(One of my favorite parts of Redeeming Church Conflicts is our introduction to Section 1: Perspective. I have heard and seen Dave minister this message to so many people over the years–especially pastors who were tempted to despair over conflicts in their churches. Hope you enjoy …)
SECTION 1: Perspective
“I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose
will stand, and I will do all that I please.’” Isaiah 46:10
“How do you overcome? You get a breathtaking glimpse of God and the Lamb. You take your eyes off your earthly situation and gaze into heaven and see what true reality looks like. No matter the church’s problem, what is most needful is to see God in his glory.” Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
One of the most common emotions people feel when facing serious church conflict is hopelessness. This is often because conflict puts blinders on our eyes and tempts us to isolate ourselves into self-protective groups who agree with us. In our passion to defend our positions, we develop tunnel-vision that clouds our judgment as we focus our time, energy, and emotions almost exclusively on temporal matters. Things of heaven, theological truths about God and his Church, even a passion for bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the unsaved, all begin to fade from focus as positions become entrenched in daily battles and we begin to despair.
When we are in a conflicted church, our emotions are often similar to those of the psalmist:
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught. My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. Psalm 55:2, 4–5
Strong feelings. Much suffering. Tempted to despair. Church conflict often robs us of an accurate, hopeful, God-centered perspective. Rather than confidently living with the hope of the resurrected Christ always before us, rather than being guided and ruled by God’s Word, many Christians in conflicted churches begin to act in accordance with their emotions. As one example of this, I (Tara) once served as a mediator in a church where the two main leadership groups (elders and deacons) were barely speaking to one another. At the same time that there were sermons urging their members to love one another, forgive one another, and speak only in edifying ways, these leaders were personally giving in to their hurt and anger. If asked what God’s Word said about bitterness and unforgiveness, they could have cited all the appropriate Scriptures. But they had been battling with one another for so long, shoring up their positions by surrounding themselves with people “on their side,” that they had lost any sense of God’s perspective on their church and their church’s conflicts.
In this section, Perspective, we look at how the early church in Acts 15 did not give in to emotions and hopelessness even when a severe conflict came into the church. Leaders and members alike maintained an eternal perspective when “sharp disputes” came to the early church, and this perspective guided them every step of the way as they worked to redeem their conflicts:
Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. Acts 15:1-4
In conflict with other believers over theological matters of great importance, Paul, Barnabas, and other believers sought counsel from wise and spiritually mature Christians. They interacted with others in order to gain a clearer, more accurate, more God-centered perspective on the situation. Yes, they took the conflict seriously. They invested a great amount of time and effort in working through the conflict. And yet, as they journeyed long distances with the great weight of this conflict on them, they told of Gentiles being converted and this made the brothers glad. They remembered everything God had done and was doing. They did not lose sight of eternity while they were doing the hard work of redemptively working through this church conflict.
We, too, are called to live from such an eternal perspective—interpreting all of life in this world through the lens of one fact: the longest part of our most “real” lives will be lived for eons to come in the perfection of Heaven where Christ rules in glory. Right now we live in the in-between; the “already but not yet.” But one day we will go home to our Heavenly Father’s mansion. The way we live intentionally and consistently with our profession of faith now is to live with the hope and confidence of this eternal perspective. Otherwise, when suffering and trials come, when we don’t get our way, when we are called to bear up under the pain associated with church conflicts, we will not persevere in loving God and loving our neighbor.
This eternal perspective enables us to forgive one another because we remember how great and glorious God is to wretched sinners like us. We marvel at how great a debt we owe and how great a price Christ paid for our salvation. Rather than “biting and devouring” one another (Galatians 5:15), we will remember that the other person involved in this church conflict needs Christ at this time just as much as we do. We are utterly dependent on his grace. And daily we can repent, believe, and rejoice because he has saved us and adopted us as his own. His kingdom will come. He will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. This is guaranteed! So we can have great hope, even in devastating church conflict, as we begin to interpret everything that is happening from the perspective of eternity. We rejoice that even though we may face conflicts now, one day, all of God’s children will be perfectly united forever.
 Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be (Chicago, Il: Moody Publishers, 2008), 252.