When conflict arises – what does / should a “church” do?


 

“We continue to hear from many people on the debate over <fill in your favorite conflict> that our current <fill in your church “rules”> contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts,” the proposal said. “We will name such a Commission to include persons from every region of our <church>, and will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate.”

Did you know there are 14 definitions of the word “church”?

No wonder some churches themselves don’t even know what they’re supposed to do when this happens!

The quote is real – except that I’ve removed the actual conflict, because which specific conflict is really quite irrelevant to what I’m going to say.
I’ve also removed the specific terminology for the church from which this quote came – because again, it’s irrelevant to my topic.
Yes – you can Google it and find it.  But if you do this, you may be biased before even reading this, so please try resist – at least for now.


The image at the top came from sojo.net.  I’m sure you’ve seen these words outside of churches – “All are welcome”.  
For this article, I’m only talking about Christian churches.  At least, churches who claim to be Christian.
“All are welcome” – as they should be.
After all, Jesus welcomed all sorts of people.

Mk 2:13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,”Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
Mk 2:15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

Notice – Jesus was having dinner with many tax collectors and “sinners” … for there were many who followed him.  Yes – Jesus had dinner with them.  Because they were following Him.

But then look what happens – the Jewish leaders aren’t happy with Jesus – because He is doing these things.  He’s eating with people who were to them – “unclean”.  They were “sinners”.  How could a religious person possibly eat with “sinners”!  Disgraceful!

And yet – if the religious people won’t associate with “sinners”, how are the sinners supposed to be anything but sinners?  
Wasn’t the idea to change their lives?

Like Jesus’ response to the criticism from the Jewish leaders –

Mk 2:17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

So yes – Jesus came to be with the sinners.


Definition of “church”

So let’s take a little side trip here and look at the fourteen definitions of the word “church” from dictionary.com.  Yes – fourteen!!

  1. building for public Christian worship.
  2. public worship of God or a religious service in such a building.
  3. (sometimes initial capital letter) the whole body of Christian believers; Christendom.
  4. (sometimes initial capital letter) any division of this body professing the same creed and acknowledging the same ecclesiastical authority; a Christian denomination.
  5. that part of the whole Christian body, or of a particular denomination, belonging to the same city, country, nation, etc.
  6. a body of Christians worshiping in a particular building or constituting one congregation.
  7. ecclesiastical organization, power, and affairs, as distinguished from the state.
  8. the clergy and religious officials of a Christian denomination.
  9. the Christian faith.
  10. (initial capital letter) the Christian Church before the Reformation.
  11. (initial capital letter) the Roman Catholic Church.
  12. the clerical profession or calling.
  13. a place of public worship of a non-Christian religion.
  14. any non-Christian religious society, organization, or congregation.

But let’s look at what this word really should mean, at least in the Christian sense of the word –

CHURCH—Derived probably from the Greek kuriakon (i.e., “the Lord’s house”), which was used by ancient authors for the place of worship.
In the New Testament it is the translation of the Greek word ecclesia, which is synonymous with the Hebrew kahal of the Old Testament, both words meaning simply an assembly, the character of which can only be known from the connection in which the word is found. There is no clear instance of its being used for a place of meeting or of worship, although in post-apostolic times it early received this meaning. Nor is this word ever used to denote the inhabitants of a country united in the same profession, as when we say the “Church of England,” the “Church of Scotland,” etc.

The church invisible “consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ, the head thereof.” This is a pure society, the church in which Christ dwells. It is the body of Christ. it is called “invisible” because the greater part of those who constitute it are already in heaven or are yet unborn, and also because its members still on earth cannot certainly be distinguished. The qualifications of membership in it are internal and are hidden. It is unseen except by Him who “searches the heart.” “The Lord knoweth them that are his” (2 Tim. 2:19).
The church to which the attributes, prerogatives, and promises appertaining to Christ’s kingdom belong, is a spiritual body consisting of all true believers, i.e., the church invisible.
(1.) Its unity. God has ever had only one church on earth. We sometimes speak of the Old Testament Church and of the New Testament church, but they are one and the same. The Old Testament church was not to be changed but enlarged (Isa. 49:13–23; 60:1–14). When the Jews are at length restored, they will not enter a new church, but will be grafted again into “their own olive tree” (Rom. 11:18–24; comp. Eph. 2:11–22). The apostles did not set up a new organization. Under their ministry disciples were “added” to the “church” already existing (Acts 2:47).
(2.) Its universality. It is the “catholic” church; not confined to any particular country or outward organization, but comprehending all believers throughout the whole world.
(3.) Its perpetuity. It will continue through all ages to the end of the world. It can never be destroyed. It is an “everlasting kingdom.”

Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

So – which of the 14 modern day definitions of “church” does this fit in with?

Honestly – none of them.

We – today – don’t even know what the word means any more.


Let’s highlight one of the sentences above –

The church invisible “consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ, the head thereof.”

Notice – the church – the people – are gathered into one under Christ, the head thereof.

We – the members of His church – are gathered Under Jesus – and (it should be obvious) Jesus is the head of His church.

There’s a very telling statement from Paul is Ephesians 4:14-16 –

Eph 4:14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

He echos the part about Jesus being the head – and everyone in His church is joined and held together by His love.  And each of us does our part – with Jesus as the head of His church.

But look how Paul started off –

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

Without Jesus as the head of the church, we would be all over the place – tossed as if in giant waves – blown around like in strong wind – and deceived by all sorts of people who are not truly following Jesus – and who are scheming to take away what we have as members of Jesus’ church body – with Jesus as the head, and joined by His love.

