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.
We start with Jesus’ teaching to His disciples in Matthew 18.
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:
“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.
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:
“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.” II Thess 3:6
“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
- 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 3rd recourse):
- 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!
- 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” (II Thess 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. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you…
… 5 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.
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 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…
9 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
5 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. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 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.
Finally, forgiveness and restoration
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
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
How do we determine, based on these issues, who are “qualified” to serve and lead in ministries in the church?
It should be obvious that we do not think any human merits service in the Kingdom of God.
If any mere human might have been considered “qualified” by their own merit, you would think Paul of Tarsus would have been a good candidate, but here is what he wrote in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians (4:5-7) about human qualification for ministry:
- Some will be defensive, excusing and embracing sin. These are loved and welcomed but not in a position of leadership and may also have membership revoked (LB decision).
- Some will be confessing, penitent, and growing (though still imperfect). These are loved and welcomed and appropriately grafted into positions of leadership and service.
- Some are still in the middle of things. They need help navigating what comes next and what is going on. They are loved and welcomed, though not generally in positions of leadership (case by case) and in ongoing conversations about where they are as they move toward 1 or 2.
Now, to have those three positions unpacked:
“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
However, we are still responsible as leaders in the church to protect those who come to learn and to be served. Who is “allowed” to shepherd those sheep? Clearly, scripture does not shy away from listing qualifications for people to serve in various roles (see also, I Timothy 3, Titus 1)
We can see three basic “types” of issues that cause us to ask questions about whether someone is “qualified” to be in a ministry role at SSBC… other than the natural questions of gifting, training, skillsets, etc. (it isn’t smart to take on a plumbing role unless actually know something about plumbing and are good at it).
- Members who are making and embracing (or at least defending), sinful decisions.
These are the traditional (Proverbial) scoffers/mockers/wicked. These questions are relatively easy to know what to do, even though doing it may be very hard – these we communicate clearly the limitations of their opportunity to serve or even potentially to hold membership of the church. Obviously, these may be tough conversations, but relatively easy to know what needs to be done.
In essence, these are members who are embracing their life in the swamp of sin.
The response would be biblical confrontation. We have a handbook that engages with the scriptural process for confrontation within the church, and that is what we would follow in our efforts to confront and restore a member/minister in this place.
There needs to be a special emphasis for some issues as well that could even potentially lead to being asked to not attend at all – someone who is abusive of others in the areas of physical safety, sex, or intimidation might even be banned from attending at all. Otherwise, people caught up in and even embracing sin would be welcome to attend – we hope and pray that their time here helps encourage them to seek Christ anew!
- People who have sinned, or are caught up in sin, but recognize and confess it as so and are willing to submit to The Spirit and Church leadership to work to a wise level of involvement and service.
These may be tough, too, but these are those who are moving from the Proverbial fool toward the wise/righteous.
The response to members in this condition: Restoration.
15 “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.
There are several passages that would guide us in our joyful goal of restoring someone to a place of service and ministry in full capacity, based on their skills and gifts.
For example, Romans 5 indicates the foundation for the fact that we can live in reconciliation and restoration because of Christ. This is our goal. This may require time; it will require wisdom…
“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.”
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Again, these situations are relatively easy, and more encouraging. The hardest aspects may be holding back the penitent’s enthusiasm to serve before they are done healing and restoring their walk with Jesus and personal reputation in the community.
- Those who are seeking help, wanting to serve, but in disagreement in regard to the interpretation of their sin.
Certainly, it is possible that they are right in their understanding, but it is still in disagreement with the conclusions of the leadership. Obviously, these cases would not involve flagrant sin, but might include questionable applications of the biblical understandings of marriage, divorce, finances, politics or church polity.
After careful consideration and after engaging with several other leaders and pastors, its seems like these engagements can only be case-by-case… but with the goal of coming alongside them rather than picking an unnecessary fight with them.
They certainly may need to step back from ministry roles while they are engaging with their issues – and it may be as practical as the truth that they have more significant issues that they need to deal with… consider the overseer in the case of his household:
4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. (I Timothy 3:4-6)
Or it may be that until we know where this person ends up in regard to their beliefs or practices, we need to wait before letting them teach or serve.
It may be that people in this situation are confused by what they experience as punishment for merely sin or frailty (remember, they are not actively in rebellion). However, it is a good reminder that these people, if they are willing, are probably getting the advantages of more attention of leaders and resources of the church… as we meet with them, discuss with them, counsel them, and seek to walk them through the swamp that they do not want to be in, but are – because of their choices or others.
These cases will need to be talked about, prayed over and strategized about within the proper auspices of the Leadership and Pastoral staff, who serve as overseers and shepherds here.
We are motived to do this out of a concern for Eternal significance. We need to remember and help them remember that this is more than merely a momentary affliction, and our aim is for long-term and complete restoration in the most healthy and biblically sounds ways possible, all the while trusting in a savior who is “making all things new.” (Rev 21:5)