Q: Every time I think about my church conflict, all I feel is hopelessness. I just don’t see anything at all to hope in!
A. Hope in this: 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.
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 … But we are called to live from 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.
(c) Tara Barthel & David Edling, “Redeeming Church Conflicts” (Baker Books, 2012)