(Copyright June 1, 1995)
By: William D. Bontrager, J.D.
1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO. 81326
I refuse to think of myself as a “free thinker” — but I do store up things, mentally modified to my understanding of God and His ways, changing words to a form which makes sense to me in light of who and what I am because of Christ.
For that reason, some of what you read comes from others — but I am unable to name or credit them, for I have neglected to store up the sources.
But four acknowledgments do need to be made:
First, to God Who loved me so much that He died for me in Christ Jesus, and then hounded after me in gentleness and persistence — and Who still gently taps on my thick head with His teachings;
Second, to my Dad and Mom — to Dad because all that I like most about myself I see coming from him; to Mom because she has always been the quiet display of sacrificial love;
Third, to my wife, Ellen, and my three sons — Daniel, Richard, and Edward — who chose to love me although I didn’t demonstrate reciprocal love until of late, and, even now, do so only in infrequent and small amounts; and
Fourth, to Lawrence Eck, and the others of the Associated Christian Conciliation Services, who went before, transmitted the vision, and paved the way.
An attorney knows that professionals may be liable for not fully informing their clients (or patients) of everything the client may need to know with which to give an “informed consent.”
Consequently, we have developed “disclaimers” which we incorporate into documents which are then given to clients, patients, etc.
A disclaimer is basically a statement which says: “You may think that you know what I am saying, but I may not be saying what you think I am saying. Thus, proceed at your own risk.”
So, I issue the following disclaimer.
I am not a theologian.
I have not been to Bible College or Seminary.
And, when you get to Heaven, and stand before the Lord, and He asks you: “Why did you do this dumb, stupid, thing on January 3, 1996?;” and you respond: “Well, Bill Bontrager, in his book, told me to,” the Lord will probably respond with: “That is no excuse; I formed you in the womb, and wrote My laws and rules on your heart before you were born. You cannot justify your actions or inactions based upon what someone else wrote.”
Finally, you will find me referring to the Bible time and time again. I did not author that book, so don’t blame me for what it says. I could write you a release for liability from what it says, but only the Author can give a valid release, and I don’t think He will do that.
I have attempted to write what is very near and dear, and real, to me. But I know that nothing in this book is of any value unless it is His truth, and the Holy Spirit witnesses that factor to you.
Thus I ask your forgiveness where I may fail in this effort. And I pray that you will, as you sit down to read, ask the Lord to speak to you His truth which He wants you to know at this point in your life.
Throughout all of my life, I have encountered conflicts.
I was a child of parents; a parent of children.
I have been, and still am, married, thanks to mutual stubbornness and a willingness to allow God to build love for one another.
I have been an employee of employers; and an employer of employees.
I have had auto accidents, arguments with health insurance companies, traffic tickets, hassles with the I.R.S., and, as you will see, a major conflict with the Indiana Supreme Court.
As a lawyer, I have handled conflicts for others and, as a judge, presided over the conflicts of others.
I write this book because I have seen thousands of Christians and Christians organizations destroyed by their conflicts. Yet, as I read the Bible, I see where our conflicts can be an opportunity for great spiritual growth.
And, so, I have two aims from this effort of writing:
(1) That more Christians will begin to deal Biblically with their conflicts, bringing, in the process, glory to God through Jesus Christ, peace to self, and reconciliation in their relationships. And,
(2) That more Christians will, when they see a friend in conflict (whether Christian or not), offer themselves to that friend as a peacemaker.
I have laid out this book as I have because:
(1) I hope that those who read this may find hope and comfort from my own story;
(2) that by using many small paragraphs, those who read this will be moved to stop often and contemplate all that is being said and not said; and
(3) that by setting forth complete Scripture texts, the Word of God will be freed to do its work of confirmation.
Dear God, I hope You know what You are doing.
It’s 2:00 a.m., August 16th, 1983. I am 42 years of age, driving a U-Haul full of belongings, a dog and one son asleep on the seat beside me, my wife and another son in the car following.
I’m leaving Elkhart, Indiana, town of my birth, my youth, and where I have lived my whole life. I’m leaving mother, brother, friends, church, and the law I was born in, raised in, trained in, worked in, presided over as judge, and which supported me.
I’m moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota, a center of over two million people, and You know I hate big cities. You also know that Ellen gets cold when it gets below 80, and we saw snow there in April!
I’ve got one son in college, one only a year away from college, and another three years away. I owe them $15,000, borrowed from the college accounts their grandfather established for them.
All of my life, I have worked to provide for my family, and now I don’t know if we’ll be able to buy groceries when we get there. You showed us a house to buy, and not only have we not sold the house or office in Elkhart, You haven’t even had anyone look at them.
As I’m driving, one moment I’m laughing and the next moment I’m crying. I’ve never been scared in my life of being able to do whatever I set my mind to do. Now You, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, tell me to do something and I’m scared senseless by inadequacy, fear of failure, and fear for our financial provision.
But I’m driving because You told me to, and because, throughout my life, I’ve been searching for justice. Now You tell me I’ve been looking in the wrong place for 42 years, and that if I’ll simply do as You ask me to I’ll get to see justice take place.
The funny thing is, I think I see a faint glimmer of it down this dark road.
Dear Lord Jesus, I hope You aren’t crazy!
“Let Justice roll down like waters, and righteousness
like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24
As I consider my life, it seems I have always been searching for justice — that will-o-the-wisp at the back of the mind which we know exists — and which we know we will recognize when we see it.
Justice is that thing which, when we read about a particular situation, we often say, “That is not justice.”
Justice is the thing we demand for ourselves.
For most people, justice is only a periodic thing to think about or speak about. For me, it has been an obsession of life. I “blame” my father for this obsession, for without him, my search may never have begun.
Dad was a lawyer and politician. According to the history books, he was the typical example of the poor country farm boy who had to do chores on the way to and from high school to pay for school. Then he boot-strapped himself, by dint of pure grit, to a position of authority and respect.
For the first eight years of my life, Dad served as a city judge, and then as county prosecutor. I had a law-enforcer for a father.
Because of what was to him a matter of great injustice (see page 7, Readers Digest, July, 1954), he ran for, and was elected to, the Indiana State Senate, where he served 16 years. I had a law-giver for a father.
I was born into this environment in 1941, the second of 3 sons (David, born 1939 and Charles, born 1945). The place was Elkhart, Indiana, now a city of over 40,000, in a county of 130,000, on the East-West toll road about mid-point along the north line of the state.
But it remained Dad, and the impact of his personality upon me, which molded me more than the rest of these mundane items.
They say that the law is a “jealous mistress”, and I found it to be so. It seemed to be so for Dad.
Or maybe it is always so for people who are searching for justice?
Or maybe anything which we allow to become the center of our life can become a jealous mistress.
But because of who Dad was, what he was, and whatever motivated him, our home seemed a center for legal and political discussions. It was like a 24-hour a day current events class in political science graduate school.
I can recall Dad holding forth at the end of the table about some lawsuit, and rearranging the food on my plate to diagram the scene of the auto accident. The rest of the meal was devoted to final argument. And I found it hard to fork my food, for he kept moving the objects of the accident around the plate.
I also recall once, when quite small, going to him and tugging on his coat with some, to me, meaningful question of life. It was the last time I did that, for I quickly discovered that I had opened a door to being cross-examined.
What do “normal” families talk about around the dinner table? I don’t know. I thought the great American pastime was roasting other people. Around our table, we discussed and debated social, ethical, religious, and political issues. And we discussed persons, and their actions and inactions, generally in a condemning way rather than in a praising way.
In 1952 — I was 11 — I missed my first day of school. Dad made us stay home to watch television. Understand, watching television was a rare event, so a full day sounded pretty neat, and it was a day out of school.
The event was the Republican National Convention, about which Dad declared: “This will be the death of the Republican Party as the eastern liberal establishment will steal the nomination from Bob Taft and give it to Ike.” And that is a direct quote, etched in my brain for eternity.
Dad also was President of the National Exchange Clubs. I remember Mom and him going to Cuba for the national convention at the end of the year he was President. Being a man who found it hard to take vacations, it was also planned as a vacation. Within six hours of getting to Cuba, he was on his way back north for a special session of the legislature, called because of one of his bills aimed at righting another injustice. So, justice came before vacation — as well I found out.
All of us boys, every year when the legislature was in session, served as pages, so we got to see the political process first hand. But all I recall is that it seemed a lot of people were running in a lot of different directions, with no one listening to what the speaker was saying.
Dad was also a man who loved God, and he was a student of the Bible. Thus, most discussions of law and politics eventually ended up having the issues, or person, compared to the Biblical standards.
And the comparisons didn’t stop there! Sunday dinner seemed to be a meal of roast pastor, as the pastor and his sermon were dissected and examined under the light of the “Divine Law”.
I always felt I was being likewise examined and compared, and I felt that I was always on the short end of the comparison.
Finally, Dad was a man who seemed, to me, to be distant and unapproachable, aloof and cold. He was a face behind a newspaper, a figure in the garden, a man “holding court”, or a man on the run.
He was at the Legislature in Indianapolis Monday through Friday, getting home late on Friday. Saturday, he was off to the office before we were up, staying until after we were in bed, repeating that Sunday morning, then presiding over Sunday dinner, and then leaving for Indianapolis right after dinner.
He traveled the state for the Republican Party, and the country for the National Exchange Club.
Somewhere, in all of this, I got the impression that he was always judging me and that, try as I might, I didn’t seem able to please him. Dad also seemed incapable of displaying love: to tuck me in bed, or give me a hug, or a pat on the head, or to tell me that I had done well.
I recall bringing home grade cards which were always straight “A” in the subjects — but Dad talked about the “C” in “Attitude.”
Dad passed away in 1971, before I gained the knowledge and understanding that I now have. Today, I know that Dad did love us, and I know that as “truth.”
I know it because I have chosen to believe that God loves me based only on what the Bible says — I have no objective evidence (at least that which would be admissible in a court) to support that knowledge of God’s love for me.
The Bible, however, also says that God creates us in His image. That means He created my father in His image. Therefore, my father was created with love for me in his heart even before I was born.
I also know that my father loved me because I love my wife and children with a desperate and abiding love. Yet, like my father, I seem unable to adequately or properly or constantly or consistently display that love. I agonize over my failure, and I believe that my father agonized over his failure.
In short, Dad, like me, fell short of the glory of God.
But, because of all that Dad was, and all that I perceived him to be, and the fact that he was gone a lot of the time, I never felt that I could go to him for advice, comfort, or sharing.
All of this also led me to truly hate him. Since I associated his characteristics with being an attorney, I swore a blood-oath that I would never be an attorney.
My view of my father, and this environment in which I was raised, also helped shaped my theology about God:
First, God was an absolute. He existed. There really is not a time in my life that I can look to and say that I didn’t believe in God and His existence.
Second, I knew that God created me, and that He created me distinctly different from all others, and that every other human being was, likewise, created unique and distinct.
