All or Nothing or Both/And Wrong in Conflict?
Knowing my passion for all things peacemaking, a friend recently shared this TGC post, Church Conflict 101, with me. I read it. My text reply was succinct: “Helpful distinction. Thanks.”
And I stand by that. An assertion like, “In every conflict there is always wrong on both sides.” is a dangerous overstatement.
Beware all-or-nothing words like “never” and “always.” Exceptions always exist. Arrgh–I just violated the rule!
Seriously, I appreciate what Pastor Ray–for whom I have much respect–labors to protect in this piece.
I take his underlying concern to be a 1 Timothy 5:19 one. “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.”
He explains: “My appeal to all church leaders is that you will not be caught off-guard. Expect false accusations to surface, inconsolable hysteria, church crazy in various forms, targeting your pastor.”
He cautions wisely. At times church conflict is entirely one-sided. It can be on occasion more Cain and Abel-like or Saul and David-like or Ahab and Naboth-like or the Pharisees and Jesus-like or even the whole world and the apostles-like than not.
But if I may push back some from experience and the Scriptures with a 101 A addendum to his redemptive post, that kind of all-or-nothing lopsidedness in church conflict seems more the exception than the rule to me.
My forays into the battlegrounds of fights between believers have been more Paul and Barnabas-like (Acts 15:36-41), more Euodia and Syntyche-like (Phil. 4:2-3), and more Philemon and Onesimus-like (Philemon 8-20) than not.
Church Conflict 101 as a rule seems more about genuinely godly people hashing out disagreements over preferences, positions, and passions than plain good vs. evil guilt or innocence.
When confronted with a blatant all-or-nothing fight like Cain and Abel (1 John 3:11-12), by all means we must take categorical stances that unapologetically call out one-sided wickedness.
But caution is advised. The safest way to draw such unilateral conclusions without bypassing one’s own or others’ faults in the mix is to heed Jesus’s charge in Matthew 7:3-5. Take care to extract any logs out of your own eye before trying to remove any specks from your brother’s.
Wise is the pastor or any believer faced with conflict to conduct a James 4:1-3 self-check before proceeding into conversation with an opponent.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
In fairness, Pastor Ray offers a constructive alternative to the unhelpful always posed at the outset of his post.
It would be better to say, “In every conflict there are always sinners on both sides. But whether there is wrong on both sides is the very question that demands a careful, thorough, responsible answer. Is there sin on both sides contributing to this conflict? Or could there be godliness on one side contributing to this conflict?” The Bible leads us into these categories of consideration, and they are profound.
Granted. Careful, thorough, responsible answers to the question of wrong on both sides must occur, but wise are the parties and any who mediate disputes to work both sides of the street thoroughly, lest any idol of the heart go unchecked and unnecessarily perpetuate a conflict.
John Calvin said it well: “Man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols.”
We do well to remain mindful of that threat to all parties in our practice of Peacemaking 101.