Dealing With Conflict
In television and movies drama and conflict are what propel the plot forward, create tension, and grab the viewers interest. However, when drama and conflict appear in our personal lives, they are often unwelcome guests. Some people like watching soap operas, but when our lives start to resemble them, we soon become weary. Sometimes television dramas get to the bottom of an issue, showing how to put the problem fair and square on the table, how to express anger, confusion and hurt while trying to see the other point of view as well. Actually, I think true reconciliation—the kind that doesn’t crack under pressure—happens more often in movies than in real life. I think that our own congregation needs to take reconciliation seriously, and a passage in Matthew 18 is bedrock for the basic principles.
“‘If another disciple sins against you,’ Jesus continued, ‘go and have it out, just between the two of you alone. If they listen to you, you’ve won back a brother or sister. But if they won’t listen, you should take with you one or two others, so that “everything may be established from the mouth of two or three witnesses”. If they won’t listen to them, tell it to the assembly. And if they won’t listen to the assembly, you should treat such a person like you would a Gentile or a tax-collector. I’m telling you the truth: whatever you tie up on earth will have been tied up in heaven; and whatever you untie on earth will have been untied in heaven,” (Matt. 18:15-18 NTE).
Complimentary to this is Martin Luther’s explanation of the eighth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.”
“What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbour, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything,” (SC I.16).
If we have been on the receiving end of some injury, insult, lie, sin etc., from a fellow member of Christ’s Church, the first step is to visit them. That’s not our go-to solution. Many of us prefer to pretend there isn’t a problem. We can refuse to face the facts. We can’t seem to swallow our anger or resentment. We paper over the cracks and try to carry on as if nothing happened, all the while seething with rage inside. That’s hypocrisy. Or we can simply avoid and ignore the other person or group and pretend they don’t exist. That’s not loving nor Christian. What does Jesus tell you to do? Go and tell your fellow Christian their fault just the two of you. “Have it out.” Speak to them privately. That means alone. Don’t go and publish their fault on Facebook. Don’t blab it to your friends or family in an attempt to find sympathy or support. “Love endures all things,” (1 Cor. 13:7 NTE). The eighth commandment admonishes you to not gossip or tell others. We need to hold our tongue in the presence of others and go to the offending party, get them alone and talk to them. “Above all, keep absolutely firm in your love for one another, because ‘love covers a multitude of sins,’” (1 Pet. 4:8 NTE). Speak to them! It’s better to tell them what they’ve done wrong than to brood over it and let if fester. But speaking to them may require courage. It will certainly require prayer and humility. The other person may well respond with a counter-accusation, and there is always the possibility that there may be truth in it which you need to recognise. When we approach them, we must remember to, “let your words always be gracious, never insipid,” (Col. 4:6 REB). Do not go in “guns blazing.” A kind, gentle, faithful, straight-forward, empathetic approach is the most likely course to win your fellow Christian. (It may be a matter of Christian wisdom to repeat this private admonition several times).
If that doesn’t work, and if after thought and prayer you still think a wrong was committed, Jesus tells you to take one or two others along. This is not to gang up on them. This is a reality check on your own judgment. You should choose people who are prepared to tell it straight. They may have some uncomfortable truths to tell you. But, if you are in the right and the person refuses to see it, they are your witnesses that you’re not just making it up. If the person still refuses to repent, the last resort is to tell it to the Church, that is, the assembly or congregation. At this stage, we refer the whole matter to the Christian congregation of which we are all members. The goal of this appeal and admonition is to win back your brother or sister. If they fail to listen to the congregation, then it means a necessary break of fellowship. Reconciliation can only come after the problem has been faced.
What if you’re a neutral party? Perhaps someone has come to you and in the course of conversation has presented you with a complaint about a person. What should you do? You should ask them if they have talked to the person responsible. If they have, ask about the response. If they have not talked with the person alone, encourage them to do so! Do not have anything to do with it until they have, because at this stage it’s none of your business. If they don’t want to confront the person, then exhort them to forgive the other person and move on. The first thing in any complaint is to make sure that the one complaining has already brought this to the proper person. If they have not, complaining is nothing more than gossip, slander, and betrayal.
Let’s not pretend this is simply good advice to keep in mind in case of some unlikely eventuality which might arise one day. No, there is drama and conflict here in our church. How do I know this? Well, whenever two or more sinners are together, toes are bound to be stepped on. In all this, we must remember that God has come and made our sin known to us. He has shown us in his Law how we have sinned against him and offended him. He continues to remind us of our sin whenever the Law is preached. In addition, Christ our Lord has come, died for our sins, and offers us forgiveness. May we treat our fellow Christians with the same grace that we were shown in Christ.
Rev. Matthew Fenn