This book is written to foster awareness and empower church leaders, individual Christians, and entire churches with those principles necessary for maintaining a culture of peace and unity among believers in the setting of the local church as revealed in the word of God. Its contents shed light on biblical principles for defusing and resolving different types of emerging and unresolved conflicts among Christians within the setting of the local church. I have consistently used the God’s Word (GW) translation of the Bible in most areas where direct quotations of texts are provided. Though there are many excellent translations of the Holy Bible that could be used in endeavors such as the one conceived in this book, I found the God’s Word (GW) translation very fluent in its reading as well as in bringing the meaning of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages into their closest natural meaning in the English language as much as possible.
Conflict refers to the differences of positions/perspectives, opinions, or any type of disagreement that causes a breach in the relationship between or among the parties involved. On the basis of that definition, the only way that a disagreement would qualify as a conflict is if it had caused or is causing a breach in the quality of relationship between the parties involved in the disagreement. One of the types of conflicts that I discuss throughout this book is the conflict between man and God that was ignited by the disobedience of Adam [Romans 5: 12]. Therefore, the historical incident that is referred to as the “Fall of Man” would not have qualified as conflict between man and God in the spiritual sense if it had not caused a breach as well as compromised the relationship between man and God [Genesis 3: 1 – 24]. The Bible is filled with numerous examples (historical and otherwise) of the principle that sin always causes a breach as well as inevitably compromises the relationship between man and God [Joshua 22: 20; Isaiah 59: 1 – 21,]. This principle is also stressed by Paul in the statement “Because all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory” [Romans 3: 23]. And that is the purpose for the cross [Galatians 4: 4; Luke 4: 18, 19; Hebrews 9: 15].
There is abundant evidence that certain unresolved conflicts among Christians in local churches usually lead to conflicts of a congregational nature. Not too many churches recover from congregational type conflicts for various reasons that I cover in this book [James 4: 1 – 17[. Two direct outcomes of congregational type conflicts are (1) destruction of the local church’s influence in the local community and (2) the shipwreck of the faith of many members in the local church (1 Timothy 1: 19).
Defusing and resolving conflicts in Christian church communities must be treated as a “burning house” situation and must be equally handled with a “firefighter’s approach” to defusing contentions and resolving conflicts. A timely response is of essence in firefighting as well as in matters of mediation and that of conflict resolution. Therefore, it is not surprising that one of the enemies to peace and attempts to defusing contentions and resolving conflicts in churches and many social and cultural settings is delay. The longer a conflict remains unmediated or without intervention, the longer it would also take to defuse and resolve it. And more times than often those conflicts never get resolved. A “firefighter’s approach” is providing a timely response to conflicts. It is the first step towards preventing contentions and conflicts from spreading like wildfire. A firefighter’s prayer is that he gets to the fire before it has spread out of control. Since air fuels fire, effective firefighting involves sucking air out of fire. And the same principle also applies to timely and effective conflict resolution. The air that is fueling a particular conflict has to be sucked out of the conflict as soon as possible; otherwise it would spread out of control. Delay is the enemy to successful firefighting and wild fires are the most difficult fires to fight for the fact that they spread quickly and do have a vengeance for destruction and devastation.
“A large forest can be set on fire by a little flame. The tongue is that kind of flame. It is a world of evil among the parts of our bodies, and it completely contaminates our bodies. The tongue sets our lives on fire, and is itself set on fire from hell” [James 3: 5 – 6].
A conflict that is not quickly resolved would also not be easily contained as it would spread out of control like a wild fire. And most attempts to defuse and resolve such conflicts often fail as the churches involved have already reached the point of no return. Some of the outcomes are evident in divided churches, crippled ministries, and even the destruction of entire church bodies. Most churches that have been destroyed by unresolved conflicts would have been spared if a there were a timely response to the conflict. A timely response could sometimes guarantee a timely resolution [Acts 6: 1 – 7].
One of the schemes that Satan uses to prevent the church from being “a glorious church, without any kind of stain or wrinkle- holy and without faults” [Ephesians 5: 25 – 27] is the scheme of contentions, widespread disagreements, and unresolved conflicts among Christians in the local church. Unresolved conflicts among members in a local church tarnish and corrupt the church and stop it from being “holy and without faults.”It amounts to a breach and a compromise in the relationship that God intends for us. Satan is directly and subtly using contentions and unresolved conflicts to cause a breach in our relationship with one another as well as to compromise our relationship with God. Are we unsuspecting or just stubbornly unyielding? Many churches and ministries that were designed to prosper have become victims of unresolved conflicts and utterly crippled by the failures of Christians to settle differences rationally and biblically.
