We cannot avoid conflict. As much as we’d like to think otherwise, when sinful humans interact, something is bound to erupt. If you’re a conflict avoider like me, this topic is one to wrestle with.
I recently made a church change and have been attending a 12 week inquirer’s class, which is also a requirement for membership. Today we discussed church discipline. And what ensued from that was a rather convicting discussion on Matthew 18:15-20;
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be bound in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
Now when the topic of church discipline typically comes up, it is usually targeted at making sure that people don’t get away with their sins. Broadly it is for the purpose of keeping the church on track and handling situations that may obstruct that. Conflict among members is a pretty widespread scenario.
The discussion this morning began with the first part of that verse. It first starts with the people directly involved in a conflict and often it starts from something very small. The pastor gave a hypothetical example of two ladies, where one approached the other to greet her because she had been absent for a few weeks. But upon approaching, the woman who had been absent just walked away. The lesson was this: rather than feeling snubbed and avoiding that person, the proper way to handle it is to discuss it with that person. Often times there are misunderstandings and misperceptions that exist. If that does not resolve things, then the next step is needed.
But the scenario reminded me of my own interactions and more specifically, my own avoidances. It reminded me that there are times that we encounter those in the body of Christ that we’d rather not deal with. If you are a conflict avoider like me the tendency is to not interact and even dismiss them.
The reality is we all don’t really just get along. Sure, there are people we are more inclined to have harmony with, where communication is not strained and abiding together is not difficult. But there are others, with whom the potential for conflict is great. So I raised the question in class and confessed my own wrestling – what about those with whom our personalities, communication styles, perspectives, etc make disruption very likely? My way is to not deal with such people. I’ve justified to myself that I do this for the sake of Christian harmony, especially where there has been a history of disruptions. But I wonder if some of it is just me not wanting conflict. Yeah, probably.
Now I do believe there are times to have boundaries. There are toxic people amongst the body of Christ whose aim is not Christian harmony but self-indulgence on various fronts. But even then, is dismissal or avoidance the right thing? Or out of love do we do what we can to pray and reach out to those people? Or do we just not feel like being bothered? Ouch.
We certainly have biblical examples in the early church of people that have gotten down right heated with each other;
- Brothers hashing it out at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:1-35). Let’s not fool ourselves in thinking this was a completely civil discussion
- Paul and Barnabas’ split over the accompaniment of John Mark (Acts 15:36-41). Notice the language – sharp dispute
- Paul getting in Peter’s face about Peter’s hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-13). He even throws some jabs at Barnabas!
- Euodia and Syntyche, two ladies that apparently were at odds with one another such that Paul had to plead with them to get along. (Philippians 4:2)
We are called to Christian unity. But more than likely, we do want peace among the body as well. The truth is that people will not always be who we want them to be and behave according to our accommodation. We can dismiss them “in the name of Jesus” but I’m not sure that is always the best solution. Maybe we need to learn how to get in each others face more and hash things out. That’s a difficult task for some more than others. But how else can show the very thing that Jesus said his disciples would be known for – the love of one to the other?
It’s a tricky topic and I would love to hear your thoughts on this. How do you handle conflict among other Christians? What kinds of steps have you taken with those whom you just don’t get along with?