What fuels church conflicts?

The news is filled these days with accounts of those protesting against greed. We in the church should be saying “Yes, greed is bad!” Whatever your political views or current perspectives on economic issues we know that God’s Word condemns greed as a great evil (Romans 1:29; Ephesians 5:3) and a form of idolatry (Colossians 3:5).  Greed is evidence of a heart gone astray. Greed is a symptom of self-interest on steroids.

Being driven by the quest for money is not the only form of greed that we all should be protesting, however. In Luke 12:15, our Lord says “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed…”. Greed for money and possessions may be the most visible form of this idol, but as Jesus implies, there are many other ways self-interest manifests itself in damaging ways. In the Scriptures this deviant heart disease is also called “self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25 and James 5:5), “self-seeking” (Romans 2:8 and 1 Corinthians 13:5), and “selfish” (selfishness) (Galatians 5:20, Philippians 2:3, and James 3:14 and 16). The idol of “self” is the driving force behind greed and all forms of the self-interest idol. And passionate self-interest is frequently at the core of church conflict.

We all know what God believes about the cause of conflict:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:1-3).

Protecting self-interest is all about having wrong motives. Greed and desire are all about self-interest, and protecting self-interest is often at the center of church conflicts, both in starting conflict and especially in sustaining it.

The most frequent evidence of wrong motives fueling self-interest sustaining church conflicts that I have observed is the desire to be “proven right.” Even in the face of overwhelming evidence and Scriptural proof that one’s position is wrong well-meaning Christians cling to this greedy idol. Just as it will be incredibly unlikely we will ever hear any Wall Street tycoon confessing “I was wrong!” so too will be the lack of confessions by those who prize their greed for self-rightness over peace in the church.

Fundamental to the Christian faith is repentance and confession. We don’t expect it from those relishing the prizes of this world but we should from ourselves and all those who claim Christ as Lord and Savior. If we had more models of those declaring “I should not look out only for my own interests, but also for the interests of others” (see Philippians 2:4), we would likely be more ready for such personal behavior in the church to bring an end to conflict. And just think of what that may even mean as a testimony to the world.

Father, forgive us for our greed in all of its forms and let us be those cherishing what you cherish. Motivate our hearts away from what this world values in such a way that mere self-interest dies on the altar of your eternal truth. Let that change begin with me. Amen.

-Dave Edling

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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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