By: Bob Illman
I used to do some work with Peacemaker Ministries. The goal of Peacemakers is to help Christians resolve conflict. In many of our seminars, we started off the presentation projecting a slide that said, “Where two or three are gathered in His Name, there will be conflict!” The audience always responded with laughter that was combined with embarrassment. They knew it was true, and they knew that it was not good.
Why is it that we don’t find it easy to get along? Why does so much of the New Testament remind us that we are the family of God and should act like it? James says we have conflict because we want what gives us pleasure, not what is right or good for others. (James 4.1) Paul echoes this thinking as he reminds us of our inflated self-worth, but goes on to remind us that through the Cross of Christ, we are connected to one another for one another. (Romans 12:3-5) There was an old Corn Flakes commercial that invited us to “taste them again for the first time.” It is time to do that again with reconciliation.
Probably you have had someone ask you if you have a personal relationship with Christ. Have you ever been asked if you have a corporate relationship with Him? Let me be the first. Since the late 19th century, American Christianity has focused on our individual relationship to Christ, while our corporate or community relationship to one another has been pushed to the background. We sometimes reason that while we are personally at conflict with a brother or sister, or maybe our whole congregation, presbytery or denomination, we are still fine with God.
Friends, that contradicts God’s Word. In Ephesians 2, Paul explains to us that Christ’s work on the Cross was to reconcile us to God and at the same time, to reconcile us to one another. Any Gospel message that fails to include this second part of God’s plan is incomplete! God brought you into His family, and you are his child as one of many brothers and sisters. Parents expect peace in the household; God expects there to be peace in His household, which is the Church.
1 Corinthians 12
There are four things that I believe we need to rediscover about how God thinks of His Church, and about us as his family members. First, we need a crash course in I Corinthians 12. Are people in your church different from you? Good! We can’t all be noses. We need one another with our differences. Are all the people in your congregation as sanctified as you? No? Good! You have a job as a brother or sister who participates in mutual growth so that we grow from our unity in the Spirit into a unity of the faith. (Ephesians 4.3-13) Quit complaining that some are different or slow to learn and give yourself to them as a brother or sister. That is why Christ died for you and for them.
Build Others Up
Second, we need to understand that as fellow members of the household of God, brothers and sisters have the right to be treated as you would treat Jesus. It doesn’t mean that you can’t disagree, or point out areas of concern, but you need to do so as a loving relative, “[speaking] only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4.29) Too often we vent our anger on others so we will feel better. If you watched any of the recent Republican Presidential Debates, you know how ridiculous and ugly the back biting and insults appeared. Unfortunately, Christians at congregational, presbytery or even General Synod meetings can look just as ugly. Brothers and sisters, remember the work of the Cross. We would not act this way if we remembered why Jesus died.
Honor His People
Third, we need to honor God’s work through the Cross by honoring His people. He puts us in congregations to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. But, He promises to work in us for His good pleasure! (Philippians 2.12 -13) Today, too many people move from congregation to congregation, or denomination to denomination, simply because they won’t work out their salvation with a trust in God to be working in them. Got a problem? Take the easy way out and leave? Is that what Paul did when he saw problems in the church at Corinth? Of course not. He valued the work of Christ on the Cross. He even valued those who were in the wrong. He didn’t abandon them. He knew that Christ saw our reconciliation to God and our reconciliation to one another as His mission on the Cross.
Finally, consider our witness. Rediscover the horizontal reconciliation in the Cross. How can we leave out this part of the Gospel and claim to be doing evangelism? Jesus prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17.23b) It is our joy to tell others about God reconciling us to Himself, and then to be able to bring them into churches where they see both the vertical and horizontal reconciliation celebrated. It has always been God’s plan. Taste it again for the first time!
Bob retired this past year from serving as Pastor of Connections Presbyterian Church in Madison, AL. He and Sally now live in Eureka, California, where he serves as a Hospice Chaplain. He remains active in the Tennessee-Alabama Presbytery.