Q. Has there been one key similarity or common characteristic you have noticed about how Christians typically respond to conflicts in their churches?
A. While always difficult to name just one dynamic given the complexity of church conflict, yes, I have observed a common trend in situations and that has been a lack of consistency between a believer’s faith and life. Let me explain.
My motivation to be in ministry has always been tied to an interest in consistency. Being consistent—living in a manner that unites what you believe with what you then actually do—is, of course, not easy. It has always been a struggle for me. There are too many temptations, too many traps along the route, and too many idols to satisfy that are ready to derail the best of intentions in my pursuit of consistency. I know this all too well from 65 years of life, and, if honest, you, dear reader, know it well also. Even when it comes to a life of faith in Christ how easy it is to say something that is a compromise of what I believe and then allow behavior to wrongly follow. It seems that the human condition for inconsistency has been with us for a long time (Romans 7:15 and 19):
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do. (v. 15)
For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (v. 19)
The apostle Paul goes on to describe accurately what we all know:
For in my inner being [what I believe] I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body [what I do] waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:22-24)
In church conflicts, I have seen this battle between belief and behavior, between faith and life, raging more violently than in almost any other arena. Caring Christians become deceitful schemers; brothers and sisters in Christ become engaged in doing harm rather than following what they say they believe: to “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Evidence of inconsistency is everywhere but unseen, unappreciated. Many heart idols (those personal desires and agendas) that are revealed through harsh words and actions come to tower over Christ’s call for gentleness and “wholesome talk” (Ephesians 4:29). The beliefs that form the core of one’s profession of Christ are quickly compromised in favor of winning an argument.
Paul asks the right (and best) question: Who will rescue me from this body of death?” And that, too, is the question we must ask when engaged in church conflicts.
We must look for consistency. When there is a want of it we must suspect deception.
–Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Problem of Thor Bridge”
Just as the fictional sleuth pursued the unraveling of crimes, we too are called by faith’s appeal for consistency to unravel the crime of church conflict. We are called to look for inconsistency in our own hearts and also help those of our eternal siblings in the church so that we may all put first things first. Inconsistency reveals deception—we must suspect it! And what is Satan’s prime work? Deception, of course! We have been called to “not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27), and to “resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Peter 5:9). There is no more important task at hand when the church faces conflict.
Who will rescue us from this body of death? There is only one—The Prince of Peace who lives—the One has been consistently calling us to “be self-controlled and alert” (1 Peter 5:8). Only by turning and returning again and again to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all of its implications for faith/life, belief/behavior consistency have I ever seen church conflicts redeemed and biblically resolved. Getting everyone back to the basics of our faith is the first step. Consistency of faith (what we believe) and consistency of life (what we say and do) answers the key application question of our faith: “So What and Now What?” How we answer that is the evidence, the only evidence, by which we demonstrate that we know He, The Prince of Peace, lives and reigns.
If you are presently involved in a church conflict search your heart for any inconsistency between what you believe and what you are doing in response to the conflicts. Are you making every effort to be a redemptive peacemaker? If not, repent and begin again by bringing forth the fruit of consistency.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)