Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Conflict and the Rules of Engagement

Today's post is by my friend and fellow Biblical Counselor, Pastor Bruce Roeder.  He is a frequent guest blogger on my site and ladies, you will benefit from his wisdom today.   Bruce is the Pastor of Discipleship at Missio Dei Fellowship in Kenosha, WI. 

Church conflicts are not always resolved in a gospel-centered way.  If they were God would certainly be pleased since He says in His word that the church's oneness bears testimony to Jesus Christ to the world.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 ESV)

The problem of course is sin and how sin interferes with what the rules ought to be in order to resolve a conflict that glorifies God. If Christians cannot agree on what the gospel-centered "rules of conflict engagement" are in the first place the there is little hope for a gospel-centered resolution in the second place.

When this happens the best one can hope for is a kind of truce. Truces are nice because they are better than open warfare. Still, since the underlying sin causes of the conflict are not dealt with (repented of) the truce is a sham since open warfare can flare up easily and the conflict resumed.

In a worse case scenario the relationship fails and a separation occurs and that communicates something to the world about what the gospel means in practice to Christians.

We serve a Savior who came to bring peace between God and sinful man and he has appointed us as his ambassadors to do the same with the world; yet we cannot settle our conflicts between ourselves because we cannot agree on the rules of engagement.  (2 Cor. 5:14-21)

This is why a ministry like Peacemakers can be helpful. They have a record of success but that's only because willing Christians agree to what the rules are and they agree to abide by them in advance.

To nail down the sin problem with a bit more precision we might start with the concept of "ego." Ego is not a biblical word but the concept of ego is. Here's a dictionary definition of ego:

1.       the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.

2.       Psychoanalysis . the part of the psychic apparatus that experiences and reacts to the outside world and thus mediates between the primitive drives of the id and the demands of the social and physical environment

3.       egotism; conceit; self-importance: Her ego becomes more unbearable each day.

4.       self-esteem or self-image; feelings: Your criticism wounded his ego.

While definitions #1 and #2 are derived from psychology and not real helpful, definitions #3 and #4 seem to be biblical because they work to define pride.

Egotism speaks directly to the biblical concept of pride, arrogance and conceit. A person characterized as an egotist has an over inflated view of self and just how important one is. His attitude is made manifest by arrogance and conceit especially in the midst of a conflict since it is in a conflict where true character is likely to emerge.

A self-important Christian egotist would not agree with the apostle Paul:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)

The self-important Christian egotist might pay lip-service to the concept but in reality would only agree to Paul's words in a non-specific manner. In other words, they would say, "yes, I am the foremost of sinners but have nothing specific to say about my sin in this conflict."

This does not mean that just because a person is accused of a specific sin they are guilty of a specific sin. There is such a thing as a false accusation or exaggerated accusation.

But as someone once said, if one person accuses you of having a tail you might blow them off; but if two people notice a tail you should at least turn around and look.

The saying is in keeping with what Jesus says in Matthew 18 in the church discipline process as well as what Paul says when he speaks of making an accusation against an elder (1 Tim. 5:19).

The egotist will not turn around and look voluntarily.

The fourth definition of ego explains why seeing oneself as the foremost of sinners is necessary to resolve a conflict.

To admit error, to admit sin in a specific way is not "good" for one's self-esteem but it is good for the soul. As the example in the definition shows criticism wounds one's pride. It's the attitude of "certainly I cannot be wrong" or at least "I may a little wrong but you are more wrong than I am." A conflict will never be resolved in a gospel-centered way as long as one of the parties holds to that attitude even if one is more guilty than another. Paul saw himself as the foremost of sinners even though he was fully aware their were worse sinners than he. Paul was concerned about his ego and pride and this allowed him to approach conflict with humility.

The self-centered "me at the center of the universe" attitude is the very opposite of Paul's. What enabled Paul to see himself as the foremost of sinners was the fact that Christ was at the center of his universe (Php. 3:8).

Recently, I became aware of a major conflict between C.J. Mahaney and others formerly connected with Sovereign Grace. I do not pretend to understand the issues so I have no opinion as to what is going on behind the scenes to resolve the conflict.

I do know what needs to happen first. In order to receive grace in the second place one must lay aside ego in the first place. One must have the attitude of the apostle Paul. Paul's attitude is the means of grace to resolve a conflict.

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
(James 4:6 ESV)

Without humility that is genuine there is no hope for a conflict resolution that bears witness to Jesus Christ at work in His church. While the protagonists in this conflict may not agree on using Peacemakers to resolve the conflict they must agree on some rules to resolve it at all. My prayer for this ministry that I've admired in the past would agree that James 4:6 is the rule that needs to be applied first.

Showing the world what the gospel looks like in practice is what is at stake.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 ESV)










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