One thing I become angry over is all the anger I see when church members fight among themselves. That means I have to hear the apostle’s words to the Ephesian church with heightened perspicacity. Anger is almost always present in church conflict so I could almost always be angry as I seek to help those stuck in their church conflicts.
My good friend Dr. Robert Jones, professor of biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of Uprooting Anger (P & R Publishing, 2005), has helped me immensely to understand my own anger. Dr. Jones defines anger as:
“Our anger is our whole person response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil.”
Dr. Jones explains that this definition imbeds five key ideas: (1) anger is an “active response” (it is an action, something we do not something we have), and (2) it is a “whole-personed” active response; it involves our entire being.
“Anger is more than mere emotion, volition, cognition, or behavior. Scripture resists simplistic schemes. Anger is complex. It comprises the whole person and encompasses our whole package of beliefs, feelings, actions, and desires.”
For the purpose of this discussion on church conflict and anger, it is the final three aspects of the definition that are most helpful:
(3) “Our anger is a response against something” (anger reacts to some provocation);
(4) “Our anger involves a negative moral judgment, that is, it arises from our judicial sense and functions under the dynamic of judgmentalism,” and
(5) “Our anger involves a judgment against perceived evil” (our moral judgment arises from our personal perception).
In my experiences working with churches in conflict, it is these three factors that are at work: some provocation invokes a negative judgment based on a personal perception (that may be accurate or inaccurate) that then results in an angry response. Dr. Jones explains the sinfulness of the dynamic:
“We call it a ‘negative’ moral judgment not because it is always sinful but because it opposes the perceived evil. It casts negative mental votes against unjust actions. It determines that all offenders must change, be punished, or be removed. It issues mental death-penalty verdicts against the guilty. No wonder Jesus taught that anger is the moral equivalent of murder (see Matthew 5:21-22).”
In a group setting, anger can be infectious. One person venting their personal perceptions against their perceived evil can ignite a church firestorm:
- A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
- An angry man stirs up dissention, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins. Proverbs 29:22
- For as churning the milk produces butter, and as the twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife. Proverbs 30:33
Even with all these warnings church conflicts continue to be fueled by angry people pursuing their narrow agendas rather than seeing that their judgmentalism does not bring about the kind of change that may be needed and healthy in and for the church. Just as my anger against anger does not produce any benefit neither does the anger of church members bring about a result that would reflect God’s agenda for his church: a united body of believers at peace (Ephesians 4:1-6).
But what about righteous anger some will ask? Wasn’t our Lord angry at times? Doesn’t the Bible speak of God’s anger? Again, Dr. Jones’ counsel is right on. He notes three criteria of righteous anger:
- Righteous anger reacts against actual sin: “Righteous anger does not result from merely being inconvenienced or from violations of personal preference or human tradition.”
- Righteous anger focuses on God and His Kingdom, Rights, and Concerns, not me and my kingdom, rights, and concerns: “Righteous anger focuses on how people offend God and his name, not me and my name.”
- Righteous anger is accompanied by other godly qualities and expresses itself in godly ways: “Righteous anger remains self-controlled. It keeps its head without cursing, screaming, raging, or flying off the handle. Nor does it spiral downward in self-pity or despair. It does not ignore people, snub people, or withdraw from people. Righteous anger leads to godly expressions of worship, ministry, and obedience. It shows concern for the well-being of others.”
God’s Word corrects our ideas about anger. We desperately need that correction because the message of the loud culture we live in sends a contrary message. If we are truly going to redeem our conflicts for God’s glory and our spiritual growth then we must learn all we can about our anger and the anger of others so that we don’t sin in our anger.
In the Lamb,