospel of Christ, or seek merely safety and the quiet disengaged life, we run the risk and danger of becoming irrelevant. That may sound harsh but look at the reality of our culture today. Where do you see culture being informed and conformed to the image of Christ and his kingdom by the relevance of the church?

Irish philosopher and politician Edmund Burke said nearly three hundred years ago, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” That is as true in the church as it is other venues (just as is Churchill’s statement above concerning the malice of the wicked being reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous is likewise true). My prayer is that we will encourage our leaders to be both virtuous and strong by being so ourselves as we follow the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords as his virtuous strong.

In the Lamb,
Dave Edling

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Posted in Abusive churches, Causes of Church Conflict, Conflicts involving church leaders, Confrontation, Excerpts from "Redeeming Church Conflicts", Postmodern Relativism and Church Conflict

FREE Checklist to Help You Select a Third-Party Church Conflict Consultant

Hope for Redeeming Church Conflicts

One of the most common questions we receive has to do with how to evaluate a third-party church conflict consultant. This is such an important topic, that we have an entire Appendix on it in our book. And today, we want to give it away for free to you:

Redeeming Church Conflict Conclusion and Appendices

We hope that it is an encouragement and help to you as you seek to redeem your church or other organizational conflicts.

God bless!
Dave & Tara

Posted in Excerpts from "Redeeming Church Conflicts", Hiring a consultant to help with your church conflict, Uncategorized

There is a kind of frozen helplessness in our church conflict …

(Dave is actually intervening in a conflicted church this week, so I thought I’d pitch-hit with some older posts from  my personal blog. Hope you enjoy! Blessings—tkb)

There is so much wisdom in this brief book: The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller. The example I was reviewing today was written to a man who was in conflict with his church leaders and then, after another pastor was brought into the conflict to try to help (“Rob”), the man became conflicted with the new (trying-to-help-with-the-conflict) pastor too.

Please note: this excerpt is after a long, kind, gentle affirmation and assurance of deep love for the recipient of the letter. If Pastor Jack Miller was anything in life, he was an encourager. But this excerpt is such an insightful confrontation that I really wanted to share it with you (the emphases in bold are mine):

“You were so concerned about yourself that you hardly seemed to see or think of them as people as well. That was pretty cold, was it not?

… Please be in heart what you really are: a son of God and a brother to Rob.

So love as a son, think as a son, see these painful events as an exposing of all of our sins together by the Spirit of sonship as part of revival in the church and its world mission of the mid-1980’s. See Rob in a new light. He is a brother authority introduced to you by Christ. Christ is at work in him and through him; the King is on the move! We easily forget the moving of the kingdom in situations of conflict and think secularly, carnally, and not spiritually about such matters. Christ is not abandoning us, but breaking us down together … You need to learn from Rob and to expect Rob to learn from you.

Perhaps I felt the absence of this kingdom point of view in both of you as we talked and often wondered if either of you saw how serious was this vacuum of faith. Forgive me if I am wrong here. But was there a kind of frozen hopelessness in both of you? Am I wrong? Were either of you seeing the other with confident faith in Christ and His power to change? Or were you together looking at problems as though God and Christ did not exist or at least had no saving power?

This fact really troubled me …

I actually feel so desperately weak in such conflicts that I urge people who support me in prayer to constantly pray this for me—that I might get the revival point of view. That means a confident trust that nothing happens that is independent of my God of grace, the movement of His all-conquering kingdom. I also want to seek only the welfare of the one who has wronged me. In that process let God be true, but every man a liar. Let no one worry about his own vindication but only about the honor of God!”

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church | Leave a comment

Q. OK. We’re “reconciled.” I guess. But how could we ever trust one another again?

broken heart

Q. OK. We’re “reconciled.” I guess. But how could we ever trust one another again?

A. Trust God. Love People.
So how do Christians rebuild trust with one another in the aftermath of church conflict, even if problems have been resolved and words of reconciliation spoken? The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector found at Luke 18:9-14 is instructive. While the parable addresses the problem of seeing self-righteousness as the path to right standing before God, it is equally a pattern for recovery from the effects of church conflict:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like all other men — robbers, evil doers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Humility is the healing balm for the continuing malady of the loss of trust. Genuine humility calls us to put our trust in God, not in our own hearts. Our knowledge and evaluation of our church’s situation is imperfect. It is folly to put all of our trust in ourselves:

