Thoughts on Conflict and the Church

Just finished reading this very thought provoking post by David Fitch (HT: Rob Martin) about conflict and the Church. One of the main thoughts is about how the reconciliation that happens when Christ breaks in and causes conflict (exposing of sin, wrestling with new issues). Christ can really break in and change us more into His image. Here is his summary:

All of the above is reason for why I continually find myself saying “Conflict is ground zero for the inbreaking of the Kingdom.” Too often I or our church have failed at this (this is why I have to write this stuff to remind everybody including me). I find this kind of cultivating the Kingdom to be almost impossible once you get above a certain number in your church (three hundred?). It is probably because of the tendency for churches to self organize into CEO leadership once their numbers dictate this is the only way to survive. I wonder, as a result, whether megachurches can experience God’s Kingdom in this way? Whay say u? I have become convinced that you do this kind of cultivating for five years with a group of twenty to thirty people and you will be amazed at that vibrant Kingdom life taking shape among you. Anyone have experiences that can validate this way of Kingdom life?

I don’t attend a mega-church, but we do have far more than three hundred in attendance each Sunday. I do wonder how our pastoral staff would respond to this. (You out there John King?) I do think that part of the answer is the involvement of Christians in small groups. Large churches need to give opportunity for individuals to connect with others in small groups so that they can be in the types of relationships where Christ can break in through others who know who we are and are willing to put it all on the line to help us become more like Christ. Fitch gives three recommendations for churches that want to allow this type of conflict to come in and make us more like Christ:

  1. Nurture mutual submission to Jesus as Lord
  2. Don’t manage conflict
  3. Ask what Is God doing here/ and observe

Seems like some pretty good ideas to me. (see his post for his explanation of these)


While I’m here, one area of conflict that Fitch mentions in his post is the issue of same-sex relationships. On that topic, I recently read an article on the Sojourners blog about evangelicals and what the author called a “Great Gay Awakening”. (HT: Beth Transue) I understand (and had heard) the argument that the prohibition against homosexuality in the Old Testament is one of many prohibitions in the law. Many of them (no shellfish, no eating pork, no wearing fabric with more than one type of thread, etc.) we Christians have decided are not required for Christians. This makes the passages in Leviticus weak for those of us who would argue homosexuality is an abomination. The passages in Paul’s letters that condemn homosexuality have been much more influential, at least for me. In this article, the author quotes from Jay Bakker who claims that the original Greek in those passages is more appropriately used to refer specifically to men having relations with male temple prostitutes. I am far from a Greek scholar (what Greek I know is mostly from mathematical and statistical formulae, not a Greek language course), so I don’t know if Bakker’s claims are accurate.

Also, the title, “Is Evangelicalism Having a Great Gay Awakening”, is a bit of a misnomer. Almost all of those she references as having this awakening are a part of the so-called “Emergent” church (though Rob Bell refuses to officially associate himself). This certainly gives some food for thought, and I’d welcome any insight from those who know the Greek better than I. Confirming Bakker’s claim could make a huge difference in how those passages are used to build theology on this issue. I don’t want to change my view based on a lie, or based on a whim, but I do want to be open to the leading of the Spirit where my beliefs are wrong. I know that, no matter what, I am called to love them as Jesus would, and to pray for them to become more like Christ. While I still believe that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture, that is no excuse to be unloving.

5 comments on “Thoughts on Conflict and the Church

  1. Re: Homosexuality – Reference Romans 1:26-27 concerning the acts and attitudes. This is the most compelling argument that, to me, negates even the temple prostitute argument.

    THAT SAID… I’m a liar at times… I’m a bit of a glutton… Pride is a struggle for me… I’m divisive, argumentative, and characterized by anger. All these are sinful attitudes and actions. And yet I’m allowed to participate in the fellowship of believers. The understanding is that I’m on a journey towards the center of Christ (reference that Greg Boyd sermon from September) and that I’m not perfect yet. If this is the attitude that I ask for me, a sinner, such is the attitude that I should have for ANY sinner. The key is the recognition that there IS sin and that we ALL sin and we ALL need help. The specific natures of our sins are different.

    The rub comes in when we start needing to confront sin. If someone comes up and points out my gluttony and I pooh-pooh it and ignore it, unrepentant, so long as the relationship is there between me and this other person, I would expect that some sort of confrontation and accountability would be there. For some reason, it’s fine to confront gluttony, but not sexual practices. Some argue that it’s genetic…well, so is alcoholism…and yet we condemn that. We live in a fallen world with broken creation that is adversely affected by centuries of humans doing whatever they please. One can expect adverse effects… the point of a transformed life is to transcend what sin has done to us and to come into a correct relationship with God, man, and creation.

