Christian Conflict Resolution

The last article I wrote was all about how the world will know us by the way we love them as well as each other. But we have to be honest here. We are human … every one of us. And, as long as we are human, we will have conflict. There will be misunderstandings, miscommunications, and misattributions. What do we do to reduce the damage these things can cause?

Believe it or not, Jesus knew we’re human, too. In His Sermon on the Mount He instructed His disciples on how to handle conflict. Starting with the 23rd verse of Matthew’s fifth chapter, he said,

“…if you are… at the altar and … remember that your brother has something against you LEAVE YOUR GIFT THERE … go and be reconciled … then… offer your gift …”

Later, during another teaching session, Jesus went into more detail about how to handle conflict among believers. In Matthew 18:15 he begins this teaching:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, JUST BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that, ‘Every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector…I tell you whatever you bind on earth ….” (I am using the New International Version of the Bible).

Let’s start with the passage from Matthew 5. If you’re in the middle of making an offering at the altar (in the modern church, if you’re praying) and in the middle of your prayer you remember that a fellow- believer has something against you, DROP WHAT YOU’RE DOING. Go directly to the offended brother or sister and BE RECONCILED TO HIM OR HER. Don’t say, “I’ll go as soon as I’m done here”—get the reconciliation completed before you finish your offering! If someone is offended by you TAKE CARE OF IT. Of course this means you need to know when you’ve offended someone. This means one of two things: Either the offense was so blatant YOU KNEW what you did was offensive or else someone has told you or someone else they were offended and it has gotten back to you.

Now, let’s move on to the 18th chapter of Matthew. We’ll take each step separately and see how this whole thing works. (I’m going to use “he and him” because it is convenient, not because only males are being offensive or offended):

1. If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault…” Don’t sit in your armchair and sulk. Don’t brood over what he did. Don’t go call Aunt Maizie and whine about how mean he was to you. GO AND SHOW HIM HIS FAULT. (Need I add … LOVINGLY show him?)

2. GO … don’t call him up and tell him to come to you.

3. “JUST BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU…” Don’t bring Aunt Maizie with you, don’t bring along the preacher. JUST BETWEEN YOU TWO.

4. If you need to go further because he won’t listen, THEN find a couple of LOVING Christian brothers to go with you and talk it over with the offender. He may not want to listen to them either.

5. If he still refuses to (apologize, admit his fault, repent) listen, THEN you treat him as a pagan or a tax collector.

6. How do you treat someone as a pagan or tax collector? He is still allowed to attend church, he is still loved and talked to and welcomed at all events of the church … but he isn’t allowed to lead a class, vote in membership meetings, or otherwise take any position with authority attached.

These are Jesus’ specific steps to follow but, nowadays, no one seems to follow them.

I believe it’s because we’ve been trained to “run to daddy” whenever anything happens to us. It used to be the rule that you stood up for yourself … if the playground bully was picking on your kid, you taught your kid a couple of effective moves to solve the problem and if your kid came home with a bloody nose and told you he’d fought off the bully you were proud of him. Now, the kid is supposed to run to an authority figure (teacher, principal, etc.) … as soon as he can get away from the beating he’s being given.

Instead of following the steps Jesus laid down, we run to the preacher or elder whenever we’ve been offended, “Pastor, Brother Donald has been looking at me funny for the last two weeks and I think he’s mad at me!” And, Pastor, already under pressure to keep 200 people harmonious, instead of instructing this “victim” in the proper steps for conflict resolution, takes the burden on himself, calls Brother Donald, and invites him into the office for a “talk” while never disclosing who has complained or what is going on.
This new style of conflict resolution ignores several facets of human behavior that Jesus’ method makes use of:

1. Humans are lazy: if you don’t think an offense is important enough to travel across town to the offender’s home, you won’t go … you’ll let it go.

2. Humans are cowards: if the offense is minor (“he’s lookin’ at me!”) you won’t go … you’ll let it go.

3. Humans are territorial: If you have to go into someone else’s home and “talk turkey” with them, it’s going to be over something that is really a major issue … not about Brother Don ignoring your offer of a handshake!

Jesus expected His followers to grow and become mature adults. He met them where they were but expected them to increase in maturity. Once, He told them He had much more He wanted to tell them but they weren’t ready to hear it, implying that they weren’t mature enough yet but that they would be sometime in the future.

It isn’t mature to expect an authority figure like a teacher or pastor to step in and protect your identity when you have a complaint against a fellow-Christian. If it’s important enough to complain about, it’s important enough to say, “I am Polly Plaintiff and I am offended by what you did.”

The lessons are obvious: If it’s minor, forget it. It isn’t worth what you might become enmeshed in. If it’s serious, be adult enough to approach the offender in person and confront the behavior.

Jesus wants His disciples to be mature and loving in all their dealings – including in conflict resolution!