He who trusts in himself is a fool … Proverbs 28:26

… lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

Humility seeks relationship with former combatants. Rather than putting our trust in people who agree with us and affirm only our perspectives and our convictions, humility calls us to seek counsel from people of varying perspectives, but ultimately never to put our trust in others either. Trusting inappropriately in people leads to disaster:

This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength…’ Jeremiah 17:5

 Fear of man will prove to be a snare… Proverbs 29:25

True humility trusts in God; its focus is on the Lord. In faith, we are called to give God our worries, fears, and doubts. We can trust that he is the Redeemer who will right every wrong in this life or in the life to come—for every wrong has either already been paid for at the cross, or will be paid for in hell. Therefore, we can turn away from any spiritual adultery related to vengeance and prize Jesus above even our own vindication! We can trust in that which is unseen more than in that which is seen (Hebrews 11:1). We can determine what would please and honor God and then do it. Trusting God is our only truly safe haven.

 But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. Jeremiah 17:7

 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8-9

To trust in God is to grow in spiritual maturity. When we trust God, we pray. When we trust God, we stop valuing the things that the world values (comfort, success, recognition, fame) and we begin to value the things that Jesus values (sacrifice, service, humility, love). We start to view ourselves as the “chief of all sinners” and we throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus and wash his feet with our tears. Our weeping comes, but we have the hope of joy in the morning. When we are living by humble trust in God, we overflow with love for our neighbor and our enemy. Then, when we see our fellow brothers and sisters also trusting God, we can begin to trust each other again as well. Trusting God, especially while we are in the midst of conflict, is indispensable to redeeming church conflict because it opens to us the reality of again being able to trust others.

(c) Tara Barthel & David Edling, “Redeeming Church Conflicts” (Baker Books, 2012)

Posted in Authentic Relationships in the Church, Biblical peacemaking in the church, Strengthening the Church, Uncategorized

What Rules Govern Your Interactions with Others (Especially in Your Church Conflict)?

In the October 16, 2012, Wall Street Journal there was an article titled Big Explosions, Small Reasons.  The article reports recent research on “Why Social Rule Breakers Spark Angry Outbursts.”  I have written previously on this site about how secular research in the behavioral sciences can contribute significantly to our understanding of one another if we remember that any findings must be set within a context that accounts for God. Our Creator made a universe filled with creatures of both complexity and order. Because of that amazing order secular researchers can make faithful observations; what they typically don’t do is set such observations in the larger perspective that recognizes God’s sovereignty and creative orderliness: the bigger picture.

After recounting several stories of sad but common interactions of conflict with strangers over relatively minor matters (the delivery of a wrong restaurant meal order, being cut-off in traffic, an annoying noise emanating from a fellow bus passenger’s I-phone, etc.),  the article asks,

“Why do adults throw tantrums over seemingly trivial provocations?”

The answer given:

“Their findings suggest we are reacting to a perceived violation of an unwritten yet fundamental rule. It’s the old, childhood wail: ‘It’s not fair!’”

Breaking “social exchange rules” (unwritten laws of behavior), one researcher explains, leads to major social consequences:

“We can’t have successful interactions in relationships, mutually beneficial to both people involved, if one person violates these rules. And we can’t have a beneficial society if we can’t trust each other not to lie, not to be unethical, not to watch out for our general well-being.”

“There must be something critically important about unwritten social rules if we feel so deeply violated that we need to let the world know when someone breaks one.”

Then comes the most insightful comment that summarizes why this occurs. It is not the specific, frequently trivial incident itself that leads to the angry outburst:

“It’s that you are doing something that makes me not trust you, that you may harm or disadvantage me because you are not playing by the rules.”

As a Christian, what are the rules that govern your interactions with others–especially your interactions in your church conflict? Merely the unwritten rules of general “fairness?” Or should there be something else in your life as a believer in Christ that mediates your behavior when you feel someone hasn’t “played by the rules?” I am sad to say that in most cases of church conflict that I have observed that what is at work is nothing different from what these secular researchers report. That means that people who have been called out of the world to be part of a holy kingdom have usually been unintentional about their behavior. They react no differently than other human creatures and that is not the plan God reveals:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” 1 Peter 2:9-12

This passage is our call to be intentionally different. How is your church doing to make sure that this message is part of the life you share together in the church? If we are not intentional about the commitments of our faith then what is the point? Even common wisdom from secular research reveals the obvious truth that we feel bad about ourselves when we lose our temper:

“The feelings that linger after an angry outburst usually make the person who exploded feel worse.”