Third, I knew that God created me with a knowledge of right and wrong; that He expected (not wanted) me to do right and refrain from doing wrong (Dad was also trying to teach me the differences). Since Dad punished me for my failures, I expected God would, during life, punish me also. Since Dad always seemed to know when I had done wrong and found out about it, I expected God would know and find out also. This fear helped to keep me basically honest.
Fourth, I knew that God expected (not wanted) us to help other people as we travel through life.
Fifth, I believed that God created mankind for the purpose of bringing justice to the earth; that He had equipped us to be able to do so; that He expected (not wanted) us to do so; and that He would judge us on our success or failure of doing the job. From Dad, I saw that the best way to establish justice was by working through the system of law, government, and politics.
Sixth, I knew that God wanted me to have a “right relationship” with Him and with all whom I met, although I didn’t know what that meant or how to achieve according to God. I felt I understood how to do it with people, however — just be honest and treat them as you like to be treated.
Finally, I knew that I would someday stand before God and be
judged on how I had carried out the assignment. God would stand there, in His long black robe, with a white wig, holding a balance scale, but without any blindfold. He would pour my actions onto the appropriate sides of the scales, allowing me to argue my case over each act before He passed judgment. Then whichever way the scales tipped, that was the way I would go. I knew I would win the case, by a simple preponderance of the evidence (civil law, not criminal law would apply) for I was a “good man.”
I saw God as otherwise detached — like Dad. It was as though God had created the universe, a place which we know is full of nothing but troubles and hardships, and then created and thrust man into the center of it with a basic job description, work instructions, and the necessary tools to straighten things out.
I imagined God then left to do whatever it is God does when He is not creating.
We didn’t need to seek Him for help, and He didn’t expect us to seek Him. Every now and then, He would come back, check on things, and make some minor correction in the course of the ship.
If we needed to check the course, we had the “Divine Law” of the Bible to go to, particularly the Old Testament portion.
As I look back, school and church, for me, merely reinforced this basic theology. After all, our Constitution says:
We The People, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure the domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
I was taught the following basics:
“The United States is a nation of Law, not of men. These laws and structures are founded upon the ‘Divine Law’.”
“We have a ‘justice system’ in the United States.”
“No other nation in the history of the world has ever achieved the level of justice which we have achieved in the United States.”
“We are creatures with rights. It is right to uphold, fight to maintain, and make sure every other person knows of our rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
“We are a nation of laws, and since anarchy is the alternative, you do not take the law into your own hands when your rights are violated. If you have not been dealt with justly, you go to court, sue the offender, and the law and the judge will do justice for and to you.”
“If anything seems to be wrong with the laws, or the system, or the people in authority, so that justice is being denied, that is of no great concern. We will merely change the law, change the system, and/or change who is in power. Then justice will be obtained and done.”
“All mistakes can and will be corrected, with time and patience, through the law and government and system; Justice Will Prevail!”
Finally, there was the teaching about what made America and
Americans great, and formed our images and attitudes and style of
behavior. It was called “Frontier Dynamics”. It was associated with the idea of “Rugged Individualism”.
The basic idea was to keep a stiff upper lip, do your own thing in rightness, bother no one, defend anyone who needed it if you were in the vicinity, but, you can make it on your own. Relationships are not important, and emotions are to be kept well in check.
Have you ever stopped to think how many of those rugged individuals, alone on the frontier, ended up scalped, frozen, or mauled by a grizzly?
The ones who survived did so in community, building forts, coming to the forts in times of attack, parceling out the labors for the benefit of all, discovering and utilizing the talents of each for the benefit of all. And weeping with one another, and rejoicing with one another.
Fortunately, throughout all this time that I was growing up, there was also Mom. I have only just begun to see and understand her impact upon my life.
The Mom I recall as I grew up was the mother of the breakfast time. I would get up, go through the bathroom ritual, and reach the kitchen. There would be Mom, in her robe, with the table set, food ready, lunch prepared in the lunch box, smile on the face, and hug in her arms.
Mom was also the darner of socks, sewer of labels on clothes, etc. She was, and is, a true Proverbs 31 woman. She was the continuous and clear display of sacrificial love.
I recall the playground fight, although I have conveniently forgotten who started it.
I do recall very clearly that Joe swung first, hitting me. I then swung, but missed (selective memory?).
The Principal came on the scene, separated us, and went about gathering evidence. She then took us to her office where she spoke to us about the matter of fighting. Then she reached into her bottom right hand drawer, brought forth her sturdy paddle, and set herself to administer justice.
“Joseph, bend over!” 6 swats. “You may leave.”
Well, obviously the truth had been heard, and justice done, so I started to leave.
“William, the Lord said: ‘Turn the other cheek’. Bend over!” Three swats. Still, it was justice.
* * * * *
I recall the day we were told that our books would not be used the next year.
We owned the books, which meant we could not resell them. We were also told of a mission school which could use the books, and large barrels were placed in the room to receive any donations (we were not required to donate).
Some kids, instead of donating, spent class-time folding the pages back upon themselves, thus damaging the books.
Upon discovery by the principal, the entire class was instructed in the wrongness of “willful destruction of property which had value to others, even if the property is your own to destroy.” Each of the kids got a public three swats with the paddle, and a note of explanation was sent to his (or her) parents.
The next day, the books came back, all the pages unfolded, and were placed in the barrels. That seemed like justice.
“Woe to those who enact evil statutes and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights.” Isaiah 10:1-2
I still don’t know why I decided to become an attorney. I had sworn a blood oath that I would not be one. I remember the day, where I was, who was present, and what the conversation was. It was as though a switch had been thrown, and what I had sworn I would never be, I would be. And it was as though it was always going to have been that way.
So I packed up, left Indiana, and started my second year of college, now pre-law rather than engineering, now at the University of Colorado, rather than Purdue University.
I got into politics at once, intent upon forming some contacts so that, after law school, I could get a job in Colorado, in the mountains I already loved (was I looking to be a rugged individual in location as well as attitude and action?), and so that I would never have to return to, or deal with, Dad.
I met Ellen while handing out “Nixon for President” stickers at a football game. Both of us came from families that stressed political agreement as a prerequisite to a healthy marriage.
We got married the next spring; Dan was born the following winter. The college steadily increased the out-of-state tuition. The vision of a log house in the mountains, string ties and cowboy boots, and a law practice which would allow time for skiing and jeeping, all vanished in the face of economic reality. We moved back to Indiana, and to Indiana University.
Dad had never gone to law school. He learned law through a correspondence course, and by studying law under another attorney. He still had his books from the late 20’s, so I packed them up and carted them off to law school with me. This proved to have an interesting impact upon me.
Each of Dad’s books, on each subject of the law, began with fundamental propositions of “truth”. They were axioms of the law. They claimed that they were founded upon immutable principles, existing in nature or God, always there and always true.
The study of law, in order to be meaningful, had to begin with a study of these truths. Once you knew the truths, you began to read cases which showed you how they were applied in various factual situations.
It was like having a shelf full of jars of food-stuffs. After hearing the facts of the case, you went to the shelf to see what principles needed to be applied in order to serve up justice.
For the trained attorney of the past, his livelihood depended on his ability to recall the immutable principles, and argue their application to the facts of the case. By argument from accepted principles, he sought to persuade the judge. The more logical the application, the better the lawyer.
But law schools of today operate on a different basis. Today you study cases by the thousands and attempt to extract the principles from the cases. But every time you change the facts of a case, you change the essence of the principle. This means that the food shelf is bare at the start.
From the cases, you place what you think to be the principles up on the shelf. If, for the next case, you find the principles don’t fit, just throw them away and find a new principle which will fit. “Law” has become situational; the absolutes have been lost.
Today, an attorney earns his livelihood by dreaming up, arguing, and getting someone to accept, a new and novel “principle,” often out of thin air! Since God is an absolute, and the law is not, sooner or later the law student or attorney will lose all concept of absolutes and, therefore, of God.
For example, consider the matter of contracts. An attorney drafts contracts striving to remove all loopholes from use by the opposition while retaining one or more for his own client. The client thinks that the black words on white paper have independent meaning; that they mean exactly what they say. In fact, the document has no meaning absent trust and relationship between the parties. End trust, end relationship, and the words on the paper will take on meaning under only one of two circumstances:
(1) that the parties restore relationship, in which case they will then give meaning to the words;
(2) that someone, judge or jury, will tell them what the language means.
The attorney knows this, but finds himself soon unable to admit it to himself or to his client. So a promise is not a promise; it is always conditional and situational. Yet Jesus said “Let your ‘yes’ be your ‘yes’, and your ‘no’ your ‘no’.” Matt. 5:33-37
How can we expect an attorney to understand a God Whose promises, Whose Word, are absolute and unchanging, guaranteed to be performed?
I didn’t understand this at the time, for I chose to place my faith in the existence of the principles, and the willingness of all people to recognize and follow those principles. That matched with my dinner table upbringing.
I expected justice from the laws and legal system and the people entrusted with overseeing the system.
But the educational process did give me a double-mindedness, for it taught me how to play the game and albeit subconsciously, it subverted me.
It was with all of this — my background, my personal theology of God, my understanding of the place of principles and absolutes in the matter of justice and law, and my law school training — that I began the practice of law.
Today I wonder if the term “practice of law” is also related to this matter of justice? It seems as if we are intimating that if we “practice” long enough, we will eventually get it right. Then we will have justice.
What I did, starting in June of 1966, was to “lawyer” for a living. I served as a technician of that which I had learned. And I began to see, but not understand, that we are not a nation of laws but a nation of people involved in making, interpreting, and enforcing laws.
There are, in fact, and never have been or will be, any absolutes when it comes to the law.
There is, in fact, and never has been or will be, justice through law as we think of justice.
As an example of the lack of absolutes, let’s consider the matter of the commission of a crime:
There is the question of whether or not the crime will be detected. Many are not.
If detected, will it be reported? Many are not.
Will the person who committed the crime be caught? Many are not.
If the guilty person is caught, will he be arrested or merely warned and released? An officer will make this decision.
As the facts of the case will fit several crimes, with different penalties, will the person be charged with a heavy penalty, or light, or something in between? This will be the decision of the prosecutor.
Will there be a plea-bargain offered, how lenient or harsh will the offer be, and will the proposed bargain be accepted? Or will the zeal of either attorney for a day in the lime-light of the court room get in the way of just and reasonable settlement?
If there is a trial: (1) will all the facts be discovered; (2) will all the facts be allowed into evidence; (3) what will be the demeanor or character of the witnesses, as perceived by judge or jury; (4) what will be the level of competency of the lawyers; (5) what will be the competency and courage of the judge; and (6) what impact will personal matters of life have upon the lives of every participant at the time when they make their particular decisions in the process?
Will the guilty be convicted or acquitted? And the innocent convicted or acquitted?
Will the person be sentenced to prison or put upon probation?
How long will be the sentence?
Which prison will the person be sent to, or how much supervision will he be under if on probation?
What will be the conditions of the prison to which he is sent — will it have programs available, or merely be a warehouse?
