One of the biggest mistakes churches make in conflict is failing to trust Scripture …

One of the biggest mistakes churches make in conflict is failing to trust Scripture. In the confusion, hurt, and fear associated with church conflict, even mature Christians sometimes doubt that God’s revealed range of solutions will be adequate to their situation. Deep down, the things they “believe” (really, claim to believe), they do not believe. Their practical theology does not line up with their confessional theology—how they respond to conflict reveals what they really believe about:

  • The sovereignty of God (even over this conflict)
  • The sufficiency of Scripture
  • The adequacy of Scripture for all matters of faith and life
  • The truth that the principles found on the pages of God’s Word will lead to relevant solutions to every problem the church and God’s people will encounter (even the mess of church conflict)

One of the most telling symptoms of such unbelief—and it is unbelief—is the rejection of God’s Word as the source of the principles (not necessarily the specifics) needed to answer all of the conflicts our church faces. Too many would rather solely accept the application of the principles of modern psychology or sociology to “fix” what is wrong in God’s unique body of his chosen eternal children. While God has created men and women in such an amazingly ordered fashion that even unbelievers have brought us insights and common grace wisdom through observation and scientific analysis, such observations must never trump God’s revelation in the Scriptures. This is particularly true regarding God’s unique assembly—the church.  Yes, we study man. But the interpretations we give to such observations must be placed within and understood from God’s perspective: the light of his special revelation (the Bible). That is what unbelievers, even brilliant secular psychologists and sociologists, are unable to do.

One of the clearest and most cogent statements of this principle is this:

“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either set down in Scripture or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.” (The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Section 6)

Trusting Scripture in a church conflict may seem a very difficult thing to do. It is. It takes hard work to dig out the relevant principles, to discern the Spirit’s leading, and to reach decisions ordered by the light of nature (God’s general revelation) and Christian prudence according to the general rules of the word (the Scriptures; special revelation), but we can do it. In fact, we must do it because that is our calling.

May God guide us to the place where we utterly cry out for his wisdom…his revealed will that we find in both his creation (general revelation) and his Word (special revelation) and then see it all as his sovereign, all sufficient, and completely adequate work of leading us to peace.

-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.
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