If your goal is to simply not feel so bad about yourself following your behavior the researchers have some good coping tips for you:

  • Picture a scenario that is likely to trigger your anger, and imagine a calm response. Think about the consequences of your anger. Anger can make you feel bad.
  • Ask your spouse or significant other to help you calm down in the heat of the moment. Create a password—a hand on your arm, a funny look—that will diffuse your tension, not escalate it.
  • Empathize. Remember a time when you inconvenienced someone. What’s wrong with being nice?
  • Talk yourself down in the heat of the moment. Tell yourself a coping statement, like “It’s not the end of the world.” It’s important to decatastrophize the incident.
  • Don’t react to rude or inconsiderate behavior. If someone cuts in front of you at the grocery it’s not about you.

But, if your goal is to represent the King of Kings as his new creature, then you are called to go beyond those surface-level, behavioral changes and live in line with the new heart you have been given as a forgiven, adopted, child of God.  As you intentionally remember your Lord, your identity in Him, the brevity of this life, and your future home with your eternal family in Heaven to come, your interactions with others will change at a heart-level. You will glorify God through your unity:

“For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Romans 15:3-6

For the glory of God’s intentional church,
-Dave Edling

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church | 1 Comment

Two Elements of Redeeming Church Conflict: Intentionality and Contentment

Q. How can I maintain an “eternal perspective” given the harsh realities of this church conflict?

A. It is one thing to give mental assent to the concept of living from an “eternal perspective,” and quite another to actually fit life’s temporal events into that larger framework. But, as Christians, that is what we are called to do. One of my seminary professors, Dr. John Frame, famously wrote:

“Scripture makes it clear that those who are unable to apply God’s Word do not truly understand it.”

Our call and our challenge is to apply what we both know and believe to be true from God’s revealed Word (His will) to every aspect of our lives; every trial, every suffering, every disappointment, and every conflict.  Of course we still struggle to consistently practice what we believe in a manner that both mentally embraces and practically demonstrates a consistency of what I call “faith-belief-life.” If I truly believe that the greatest portion of my existence will be spent apart from my physical body and away from this temporal world, then shouldn’t that present belief also presently define how I deal with the harsh matters of this temporal life?

Having tried to live as consistently as possible with what I believe, I confess, it is not always easy. (What an understatement!) Actually, I have found that it is impossible! That impossibility is what makes the Gospel “good news.” God has graciously revealed that it is not by human effort that I can rightfully anticipate a glorious future spent in an eternal paradise with Him forever. That is what faith in Jesus Christ has accomplished, but even more, I can rightfully now anticipate that thorough God-enabled and God-directed effort I can live in this present world as His eternal child. I can do that because he is all about conforming me, and conforming you, to his noble and eternal purposes (see Romans 12:2 and 2 Timothy 2:21). That reality should make a rather significant difference in how we are able to live day-to-day while still clothed in this flesh.

Two practical elements of living from an eternal perspective are embodied in the biblical concepts of intentionality and contentment.  These are practical terms and concepts that, for me, put content to eternal perspective living.

Intentionality

The biblical basis for intentionality is Philippians 4:9, 1Timothy 4:15, and 2 Peter 1:10:

  • Whatever you have learned or received or heard from meput it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9
  • Put into practice: whatever is true; whatever is noble; whatever is right; whatever is pure; whatever is lovely; whatever is admirable; anything excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
  • Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 1Timothy 4:15
  • Be diligent: receiving everything God created as good; rejecting godless myths; holding promise for both the present life and the life to come; setting an example for believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity; devoting yourself to reading Scripture and to preaching and teaching; not to neglect your spiritual gift (1 Timothy 4).
  • Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall. 2 Peter 1:10
  • Do these things: make every effort to add to your faith goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love; avoid becoming ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of Jesus Christ; avoid becoming nearsighted and blind by forgetting that you have been cleansed from past sins (2 Peter 1).

Contentment

The biblical basis for contentment is Philippians 4:11, 1Timothy 6:6-7, and Hebrews 13:5:

  • I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. Philippians 4:11
  • Learn to be content: whatever the circumstances; in need or in plenty; well fed or hungry; living in plenty or in want; learning the secret of being content by doing everything through him who gives strength (Philippians 4:10-13).
  • But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1Timothy 6:6-7
  • Godliness with contentment: food and clothing are enough; rejecting love of money; pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness; fighting the good fight of the faith; taking hold of the eternal life to which you have been called (1 Timothy 6:8-12). 
  • Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ Hebrews 13:5
  • Be content: by loving each other as brothers; entertaining strangers; remembering those in prison and those who are mistreated; honoring marriage; living free from the love of money; being content with what you have; remembering your leaders in the faith (Hebrews 13:1-7).