What crime may be perpetrated on him while in prison? Perhaps even a crime far greater than any he did? What will be the impact of the experience upon him? Will it serve to rehabilitate or harden?
Will the probation officer care about the man, or treat him as one more statistic in an already too large case load?
Will the person be released early, or have to serve the entire sentence?
Will the family, community, and victim accept the person after conviction, or reject him?
Finally, how will each person who hears about the matter, through media gossip, interpret what they hear in light of their concept of justice?
No, these are not decisions or actions of a blind, impartial, absolute law. They are, each and every one of them, decisions of individual people, with their individual backgrounds, their problems of the moment, acting within a specific moment in time.
Each of these people, just like me (although I failed to understand this at the time), are sinners “doing what they do not want to do, and not doing what they want to do” (Rom. 7:15, 19-20). Since every one of these matters affect justice, there is no true justice available at law.
Yet, every person I have ever met “knew” that there was to be justice, and “knew” what was or was not justice!
The more and more that I saw, and the more and more that I participated in the legal system, the more and more I became convinced that We The People were not doing a very good job of bringing justice to the earth. We were not doing the job assigned us by God. But, that didn’t bother me deeply, for I knew that we could still do it! All we had to do was change who was in power, alter a law or process here or there, and we could still get justice.
Since I was a “good” person, I was obviously qualified to assist. So I got into politics.
* * * * *
I recall our law school teacher on the Uniform Commercial Code. He was fond of claiming that the Code was drafted so that little old ladies always win. Then he would give us a test question where the little old lady had to lose. But if we didn’t point out that little old ladies always win, and point out where the law needed to be changed so that she would win, we had our grades reduced.
* * * * *
I also recall the time I convinced a client to plead guilty to an offense he said he did not commit and an offence I believed he did not commit. I convinced him to do it because he could plead to a misdemeanor, and avoid the risk of conviction of a felony, and having that felony on his record. I did it, and he did it, but it left a sour taste in both of our mouths.
“Loosen the bonds of wickedness. Undo the bands of the yoke. Let the oppressed go free.”
In 1972, I assisted in the election of Otis Bowen to the governorship of Indiana. After his election, I wrote a letter to him, offering to serve as a volunteer in any capacity in which he might think my talents could be of benefit.
I thought that through such service I could, in some small way, assist in bringing greater justice to the state of Indiana.
One year later (maybe my help was not all that significant!), I received an invitation from the Governor to become a member of the Indiana Board of Correction. I literally did not know what the Board was, or what it was designed to do. But I said, “yes.”
Three weeks later, the inmates at the Indiana State Prison rioted, and I discovered what the Board of Correction was.
Until then, I had no significant experience in the criminal justice field of the law. My contact had been to go over to City Court periodically on behalf of a client, ask the prosecutor to reduce the speeding charge from 46 mph in a 30 zone to 44 mph so that it would only mean one point on the license, not two. The prosecutor would do so, adding a few dollars to the fine and court costs. Since it always happened that way, justice was always done.
I served on the Indiana Board of Correction from September, 1973, through December, 1976, and became Chairman in early 1975. I visited every penal institution in the state of Indiana, studied legislation to alter conditions, nomenclature of crimes and penalties, attended conferences, and read books on penology and correctional philosophy.
As I wandered the prisons, read and studied, met inmates, viewed often deplorable conditions and meaningless programs, any inner peace which I had was driven from me (I have always been a too-easily angered person).
You may be interested in knowing that the animal control ordinance of the City of Indianapolis provided that any dog pen which a person owned must contain 24 square feet of exercise space. At the Indiana State Reformatory, just outside the city, there are hundreds of cells containing 48 square feet –with two men per cell.
Often times the ages and crimes of the roommates would be grossly disparate: one young and a property offender while the other was older and seasoned, with violent crimes to his credit.
Later, as a judge, I had a case where the 26-year-old had a criminal record of: forging a $25 check at a clothing store at age 19, burglarizing a clothing store at age 22, and forging a credit card for $80 worth of clothes. I sentenced him to the Indiana State Reformatory for 32 years. This was the penalty that the law mandated for an “habitual offender.”
As I studied the situation, I found that I also had to look at the criminal justice system through which the inmates had passed. After looking at that, I needed to look at the juvenile system, for it seemed many of the adults started there.
Then I needed to look at the mental health system, for many of the inmates suffered from acute mental health problems.
I then moved to consider the special education system, for the average functional educational level of the inmates was about 5th grade.
Then, on to study the system for the physically handicapped.
The last two areas — special education and the handicapped — held special interest to me because our second son, Richard, had needs in both areas.
My studies were to prove invaluable later, as judge, although it also was to make me insufferable whenever I saw the lack of justice in the system.
But everywhere I looked, “We The People” were failing. Once again, I found no apparent justice.
And I was also amazed that when I spoke about these matters to others, I often found that where they saw justice, I saw injustice, and vise versa.
But that represented no real problem for me; after all, I had all the facts, and the knowledge of the law, and the ability to make appropriate judgments, whereas they had only hearsay and lack of legal understanding upon which to base their very wrong conclusions!
But I firmly believed that when the people were told the truth — hard though it might be to swallow — they would recognize it as truth and they would respond appropriately. I believed that we are good (other-centered) rather than sinful (self-centered).
With that premise in mind, I campaigned for the Indiana State Senate in 1974. Like my father, I saw legislation as the way to “set matters right.” As I campaigned, I spoke on prison conditions, alternative sentences, lack of good mental health facilities and treatment options, and lack of special educational programs. I spoke of justice and the need for “We The People” to sacrifice some of our pet projects so that the plight of others might be bettered.
What I discovered was that most people were interested in chuck holes, bridges, and lower taxes — which is the long way of saying I lost.
There was something else having an impact on me during all this time (1959-1974). Ever since graduating from high school, I had dropped out of church. I did go at least 3 times per year, my reason being that I considered myself a Christian. Since everybody went to church twice a year, and so many of them were merely, from my judgment, hypocrites, a real Christian would go more than twice; three seemed like as good a number as any other.
Early in 1975, a new pastor came to the church I infrequently attended. He started to light a fire in me. Then he suddenly left, another came, and the fire was going out.
That fall, our son, Richard, was badly burned. During the weeks that he was in the hospital, the pastor of the church where he was in Boy Scouts — not the church we then attended — visited him each day. Richard was in reverse isolation, meaning the visitor had to scrub down, don surgical garb, and a wear mask. This pastor did that, each day bringing a word of cheer, and a riddle to be answered the next day.
I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for in life, in God, in work, in people, or in a church; but what that man displayed was closer than anything else I had encountered.
We started attending Winding Waters Brethren Church, and within a few weeks I was one of the most regular and dependable members in the church. I started singing in the choir, reading the Bible, and even teaching Sunday School. By early 1976, Ellen and the boys wanted to be baptized, so I said the words and joined them.
It was also in that year, 1976, that there was going to be a vacancy in the Judgeship of the Elkhart Superior Court II. In the past, the attorneys would get together and, basically, tap someone to be Judge. Oh, others might run, but the weight of the vast majority of the attorneys normally carried the day. That year, for many reasons, that was not going to happen. So I appointed myself a committee of one to find a qualified person to run for Judge whom I could support and campaign for.
In Indiana, judges were elected on the regular, partisan, political ballot. However, that meant nothing to me, for a judge should be above any normal sense of politics if justice were to be done.
So, I went to attorneys of both parties. And, one after another, they said “no.” The main reason was the pay scale, which was only $31,500 at the time.
As I made my rounds, there came a Friday when, to my amazement, two attorneys, one from each party, both unaware of the other, after refusing to run, said to me, “Why don’t you run?”
I laughed — judges are over 60, slightly balding or with a great mane of white hair, wear three-piece suits with watch fobs, and starched shirts with ties.
I was 35, wore a flat-top, cowboy boots, western cut clothes, and, if a tie at all, a string tie (if I couldn’t live in the West, I could at least dress western).
Over the noon hour, I got to thinking some about myself.
Money was not a major goal of my life, even though I was already making fifty percent more than the judge.
I wasn’t happy with my workaholic nature, particularly with the boys growing (they were then 15, 11, and 8), and the judgeship, I thought, would give me a slower pace of life.
Then , too, there was this thing called “justice.” Since I could not find it anywhere, maybe I could do some as judge.
I left the office early, and stopped to see the pastor and ask him what I should do. I still don’t know what possessed me to do that.
I am a German-Male, and we types never need to ask anyone what we are to do. We know, by instinct, at all times, what we are to do. We are always in total control of all facets of our life and have no real need for outside guidance or counsel — least of all from a pastor. Remember my belief that God has equipped us and given us our marching orders, and left us to do the job.
Pastor gave me good advice: “If you feel God is calling you to be a judge, then, by all means go for it.” I thought, “What has God got to do with it?”
I know — or have heard, and read in the Bible — that God does speak to some people, and “call” them. But not thick-heads like me!
I talked it over with Ellen, and ran, even though I wasn’t “called.” I took office on January 1st, 1977, and left February 14th, 1982, nearly destroyed in the process.
I found that I could not do justice, nor even deliver justice.
I watched a parade of hurting, broken, maimed, downtrodden people — people who were emotionally, spiritually, financially in agony and bondage — walk through the courtroom, looking up to me in some expectation of receiving help.
All I had to offer them was the law — and it did no good.
It seemed to me that:
Where individual treatment was called for, the law responded by lumping people together.
Where mercy was called for, the law offered only condemnation.
Where healing of relationships was called for, the law offered only a sword which divided.
Where assistance, a helping hand, and rehabilitation were called for, the law offered nothing.
“Lady Justice” proved to be truly blind, and deaf, and devoid of hands and heart.
Being human, of course, the error could not be mine (or ours) — it had to be God’s error.
He Who was called Just, He Who was called Righteous, He Who ruled the universe — He had made a mistake. He had turned and walked away at a time of need. He was turning a deaf ear to the cries of His creation. He would not look at the plight of His people. He had to do something.
Ludicrous boldness has always been a fault of mine, along with a monstrous ego. So, in the fall of 1977, I unabashedly told God that He had made a mistake. I told Him that He was a fraud Who was calloused and uncaring, and that He had better get to work to make things right. He had to find a new way, for “We The People” weren’t going to get the job done.
After all my pent up anger and rage had been unleashed, it was like God and I had a conversation — me screaming and Him speaking quietly and gently.
No, I didn’t hear voices, or anything like that, but “conversation” is the only word I can think of to explain the by-play of emotions that swept through me. It went like this:
“Yes, Judge,” said God (Note the capital J, and the use of the title? God knew where I lived — in the law — and that is where He chose to meet me.), “I do know what is going on down there, and let Me assure you that it has all been provided for.”
“In a pig’s eye,” I said. “If it has all been taken care of, why can’t I see it?”
“Because, Bill,” (Note how all of a sudden, having gotten my attention, He turned very personal?) “you are a sinner.”
“So what? I know that. What has that got to do with what we are talking about? So I speed, drink too much, smoke like a chimney, fudge on my taxes, and have a problem with gambling — so what? Okay, I’m a rotten husband and father, but you can’t lay that on me; that’s Dad’s fault.”
