When our eyes are opened to the truth contained in the Scriptures, we soon learn that the early church was not conflict free. Godly men and women disagreed from time to time, and differences had to be addressed. Conflict sometimes erupted and tore the family of God apart. It was part of an apostolic leader’s task to seek to restore unity. But over centuries many leaders of the church have become less and less committed to this task, and that poses a dilemma: “How are believers to be reconciled?”
The simple solution to this dilemma, followed in the beginning by the faithful church, was that believers were expected to reconcile differences in the manner taught by the Lord Jesus. Those who sinned were to go to those whom they had sinned against, and seek forgiveness. Those who had ought against a brother were to go to him, and seek to be reconciled. Forgiveness was to be quickly given. In both cases, if that did not happen, they were to try again accompanied by one or two others as witnesses. If this too failed they were to take it to the church for resolution. It is time for this principle of reconciliation to be restored, first to the local church, and second to the wider family, if Christians are to be faithful to their Lord.
There are at least three levels of application that need to be addressed: interpersonal conflict between believers, conflicts within a given congregation, and conflicts between churches. Commitment to reconciliation in all three circumstances, though challenging, is absolutely necessary.
In the local church, conflicts between believers should be resolved without wider notice. It is to be part of daily discipleship. It is to be normal that committed people live with a desire to be in harmony with their brothers and sisters, and when they are not, to take the initiative to work it out. First between themselves, if possible, then with the help of their believing friends. If those two steps fail they are to “take it to the church.” But what does that mean? Once the church is too large to meet in one home it almost certainly means take it to the leadership of the local church.
What if they can not resolve the matter in private? What if it is roiling the whole local body? Then the local leadership must step in lovingly but forcefully. It is their sacred duty to work to resolve the situation, with clear submission required by all to the gospel of Truth. It may even (rarely) require a gathering of the whole local body. In extreme cases they may require the help of godly oversight beyond the local congregation.
It should be no different when the conflict is between two or more local congregations. Resolution must be sought by the senior leaders, following the same rules that Jesus gave. If the two do not resolve the conflict, they bring in a third or fourth. If that is not sufficient, they take it higher, first in their city or region, and then (if necessary) to their whole movement. If there is to be unity, as the Lord commands, there must be devotion to the principle of reconciliation. Unity is not an option if reformation is to come!
Next Week: Recapping the Seven (Corporate) Principles
Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/