We must resolve conflict at every level in the church. Try to prevent it before it begins. The seeds of conflict often begin in small, invisible ways. It is the duty of the church to prevent and resolve conflict because as we have read, God is not the author of confusion and Christ’s Body should not be divided. Let us pray that we have the mind of Christ and not even get to the point of having to resolve conflict in the first place.
How should we deal with conflict within the church? Is it up to the believer, the pastor, or is it up to all of us?
Is Conflict is Unavoidable?
I remember hearing about a huge church in Dallas, Texas some years ago dividing over what the color of the carpet should be. Imagine how this must have grieved Christ who is the Head of the Church. Was it really necessary for this large church to wrangle over and eventually split over a simple thing like the color of the carpet? Were there underlying problems that had already been at work before this division and then split? Were there other issues that caused this division? Is Christ glorified by such infighting? We already know the answer to the last question. God is never glorified by division. That is the carnal side of human nature and sometimes rears its ugly head even in churches. How can we avoid such conflict? How can we aspire to resolve such division? What can be done to prevent this? What might be done differently to minimize the risk of this happening in your church? Had this been an issue even before the color of the carpet was brought up before the church’s board? I believe it was.
The seeds of conflict often begin in small, invisible ways.
Paul’s Lost Strong Letter (or Epistle)
To say that Paul was angry with the church at Corinth would be a great understatement. Some of his strongest letters (epistles) were directed to the Corinthian church and even one so-called “strong letter” was either lost or maybe even destroyed by the recipients of the church. First Corinthians 5:9 appears to be a reference to this as he writes “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.” Since this is in 1st Corinthians, we can presume that there was a letter (sometimes called an epistle) that was sent before this one. This might have been the one that was lost. In God’s sovereignty, perhaps God thought it too strong and not fully inspired by the Spirit, therefore it was lost and not included along with the other letters of Paul in the New Testament.
Divisions within the Church
Apparently there had been some division within the Corinthian church about who they were to follow. In 1 Corinthians 1:10b-11 he writes “that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.” Paul had obviously heard them quarreling over who they would be following saying “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you” (1 Cor 1:12-13)? Paul was frequently not pleased with this church because they were jealous over one another’s gifts so Paul wrote “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many” (1 Cor 12:12-14). This is at least part of the reason that Paul wrote the letter of 1st Corinthians and why Paul writes “that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Cor 12:26).
Not the Author of Confusion
God’s creation is organized and systematic. It has no chaos and as the great Bible teacher and theologian R.C. Sproul once said “There in not even one rebel molecule in the entire universe” (paraphrased) and so we know that God does not like chaos and disorganization in His church. The church must be run efficiently and in order. Paul, again in writing to the church at Corinth, wrote that “God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people” (1 Cor 14:33) and so “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Cor 14:26).