“Bill, do you recall the man you just sent to prison for life, for the rape of a two year old child? Do you recall how you felt about him, and what you wanted to do to him?” (Oh, boy, did I ever — and at noon in the middle of the town’s busiest intersection!) “Well, that is how I feel about you, and what I would just as soon do to you. That is what a sinner is, that is what you are, and worse.”
For the first time in my life, I knew there was not going to be a balance scale in God’s hand when I had to face Him. There was not going to be a weighing of the good and bad things I had done, measured against the Biblical law.
There was only going to be Him, in absolute holiness and righteousness, and me in my sinfulness. Between us would be a void which I could never cross no matter how hard I worked at it, or how long I might live. I stood judged by the law I believed in — by justice — and stood silent and condemned.
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may be accountable to God; because by the works of the law, no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the law comes only the knowledge of sin.” Rom. 3:19-20.
On Monday mornings, as Judge, I separated people from family and community by sending them to prison. I was Judge of Criminal Court.
On Monday afternoons, I separated husbands and wives. I was Judge of Divorce Court. But I placed adoptions for the end of the day to ease the pain by joining something together, rather than dividing (forgetting that even then I was dividing a mother from her child).
On Tuesdays, I separated children from parents, and placed them in juvenile homes and foster care, while ordering the parents into treatment programs. I was Judge of Juvenile Court. We said we expected to put this family back together again, but it seldom seemed to work.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I presided over the battles of businessmen on their contracts and relationships, dividing them by the decisions which I made. I was a Judge of Civil Court.
On Fridays, I separated people from family and community by sending them to mental institutions. I was Judge of Mental Health Commitments.
And on the weekends, I cried.
* * * * *
The man who raped the child? When last I knew, he was still in prison, but he is free, for he knows Christ as his Lord and Savior and made confession to God and victims.
“But, now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed to by the law and the prophets, that righteousness of God being through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction — all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God; rather, we are justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus Whom He displayed.” Rom. 3:21-25 If the radically transformed attorney, Saul of Tarsus (Paul), had stopped writing at verse 20 of chapter 3 of Romans; if God had stopped interacting with mankind when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, then I was doomed to Hell for eternity.
Praise God that He did not stop, nor did Paul.
That night, God answered my screams of rage and hopelessness by showing me that there was a bridge across that void. That bridge was Jesus Christ Who was God in the flesh, come to earth to show us the way, nailed by me to a cross for my sins, and then raised from the grave in triumph, glory, and power.
Christ and His cross, were God’s free gift. If I would accept the gift in faith, with a broken spirit and repentant heart, I would thereby gain a right relationship with God.
There is, there was, and there always will be, no other Way — only the Perfect God can provide salvation for imperfect man.
To use Josh McDowell’s phrase, “The evidence demanded this verdict.” In fact, as I look back, it did not even take faith on my part. It was a coming together of truth and conviction, granting to me an understanding. Being used to working from facts and law, those were the very tools used by God.
Isn’t it interesting how God always meets us right where we live? He custom tailors His message to get our attention. And He always deals with us individually, rather than in groups.
Too bad the law can’t be that way; then we might see justice. But I am getting ahead of myself. I didn’t know all these things then.
I still lacked a great deal of understanding.
I knew that there were things I ought to do which I didn’t do;
I knew that there were things which I did which I ought not to do; and I saw myself unable to change in any of those respects.
I knew God had love and compassion for me, and had provided for my salvation through Jesus Christ. And I, in turn, had love and compassion for those who appeared before me seeking justice.
But I had no time, or love, or compassion for the law or any other person in authority with whom I was forced to deal as judge. I saw them as fools — corrupt, disinterested, calloused, mercenary, self-seekers of power.
What was needed to be done, to achieve justice, would have to be done outside of, or on the fringes of, the law.
It would have been better if I had seen all these others as I saw myself, as a sinner saved only by grace, struggling down the road of life, trying to make things a little better, waiting for the Lord to return and set all things right.
But, not making that connection, and feeling anointed by God to make things right in my area of influence, I picked up my 16 pound sledge hammer, pulled on my hob nailed boots, and went out to instruct “them” in the error of “their” ways; to teach them that I had the way to justice, and that if they would just do what I said, when I said it, we would yet bring justice to earth.
“We”, through our efforts — through law and system and government and politics — could still get the job done.
As I went forth, a shining knight in armor, I forgot a few things:
(1) those I went out to instruct were there before I arrived, and pretty well entrenched in their positions;
(2) most would prove to still be there, just as well entrenched, after I had left;
(3) there were more of them than of me; and
(4) some of them, and all of them put together, had far more power and clout than did I!
I never used to be able to read the writings of Paul — maybe it was the attorney in me doing battle with some of the attorney in Paul which seeps into his writings.
Had I understood then what I understand now, maybe the past would have been different. Maybe, when I “spoke with the tongues of angels” for truth and justice and a better way, I would have done so with love, rather than as “a noisy gong and clanging cymbal” (I Cor. 13:1). Possibly if I had possessed a sense of God’s agony over those who strayed from His sheep fold, and had seen those in authority as ones for whom He wept, maybe I would have wept more and thundered less.
It didn’t help that I was stuck in reading the prophets of the Old Testament. I saw them as stern faced men, standing on the Temple steps, right arm rigidly extended, index finger pointing, thundering judgment against the evil doers on behalf of God.
Later, I would come to see them as men in constant tears. Later, I would perceive their message in a different light.
When I began to perceive God as a God Who hungered so deeply for the desired relationship with His ultimate creation — which rejected Him — that He was willing to send His Son to the cross to die in agony, it would change my concept of justice.
Later, I would learn what the prophets knew.
“Later” proved to be too late — at least for me as a
* * * * *
I recall a man speaking to a group of judges in the fall of 1980, when, unknown to me, it was already too late, speaking to a group of judges.
He told us that judges were, to others, very powerful and scary people, even threatening to others just by their very
existence. He also said that, due to the nature of our jobs, we would see things which would distress and even outrage us. We would want to change those things.
What we needed to recognize was that any change we advocated would directly challenge some other person as to how they were or were not doing their job. The challenge would immediately place them upon the defensive. To protect themselves from what they would perceive to be an attack, they would seek to determine what our motive was for what we were advocating.
“Motivation,” he said, “is 99 percent perceptual. Why you do what you do is very unimportant in the scheme of reality. Why the person being affected by what you are doing thinks you are doing it, is true reality. And how you do what you do is as important as what you do.”
“No testing has overtaken you except such as is common to man; and God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tested beyond what you are able, but with the testing will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.”
I Cor. 10:13
As I said, it was to be later, and too late.
On February 25th, 1981, I was found in Indirect Criminal Contempt of the Indiana Supreme Court, fined $500, given a 30-day jail sentence (suspended) and informed that proceedings would be begun which could result in my removal from the bench, and loss of license to practice law for life.
What happened to bring this all about is not so important. If you feel compelled to know more, read chapter 16 of Loving God, by Chuck Colson, under the title, Contra Munda (Latin for Against The World). I think a better title would have been, “Foot In Mouth.”
However, I am going to share a few facts, for they relate to this whole matter of justice.
In April, 1976, Indiana changed the name of a certain crime from First Degree Burglary to Burglary of a Dwelling, and changed the sentence from a non-suspendable (no probation possible) indeterminate (the prison officials determine how long you serve) 10 to 20 years, to a suspendable (probation can be granted), determinate (Judge picks the number of years) 6 to 20 years. But the change would not take effect until July 1, 1977.
In April, 1977, the date the law was to take effect was changed, and moved to October 1st, 1977. On September 15, 1977, a man broke that law and was caught. In January, 1978, he pled guilty.
I sentenced him to 5 months time served in the county jail, plus 7 months to be served in a state facility (the one with cells twice the size of dog pens). I suspended the balance, declaring the non-suspendable portion of the law unconstitutional according to several legal theories.
Two of the theories were:
(1) If, after arrest but before conviction, the legislature reduces the penalty for an offense, should not the defendant get the benefit of the reduction?
(2) Is there not a violation of the idea of “separation of powers” when the legislature — who never has to personally meet a defendant — determines who goes to prison, rather than the judge who meets the offender, has a pre-sentence report and who has all of the facts of the offense and offender? It was, after all, the executive and legislative branches of Germany — not the judicial branch — which determined that a Jew got executed.
Moreover, the Indiana Constitution provided that the Penal Code was to be based upon principles of reformation and not “vindictive justice.” Is it not vindictive justice to determine that someone must go to prison without any regard to who they are as a unique, God-created, individual?
The prosecutor appealed.
In September, 1978, the man was released from prison and began a process of meeting his victims and making some restitution. We called this “Victim Offender Reconciliation.”
He and his family were reconciled. His former boss, from whom he had stolen, hired him back. All looked wonderful.
In June, 1979, the Supreme Court reversed the sentence and directed me to send him back to prison for the rest of the 10 to 20 years.
The man appeared, and asked for a continuance to research the law and present evidence concerning his rehabilitation. (Actually, I suggested this to his attorney as an argument.) I granted continuance for 60 days, over objection of the prosecutor who said, “Your only option here, Judge, is to send him back to prison ASAP.”
At the end of the 60 days, the prosecutor asked me to withdraw from the case on the grounds of bias. I did so, for I knew I was biased. You see, I had determined that I knew the law better than the Supreme Court, that it would be an injustice for the man to go back to prison, and that I could teach the Supreme Court what was “right.” That is biased!
A special judge heard the evidence and read the law. The evidence included many of the offender’s victims testifying on his behalf. The special judge found the offender rehabilitated, and ruled that to re-imprison him would be manifestly unjust.
But this judge saw himself as bound by the order of the Supreme Court, and ordered a return to prison. He then allowed the man to remain free on bond to appeal the issue of “manifest injustice”.
We all believed that when the Supreme Court saw the new character of the offender, they would allow him to remain free.
In January, 1980, my conduct in the case was called to the attention of the Indiana Judicial Qualification Commission. I met with the Commission in the first week of October, 1980, with the Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court chairing the meeting. The matter was examined, in detail, and I never heard another word. I assumed that issue was closed.
In January, 1981, the Indiana Supreme Court dismissed the second appeal without ruling on any of the questions presented and declared all proceedings from June, 1979, forward, to be a nullity. The man was immediately returned to prison where he remained until April, 1983. And the special judge and I were both charged with contempt.
Now, consider “justice” and what happened next:
First, change of venue is a statutory right in indirect contempt proceedings unless it is a charge by the Supreme Court. Thus those who charged me with offending them would be the jury! Does that seem “just” to you?
At the hearing, the Court opened by saying they had reviewed the record and found that a prima facia showing of contempt existed, so they did not have to introduce evidence or prove intent, motive, words or deeds. I stood guilty
unless I could persuade them that they had made a mistake: guilty before trial! Doesn’t seem right, in this nation of law, does it?
