Saturday, 4 August 2012

Dealing With Conflict: Part II—My "By the Way" Column for The Medicine Hat News

In my last column, “If there is saving to be done, Jesus will do it” on July 21st, I wrote about the “liberal,” “conservative” divide in the Church and how as followers of Jesus we are to treat people with whom we disagree.

Division and conflict is not a new problem for Christians. Only four chapters after Pentecost believers were already squabbling about who’s widows were getting the biggest share of the daily distribution of food. The enormous and growing number of denominations in the world today shows that conflict between Christians continues.

“We are not here to avoid conflict, but redeem it,” wrote Robert Runcie, former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury. “At the heart of our faith is a cross and not, as in some religions, an eternal calm.” I agree.

How do we redeem our conflicts and disagreements? Paul, no stranger to violent opposition and conflict himself, gave some useful strategies in 2 Timothy 2:24. “The Lord's servant,” he wrote, “must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone.” In other words, rather than looking for a scrap, we are to be more kindly than confrontational. This is not always easy, especially in this age of hair-trigger tweeting, blogging and Facebookery where the temptation is to post first leaving kinder questions, if any, to be asked later.

Even if it does turn out that we are right, falsely accused or unjustly criticized, Paul calls us to endure even downright evil patiently, correcting our opponents with gentleness (v25) when what we’d really like to do is retaliate and leave them in smoking ruins.

If we can pull it off, Paul describes the potential effects on our opponents in verses 25 and 26. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” God, we hope, will fix our opponents and show them the error of their ways. Our opponents, of course, will be praying and hoping for the same thing in us.

The fact is we are all prone to entanglement in the snares of the devil. Some of the doctrinal issues about which we disagree are matters of spiritual life and death. Some of us will be wrong and some will be right. Conflict abounds and resolution eludes us.

Of this, however, we can be sure. Jesus, whose cross it is at the centre of our faith, is always The Way through conflict, will be The Truth which resolves conflict if it is to be, and is The Life which sustains us even in our fractured and divided state.