    So, what I’m saying is this: open the doors of the church WIDE… let everyone in to learn at the feet of Christ. Enter into relationships with each other and see each other as fellow people on the journey and not as a bunch of labels. In those relationships, hold each other accountable to the ideals of God, Christ, and the New Creation. And it has to be a mutual thing. We can’t say “this sin is private” and expect true church community. This is a scary thing to think about because it means that we’re going to find ourselves relating to a lot of people that make us uncomfortable.

    Hard stuff to consider, but that goes back to that conflict thing. As we open the doors wide, we’re going to have to start dealing with those rough edges and figure out how to get along with out going all Cain on each other. And THAT’S where we can actually start living out love, grace and mercy. It’s easy to give love, grace, and mercy to people we’re comfortable with. What GOD wants is for us to be able to do so to EVERYONE.

    • Hence the mention of this topic in the post about conflict, no? I agree with what you have said, and the article on Sojourners did not mention which specific passages Bakker was referring to. No idea whether he attempts to discuss, lessen the impact of, the Romans passage. I do think that this is one area where I would need better evidence to throw away the years of Church tradition on this view. (Though one could argue that much of Church tradition said slavery was acceptable until the last few hundred years …) Thanks for the thoughtful response, Rob.

      • More than welcome. Is it obvious that this has been something I’ve been “chewing on” for a while?

        Concerning the slavery argument, J.R. Daniel Kirk is exploring some of that here: http://www.jrdkirk.com/2011/01/26/homosexuality-abortion-and-racism-pt-1/

        My one concern with his arguments is that Scripture never said that slavery was good or bad (well…only one place is it shown as bad and that was oppression more than slavery). And, for that matter, Scripture is VERY explicit about there being one human race with many cultures, tongues, tribes, and nations and that they ALL are equal in God’s eyes. The centuries of race-based slavery and the racism issues in the US are based not as much on Scripture but on the same attitudes that had Egypt oppressing the Hebrews and the Romans oppressing the Jews and so on: those in power exerting their power unjustly.

        Homosexuality, admittedly with some discussion needed, does not share this kind of history in the Scriptural story. Homosexuality is pretty explicitly spoken against in both OT and NT as practices that are counter to God’s intention. It’s not a matter of an oppression of one group on another, it is a personal attitude and rebellion.

        There I go again with long winded comments. 🙂 In any case, I enjoy you’re digestion of all these other blogs. Keep it up!

      • This from the guy who wanted to get a (expressly forbidden) tattoo. 😉

        On that, I’ve been wondering if a tattoo of the cross over my heart would be a way to show solidarity with the intent, without risking intentional or unintentional offense. (For the sake of a weaker brother for whom it might be sin …)

  2. Still thinking about that tattoo you know. 🙂

    Guess the point is that there are some things that seem to be taught through the story of Scripture as explicitly “this is a sin” and some things that are taught “Here’s what you do with this cultural thing”. When it comes to homosexuality, it seems to me that there is a heavy side to “this is a sin.”

    I guess the reason why it’s so touchy is that it is seen as a personal choice that, so long as it’s consensual, doesn’t hurt anyone else. What harm does it do, really? This argument, though, to me takes one very important relationship out of the picture…. that of the one with God. There is an intention for Creation, a plan that God had in mind. Referencing Paul’s discussion in Romans 1, homosexual behavior is counter to that plan. So, who does it hurt? It hurts yourself and your relationship with your Creator.

    That’s what sin is, really…it’s a break down of proper relationships. There’s sin against other people (murder, theft, etc), there’s sin against creation (wasteful use of resources, lack of care for environment), but where people seem to fall down most is the sins that we see as “personal” things but are really sins against God (idolatry, pride, envy, etc). I think homosexuality and other sexual related sins fall in this last category because, for the most part, they are private either by yourself (and we won’t go there…) or with consenting adults (so it negates sin against fellow man). The only relationship that is broken, then, is the one with God.

    So… what do I do then? If a homosexual person comes into my church, first things first: love them. They are a creature of God, beloved by God, and worth dying for. I cannot cast any judgement or criticism on them because there is no mutuality in the relationship. If, however, the relationship proceeds, perhaps there will come a time when the discussion can happen. But ultimately, the discussion will not be about the person, but about what the person does. Just like any discussions about gluttony would not be about “Rob is a horrible person” but more on the lines of “Rob is struggling with controlling his eating habits.”

    As for the tattoo on the heart… hrm… that MIGHT just work. 😉

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