As my attorney began to question me in defense, the judges interrupted and did the questioning for over an hour. I was prosecuted by those who judged me! Sounds like bias, doesn’t it?
They then convicted me and sentenced me without opportunity to speak concerning sentence — although Indiana law provides for a “sentencing hearing.”
The vote was a three to two decision. But the law says the jury, in criminal cases, must be unanimous!
And, what acts of mine were contemptuous?
I was convicted because I gave the offender the 60 day continuance, yet defendants in criminal cases have a right for a sufficient time to adequately prepare their defense.
I was convicted because I removed myself from the case without sending the man back to jail — yet the State, and the defendant, each have a right to a fair and impartial judge.
Next, there was no place to appeal the ruling as a “matter of right.” And the U.S. Supreme Court refused to accept an appeal.
Then, the Indiana Supreme Court ordered their employees to investigate my life as judge and, if appropriate, to bring charges for my removal. The charges would be filed before the Indiana Supreme Court, their employee would prosecute, and the Court would make the decision! Looks like the same firing squad was reloading, doesn’t it?
The investigator and Commission, after several violations of the law governing their conduct, filed charges. When their failure to follow the law was called to the attention of the Indiana Supreme Court, the Court refused to order them to obey the law.
I share all of this with you — believe it or not, while grinning — because of what I earlier wrote on the matter of justice.
You see, I am just like you. All of my life, I believed in justice. I knew that the place where we find justice is in the law courts of the land. Yet I believe the facts establish that I was denied justice by the very law and system I was committed to uphold and defend.
I share these things because in the process of all of this I have found justice — and I will discuss this aspect of justice later in the book.
But what I really want you to know, and what is important in all of this to me, is that in 1985 I came to acknowledge that it was right that I be found in contempt. I did hold the law, the system, and all those in authority, in contempt. I believed that contempt was a perfectly proper attitude, for, after all, the law was designed to do justice, and those in authority to oversee justice.
Since that was not taking place, contempt was, in my mind, and with my background, an appropriate response.
You see, my problem had been one of expectation — expecting from man what only God can provide. When the expectation failed, the respect left.
I had not yet made the connection to what Paul wrote in Romans 13:1: “Have this attitude about you that you be in subjection to governing authorities.”
Early in 1985, now with further understanding, I wrote the Indiana Supreme Court, confessed my fault, and asked them to forgive me. I never got an answer, but that is not important.
It used to be that when I would speak of the blow-by-blow legal process against me, I would cry. I don’t any more; I laugh. I have been healed of the anger, bitterness and resentment within me towards them and towards the system (Jas. 5:16). I have come to see, and confess, my own fault; and that has allowed me to appropriate God’s peace within.
My having come to grips with my sin in the matter is also important because otherwise I may well have remained a rebellious, angry, judgmental, clanging-gong person, screaming for justice.
You might want to know about some other events in the year 1981. I would not wish that year upon anyone, but I praise God that it took place, for that which I became, and am becoming, is more important to me than that which I and my family went through. Yet you need to know more about that year in order to understand subsequent points which I want to make in this book.
In the second week of January, 1981, I found what I thought might be an error in the amount of money which I had been paid by the State in 1980. I called the Treasurer of Indiana and asked them to check the matter out. In the third week of January, they informed me that because of their computer programming error, I owed them $4,800. Repayment method, plus reducing pay to the proper level, meant that we lost one-fourth of our take-home pay, or over $700 per month.
On the last Friday in January, an Indiana State Trooper came to our house as we were eating dinner, and served me with the contempt citation.
Two weeks later, on the second day of our annual ski vacation, Ellen fell, tearing her left knee apart. She underwent surgery and spent the rest of the vacation in the hospital in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, while I skied and told her how great the conditions were.
Upon arriving home, she had me carry her — she was in a cast to the waist — to the basement, where she introduced me to two strange, cubicle, white objects — one had a flap on top, and one had a flap on the front — one was washer and one was a dryer. She quietly instructed me in their use, since she couldn’t manage the stairs. I immediately yelled at her that I had to prepare my defense to the contempt charges. She gently explained that it was important my clothes be clean when I got hanged.
February 25th was the contempt finding, with Ellen, in her cast, standing beside me. When they said, “Thirty days in jail”, and before they said, “Suspended,” I heard her whisper, “Who is going to drive me home?”
One month later, Ellen got out of the cast. Early each morning, she drove to the office of a member of our church — a sadist — who would beat upon her leg. Then she would get home and a friend — another sadist — would see to it that she walked her three miles around the block. Then another sadistic friend loaned Ellen an exercise bike so she could bike her three miles each day. Each night, her sadistic husband would sit in the middle of her back and commit assault and battery. She kept asking me to say soft and nice things to her; I asked if she wanted them said before or after I beat her up. I found out that you could test your depth of marriage commitment in this fashion.
Two weeks after Ellen got out of the cast, Richard went into the hospital for skin graft surgery for the fire of 1975. What
was to be a few days turned into three 3 weeks, as his body metabolism refused to allow the leg to heal. Finally, they sent him home, and allowed him to attend school in a wheelchair, so the leg could be elevated at all times. Ellen would, with her unmovable knee, limp and push Richard in a wheel chair into school each day; everybody argued over who really ought to be in the chair.
We put a dog to sleep that summer, and I turned 40. By November the attorney fees exceeded $15,000. I paid by borrowing money from my children’s trust accounts, all the time wondering how I would repay.
And worst of all, every waking moment, and many sleepless nights, I spent in thinking of legal strategies to defend myself. I was snarling, growling, and biting anyone who would get close to me. I was full of anger, bitterness, clamor, hatred and malice.
It was late November when I realized that life, which I was always to be in control of, was beyond my control. I recall picturing myself strapped to a train track, without a knife, the train running down hill at full speed, and no one at the throttle.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which works God prepared beforehand that we might walk in them.”
“Hey, God, get me off this track! I’ve got things to do.”
But, what was the work I was to do? Was it as a judge? Was it as an attorney?
I suddenly realized that I had never asked God what it was He wanted me to do. I had never asked if He wanted me to be an attorney. I hadn’t asked if He wanted me to be a judge. I hadn’t asked if He wanted me to do any of those wonderful things which I had done as judge which were designed to achieve justice, and which merely seemed to have landed me in a pickle. And I had never asked Him if He wanted me to any of those things the way I had done them.
I hadn’t even asked Him if He wanted me to defend myself, or remain a judge, or practice law if I were no longer a judge.
Everything I had done, and the manner in which I had done it, had been my personal choice, to satisfy my own needs and sense of things — not Christ’s.
Suddenly His title of “Lord” took on added significance. He was entitled to Lordship over my life, actions, attitudes and emotions. He was having a hard time saving me from myself when I wouldn’t let go and allow Him that Lordship.
He was still, quietly, waiting for me to become His “treasure in an earthen vessel” (II Cor. 4:7).
Christ — God — was not sovereign; I was.
God couldn’t win the battle; I had to do it myself.
“God has raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Eph. 2:6
“Wait just a minute, train — you can’t run over me if I am sitting in Heaven!”
“You can take my job, you can take my license to practice law, you can take my property, you can throw me in prison, you can kill me — but you can’t hurt me!”
“I do not have to accept that sense of hurt and betrayal.”
“I am free to do what Christ asks of me, one day at a time.”
Now having seen myself as out of control, and having reached the end of myself and the end of my desire to be in control, it only seemed natural to surrender to Him as Lord, in faith.
I remember sitting in the chair, not asking anyone in the family if they wanted to be any part of this, and mentally wrapping family, possessions, self, judgeship, and law license into a little ball and throwing the ball up into the air. “All right Lord, its all yours.”
I started to grin — boy, oh boy, did He just inherit a bunch of trouble!
I recall thinking, “Lord, if You want me to be a judge much longer, You have a lot of work to do in a big hurry. But if you don’t want me to be a judge, just do nothing and I think You’ll have Your wish in about 30 days. If that happens, Lord, please tell me what to do when I am no longer judge.”
People accuse me of looking like Alfred E. Newman on the front of Madd Magazine — crazy grin in place.
* * * * *
I am reminded of the serfs of old England who lived and worked the land outside the castle for their lord.
They were subject to attack by robbers and animals. The only protection they had were the knights of the lord.
But they couldn’t have the Lord’s protection without surrendering their freedom, and placing themselves under the control of the lord.
The Book of Revelation, according to our Pastor: “Jesus will return; evil will be judged and overcome; God will establish His eternal kingdom; therefore, we win!”
I could choose to trust God, knowing that He would some day, some way, win.
I remembered Christ saying to His disciples, “If you are called to account before the rulers, fear not what you will say; the Holy Spirit will give you utterance.” (Mk. 13:11)
And as I looked at the Scriptures, I could not find the name of the attorney whom Christ took with Him before the Sanhedrin, or Pilate, or Herod.
Sure, He ended up on the cross Friday night, but He rose on Sunday.
That fact, the resurrection, is supposed to make a difference. It certainly did to the eleven men who had locked themselves, in terror, away from the world in the upper room.
Fifty days later, they burst forth into the very mobs of people who had crucified Christ, and proclaimed Christ as Messiah, very God, Lord and Savior of mankind.
It was time the resurrection began to make a difference to me.
I called my attorney and fired him, after thanking him for his help and saying I would get him paid, some way.
I then began to think about my defense to the charges.
As I considered this, I realized that the only way I could defend myself — as we understand the concept of defense — would be to attack some other people. These were people like me: less than perfect, trying to do their jobs as they believed right, struggling to make sense of an insane world.
Would God have me bite and rip and maim them?
I determined to offer no defense to the charges against me, other than court records, and to call no witnesses. I told the prosecutor about my decision, of my willingness to appear and answer any questions asked of me, and suggested he go ahead and set the matter for trial.
At 40 years of age, after a lifetime in and under the law, I found myself at peace with the law for the first time.
I placed myself in “an attitude of subjection to the governing authorities” and awaited their pleasure and God’s will.
It is impossible to describe for you the sense of peace, stability, and comfort which possessed me. I discovered that He is totally sufficient unto every need!
Then, strange things started to happen.
Catherine, one of the ladies of our church, handed me Chuck Colson’s book, Life Sentence, and said I needed to read it. Right then, regardless of all this wonderfully spiritual recitation I have just given, I could have cared less about some has-been politician who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
But you would never offend Catherine; you would cut your arm off first. So, I read the book.
I found Colson saying many of the same things which I had been saying about prisons and justice. And I found a committed, genuine Christian, one who had fallen and was now being used by God because of the fall.
So I wrote Colson a letter.
“Dear Mr. Colson: I don’t know why I am writing this, but I just finished Life Sentence. What you say is right. If you want to know more about me, the enclosed documents (copies of filings with the US Supreme Court) will tell you. If you are ever in Elkhart stop in and say hello.”
Dumb letter. You’re probably wondering why I mention it. That’s all right; I still wonder why I wrote it.
I also opened the doors of the courtroom, and quietly asked Christ to step inside. I told Him I was done trying to do it myself — this bringing of justice — and that if He wanted something done, He was free to make use of me as He saw fit.
