Church Conflict Handbook

Church Conflict Handbook

 

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”  Gal 6:1

At South Spring Baptist Church, we want to be committed to following the Biblical prescription for those times when conflict becomes part of the relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

Part I

We start with Jesus’ teaching to His disciples in Matthew 18.

Matt 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. 16 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. 17 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 a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

What do those first conversations look like?  They look like speaking the truth in love.  We turn over to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians for insight:

Eph 4:15-16

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Principles of Matthew 18:

We would always prayerfully seek God’s insight into our situation with the Spirit’s leadership.  Wary to avoid the log which may be in our own eye.  (Matthew 7:5).

The first recourse for any believer is personal engagement.

The second recourse is to involve some people who know and love the offending person and confront them as together.

The third recourse is to bring the leaders of the church in, and let them confront the offender, after understanding the situation as fully as possible.

No other recourse is offered scripturally other than one that pursues this plan.

* All church leaders should send people who have skipped a step in this plan that Jesus laid out for us, back to go through these steps in the proper order.

Further, it is key that people in leadership in the church, if they are to be confronted, should not be done so lightly.  If a charge is to be brought against a church leader, it must be taken very seriously.  It must be brought before other leaders in the church and the person bringing the charge must supply at least 2 or 3 other witnesses.  After the decision of the leadership, either the person charged or the person making the charges, must be chastised.

I Tim 5:19

 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.

 

Part II

The next part of the church conflict conversation has to do with what happens if a person, even once confronted in their sin, determines to continue to embrace that sin.  This is often called “Church Discipline.”  Essentially, this is what happens if the process Jesus prescribes does not lead to repentance or reconciliation.

Sins that are specifically listed as ones that the church must confront with discipline:

  1. Idleness

“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” I Tim 3:6

  1. Divisiveness

“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. Titus 3:10

  1. Sexual Sin, greedy, swindlers, idolaters, revilers, drunkards, swindler

“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”  I Cor 5:11

Of course, every member of the church is struggling with sin, sinning, and infected by the taint of sin.  However, there is a very significant gap between sinning, falling into sin, or even struggling against a patter of addictive sin and embracing a sinful lifestyle.  In the former, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak; in the latter, the spirit is in rebellion.  Everyone wrestling with sin in their lives is welcome at every level of involvement – staff, leadership, service, membership… since that is every single one of us.

The church can only be responsible for what we know, of course… and there are two levels to learning of people embracing sin (in the third recourse):

  1. Those people who want to join who are embracing sin. In this case the church representative talks to the person(s) and lets them know that we are not going to have them join this church with their lives in this condition.  Examples of this would be people living in a sexual relationship while not married to them, in a homosexual relationship, engaging with pornography, stealing or lying, etc.  Keep in mind that means someone who is embracing this sin, not someone who is wrestling with it.  The only real reason for membership at South Spring is the expanded opportunity to serve in the ministries of the church, and certainly we would not have someone teach or lead who was embracing a lifestyle of sin.  It is our hope that once this is revealed to this guest seeking membership, that they will engage with their own lives and find freedom and repentance from the sin that they may be living a more full, free, peaceful and abundant life!
  2. Those people who are members whose sin is revealed, but the person continues to embrace the sin. In this, more complicated case, if the efforts from Part I (Matthew 18) have no effect, the leadership of the church may decide that the person must be removed from active membership.  This may also involve an explanation to the congregation as a whole, or some part of it that would be invested in this person.

The only “consequence” the church can offer within the discipline, other than confrontation, is removal of membership… possibly the removal from the fellowship entirely (plus whatever “handing them over to Satan” means).  Church discipline of this kind is only practiced with those who claim to be “brothers”.

Biblically, we see as letting the one “be removed from you” (I Cor 5:2) or to “not even eat with such a one” (I Cor 5:11) or “keep away from” (I Tim 3:6) or “have nothing more to do with…” (Titus 3:10).  This seems to be the essentially the call to “purge the evil one from among you”  (I Cor 5:13).

I Cor 5:1-13

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you… 

 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed…

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 

Another guiding passage would be:

2 Cor 2:4-11

For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

Forgive the Sinner

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

As is clear all throughout scripture, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration to a godly life in fellowship is the goal for personal confrontation and church discipline.

 

Part III

Finally, forgiveness and restoration

Forgiveness

It is a vital and strongly commanded aspect of following Christ that Christians forgive, especially one another. (Matt 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Mark 11:23; Luke 17:3-4; 2 Cor 2:7; Col 3:13)

In fact, a main theme of what is called the Lord’s Prayer is “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”  If there were any question as to the centrality of this in the prayer, consider the words of Jesus that immediately follow His example prayer:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  (Matt 6:14-15)

There is essentially no limit to how often or how much we are called to forgive one another (Matt 18:21-35).  That being said, forgiveness is a more complex concept than just saying some words.  There is much that it means and much that it doesn’t mean, to forgive.

Technically, it seems that the best understanding for biblical forgiveness is “to expect and require no payment on debt.”  If you look at the passages and parable above, this definition seems to play out.  That God, in Christ, forgives us bears this out.

The truth, then, is that we can forgive someone who does not desire, accept or want our forgiveness.  We can forgive dead people the debts they owe us – we can expect and require no payment.

It may seem nonsensical that someone would seek repayment from a dead person, but when the scars, hurts, psychological damage, spiritual trauma, curses, and neglect are taken into account, it may be more appropriate to realize we may all need to forgive people who have already died.

Keep in mind that, like all other human covenants, we are not always very good at living them out day-to-day.  To feel bitter or sad or angry at times doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven, it may just mean we aren’t living it out well some days.

We encourage people to seek accountability, counsel (professional and other), mediation, and whatever other help may be needed to assist with living out forgiveness.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Col 3:12-13

Restoration

Forgiving someone, then, doesn’t require their input or agreement.  Restoration does.  We can determine to an unconditional covenant with another person (even without their knowledge) to expect and require no payment on their debts to us, but we cannot restore the two-way relationship to health without the other person.

Reconciliation or Restoration come when both parties – the one whom is owed and the debtor both agree to the problem and authentically work toward making the relationship a healthy thing as a common goal.  This involves some confession, or agreement with one another as to the fact that one (at least) has hurt the other.

Once the agreement is in place, forgiveness is sought and given, then restoration can begin in earnest.   We are told to “aim for restoration” (2 Cor 13:11)

This may require help from others as well.  Trust must be re-engendered, and that can take time.  The offended person will likely need to come to believe that the other person is “safe” in regards to the offense.  This kind of risk-taking relationally requires a lot of faith building too.

Know that the new restored relationship may not look like the old one.  Couples may restore a friendship, but never the marriage, for example.  Close friends may settle just basic friendship; abused children may never see the abuser as “mom” or “dad” but merely a friendly acquaintance.  Sometimes the relationship can be fully restored – it is amazing the miracles that God can do in our lives – He has the capacity to make all things new – and someday He will!  (Rev 21:5)  Often patience is required and much prayer.

Again, as with forgiveness, it is good to be strengthened by others in the community of faith – trained and untrained – as one seeks to be part of a reconciliation – a restoration.

In the final analysis of this handbook, it is important to remember that all humans are flawed and infected by our own fleshly mindsets, even Christians – in fact we acknowledge it.  All of our human relationships, then, will fail us.  We are too frail to depend on each other for too much.  We have all experienced this.

Therefore, we urge everyone to look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”   He alone can be trusted to bear the weight of our imperfections, our sins, and to guide us in the paths of righteousness ( Heb 12:2; Psalm 23:3).

People always fail as foundations; He is the only trustworthy cornerstone for any of us.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”  Gal 6:1