Conflict and a Parting of Ways in the Church

By Joe LaGuardia

Being Christ’s Church is no easy task.  As far back as the New Testament, churches have been dealing with weighty matters from Bible interpretation to theological wrangling so much that we should not be surprised when some churches fight and split.

Scripture provides us with a blueprint for how to manage conflicts in church.  The question of gentile inclusion in Acts 15, for instance, reveals a process of discernment that promoted communication, testimonies, Bible interpretation, and compromise that produced healthy church growth.

A later incident in Acts 15 describes what happens when people in churches have irreconcilable differences that discernment cannot overcome.  What happens when the only solution to disagreement is a parting of ways?

Acts 15:36-41 recalls a sharp disagreement between Barnabas and Paul on whether to bring John Mark on a second missionary journey.   They did not come to a compromise and they arrived at an impasse.  Paul and Barnabas parted ways.

A close reading of the text reveals four effective strategies in managing a church conflict in which irreconcilable disagreements did not spell the end of friendships but exposed a new season of ministry inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The first strategy is that Paul and Barnabas keep their focus on God’s mission and don’t make the conflict personal.  The Bible clearly outlines that Barnabas and Paul had different personalities: Barnabas was a bridge-building who longed to keep everyone together.  Mark was family, so there was a willingness to give him a second chance.  Paul was all business.  He was not as forgiving, and God’s mission was at stake.

This strategy shows that when churches do conflict resolution well, they emphasize the mission of the church rather than resorting to personal attacks.

Second, Paul and Barnabas valued communication.  Paul could have easily went along with Barnabas only to flirt with resentment if things went sour later in the journey, but Paul was honest with his friend.  He trusted Barnabas with his concerns, and the “sharp disagreement” shows a deep sense of honor between the two men.  There was mutual respect, and in Paul’s later letter to the Corinthian churches (1 Cor. 9), Paul still considered Barnabas his peer and equal after the division–they may not have agreed, but they still affirmed each other’s mission.

What we should emphasize is not the conflict, but what Paul and Barnabas have in common–a zeal to share the Gospel” – St. Crysostom.

A third strategy is to have an understanding of God’s sacred time: there is a season for everything.  What may appear to be discomfort, disagreement, or discord to us may simply be the Holy Spirit’s way of inspiring a new season of ministry.

In this season of ministry, Paul recognized that Mark was not the right guy for the job.  Later, after Mark matured in the faith, Paul recruited him to minister to churches in Colossae as Paul remained in prison (Colossians 4:10).

The focus remained on the mission and Mark was not necessarily the problem–sometimes the problem is with our sense of timing.  When seasons of ministry shift, change and discomfort result from that restless anxiety that tips our hat to the movement of the Spirit.

In times of discomfort or disagreement, we need to STOP, LISTEN, and ASSESS where the Holy Spirit may be at work to break us into a new level of revival, mission, zeal, or ministry.

Last, in parting ways not by discord but by effective conflict resolution, Paul and Barnabas expanded God’s mission.  God’s mission does not collapse or implode or falter.  When we resolve conflict by our own strength and design, churches split and bring some ministries to an end.  When God’s mission remains our focus and we make decisions because we are in tune with the Holy Spirit, God replicates and multiplies church communities.

As a result of their parting of ways, Barnabas and Mark ministered in Cyprus while Paul began a second missionary journey that ventured as far as Macedonia.  St. Crysostom wrote about this text, “What we should emphasize is not the conflict, but what Paul and Barnabas have in common–a zeal to share the Gospel.”

When conflicts arise, our first step as Christians should be to put in place a process of spiritual discernment that seeks to bring reconciliation and restoration in the church and the church’s mission.  When irreconcilable differences occur, however, we must put in place a process of a different kind; yet, our concern should always be the same: Are we living deeper into God’s holiness and are we proactively reaching the lost with every decision that is made?

A Costly Christmas: Surrender as a New Year’s Resolution

I like easy Christmases.  You know, a Christmas with little or no fanfare–simple Christmases with few bumps and issues.