* * * * *
Shortly after this, a husband and wife appeared for divorce. But I found myself asking each of them questions which had no bearing on my role as judge. Each question related to how they did or did not understand the driving motives and emotions of the other.
The questions were born out of the, “why don’t I do what I ought to; why do I do what I ought not to,” cries within me.
They left the courtroom at recess, to seek a counselor. Later, the divorce was dismissed.
What gave me a willingness to ask the questions I will never know — I can only assume that the Lord brought it to be. I know that neither I nor anyone else can claim any glory from what happened.
“For every mistake, failure, and shortcoming of the past, there is no condemnation, or need to feel guilt, due to the Lordship of Christ in our life.” Rom. 8:1
“For we know that God causes all things to work together for His glory, even from our mistakes, when we acknowledge them, confess them to Him [and to those whom we have wronged], repent of them, and, because we choose to love Him, begin to follow after His purpose for our life in radical obedience to His Word.” Rom. 8:28
“And I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing [including our mistakes, errors, and short-comings of tomorrow] can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The next month, something happened which caused me to believe that the Lord wanted me to resign as judge, so I did.
I somewhat resented that, however, because the job had just become fun!
He also didn’t tell me what I was to do after I quit.
I have found that God is often like that; He wants our obedience to be our love response to His love for us, and to be done in faith that His control of things will be better, in the long run, than our control.
So, I resigned effective February 14th, 1982 (gave them a Valentine present).
To my surprise, they dropped all the charges against me. I still had my license but wasn’t satisfied, I had not been vindicated; I had not had my day in court; my reputation and name were at issue here! So, I objected to the dismissal of the charges.
The Lord said: “Will you, for once in your life, stop screaming about justice? I am your vindication.” (Isaiah 50:8)
I sent another dumb letter to Colson:
“Well, I have quit. Not sure what I will be doing. If you are ever in Elkhart, say hello.”
Not knowing what to do, Ellen and I thought of moving back to the mountains. So I put a resume together, got out the attorney listings for Colorado and Wyoming, prepared 33 letters and resumes, sealed them, and took them to the post office.
The Lord quietly said, “No.” I stuffed them in the mail chute anyway. Interestingly enough, I got an offer from the community which was our number two choice, 40 miles down the road from our #1 choice (where we live, 17 years later).
But by the time the offer arrived, I had gotten over my tantrum, and knew we couldn’t move.
So I was sitting with my court secretary, and she was asking me what I was going to do. The door to the hall was open. From the back of my mind comes something I had read about over two years before — the historical, ecclesiastical courts that churches once operated. I remembered Ellen and I, at the time, sitting and talking about how that might be a neat thing to do after two terms as judge — offer to serve the churches in member disputes. The kids would be gone, the house would be paid for, the pension would be vested, and we would be young enough to do something different.
Of course now, 1982, the kids weren’t grown, the house wasn’t paid for, there was an extra $15,000 of debt, and there would be no pension.
I had started to talk about the church court idea to my secretary when Buddy, the law clerk for the other court, walked by.
Overhearing the conversation, he said, “Judge, that sounds like what Christian Legal Society is doing.” “What is Christian Legal Society?,” I asked. So he told me.
Well, no other doors being open, I’ll go back to the practice of law, in Elkhart. I’ll also take Ellen and we’ll go to Chicago and see what it is that C.L.S. is doing.
We went, met Pete (now one of my overseers), heard about the program, thought it sounded kind of neat, went back to Elkhart, and had a sign which said, “William D. Bontrager, Attorney at Law”. Underneath that was printed: “Christian Arbitration and Conciliation Service.”
I sent a letter to every church in the county, telling them about the service ($50 per hour rather than lawyers’ fees of $75), and waited for the business to flood in.
I never got a call from anyone for a “church court matter,”even though the sign was on a U.S. highway through town. I think the reason nothing happened was because I lacked any understanding of what a minister of reconciliation was to be, and what a ministry of reconciliation is truly about.
Now 12 years later, I still am trying to figure it out.
One night in late January the phone rang. It was Chuck Colson, calling from Florida. I’m glad he made the call, for it lasted an hour, and I could never have afforded the toll.
We talked about all that had happened, and closed with his inviting Ellen and myself to join him at the Indiana State Prison for Easter Sunday services. Seemed like Catherine and her book got something started.
I started back to the practice of law, looking forward to Easter. But I found things in my practice not quite what I had expected.
First, no clients came flocking to my door. This proved a blessing, as it gave me a lot of time for reading the Bible — which proved to be a good preparation for what was to come.
Second, the lack of clients made for a lack of money, which God used to teach me that He is our supplier, not ourselves. It even prepared me to later accept a call to a “faith” ministry. (Aren’t all ministries for the Lord supposed to be based upon faith; i.e., following His lead rather than our self-determination?)
But the major differences came in the manner in which I chose to deal with my clients. As I worked with them, almost as though with different eyes and ears within me, I came to see that they had deep emotional and spiritual needs, just as I had endured during all the times of my conflict in 1981.
This was also the same pain and need I had seen in the faces of those who had appeared before me as judge, except then I had been unable to place a handle on the source of the pain.
I knew now, from my own experiences, that the law could never meet the needs or ease the pain, but that Jesus Christ, as Lord and Savior, can and does. I knew that my clients needed what I had found — a peace which comes from radical surrender to, and from equally radical obedience to, the lordship of Jesus Christ.
At the same time, I was haunted by Paul’s words in II Cor. 5:17-20, and the implications which they had for me as an attorney dealing with people in conflict and disputes:
“Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; new things have come. All of these things are from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, to proclaim that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our wrongs against us, and He has committed to us this Word of Reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating the world through us.”
I began to minister Jesus Christ, and the Word from the Bible, to my clients in their legal and relational conflicts.
And I began to see people healed of anger and bitterness, resentment, estrangement and separation.
But I was unaware of what was happening to me in the process. I still was looking to the law for justice and not finding any, while hating the law and the practice of law. I loved the ministry that I was doing, but not the legal work. I saw myself still in the role of Old Testament prophet, and angry, judgmental, condemnatory, legalistic, and unloving.
In my unhappiness, I was also looking for an escape. This was my condition when we joined Colson on Easter Sunday. I didn’t know he also planned to visit Westville, where the offender involved in the contempt proceedings was incarcerated, and I wonder if I would have had the strength to go if I had known.
It is hard to face the person who is suffering for your mistakes as a zealot.
The day ended with Colson inviting us to Washington D.C. for a possible job. Hooray — I was about to get out of the trap!
By May 1st, I was working part-time in Elkhart as a consultant to Prison Fellowship, convinced that we would be moving to Washington by 1983 on full-time staff. Colson even sent me to New Mexico on a speaking tour: 24 speeches in eight days in four cities.
Many of those speeches were arranged through people involved in a Christian Conciliation Service in New Mexico. The Christian Conciliation Services were ministries set up by Christian Legal Society to help people who were in conflict to resolve matters outside the law courts but within the church.
I got to know these people and the work they were doing. But there was no great interest on my part, for I am not a peacemaker — and, the “prophet” was headed to Washington!
In December, the door closed to Washington. I tried to kick one down in New Mexico as a Christian legal-aid attorney, but things happened to keep that door also closed.
Then an attorney in Minneapolis, who had obtained my name from the folks in New Mexico, called to ask if I would be interested in being Executive Director of the Christian Conciliation Service of Minnesota. He also told me they had $250 in the bank at the time!
Well, I gave him all my reasons why I knew that CCS of Minnesota was not what the Lord wanted of me — my being angry, judgmental, etc. While I was doing that, Ellen was reminding me to tell him that it was cold in Ninevah.
But, to show them just how spiritual I was, I acknowledged that if it was the Lord opening a door, I was required to look.
Therefore, with them knowing my feelings, we would come up and talk to them if they wanted, and if they paid for the gas, oil, and tolls. I figured that would end the matter. Somewhat to my surprise, they invited us to come — which should have warned me.
Second, I hate big (over 60,000) cities, and found Minneapolis the neatest little town I had ever been in — which should have warned me.
Third, Ellen didn’t even comment about the snow drifts we saw there that April — which should have warned me.
Then, I found the Board of Directors to have the same crazy attitudes about a lot of things that I had — which should have warned me.
We drove back to Elkhart, convinced that this was not what we were to do. But I had watched doors to other opportunities flap in the breeze for months at a time, without closure. My emotional state was not going to allow for another such time span. Yet, I knew that if Minneapolis was where God wanted us, we had to be open to hearing Him say it, and willing to go.
So when we got home, I quietly said, “Lord, I’ll go. You know that is not the issue. The big problem is that I don’t hear You too well at times, and I have to be sure. So, if You want me to go, You have to tell me in such a way that it will penetrate my hard head. And You have to do it within one week. If I hear nothing, that means ‘No’, and I’ll sit here in Elkhart and wait for the next door, in impatience but perseverance.”
One hour before the end of the week, while working on my Sunday School lesson (might have known earlier if I had worked on the lesson earlier), and while reading Col. 3:12-17, He proceeded to let me in on what He had been doing inside me which I was unaware of: turning the stern, angry, screaming prophet into a weeping one, who now saw that the road to peace is through sacrifice.
And He said, “Go.”
And so we drove north, at 2:00 A.M., August 16th, 1983, in a mixture of joy, certainty, fear, and the faint beginnings of understanding.
Oh, by the way, He caused the house to be sold during the day of August 16th, as we were driving. Then the next time we scraped bottom, He rented the law office. The next time the bottom was scraped, He sold the law office. In fact, we have lived that type of ragged-edge existence ever since November, 1981.
I won’t claim that it is comfortable or fun, but He has always provided, whatever the situation.
* * * * *
The young man stood charged with a crime which could result in 20 to 50 years of prison. I quietly and simply told him he was guilty before the law and before God. His head hung in acknowledgment and despair.
I explained to him that for his sin warranted death before God. I told him that if we played the normal legal games, 18 months later he would either plead guilty or be convicted.
However, I also told him how a strange thing would have happened by then — his head would no longer be down, and he would not see himself guilty of anything; it would all be some other person’s fault.
I told him that if tomorrow the judge said “five years,” he could accept that, because he knew he was worthy of death. But 18 months from now, a night in jail would make the judge a bigot, an idiot, or worse in the young man’s mind.
I told him I was interested in the state of his heart — confession, and repentance — so that whatever happened, he could be truly free, even if locked in prison. I wanted to see him begin to build a new life in Christ.
He accepted the advice, pled guilty, and began to shed the anger and bitterness which had begun to threaten to destroy him.
“For there must be factions among you in order that that which is approved may become evident you.” I Cor. 11:19
I have shared my story because I wanted to lay a foundation from which to study justice and to study how to deal with conflict from God’s perspective rather than from man’s. I will return to my story later.
You see, the light that was beginning to dawn upon me was that if we are to have any approximation of justice, in any specific situation, then we must have “righteousness”; i.e., right relationship with God and right relationship with others.