When we know what practices we, as Christians, are to be intentional about, and those intentions are set within the context of contentment in our present day realities, we can have great hope and assurance that our efforts are God-enabled and God-dependent even as each day passes in this rapidly departing world. Intentionality and contentment reflect our faith in Christ, that He is subduing all things under His control. And even the tragic events we all experience take on meaning beyond their immediate consequences. Looking beyond the surface of our sorrows and conflicts, we are bolstered by the purposes that all life situations have. Purposes that are eternal purposes, rooted all the way back in the throne room and very character of God Himself. With our hearts fixed on eternity, we see beyond our daily conflicts (as difficult as they may be) and we fix our hopes on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our Faith. God Himself is using all of our life events to mold us into his eternal children so that we will be useful both now and forever.  Imagine! How our churches would blossom with gentleness, patience, joy, and peace if only more and more Christians began to consistently hold an eternal perspective of faith – belief – life.

Of course there are many other Scriptural principles that call us to maintain an eternal perspective. I have shared two of my favorites with you, but I would love to know yours—and especially how you live your life in accordance with the verses that prompt you to live with an eternal perspective.

I will sign off with a profound quote by the great theologian, Yogi Berra:

When you come to a fork in the road take it!

We will, Yogi Berra! We all come to many forks in our roads every day. Hour by hour, minute by minute, we can intentionally choose contentment as we apply all of our faith and belief to all of our life’s decisions. Or we can go the way of darkness and folly—never putting up the good fight of effort, of intentional trying. No. Instead, we choose to live miserable lives of rebellion against all we claim to believe, all we claim to have faith in. One path leads to life. The other, destruction. Choose (intentional, contentment-filled) life!

-Dave Edling

Posted in Authentic Relationships in the Church, Biblical peacemaking in the church, HOPE in the midst of conflict | Leave a comment

Twenty Years Without an Apology

pulpit

I heard from a friend this week (after she had made an apology to a pastor and asked his forgiveness) that the pastor was gracious, forgiving, and VERY surprised/grateful.

Why surprised? Why grateful? Because, you see, as he explained:

He had served in ministry for over twenty years and she was the FIRST PERSON to ever apologize to him.

I believe her–but it breaks my heart.

How can it be?
Surely this man had been sinned against at some point.
Hurt relationships; conflict; offenses …
Surely at some point, he was misunderstood, misjudged, treated uncharitably.

How could it be that NO Christian had ever apologized to him?

Oh, friends! It is SO sweet to experience the JOY of genuine, Christ-centered, Christ-exalting reconciliation.

My friend and her pastor experienced it this week.
I have experienced it time and time again when people have lavishly forgiven me.

How I pray that we would ALL begin to confess and forgive to one another—that the world might see that the Father sent the Son and the Father loves them (John 17:20-23!).

Posted in Authentic Relationships in the Church, Biblical peacemaking in the church, Conflicts involving church leaders, Conflicts with our youth pastor, Strengthening the Church

Child Abuse in the Church: Justice Can Be Grace

Since I linked over to it in today’s post on my personal blog, I thought I would share this post with you too:

Child Abuse in the Church: Justice Can Be Grace

Not only is this an extraordinarily important topic because of our duty to protect our children to the best of our abilities, it is also one of the “most prone to destroy/divide a church” topics.

Oh. And if you think that your church doesn’t have men and boys (and increasingly women) habitually viewing p*rn and reading er*tica? If you think “that will never happen in MY church!” If you don’t think that abusers intentionally prey on churches? Then truly: it is particularly important that you read this article.

For the glory of God and the service of His Bride—

Your sister in Christ,
Tara B.

Posted in Abusive churches, Causes of Church Conflict, Conflicts involving church leaders, Conflicts with our youth pastor, Lawsuits and Church Conflict

Are Your Church Relationships Otiose? (Vain. Ineffective. Of no use.)

Otiose

Q. How can church-going Christians truly build the “ties that bind” and cultivate “the unity of the Spirit through the bonds of peace?” through intimate, safe, authentic relationships that will persevere through conflict?

