Conflict Conundrum

What do you do when a good number of people in your church are blessed by something they participate in together in worship with others – but there are some among those others who are not just offended by it, but convinced that it is contrary to scripture and something they cannot share in?

Does the first group have to quit doing what they have been doing?

Does the second group have to leave while they are doing it?

Can the first group continue doing what blesses them and what they are convinced is permissible, but privately, without the folks in the second group?

Must the second group part company with the first if they do? Has their fellowship been rejected as well as their conviction?

And, by the way, I’m not talking about some trivial conviction here, but something that is a long-standing, time-honored and quite literal interpretation of scripture.

And I’m not talking about anyone in either group of people who care nothing for scripture nor each other – quite the opposite.

Nor am I describing a situation in which one person or group is actively seeking to have his or her own way by some kind of scriptural blackmail or power play.

I’m talking about an honest disagreement; a conflicting view of scripture.

What if they talk it out, exhaustively, and still cannot agree?

What if giving in is not an option for either party, because convictions are deep and perhaps even well-founded?

I wish I could give you a glib answer. I wish I could tell you I know an elegant solution. I wish I could tell you that I was making it up. I wish I could tell you that it never happened and never will. But it has, and it does, and it happens in churches and fellowships of all sorts and sizes.

Some think that, in a situation like this, one party must be right and the other must be wrong. (Generally, the folks who are right are the ones who agree with us when we learn the details of the conflict.) That is simply not always the case.

Romans 14 is an example of this, I believe.

Was it right or not to eat meat when you could not be sure whether it had been sacrificed to an idol?

That was one of two questions at issue.

And Paul could have come down authoritatively on either side of that question.

According to Mark’s gospel (7:19), Jesus declared all foods clean.

According to Luke (Acts 15:29), the council at Jerusalem had forbidden eating food sacrificed to idols.

So in Romans 14, Paul does his best to advise the followers of Christ there to work this out within and among themselves.

They should accept each other, not judge each other, not allow what they considered good to be spoken of as evil, and make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

And, after sharing his conviction (v. 14), he recommends a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about one’s convictions in verse 22.

(This surely can’t be Paul’s favorite thing to do, especially long-distance with Christians he hasn’t yet met. He would probably much rather be out preaching the gospel to people who have never before heard it.)

While there are great and deep principles embedded in this chapter, I’m not at all sure that every conceivable conflict can be superimposed on it, conclusions accurately drawn and good results guaranteed by doing so. In fact, we have no idea how the conflict among Rome’s Christians turned out at this point in century one.

Most of our contemporary conflicts have nothing to do with eating meat. The application of the principles can be difficult. Paul says nothing whatsoever about whether God really wants the faith of the weak to remain weak forever. Nor does he really get into the question of whether one day is more sacred than another.

Still, several important principles – I believe – can be drawn from the situation.

  1. There are disputable matters. Not everything is intrinsically right or wrong.
  2. You should not judge each other and should rather be willing to sacrifice your own rights if exercising them would cause a sibling in Christ to stumble and fall. Sometimes we win by losing it all – just as Christ did.
  3. In such matters, everything that does not come of faith is sin – we are each still responsible for what we do.

I also believe that it might be a good idea when such matters arise …

  1. To pray, passionately, powerfully, transparently, and with holy hands lifted sans anger or disputing.
  2. To call in an arbitrator with wisdom approaching Paul’s who has no vested interest in the outcome, if the situation grows beyond the abilities of the parties involved.
  3. To love each other deeply, from the heart – because love obscures a lot of sins that can happen when conflicts arise.

To all the things I wished above, I add one more:

I wish it were easy.

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22 thoughts on “Conflict Conundrum

  1. I dunno about you, but our Sunday morning discussions on this down in the Singles class (with Jimmy C teaching) have been really good lately…difficult…but good.<>*SIGH*<>As I look back over my notes, I feel your frustration/confusion, as I realize that our discussion (and thus, my notes) kind of went in a circle! There really is no easy answer.<>“Has their fellowship been rejected as well as their conviction?”<>Unfortunately, some people feel this way…and that only makes the problem worse.The two words that keep coming to my mind that might have the slightest capability of leading us to a solution of such conflicts are “value” and “respect.” If we treat others as though they have value as our brothers/sisters and as though we respect their convictions (whether we agree or not), I wonder if we don’t come at least a step closer to solving something???

