Question: My church is in the middle of a very serious conflict. I have seen people say and do things I thought only unbelievers would say or do. What role does unbelief play in church conflict, if any? Thank you! [NAME REDACTED]
Answer: My friend Peter Jones, founder and president of truthXchange, recently reflected on what he termed the “deceptively simple” text of Romans 1:25. Dr. Jones writes, “Here Paul sums up in 25 Greek words the bedrock nature of spiritual conflict, be it in the Garden, in his own time, or, by implication, in ours. In this verse he lays out an irreducible age-old conflict between two opposing worldviews:
- The worship and service of creation.
- The worship and service of the Creator.
Dr. Jones is the evangelical world’s leading voice exposing the lies of “One-ism” (“worship of creation that grants to all created forms the same divine quality”), and (with Paul) the eternal truth of “Two-ism” (“worship of the Creator that implies reality is divided into two types of being — the transcendent, uncreated eternal Creator, and the finite creatures”). If you grasp the implications and consequences of this “deceptively simple” analysis you will quickly realize, as Dr. Jones concludes:
“There are only two pure, radically opposed, irreconcilable religious systems. You cannot practice both at the same time! The truth may be simple but people are complicated. They hover inconsistently between these two possible worldview trajectories. Satan is the most consistent One-ist. Jesus was the only true Two-ist” (Ibid).
Church conflict is also “deceptively simple” in most cases. Conflict in the church reduced to its bedrock form reflects spiritual conflict that closely parallels the “irreducible age-old conflict” described above. Let me explain that statement a bit based on my observations of two common ways Christians “inconsistently hover” when in conflict.
Two verses of Scripture exemplify how the dynamic of “One-ism” (pagan unbelief) and “Two-ism” (orthodox Christian belief) are at work in church conflicts: 2 Kings 17:33 and Philippians 2:21.
2 Kings 17:33: They worshipped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been taken.
This age-old dynamic of trying to serve both the Lord and the world’s gods (“One-ism”) surfaces in almost every church conflict. The pressing tyranny of the god called pragmatism, for example, is often granted the same status as a biblical principle. The result is that of apparently logical compromise becoming the way church members “hover inconsistently” between the only two possible “worldview trajectories.” Since our loud majority culture defines the context from and within which many Christians come to conflicts in the church, the values, strategies, and practices of the marketplace are employed in response to conflict. Evidence of unbelief (One-ism) is revealed as worship of creation is expressed through those worldly values, strategies, and practices. Unbelief is at work in the church.
Philippians 2:21: For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps even more revealing of the trajectory of unbelief in church conflicts is this: protection of self-interest. I have witnessed men and women, including pastors and elders, who functionally forsake their decades-long professions of Christ in order to “win” a conflict. While they usually seek to spiritualize their dominant desire (self-interest that may be a fear or some other service-demanding heart idol), the deception is not easily concealed nor consistently maintained. That is because living a lie as a professing Christian is a truth-defying high wire act destined to fail. So, I am not surprised, [Name], that what you have experienced in your church conflict is seen by you as evidence of unbelief. At the very least it is evidence of inconsistent hovering between two irreconcilable worldviews.
But, there is good news! While the unfolding of the rest of Romans chapter 1 could leave you discouraged, look on to chapter 2. After being cautioned against our tendency to hypocritically judge others (remember, only Jesus was the only true “Two-ist”), God’s Word promises:
“To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Romans 2:7).
Our seeking is, of course, found in the sinless life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection of Jesus, the one and only Lord and Savior. As the Holy One of God his righteousness becomes ours as we intentionally reject the temptation of divided loyalty and the deceptive appeal of self-interest. We do this as we live in God’s truth as expressed throughout the Scriptures that consistently urges us toward “Two-ism” and away from “One-ism” nicely summarized in one of the closing chapters of Romans:
Romans 15:1-6: We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 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 you 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 the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Please visit www.truthxchange.com to learn more about the challenges we face as Christians in these trying days for the church.