We need to be right within ourselves, do right outside ourselves, and be involved helping to put other things right.
Since we only think about receiving justice in situations related to conflict, true justice must be related, in some degree, to how we appear to God when in conflict with our fellow man and how we deal with our conflicts with our fellow man.
“If Christ is Lord at all, He must be Lord of all” — to quote a familiar statement. That means He is to be Lord of our conflicts.
I have also discovered that if He is to be Lord over some part of our life, He will, in all probability, have given us guidelines for that part of our life in the Bible.
I began to see some light as I began to study what the Bible had to say about how we, as His people, are to deal with conflict. Before looking at the “how”, however, allow me to spend some time just talking about conflict.
It has been said that the only thing for certain in this world is death.
But God says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:8-9)
The Bible also says that our ways are mere foolishness to God, and His ways are foolishness to us (I Cor. 1:18-31; 3:19).
Let’s see if that is true concerning death, for if it is not, then we must always be willing to reconsider what we hold most “sacred” — and some of what I will be writing will likely shake some of your cherished ideas.
The Bible says that every individual will have an eternal existence: one either with God, or one separated from God. If so, there is no true death. There may be a physical ending, but not a termination of awareness and existence. Someone said: “I think; therefore, I am.” In the sense of thinking, the Bible would say we will always exist and never die.
However, if we want a definition of death as a physical ending, even a physical ending is not guaranteed, for the Bible says that some will be alive at the time the Lord returns for His own, and shall be lifted up and not see physical death.
Finally, the Bible says that we, as individuals, are [spiritually] dead in our sins prior to accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. Once we have accepted Him, we then become alive for the first time (Eph. 2:1-5).
Thus, one of our cherished postulates of life is unmasked as deception!
But, some things are for certain: God is a certainty.
Life with God or separate from God is a certainty.
Our inability to work ourselves into right relationship with God is another certainty.
That we are sinners, in conflict with God, is another certainty.
That we need a Savior, Who is Christ Jesus, if we are to have a right relationship with God, is another certainty.
And that we will have conflict during this life is another certainty.
The reason that conflict is a certainty is that I am a sinner, and you are a sinner; yet we will, in various ways during life, come into relationship with one another. As we relate, my sin (self-centered rebellion) rubs against you, and your sin (self-centered rebellion) rubs against me. Conflict is the result.
If conflict is a certainty of life, then it is a certainty. As such, it is neither good nor bad, in and of itself. Conflict must be, by its nature as a certainty, a neutral commodity. How we deal with conflict may be good or bad — for ourselves and for others — but deal with it we must. We can deal with it according to what Christ says, or according to our self-interest — but deal with it we must.
And we might go so far as to consider conflict as necessary to growth; the butterfly does not develop its wings unless it beats its way out of the cocoon.
Just look at some sources of conflict which are available to us in this life:
Personal relationships: spouse against spouse; spouse against child; sibling against sibling. The divorce courts are full of the first, the juvenile courts the second, and the probate courts the third.
Social relationships: how about a neighborhood fight, or spite fences, or stray cats and dogs using your yard? I know of a case where Party “A” put a “For Sale” sign at the street beside the entrance to their drive. But, they had no spare land alongside the drive, so it was imbedded in Party “B’s” yard. Party “B” didn’t like it, and filed a lawsuit to prevent it.
Business relationships: buyer/seller, worker’s compensation, employer-employee, landlord/tenant, professional malpractice, product liability. Have you ever been personally involved in one or more of these?
Criminal cases: I know most people would not put a traffic ticket in this category, but the law does.
Happenstance relationships: An auto accident. True, you had no relationship before the accident took place, but you will have one afterwards, and the conflict may interfere with your relationship with God. The question to consider is whether the
relationship with the others in the accident will be good or bad, harmful or therapeutic, to you as well as to all others involved.
Church relationships: If you think the church is not fraught with conflict, why do we have 1000 denominations of what was declared, in the Bible, to be “one Body with One Head”? (I Cor. 12:13) Then there was the case where the mother sued the church because her boys, who hid in the church bus, got locked in the bus by accident. And today we have “clergy malpractice” cases.
Then, there are conflicts within each conflict relative to what we argue over:
We can argue over the facts: You did; I didn’t; yes you did; no I didn’t, etc.
We can agree on the facts, but argue over the methods used: you shouldn’t have; yes I should have; no you shouldn’t have; yes I should have.
We can agree on the facts and methods, but disagree on the goals: I want peace; you want victory. No, I want peace; no, you want victory.
Finally, you can have conflict over how you choose to deal with any conflict you are in at the moment:
You can run away, common in the marital type of conflict. Divorce is running away. God could have run off to Mars and started a new Garden.
We can do a “freeze out” of the other. Some churches practice shunning forever. God could have never again spoken to Adam, or to us.
We can fight for our rights, over stewardship, over being content with nothing less than total surrender or annihilation of our adversary. Litigation is often this way. God could have killed Adam and Eve on the spot, and won immediately.
We can capitulate, called enabling by the professionals. But Adam and Eve, and we, would still be naked, hiding in the bushes, lost and without hope, if God had not cared enough to confront the issues — and us.
We can negotiate or compromise: I give here, get there, and break even in the long run. But what if negotiation is merely a means of avoiding the true issues we need to speak about but are afraid to voice? And God chose not to negotiate or compromise — God chose to die.
We can sue or refuse to sue, defend or refuse to defend.
And we can chose to see conflict as:
An Opportunity To Stand Quietly Before One Another;
A chance to speak quietly with one another;
An excuse for confident expectation that the Lord will be there to assist (Is. 50:8-9a);
As opportunity to be obedient to His Word (Mt. 5:23-24; 18:15-16); and
An expectation that positive change and growth can take place, that the conflict can be resolved, that relationships can be restored, that God can be glorified, and that the world can see a positive behavior pattern to follow.
Regardless of the source of the conflict, the method of dealing with the conflict, or any of the conflicts within the
conflict, God’s process for dealing with the conflict never change.
God is an absolute and His ways are likewise absolutes
(Psalms 119:142; Mal. 3:6).
And it is this single fact — that since God does not change, His ways do not change — that I find we are continuously refusing to accept when it comes to our conflicts.
I want you to know right now that I have seen God’s process work in:
Marriages torn apart through adultery, poor management of finances, homosexuality, physical and sexual violence;
Automobile accidents with monstrous injuries;
Medical malpractice situations;
Business partnerships and contracts;
Criminal matters, including crimes of violence; and,
Internal church warfare.
And I say to you, there is no conflict which can not be dealt with according to God’s rules.
I can also say that it has been a joy to shed over 100 bookshelf feet of law books (which cost thousands of dollars every year to keep current) and replace them all with one small volume which has not been altered for 2,000 years.
Well, back to conflict.
What do we normally do when in conflict?
First, when another does towards us an act which lacks love, before God, we have only two options:
(1) Overlook the transgression to the glory of God (Pro. 19:11). Since I do dumb things, and hope others might overlook them, I need to be willing to overlook dumb things others do. Overlooking does not equal stuffing. And true overlooking requires that the existing relationship continues unaltered.
(2) Care-front the other (Matt. 18:15).
But we generally do neither. Instead, we begin to sever the relationship and close down our heart towards the other person. Since we don’t deal with that conflict when it first arises, we store it up for later. And a pain begins to grow within us.
On the morning after the wedding, he finds her hairs in the sink — it drives him to drink. She discovers he squeezes the tooth paste in the middle of the tube — how rude. Neither confronts “their” issue. Ten years later, there are 1,000 such issues stored up in each. Along comes number 1001, and Mt. St. Helens erupts. It is divorce time.
However, the eruption is always non-specific. When asked why he has filed for divorce, he simply says: “I don’t love her anymore.”
This type of conflict response mechanism leaves her with no way to change her behavior and gain his love back.
If he were to say, “Her hairs in the sink are driving me to drink,” she could modify her behavior. He won’t say that, however, because he knows that if she modifies her behavior he will have to modify his attitude, and that means he will have to risk emotional hurt again in the relationship.
Sometimes, however, we find we have to get specific in our answers. When we do, we tend to speak loudly and quickly, covering every accumulated point of life, and end with a Bible verse which spears the other party against the wall.
By now, the pain within us is getting very bad, and we want someone to hear of our pain — to kiss it, and make us well. The problem is that there is only one person we can tell the pain to and get relief: the one who did the act against us, the one we have severed our relationship with.
But we will not speak to that one, for we have sinned against God and offended the other by breaking the relationship, and we will not confess our sin, which would be a sign of weakness and might jeopardize our legal rights, or our property interests.
Instead, we tell someone else about our pain (that is, we gossip), normally bad-mouthing the other one. We claim we are always willing to talk to them about the dispute but do nothing to start any discussions.
But the pain does not go away, does it?
We also judge the other person’s motive. Have you ever stopped to realize when you are in conflict with someone, you will always place upon them a bad motive for all they have done which has affected you — even if it should never have effected you?
Finally, we are great at passing the buck (avoiding responsibility for our own actions), such as saying, “I have to check with my lawyer.”
By this time we are in open warfare to death — all over some hair and toothpaste.
The questions is: Which way will we choose to deal with conflict? Our way or God’s Way?
“And Peter came and said unto Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” And Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
There is another conflict resolution style quite prevalent today. It is called mistakenly, I think, “forgiveness.”
It takes place when a person enters into his prayer closet, closes the door, bows down, and then says, “Father, forgive Sam for this rotten thing he did to me, and I now forgive Sam from my heart. Amen.” Then he gets up off his knees, opens the door, leaves the room, and think all is right with the world. This is not forgiveness but avoidance.
For an understanding of true forgiveness, we need to look at God’s model of forgiveness for us.
First, forgiveness must be set in one’s heart. God set His heart towards forgiveness even before He went to the garden to seek out Adam and Eve.
Second, one must be willing to offer forgiveness even before it is asked for — remember, God came to the garden; He did not wait for Adam and Eve to come to Him. It is more common to hear that forgiveness follows a request of the wrong-doer in confession, but that does not comport with the Biblical model of how Christ came to us.
Third, if forgiveness is to have any meaning whatsoever, it must be communicated. God could have stayed in heaven and said in His heart, “They are forgiven.” He could have even shouted it to them. But it would have done Adam and Eve no good. They would have continued scurrying through the bushes, looking for more clothes to put on, and would have gotten off the track of doing what God created them for. They would not have known they were forgiven. Physical presence, extending forgiveness, is needed.
Fourth, forgiveness requires confrontation. God came down to the garden and asked, “Adam, where are you?” (Gen. 3:9) The rest of the Bible is the story of God continuously confronting us: through flood, a chosen people, captivity, the law, walks in the wilderness, captivity, judges, captivity, kings, captivity, prophets, captivity, and His Son Jesus Christ on a cross — and we still remain captive because we will not forgive (Matt. 18:33-35).