A. “Where a people prays, there is the church; and where the church is; there is never loneliness.” … “It’s much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying. Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity.”

These statements begin chapter 5 of the wonderful book I am presently reading: Eric Metaxas’ biography Bonhoeffer. They are taken from a journal entry that the 22 year-old German theologian, Bonhoeffer, wrote over eighty years ago. Yet, they provide a fit starting point for a reply to today’s question because they challenge us to think careful about two words: church and vanity.

Have you ever felt alone in the church because you know your relationships there are in vain?

Vanity denotes emptiness. Futility. Ineffectiveness. To be in vain is to be of no value. Trivial. Insignificant. Superfluous. One of the synonyms for vanity (“otiose”) actually suggests that when something is vain, it serves no purpose and is even an encumbrance.

How often are your relationships in the church empty, hollow, lacking in real substance or soundness? Do your church relationships ever feel like an (encumbering) burden?

Many Christians have told me that they had absolutely no hesitation leaving their churches when conflicts arose because they had no significant or meaningful ties to their churches. Prayer was superficial or absent. Most relationships were hassles rather than comforts. Worldly worth and achievement were valued more than bearing with fellow sinners who were broken in contrition. All of these descriptors are evidences of vanity in the church—and sadly, they all too often perfectly portray what we Christians mistakenly call fellowship.

So how do we overcome vanity in the church so that we can build and enjoy genuine relationships in Christ? How do we begin to pray as people full of righteousness and not self-righteousness? We turn again in faith and obedience to God’s Word:

Jesus said, “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13b).

Paul wrote quoting the Old Testament, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).

In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14), our Lord makes it very clear that the one who prays in humbleness will be justified before God.

Vanity will be overcome by humility and real relationships will be built in the church when God’s people abandon all self-righteousness and fully embrace our only true righteousness—the righteousness of Christ. Consider some practical ways that we can do this:

  • First, we truly believe God’s Word that everyone is a mess. I am not OK and neither are you. I must believe that I sin because by nature I am a sinner. You, too, must believe the same about yourself and about me and everyone else you know.
  • Second, we embrace the truth that all of our worldly accomplishments are worth nothing in God’s church. They are only vanity: empty, valueless, nugatory, otiose …
  • Third, together, we practice prayer that demonstrates humble dependence on God and not on our effort, wealth, or worldly standing. This is prayer that will be used by God to overcome our loneliness and knit us together in genuine love and friendship.
  • And fourth (and preachers please hear this clearly), we encourage (dare I say demand?), preaching that takes the Gospel to the specific challenges we messy people face every day.

To quote Paul Tripp and Tim Lane:

“People need to see that the gospel belongs in their workplace, their kitchen, their school, their bedroom, their backyard, and their van. They need to see the way the gospel makes a connection between what they are doing and what God is doing. They need to understand that their life stories are being lived out within God’s larger story so that they can learn to live each day with a gospel mentality.” How People Change

We build and cultivate real relationships in the body of Christ when we live every moment with a Gospel mentality that directs our prayers and our desires to value Christ (and what He values) above all else. Of course, this is also how the people in a conflicted church will redeem their conflicts for God’s glory by persevering against the temptation to merely flee. They will stay because they know that to do otherwise would be to abandon their beloved friends.

-Dave Edling and Tara Barthel

PS
Tara here … Just wanted to add a note that I’m the reason “otiose” is in the title. I love learning new words! And I thought some of our verbivore friends might enjoy it too.

Posted in Authentic Relationships in the Church, Biblical peacemaking in the church, Disappointment in the church, HOPE in the midst of conflict

There are people in the church who have been in the church so long they have forgotten they are hypocrites.

hypocrite

Tara often does Q&A’s at her events and one question she hears a lot is: How can I help a person see and confess their sin that has become a barrier to our relationship?

In a previous blog, I responded to one aspect of that question: the problem of spiritual blindness. But that is only part of the response that should be considered. Unrecognized sin that has become a barrier to a person’s relationships in the church is a major contributor to wider church conflicts. While spiritual blindness does trap a Christian into thinking they have no sin that needs to be faced, there are other factors that we should consider.

On Tara’s personal blog, she recently posted a link to a CCEF podcast entitled “How Can We Lovingly Help a Friend to Face His Sins?” The core of that excellent message focuses on the best methodological way to answer that recurring question. Dr. David Powlison (one of my all-time champions in the world of biblical counseling) says all the right things:

  • “Confront sin in the context of mercy.”
  • “If someone genuinely knows I care for them I can speak truth to them.”
  • [It is quite appropriate to say to a sin-captured friend … ] “In what you believe and how you are living you are destroying yourself.”