  2. It reminds me of marraige. There are some things I just do not see the way my wife does…at all. I sometimes feel, regarding the children, that the direction she sometimes takes will be hard to reconcile later. Sometimes, she has to see that for herself. Love, value, respect; this is how God treats me. This is how I have to see my wife at times like this. I WANT to bend over backwards so that there is peace in the family, love in the family, concern, compassion……I find when I do not WANT to make these situations you describe as mine, if I seperate myself and not love, value, and respect my brothers and sisters (as I try very hard to do with respect to my wife) then it is easy to come up with a glib answer and not care. The people I worship with are my family and I do my level best to love, value, and respect them. Not sure that is anything not already said, but this is a difficult subject to talk about and concerns me a great deal.Thanks, Lance

  3. Terri, if we clap at the right points of rhythm and raise our hands when praying – and keep our clothes on while doing it – I think it’s done decently and in order. (Even though I have a little trouble with the rhythm part of the clapping.)But that’s me. Many of my brothers and sisters would disagree.And while that’s a good example of a conflict of conviction, it’s only one of MANY.Tommy, I agree. We do love to protest. Methinks, too much.Lacey, “value” and “respect” are key principles here. Like Mac and Tosh, the two Warner Brothers chipmunks, we should be accommodating and gracious to the point of comedy – if that’s what’s called for – as long as we are clearly NOT violating scripture.

  4. Good Day 🙂 God is Love, May you experience God’s Love this Day, may we really learn to Praise him in all things 🙂 Lets Share God’s Love today 🙂 You are Loved!

  5. My! How you have described our congregation of several years ago. We had an arbitrator come and even he had difficulty seeing any “solution.” It was because of our value, love and respect for these people that over half of the congregation left. We are now two separate churches. We would love to work and “play nice” with them, but they want nothing to do with us, because we are the ones who have gone astray. My husband and I had raised our children there. He was an elder there. We had been there over 20 years. It was one of the most painful times of my life and I am just now recouping from the pain and anger. I can now go back for services at that church without throwing up and I have always been able to talk with and “love” on anyone I see from there. But it was a family torn apart and there were no pat answers, no easy answers and no right/wrong answers. I pray no one has to go through what we did for over five years, trying to salvage a family that disagreed over interpretatin of scripture. It is painful and can be nasty, even when both sides are trying their best to value, love and respect. But sometimes there is no answer and for sanity and spiritual well being on both sides, a split must take place. God is good and has used both for his glory. Please……if you do find answers, let me know. Sometimes there are just different sides and both sides believe there can be no giving. It does happen. And believe me, it is not easy!

  6. Oh how funny…WE TALKED ABOUT THE CHIPMUNKS IN CLASS!!! Except we talked about them in the context of it still being a problem. If “you win by losing” somebody’s gonna “lose by winning” so to speak, if submission is encouraged to all, because when it comes down to it, somebody wins and somebody loses. If you’re offended by what I do, then I should submit to that. But if you decide to recognize my right to something different (although you may be opposed) and you allow me to do whatever w/out being offended, then at what point does it no longer become wrong for me to do something that you don’t like? Is anyone besides me getting a headache???

  7. Interesting topic. Your examination of the issue is quite thorough and well-thought.I do, however, disagree with you strongly on one thing:“(This surely can’t be Paul’s favorite thing to do, especially long-distance with Christians he hasn’t yet met. He would probably much rather be out preaching the gospel to people who have never before heard it.)”I believe Saul of Tarsus who chose to change his name to “Paul” would far rather have been doing the one thing he did exceptionally well – distorting the message of Jesus of Nazereth to once again subjugate women and manipulate the “message” to put them in a lower and 2nd class position – a form of slavery, actually, where women were the PROPERTY of their fathers and then of their husbands, rather than human beings – eventually leading to the abuses of the middle ages and beyond with wifebeating being an acceptable Christian trait.Saul of Tarsus and his misogynist teachings is one of the main reasons I have renounced Christianity.

  8. bd – As a general rule, I think Jesus would agree with you – “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” – but I also think there are some items of faith that are non-negotiable. The problem is, folks disagree on which ones are, and which ones aren’t.Sewmouse, Christians may have a crummy track record on gender justice, true, but I’m not sure I would trace it all back to the apostle Paul. (See my post < HREF="http://keithbrenton.blogspot.com/2006/08/worship-gifts-and-women.html" REL="nofollow">Worship, Gifts an d Women<> for one perspective. Or the site < HREF="http://www.gal328.org/" REL="nofollow">Gal328.org<> for more!) It’s my belief that the same Paul who wrote that verse in Galatians (3:28) wrote the instructions to Corinth and Ephesus (through Timothy) to correct local problems at that time in century one – and Christians ever since have assumed that these correctives were somehow commands for all churches throughout all the ages.I hope you haven’t renounced Christ along with Christianity. Most of us Christians are screw-ups … some of us are willing to admit it … but Christ is still trying to work through us to right what has gone wrong. You could still be a persuasive part of that work!(But you’ll have to let Him work on taking some of the edge off of that bitterness!)

