Church Conflict Need Not be a Confusing Mystery

I had recent occasion to spend a long day alone driving across a couple of western states where the bugs hitting the windshield outnumbered the vehicles I saw by at least 10 to 1.  Fortunately, I was in range of radio broadcasts for most of the day. And also fortunately, the stations I received were Christian channels and I was able to listen to sermon after sermon for nearly eight hours (preacher’s words were making a serious run at the number of bugs on the windscreen!).

One comment among all I heard remains in my mind even today. (I was kind of amazed at the vast array of theological traditions represented on the same Christian channel … did the producers know this preacher was hermeneutically the opposite of the one who had just spoken?… splat goes another bug.)

The comment was in the context of a story. The preacher related that how, during the course of his pastoral duties, he would frequently visit the local senior retirement home and walk down those long corridors past open doors that revealed a single elderly person in each room stooped forward attentively watching TV.  These were mid-day visits and the TVs were tuned to soap operas or talk shows.  But (and here is the comment), never once in years of such visits had he seen a person reading their Bible …

Didn’t they know what they had?”

Here were men and women within months or even weeks of stepping off into eternity and they were filling their time and minds with the drivel of so-called “entertainment” when the words of their Creator were left collecting dust in closed Bibles on the side table.  Didn’t they know what they had within an arm’s reach?

My observations about church conflicts have often led me to wonder if Christians caught up in conflict shouldn’t be confronted with the same question:

“Don’t you know what you have?” 

Sadly, one of the last resources turned to when conflict has been assigned to a church is the Bible, God’s manual on the church and how to live together within its walls. The wonder of secular “conflict management” resources, or worldly psychological profile tests to get to the bottom of why Elder Joe can’t get along with Pastor Rick become the most relevant and wise way to get to the issues and deal with them. One thing Tara and I say in Redeeming Church Conflicts is that one of the biggest mistakes churches make when in conflict is failure to trust Scripture. That always amazes me as much as the fact that many old people on the verge of an endless eternity turn first to filling their hours with the inane talk of the gurus of this evil age rather than searching God’s Word to prepare for the inevitable. We have been warned:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Ephesians 5:15-17

We have God’s very words available to us to guide, provide hope, and encourage as we undergo the trials of conflict. Even more so, we have “The Word” himself (John 1:14) indwelling the living church, God’s people, and we ignore Him and the revelation of the written word at our peril. Do we know what we have? Do you know what you have in the Holy Scriptures? Church conflict need not be a confusing mystery if we turn first to the source from which we even know what a church is.

Likewise, end of life need not be a confusing mystery either made more so by the endless drivel with which so many saturate their minds. Our theme verse for Redeeming Church Conflicts is 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, a passage equally applicable to the elderly straining to hear the words on their TVs as it is to the church straining to understand the confusion of their church’s conflicts:

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.

To be able to “see” what is unseen, of course, we have been called to train our minds away from this world and toward the renewed pattern of eternity:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

Living in God’s will takes training, practice, patience, and hope.  We can be certain the effort will be worth it, however, and will result in new life, both physically for those passing away from this life and our churches on the verge of passing away at the hand of unresolved conflicts. We have His word on it:

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 hope. Romans 15:4

But first, we have to read what was written!

-Dave Edling

Tara is the same age as my wife’s  and my son. In many ways she is like a daughter to me (a “daughter” far brighter than her “father”).  Tara is in the midst of her busy season of speaking to women’s groups across the country and she has been stricken with an illness that has greatly constrained her voice. Will you pray with me now for her miraculous recovery so she can serve the church, the bride of Christ? Thank you.


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, Excerpts from "Redeeming Church Conflicts", HOPE in the midst of conflict. Bookmark the permalink.

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