You’re dealing with some conflict in your church, right? How do I know that? Because conflict happens wherever two or more people are gathered. Just ask Adam and Eve, Paul and Barnabas, or Jesus and Judas. Being a Christ-follower does not make you immune to conflict. Some Christians have become disillusioned because they have assumed that, of all the people on earth, those who belong to the church should be able to maintain continual peace and endless harmony. While this is true in theory, it is certainly not true in practice.
The New Testament provides a plethora of evidence for the fact that every church should expect some level of struggle among its members. Where differences are possible, conflict is inevitable. After all, when iron sharpens iron, sparks always fly.
However, leading through conflict can be even more difficult than the conflict itself. Vance Havner humorously observed that the qualifications of a modern-day pastor should be that the individual possess ”the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child and the hide of a rhinoceros.” My own father, a faithful shepherd of over forty years, warned me early in my ministry: ”Bob, an important part of being a pastor is to have a soft heart and thick skin. It’s when you get those reversed that the whole church is in trouble.” The Holy Spirit has reminded me of those wise words many times.
Take a moment to look around you. Generational division is undeniable. Racial tension is palpable. Marital breakdowns are continual. And most concerning, spiritual harmony seems impossible. Church fights are common and church splits are expected. Best friends become strangers, brothers and sisters become enemies, and others around them become indifferent.
That is why a unified church in our culture today is one of the strongest evidences of the power of God and the truth of the gospel. In our increasingly fragmented world, a group of diverse believers who patiently work together, humbly serve one another, selflessly submit to each other, and lovingly stick together in good times and bad stands out starkly in the community.
God’s Word has not changed. Unity in the local church remains a core essential that is to be developed, strengthened, and protected by every single Christ-follower. There are no exclusions, and no number of excuses will get us off the hook. Unity is a matter of spiritual life and death.
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson was right on target with these soul-stirring words: ”The gospel is a message of reconciliation and peace with God. How can non-Christians be convinced that Christ reconciles us to God if we are not reconciled to each other?”
We all have opinions and preferences about what a church should be and do. Most of them are good and reasonable, but personal thoughts and desires are always secondary to the instructions and mandates given to us in God’s inspired Word. This book will focus on the ability to discern between the two and help church members genuinely understand and humbly follow.
The Choice: Steak or Veggie?
Among the many disputes of the church at Corinth, one specific disagreement split this church into two opposing groups. One group determined it was a sin to eat meat sacrificed to idols in the pagan temples, while the other group claimed their gospel freedom permitted them to eat the meat without guilt (1 Corinthians 8). Without having any clear, direct biblical mandate one way or the other, neither side would budge for the sake of the other. Dissension devolved into dysfunction.
Remarkably, similar types of divisions can be seen in modern day churches-perhaps not regarding the eating of meat but concerning other issues like appropriate clothing, worship songs and styles, Bible translations, home schooling, and political party affiliation. These issues, and many others, can become divisive enough to split congregations or cause new denominations. Let’s be honest, what has our deep division over such issues truly solved? Are we sincerely pursuing biblical truth or simply clutching personal preferences?
Ultimately, 1 Corinthians teaches us the resolution of our differences must be soaked in and overflowing with the grace and love that comes from God alone. Lest we think Paul’s inspired words have little pertinency for the church today, let us not forget that God’s Word is relevant and consistent yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
As we study the Scriptures together, I pray you will be encouraged, as well as challenged, to examine your understanding of the gospel, your love for Christ’s church, your heart for people, your personal theological gray areas that limit spiritual growth, and your willingness to live selflessly and sacrificially for the cause of Christ in all areas of your life.
You may come to realize that you have been a ”peace-faker,” or a ”peace-taker” in conflict rather than the peacemaker God called you to be. Just remember failure isn’t final, unless you’re unwilling to change. Before we launch, take a moment to drink in these refreshing words from author and scholar Paul Tripp:
The church can and should be a motley group of believers working together for the gospel, but this kind of unity is counterintuitive to sinners. It requires love, patience and self-control – all character qualities we don’t naturally have.
If you and I ever want to experience true unity with one another, we need to take advantage of the abundant grace in Christ so that we can give that same grace to our brothers and sisters. And because of the Cross, that grace is made available to you every morning.
Let’s taste some grace and learn how to be a church undivided.
Content taken from Church Undivided by Bob Ingle, ©2020. Used with permission.Posted in Teaching