  9. Keith, and sewmouse, I have asked this question of many who think they are knowing Christians, and have never recieved a direct answer, so I will ask it of you both.”do you believe if Paul had never written his letters of advise, the church would have failed, and without his advise we would all be bound for hell” In other words who came to save us Jesus or Paul, In the church of Christ today we could not survive without Paul, so shouldn’t it be the church of Paul, we do follow Paul more than Christ.

  10. Keith, have you heard Randy Harris’s 3 part class he did at the PU Lectures about “Doctrinal Dissagreements?”If not, let me know and I will send them to you. They are the BEST I have EVER heard!Love is the answer!DU

  11. Keith,let me tell you the most often reply, why because I believe I might get that same reply from you. well it is God talking through both so there is no distenction. In order to accept that answer we have to also accept that God forgot to reveal the advice Paul imparted to the churches, or that he did give the knowledge to Jesus and his apostles they just forgot to give it to the people. Or maybe God decided the twelve apostles could not be trusted with such valuable advice,all twelve were still walking the earth when Paul claimed this revelation. And as I recall Jesus said if they wanted to know anything all they had to do was ask. If you notice all the arguements in Christianity arise from something Paul had to say.(just like the Trojan horse, it is always easier to cause trouble from within) lem

  12. eHow did the comments section on this post turn into a Paul-bashing contest?Okay, Paul was not perfect – no more so than you or me. Still, I believe that the Holy Spirit inspired his writing. There was a need for some of it for all time, and a need for all of it at that time.I think anyone wearing the name Christian who tries to turn all of the words attributed to Jesus or Paul (or Peter or James or any other New Testament writer) into binding law for all time is missing much of the point.I’m not sure I understand all of what laymond and lem are trying to communicate. Maybe some words are missing here and there.But if you think we could have a better church without Paul, please remember that God seemed to think Paul was pretty crucial to its early growth – and went to extraordinary measures to recruit him. There was no point at which God could not have struck him dead like Ananias and Saphira for misrepresenting the truth to the Holy Spirit and fellow Christians.So my inclination is to believe that, if we hear Paul saying something which is inconsistent with what Jesus says, maybe it’s our perception or presumption that is in error and should be re-examined.Jesus was no mysogynist, and I doubt that He would have wanted an unrepentant one serving as Paul did.

  13. “Still, I believe that the Holy Spirit inspired his writing.”Keith can you point me to where it said that in the bible, if not why do you believe it? “There was a need for some of it for all time, and a need for all of it at that time.”Keith how are we to tell the difference? In what is needed for all time, and what was needed at that time. Are you sure he didn’t write for the people of that time, all the time.?

  14. Paul believed he had the Holy Spirit, but when dispensing advice, he didn’t insist on it: < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=53&chapter=7&verse=40&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">I Corinthians 7:40<>.Peter says that scripture is inspired (< HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=68&chapter=1&verse=20&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">2 Peter 1:20<>) and a couple of chapters later, calls what Paul wrote “scripture.” (< HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=68&chapter=3&verse=16&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">2 Peter 3:16<>)I realize that some things the Spirit writes are inconvenient to what we want to believe, laymond – at least that’s true for me. But I have to go with scripture, and use the judgment God gives me to interpret it in my own life, by what I do as well as what I say.Certainty isn’t an option among the gifts God gives us.That’s why it’s called “faith.”

  15. Keith you disappoint me greatly, for one who preaches “CONTEXT” almost as much as I do you completely ignored the verse explaining what was meant by the verse you quote.2 Pet 1:19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: 2 Pet 1:20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 2 Pet 1:21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost.You completely ignored two small words “OLD TIME” they are small but mighty important.May God bless

  16. laymond, it’s my understanding that the Greek term translated “in old time” is a mistranslation, better translated (not) “ever.”

  17. Another might point out < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians%2014:6-19;&version=31;" REL="nofollow">I Corinthians 14:6-19<>.

  18. Keith I don’t see what you are referring to in these scriptures/writings unless it is the fact that Paul spoke in many languages which would be expected since he attended the best university in the world at that time when he was young. and all three great universities of that day taught languages.

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