As always, Dr. Powlison’s counsel is based in Scripture. “Speak the truth in love” is the message of Ephesians 4:15, 4:25, and 4:29. And 2 Timothy 2:24-26 encourages us to love people by demonstrating mercy and care even as we confront them with the sin that has taken them captive. I find it reassuring to know from the counsel of one of the church’s most godly and respected biblical counselors that the loving thing to do is to bring to a sin-captured friend the truth of sin’s effect on their life and in relationships. The podcast interview concludes with the observation that even if the person continues on their path of destructive sin they will remember your mercy and care. Ultimately, God will use the way you spoke to your friend at some point to change that person.

I agree with everything said in this podcast interview. And I obviously believe that spiritual blindness is a major cause of Christians being unable to face their sin because they simply don’t presently perceive or believe their words or actions are sinful. But this brings me to another difficult observation:

What if my friend, a self-professing Christian, cannot discern spiritual blindness due to something else?  That is, what if they are (despite their Christian profession) actually unregenerate and unable to spiritually discern sin?

That is the issue of 1 Corinthians 2:14:

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (emphasis added).

Even in the context of mercy; even if my friend knows that I love, like, and care for them; even if they may agree their behaviors are self-destructive, the fact remains, according to Scripture, that my friend will not discern their behavior as sin because sin is something spiritually discerned.

This reminds me of what one of my seminary professors taught us:

“There are people in the church who have been in the church so long they have forgotten they are hypocrites.”

Sadly, unbelievers on the membership rolls of every church are the norm rather than the exception. The church is a mixture of true believers and those who may think they are believers but actually are hypocrites. (See the frightening words of this reality at Matthew 7:21-23.) These are the friends needing our greatest care, mercy, and love … they need the Gospel for the first time! Repeated denial of ones sins is clear evidence of unbelief going beyond spiritual blindness. We would expect a true believer to actually “see” their sins when mercifully confronted about them by a friend and to repent and do everything possible to change. That is clear evidence of belief and faith. Repentance and confession is the norm for a Christian. Everyday life in the kingdom is reflected by one simple character trait: humility.

I have been in too many churches where conflicts go on and on because there is no repentance, no confession, and no humility. I fear at the heart of those conflicts there are people who are unregenerate but who think they are Christians.

The Bible teaches us that sin is something that is spiritually discerned (see, for example, Romans 1:18-32), and that too often we expect people in the church to quickly change and turn from their sin when, in fact, they simply cannot because they have no ability for spiritual discernment. In many church conflicts what is most evident is a level of spiritlessness that defends sin rather than discerns it. Authors Tim Lane and Paul Tripp put this far more delicately and articulately when they say in their wonderful book How People Change:

The average Christian defines sin by talking about behavior. Beneath the battle for behavior is another, more fundamental battle — the battle for the thoughts and motives of the heart. Everything we do is shaped and controlled by what our hearts desire. As much as we are affected by our broken world and the sins of others against us, our greatest problem is the sin that resides in our hearts. That is why the message of the gospel is that God transforms our lives by transforming our hearts. Lasting change always comes through the heart. This is one of Scriptures most thoroughly developed themes, but many of us have missed its profound implications” (pages 14-15).

I strongly believe that one of those profound implications is the fact that the heart of an unbeliever is unable to spiritually discern sin. Thus, we have no right to expect change. What we ought to do instead is prayerfully and lovingly bring our friend to the Gospel in such a way that the truth of their behavior convicts them of their inability to spiritually discern. In effect, we are saying:

“Even though you have professed Christ as your Lord and Savior you seem to be demonstrating that your passion and desire for _______________ is more important and stronger than your love and passion for Jesus Christ.  Your behavior is one condemned by Christ as sin, yet you persist in it.  Will you please allow me, as your friend, to help you to see the Gospel and all of its implications so that you can have the sure foundation of a real relationship with God and a real relationship with your loved ones (including me)?”

Jesus Himself spoke directly to this issue in Luke 6:

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete” (Luke 6:46-49).

Church conflicts are like floods. Will your house, your church, stand or fall in the torrent? Does the foundation of true belief reside in every member’s heart? You will certainly know as soon as the flood of conflict hits.

-Dave Edling

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church, Confrontation, Spiritual Blindness, Uncategorized