The Power of Paradox

One question I have received on a number of occasions has been stated this way: “We are trying so hard to apply biblical peacemaking principles but nothing seems to work. Those people who were angry and unreasonable are still angry and unreasonable. Why doesn’t this work?”

That is a painful and difficult question because in the church biblical peacemaking principles should work. Recently my friend Pastor Jason Barrie (Certified Christian Conciliator) noted that, “imperatives minus indicatives equal impossibilities.” (Remember, an “imperative” is a command, entreaty, or exhortation; an “indicative” is a statement of objective fact). What Pastor Barrie reminds us of is that our mere human effort to satisfy an imperative (even if one from the Bible) will not result in the change of a person’s heart or attitude (a change of desires) unless it is first and foremost deeply grounded in the objective fact (indicative) that a Christian is a new creation in Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:17). As Pastor Barrie eloquently puts it, “In other words, calling people to live like Christ without reminding them that Christ lived, died and was raised for them is an exercise in futility.” Too many churches trying to dig their way out of conflict experience that futility because they have forgotten the foundational Christian indicative.

Since many of the core passages of biblical peacemaking are in the form of imperatives we should not be surprised by the question, “Why doesn’t this work?” Human effort alone to try to conform to such imperatives apart from firm belief in and actual new birth in Christ (see 1 Peter 1:3-5) will naturally fail.

Further, when we want something so much, like the restoration of peace in our church, that strong desire can even become a source of conflict. Disappointment, unmet expectations, observing professing Christians acting like faithless pagans… what is to be done?

Having pondered the questions “Why doesn’t this work?” and “What can be done?” for a number of years in the context of church conflict I have come to the conclusion that we can’t “manage” church conflict, and we can’t “reconcile” church conflict, and we can’t “resolve” church conflict if we define that as pleasing everyone involved. But we can “redeem” church conflict. That is why Tara and I have written our book, Redeeming Church Conflicts, in the way we did.  Our book changes the paradigm for the application of biblical peacemaking principles (imperatives) by recognizing the powerful biblical truth of paradox.  Jesus taught that he who desires to save his life but loses it for His sake will save it (Luke 9:24). We all know that if you live your life in the pursuit of happiness it will evade you. But if you live your life not for happiness but in service to others out of your motivation to reflect Christ in you by helping men and women cope with the tragedies of this life you will find peace, contentment, and happiness.

The power of paradox (the reconciliation of indicatives and imperatives) is also at work in church conflicts. That is why “redeeming” church conflicts works. Change the goal, growth in Christ through conflict, and you have the opportunity to change behavior, yours and that of your siblings in Christ.

Our theme verses for Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care are from 2 Corinthians 4:16 through 18. I will leave you this week to ponder why.

Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

-Dave Edling


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.
This entry was posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church, Causes of Church Conflict, Disappointment in the church, HOPE in the midst of conflict. Bookmark the permalink.

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