Church Conflicts Often Overlook Some Basic Truths About Truth (Part 1)

In Chapter 7 of Redeeming Church Conflicts, Tara and I identify a number of ways that small groups of people in churches can become trapped in conflict associated with their “group agendas.” These situations can become even more fraught with anger and disunity when those agendas develop the feel of a “holy crusade”:

“Another group agenda has to do with competing groups seeking to define and align their desires with what they believe is “God’s agenda.”  Therefore a group will justify extreme measures to accomplish their goals and a sense of “holy crusade” can easily develop.”[1]

The issue here is how one group can easily adopt as an agenda an argument that their position (agenda) is God’s agenda. They will usually do this on the basis of their definition of “truth” in opposition to another group’s definition of “truth.” This then leads to a judgment that results in each group declaring that “God is on their side” in this conflict. At the heart of all of this maneuvering is the same question that Pilate asked Jesus (as recorded in the account at John 18:28 through John 19:16):

“What is truth?”

Over the next several weeks I will answer that question (“What is Truth?”) in a blog series entitled:

“Four Truths about Truth that are Necessary to Redeem Church Conflicts”

My hope is that this series will demonstrate how groups within a church conflict often adopt the church-conflict battle tactic of declaring “their truth” superior because they have overlooked some basic truths about truth.

This is also an important topic to consider because of what some have decried as the powerful, in fact, the overwhelming influence of our postmodern culture on the church: the adoption of relativistic thinking by Christians even as they seek to proclaim an absolute value, the Lordship of Christ. Our loud culture significantly contributes to church conflicts because it acts as the “teacher” that conditions those in the church as to how to fight. A number of years ago, Christian pollster and author George Barna stated:

“Substantial numbers of people who call themselves Christians believe activities such as abortion, gay sex, cohabitation, drunkenness, and pornography are morally acceptable. Without some firm and compelling basis for suggesting that such acts are inappropriate, people are left with philosophies like, ‘If it feels good, do it’, ‘Everyone else is doing it’, or ‘As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, it’s permissible.”[2]

Similarly, Theologian Gene Edward Veith in his book Postmodern Times wrote:

“It is hard to witness to people who believe truth is relative. It is hard to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to people who believe that, since morality is relative, they have no sins to forgive.”[3]

Veith recounts a story that demonstrates this postmodern mentality:

“Leith Anderson has observed that the new generation tends to think unsystematically. As a result, people often hold ideas that logically contradict each other. Anderson, a megachurch pastor, gives the example of a young man who says that he believes in Reformed theology, the inerrancy of Scripture, and reincarnation. He doesn’t grasp that Christianity is incompatible with reincarnation, which rests on a very different worldview. Even when this is pointed out to him, he shows no interest in revising his beliefs. Because he does not think in systematic terms, he does not see how different systems clash. He “likes” the Bible, and he also “likes” the thought of coming back in a different life.”

It is easy to see how confusion about how we form the way we think and what we believe to be true can “clash” and become the source of church conflicts—especially when we take on the defense of our “truth” as a “holy crusade.” In my practice as a church consultant I have repeatedly seen the expression of differing worldviews within a given church lead to horrendous conflicts that have resulted in churches splitting. I hope this series will address this important issue and gently guide church members and leaders away from the danger of “holy crusades” in their churches.

Here are the themes concerning the nature of truth we will be looking at in this series:

  • Part 2: Truth Confronts Presuppositions
  • Part 3: Truth Distinguishes Real Issues from False Ones
  • Part 4: Truth is Not Relative
  • Part 5: Truth Cannot Fail

For the glory of the Lamb,
– Dave Edling

P.S.
Some of the content for this series will be adapted from an article I coauthored with Molly Routson Friesen and published on the Peacemaker Ministries website years ago: The Challenge to Truth-Thinking. Many thanks to Mrs. Friesen and Peacemaker Ministries for the permission to draw from that work.


[1] Redeeming Church Conflicts, p. 99.

[2] The Church Around the World, vol. 30, no. 6.

[3] Postmodern Times, p. 16.

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About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
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