I knew trouble was on its way when I found out on Christmas Eve that a lasagna I was baking was the main entree for that evening’s supper. To have it as the main course put undo pressure on my Italian cooking skills.  It became inconvenient and a burden.

Then, around midnight that very evening, I was just about to go to sleep and await Santa’s arrival when my wife dropped a dozen toys on the bed.

“Wow,” I said, “You have a lot of gifts to wrap.”

She hit me with a roll of wrapping paper and insisted I help.  Inconvenient and certainly not what I wanted to do at midnight.  Not only do I not like Christmas with too many inconveniences, I like my Christmas without a cost.

I have a feeling that we all like a Christmas that is not costly or inconvenient.  We know it’s Jesus’ birthday, but we like Jesus to stay under the tree and not intrude on our lives too much.  We like things to go our way.

I’m sure Ceasar Augustas and the entire religious establishment in first-century Palestine felt the same way when Jesus was born.  When the Magi told Herod that a king had been born, he did not welcome the inconvenient truth that God was becoming human in his neck of the woods.

God’s intrusion upon the world–upon the entire cosmos–as He came in the form of a poor baby from Nazareth was quite inconvenient.  Until then, God was distant.  Everyone stayed in line, and things got done through the heavy-hand of government, law, and piety.  When God came, however, the standard changed.

In the “Nunc dimittis,” an old prophet, Simeon, blessed Jesus when Jesus’ parents dedicated him at the temple as was the custom in those days (Luke 2:25-35).  Simeon announced the implications of God’s presence: Jesus will be a light to the gentiles and the glory of Israel.

Salvation had come, but at a cost.  Simeon pointed out an inconvenient truth: The Christ-child will be cause the rising and falling of many in history, a sign that will be opposed.  In coming near to us, Jesus shines a light in our lives and exposes those things that we need to surrender to God.  Inconvenient indeed.

Jesus will also cause others to rise–those very people whom many would rather see put down: the poor, the helpless, and the vulnerable.  In God’s economy, life situations are reversed and God’s reign looks very different than what we expect.  Christmas is a costly one, and we will continue to oppose God’s presence for as long as we stubbornly hold to what we want rather than what God wants.

That Christ child born so long ago was a costly intrusion of God on earth.  Destined for an itinerant life of ministry, doomed to die on a cross, Jesus’ birth cost God his son.  God surrendered God’s all for us.

Christmas calls into account the cost of discipleship.  Not only do we need to let Jesus cause the downfall of those dark areas of our life, but it costs us our all to rise for him.  Following Christ costs us our very lives, and the inconvenience that follows the Christian life often hampers our full obedience.

When the angel told Mary that Jesus will be called Emmanuel, “God with us,” the angel was expressing an inconvenient truth because God’s presence means that we actually have to change.  Let our prayer be a simple one as we head into the new year:  “More of you, O Lord, and less of me. Amen, and amen.”

2011 NIV vs. SBC: The battle over the bestselling Bible translation

During the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix held several weeks ago, messengers passed a resolution that “respectfully requested” Lifeway not to carry or sell the newly revised New International Version (2011).

A Baptist Press article reports:

“The resolution came to the floor when Indiana pastor Tim Overton persuaded messengers to address the 2011 version of the popular translation that his resolution said had “gone beyond acceptable translation standards” regarding gender. His resolution said 75 percent of the flawed gender translation in the TNIV appears in the new NIV. Southern Baptist messengers expressed their disapproval of the TNIV in a 2002 resolution.”

Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press also ran a story on the decision.

As a person interested in Bibles and Bible translations, I could not help but seek out any responses to the resolution.  You may find the PDF version of the Committee of Bible Translation’s (the Committee responsible for the NIV) response in full.

For a different take on the whole debate, I found a little chestnut of a blog on the subject from Rev. John Armstrong, who has a disliking for the resolution.

Enjoy, and comment to tell me what you think about the NIV debate!