Thinking about that – let’s go back to the earlier verses from Luke, where it starts off with –

Mk 2:13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,”Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

Levi was a tax collector.  Does anyone honestly believe that Jesus called Levi (Matthew – author of the first Gospel in the New Testament) – to get his advice on how Jesus should go about His ministry?

Jesus also ate with other tax collectors and sinners.  Does anyone honestly believe Jesus ate with them to get feedback, suggestions, and advice on how He should change tactics and maybe even adjust His teaching?

Jesus said things like –

Jn 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Check out that last verse – 

You know the way to the place where I am going.

Does anyone even have a little bit of an idea that maybe someone who didn’t like the way that Jesus told them they had to live their lives had the tiniest bit of a chance that Jesus would change His mind?  
Does anyone think that Jesus would have been open to learning about changing customs and loosen up His teaching?
Does anyone think that maybe Jesus was talking to and eating with sinners so that He could be sure all things that labeled them as sinners could be cleared away as roadblocks and that Jesus would declare them as suddenly not only acceptable, but now should be part of His teaching?

Here’s one encounter that might give a clue –

Mt 19:16 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life ?”
Mt 19:17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
Mt 19:18 “Which ones?” the man inquired.
Jesus replied, “ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’’”
Mt 19:20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Mt 19:21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Mt 19:22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Did we see Jesus changing His mind – telling this rich young man that it was OK for him to keep all his money and giving to the poor was no longer a requirement?

Or maybe Jesus would be OK with people just going on sinning.  Maybe a sin was still a sin – but sins didn’t really matter any more?
Does anyone really believe that?

Here’s another encounter for a clue to that one –

Jn 7:53 Then each went to his own home.
Jn 8:1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
Jn 8:9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
Jn 8:11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Yes – there is a message of forgiveness.  
But did we see Jesus telling this woman that she could just go on living life the same way as before?

Conclusion

I could go on – but this is probably enough information to make my point.

So let’s go back to the original quote about what churches do when conflicts come up –

“We continue to hear from many people on the debate over <fill in your favorite conflict> that our current <fill in your church “rules”> contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts,” the proposal said. “We will name such a Commission to include persons from every region of our <church>, and will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate.”

So –

They are going to have a commission to get input from various parts of the “church” (translate as their particular denomination) to get each of their differing perspectives.
They are going to get feedback that would lead to a better / more tolerable message.
They are going to get local, regional and global feedback for messaging context that would be acceptable to all of them.

Does any of that sound even remotely like what Jesus did when He was alive?

We’ve already seen that Jesus most certainly did not meet and eat with tax collectors and other sinners to get their feedback, but to change their way of life – so they could ultimately live with Him forever.

What did Jesus do?

Mt 14:22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.

Quite the opposite of the statement above from the denominational church.
They want to get feedback from all the people.  They want to hear from the body – but not the head.

Jesus – the head of His Church – as I said – did not consult the body.  In fact, He got away from the body.  And prayed to the Father.

Where is that in any of what the church in this example (and way to many others) is doing?

It’s not there.  Not at all.

Paul wrote that when we truly have Jesus as the head of His church and we are under Him in that church –

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

Given what this church (and others) is doing –
the logical conclusion is that they will be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

People may “feel good” about being more “open”, “inclusive”, tolerant”, maybe even feel “more forgiving” – when things like this happen.

The problem is –
while we may have some say over who can become members of any given denomination –
while we may think that what we teach is what will be acceptable to Jesus –
that’s just not true.

James wrote this about the tongue – and teachers –

Jas 3:1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
Jas 3:3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
Jas 3:7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
Jas 3:9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

I often think we define the word “teacher” too strictly these days.  We look at “teacher” as someone with that title.  But to some extent, aren’t we all teachers?  People watch what we do.  They listen to what we say.  And they are influence by those things.  And doesn’t that sound like what a teacher does?

The leaders of the church in this example – or any other church in similar circumstances – certainly are also “teachers”.

God isn’t going to change His ways to accommodate us.
Jesus taught us the way to Him.
And He expects us to follow that way if we want to be with Him.

It’s that simple.

The “church” as we define it today may or may not  get us on the path to God – or eternity in Heaven.

The “church” as God defines it – is the way to God and eternity in Heaven.

I’m not saying don’t attend church.  Not at all.  Not attending any church at all means we have left the community of God – certainly not something He would want.
What I am saying is that we shouldn’t just blindly trust what the leaders of our denomination (people) say is OK.  If there’s a conflict between the Bible and our “church” – we need to recognize that and not fall victim to it.

It’s like what C. S. Lewis wrote about in Mere Christianity.

The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’

It’s not easy.  
No one church is totally “doing it right”.
They can’t be.
Because even though Jesus is the head of “His church” –
people are the heads of “our denominational churches”.

We just need to try to be cognizant of the differences between our “denominational church” and “Jesus’ church”.
And keep in mind that our real goal his to become a member of Jesus’ church, regardless of what our denominational church says.

Again – staying away isn’t an option that Jesus wants for us –

For one thing –

Jn 17:13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified

and for another –

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We cannot do these things while hiding from the world.

Also – keep this in mind –

Mt 10:11 “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Be like that.  Go out into the world.  Go to church.  But don’t forget who sent you.  And don’t forget who you want to be with in the end.  
And let’s try to not let Him down.
After all – as I’ve said before – for better or worse, we are the one He left to deliver His message of forgiveness and of the Kingdom of God.

 

 

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