There are several words used to describe conflicts in the Bible. Though the contexts in which the words occur often differ, most of the words are often used synonymously even from one translation to another to refer to one type of conflict or another. I have limited myself to only the words used by the King James translation in this section in order to maintain consistency of word usage. For example, the word “strife” is one of the most common words used in the KJV to refer to conflicts [Genesis 13: 7, 8; Proverbs 15: 18; Philippians 2: 3; James 3: 16]. It is the word used to describe fights, dispute, disobedience, and contradictions among its many uses. Another word is “contention”. It is the word used by Luke to describe the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over Mark [Acts 15: 36 – 39]. The word translated from the Hebrew “fight” is used to refer to fights, or military style conflicts, sometimes between one nation and another [2 Chronicles 11: 1-4; Proverbs 15: 18]. It is sometimes used in a figurative sense such as in the case of Paul’s famous words “I have fought the good fight” [2 Timothy 4: 7]. “Quarrel” is another word that is suggestive of conflicts in the context of interpersonal relationship between members of the church [Colossians 3: 13]. The word [momphe, Gk.] translated “quarrel” refers to a fight, though not literally [Matthew 5: 23]. The word “division” and its variation “divided” are the two most common words used in the New Testament epistles to refer to unresolved conflicts in Christian church communities [Romans 16: 17; 1 Corinthians 1: 10, 13; 1 Corinthians 3: 3; 1 Corinthians 11: 18; Acts 14: 4; Acts 23: 7].
Jesus’ favorite word for describing unresolved conflicts of an interpersonal nature is the word “divided” [Mark 3: 23 – 26; Luke 11: 17 – 18; Luke 12: 52, 53]. “If a household is divided against itself, that household with not last” Mark 3: 25. The word “dissension” is the word used to describe large scale disagreements such as the one experienced by Paul and Barnabas in Antioch over the place of circumcision of non – Jewish men in the Christian church [Acts 15: 1, 2]. It is also the word used to describe the doctrinal disagreement between the Sadducees and the Pharisees of the Sanhedrin council during Paul’s defense of his faith in Christ at Jerusalem [Acts 23: 1 – 10].
Defusing and resolving conflicts among members of the same local church is very vital to the cultivation and nurture of healthy relationships in the body of Christ. Because of the spiritual nature of the church and the relationship among Christians, our disagreements must be settled biblically (God’s way). And it is not until we have used biblical principles to settle our differences that our churches and our relationships would be such as conceived in the mind of God and intended by Jesus Christ our Lord. That is the reason why those principles are provided for us in the word of God. This book is written to foster awareness and empower church leaders, individual Christians, and entire churches with those principles necessary for maintaining a culture of peace and unity among believers in the setting of the local church as revealed in the word of God. The Lord intends for interpersonal relationship among Christians to be a constructive relationship rather than a destructive experience. And our churches would not be the church conceived in the mind of God and intended by Jesus Christ whenever we allow contentions and unresolved conflicts to divide us and eventually destroy us as the body of Christ. We must never cease to endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace [Ephesians 4: 3].
In the effort of collecting necessary information for this book, I made the observation that there is one common thread among Christian church communities that have allowed unresolved conflicts to divide the body of Christ. It is the subconscious and sometimes a conscious obsession with the will of self over the will of God and allowing the spirit of self – determination to prevail over the spirit of righteousness among Christians. And that explains the root of unresolved conflicts in many churches [James 4: 1 – 3]. Therefore, the reason why a culture of conflict and contention usually persists instead of a culture of peace and love should not be a surprise to any of us. Though conflict is inevitable in the context of interpersonal relationships, our ability and will to resolve our conflicts could well be the strongest evidence of our faith in Christ.
“Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other” John 13:35
The objective and goal of bible-based conflict resolution is reconciliation with one another and with God. And the implication is that it is impossible to reconcile with God until we have first reconcile with one another. And in order to fully understand biblical principles presented in this book, it is first necessary to have a perfect understanding of the reconciliation ministry of Jesus Christ in the light of the resolution of the conflict between man and God and the development of spiritually fulfilling interpersonal relationships from one Christian to another [2 Corinthians 5: 18, 19; Ephesians 2:14 -22; Colossians 1: 17 - 23]. We must never lose focus of the fact that the reconciliation ministry of Jesus Christ involved the establishment of the spiritual family conceived in the mind of God and sanctified in Jesus Christ [Matthew 16: 18]. That makes it impossible for us to be the spiritual family conceived in the mind of God whenever and wherever we allow unresolved conflicts to divide us. When that happens, the local church ceases to function as the church was conceived in the mind of God and as Jesus Christ intends. Living in peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ is a matter of individual and congregational responsibility. Peace is not an option in the church and for the church [Romans 12: 18]. Let us also remain mindful of both the reminder and the warning explicitly stated in the words of Apostle Paul:
“Don't you know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him because God's temple is holy. You are that holy temple! ” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.
Christians need to move from a conflict mindset to a mindset of peace and unity. Let us continue to find courage for peace and unity among believers in words of encouragement such as:
“Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you” 2 Corinthians 13: 11 [KJV].