Fifth, forgiveness can have nothing to do with relative position or power. In the garden, God was obviously the more powerful and in the better position. Also, forgiveness can have nothing to do with being right. God was absolutely right and Adam and Eve were absolutely wrong; nevertheless, God came down.
Sixth, forgiveness also requires demonstrating it to the one you are forgiving. What we do is sever our relationship with the offender; we shun. After all, “Sucker me once, shame on you. Sucker me twice, shame on me.” Or, “I’ll forgive, but not forget.” Of course, we generally couple such action with a Biblical justification: “Be shrewd as a serpent and harmless as a dove.” (Matt. 10:18) In comparison, God evidenced His forgiveness by slaying another of His creatures to provide clothing for Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). And, at that moment, Adam’s last words had been, “the woman you gave me,” and Eve’s last words were: “The Devil made me do it.”
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us that we might have a covering. Adam and Eve knew the covering made by their own hands would never do; that is why they hid and still thought of themselves as naked. God saw their need, and He provided.
Eventually, God repeated the process for all of us by spreading forth His arms on the cross and bearing our burden of sin.
Can we seek to bear the burdens of those who wrong us, even if it means a sacrifice for us? Is that a part of what Gal. 6:2 means?
“Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ.”
Seventh, if not accepted at first, forgiveness must be periodically re-extended, re-confronted, re-communicated, re-evidenced. Again, look at God’s dealings with so many of His people. Look at His dealings with you: “Or do you think lightly of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of the Lord leads to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4).
Eighth, all of this must be done without any expectation of restitution, reward, restoration, or reconciliation. We may do what God wants because we believe that we will recover the $10,000 owed us by the other person. But then we have done it from a wrong motive, a motive of self-interest rather than the motive of God’s interest.
Finally, forgiveness entails making promises to the person forgiven.
It means saying to them that you will not bring “it” up again to them, but you will love them enough to bring it up once.
It means saying you won’t talk to others about “it” (except in a possible Matt. 18:16 setting, about which I’ll say more later).
It means you will not let “it” sit in your mind and stir up your juices when “it” does come back to your mind. God says He casts our sins forth from Him, and remember them not, “as far as the east is from the west”. (Psalms. 103:12)
Most importantly, however, if you are truly going to forgive another, it means saying that you will not allow “it” to cause your relationship with this person to be broken. You will, if they will, “live at peace with them.” (Rom. 12:18) They may choose to break off relationship, but you will not.
God offered Christ as His sacrifice, to reconcile with us, knowing that those who accepted the sacrifice would sin again, the very next day.
We refuse to offer relationship because we think we might be hurt in the future.
Please notice that in the God vs Man conflict, God’s extension of forgiveness, His confrontation, His evidencing, etc. did not result in our reconciliation. It merely opened the door for the possibility. It required the sinner accepting the offer for true reconciliation and restoration to take place.
What we see, as we look at God’s model, is that forgiveness is like sending a letter to some one who owes you money and saying, in the letter, “I cancel the debt,” while at the same time erasing from your mind the knowledge that there ever was a debt, and then going to the former debtor’s home and knocking on the door.
The former debtor opens the door, and quickly shuts it in your face, because he never opened the letter, or he opened the letter and refused to believe it.
So you stand at the door and knock. (Rev. 3:20)
The person who forgives in a Godly manner is then freed of the conflict.
The former debtor remains a debtor to the conflict until he accepts the gift of forgiveness.
The person who forgives has broken his negative cycle that goes from offense to hostility to hatred to violence, and on to a savage response by the other, allowing us to take revenge, followed by retaliation, etc. (see Eph. 4:30-31)
The result, for the one who does not forgive, is anger and bitterness at others, self, and God. There will be a loss of respect for authorities, a paralysis of mind and soul, perhaps medical or emotional problems, and a defiling of many (family, friends, members of the church, etc., Heb. 13:15).
And people who cannot forgive will always be crying out for, and demanding, “justice.”
When someone forgives, however, they have begun what can, with the acceptance of the wrongdoer, become a positive cycle leading to reconciliation and true healing.
Now, allow me to offer some thoughts about our willingness or lack thereof to forgive according to these principles from time to time.
First, I would suggest that you can not offer true forgiveness unless you have accepted God’s forgiveness through Christ Jesus. If you are unsaved, unregenerate, without God’s Spirit within you doing His work, you can never forgive another, for you do not understand what true forgiveness is. If you encounter a person who refuses to forgive, consider sharing the simple Gospel message with them, for they may not know Christ regardless of their profession of Him.
Second, the degree to which you are able and willing to forgive at any moment reflects the degree to which you feel forgiven at any moment (Luke 7:36-50).
Third, the degree to which you will feel forgiven at any moment will reflect upon the degree to which you have confessed your sins of the moment, particularly those sins related to the party you need to forgive or with whom you are in conflict (John 8:3-11).
Fourth, the degree to which you confess your sins of the moment reflects upon your recognition of the horror of sin to God (Mark 15:34; Jas. 1:22-24).
“Then God said: ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Gen. 1:26
We have seen that conflict is a part of life, and, as such, is to be brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We have looked at some various ways of dealing with conflict, including forgiveness. By now, we should be getting a little uncomfortable, and be looking for a way out.
A question forms in our mind: Why, after all, should we be all that concerned about how, as Christians, we choose to deal with our conflicts?
First, we should be concerned because we are made in the image of God. Look back to Gen. 1:25.
Our triune God has just completed creation of the entire universe and all that it contains. God the Father sits down in His swivel chair, kicks off His boots, and leans back, putting His feet on the desk. God the Son sits down on one corner of the desk, and God the Holy Spirit on the other. They have a conversation among Themselves. The Father starts:
“It is good, but it is not good enough. We want something more.” (If the entire universe were good enough, we would not exist, and the Bible would end at Genesis 1:25. We humans became the “something more”. But why?)
“We want something for relationship which can freely and voluntarily choose relationship with Us and glorify Us.” (The only thing which differentiates us from all the rest of creation is this capability for relationship with God and with one another. That relationship is based upon freedom of choice, for otherwise we would be robots, which we are not.)
“There is a problem, however. Such a creation could reject Us. If We are to remain holy, perfect, sinless, and just, what do We do if that happens? An option is to then blot out such creation and start again. Another option is to ignore it and act as if nothing had happened. But those options leave Us with no relationship at all.”
You may think that this conversation within God did not take place. I think a conversation like this had to take place, or God would not be “all knowing.”
“Hey”, says the Father, “I have an idea. If they reject Us, I’ll commit to sacrifice the nearest and dearest thing I have — You, My Son — in the hopes that they might understand Our love and choose to be reconciled with Us.”
When we are in conflict with another, we are made to sacrifice all we have — property, position, reputation, etc. — in hopes of resolving conflict and restoring relationship. God did it for you.
“I am willing to be sacrificed,” says the Son.
When we are in conflict with another, we are made to lay down our very life in hope of resolving the conflict and restoring the relationship. God did it for you.
“And I will go and live in the lives of those who repent having murdered the Son, and give them peace and an opportunity for a truly abundant life, while bearing their burdens,” says the Holy Spirit (called the Comfortor).
When we are in conflict with others, we are made to consider their needs, and to consider meeting those needs at our expense. God did it for us.
Another reason we should seek to understand and practice God’s way of dealing with conflict, and particularly when our conflict is with another who professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is found in I Corinthians: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body. (12:13)” “There should be no division in the Body, for the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (12:25-26)
When we war against another member of the Body, it is like cutting that part off of ourselves. You may think this person is only a big toe, but the body loses balance without the presence of the big toe.
Also, our normal method of resolving conflicts through the legal system places no emphasis on relationships. The system is unable to respond to issues of our vertical relationship with God or our horizontal relationship with each other. If you say to the judge, “Our relationship with God has something to do with this case,” he will look at you with blank incomprehension. If you say to the judge, “Our relationship with one another is involved here,” he may tell you that you need to go somewhere else for that issue (or he may cry that weekend).
I have discovered that my relationship with God is more important to me than the outcome of the conflict (“What profit it a man if he gain the world and lose his soul”) and that my relationship with my adversary is worthy of sacrifice.
Then there is the fact that in conflict our normal focus is on our rights, position, power, or property, whereas Christ determined to give all of those up, along with His very life, as a sacrifice that we might then choose to love Him in return.
The legal system also addresses all the wrong issues, and leaves sin and the weightier matters of the law alone. Review Matthew 23 in connection with this idea.
Moreover, our unresolved conflicts are a very poor witness to the unbelieving world which watches us for proof of the Lord. Christ prayed:
“And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they may also be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.” (Jn. 17:19-23)
As we fail to display our unity, people fail to believe. You see, we Christiana have a very strange theology which we are trying to sell — that the man, Jesus Christ, who hung on a cross outside Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, was, and is, God the Creator of the universe. We want people to believe that two who seem separate are, in fact, one.
If we, as people in conflict, are able to come together in love, and be reconciled, and resolve the conflict, then those who see us may believe that Two Others are One. And, as we fail to display unity, we defraud them of salvation; we steal peace from them.
Then there is the fact that the law and the legal system offer only a sword as a tool (I Kings 3:6-28) whereas Christ offers the Christian other tools such as prayer, intercession, spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-18), and gifts.
The final reason I want to touch on as to why we need to learn and practice God’s way of dealing with conflict — is the matter of “justice”. Solomon wrote:
“Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness, and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness.” (Eccl. 3:16)
Notice he is referring to “the place under the sun (on our earth)” — our laws and legal systems.
My point, from my life.
He does not say, nor do I, that justice cannot be found or does not exist; simply, they are not to be found in that place which is “under the sun.”
But, as we will see, justice can be found “under the Son.”
“Righteousness and justice are the foundations of Thy throne.” (Psalms 89:14) “The works of His hands are truth and justice.” (Psalms 111:7) “Who executes justice for the oppressed? *** The Lord ***.” (Psalms 146:7) “Surely the justice due me is with the Lord.” (Is. 49:4)
Justice, I believe, occurs whenever one person does what is right before God, in a manner which is right before God, with an attitude which is right before God, towards any other person.
But what we have done in the United States is to equate justice with the results of the legal, political, governmental process. We look for and expect the law, the system, and those in authority to deliver to us justice. In fact, that is exactly what we the people declared we would do — establish justice.
Let’s look back to the Constitution of the United States. The Preamble says:
“We the people, of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Did you know that everything which “We The People” declared “WE” were going to do, the Bible says God, and God only, can do? Let’s look at that:
“To form a more perfect union” — “And He (Jesus Christ) is before all things, and in Him
all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).
“Establish justice” — “Many seek the
ruler’s favor, but justice for man comes from the Lord” (Pro. 29:26).
“Insure domestic tranquility” — “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm. 127:1a).
“Provide for the common defense” — “Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain” (Psalm. 127:1b).
“Promote the general welfare” — “Is this not the fast which I choose — you loosen the bonds of wickedness (in your own life), you undo the bands of the yoke (from those you meet) … Is it not that you would divide your bread with the hungry, and bring a homeless poor person into your house, and when you see the naked cover one of them with your clothes?” (Is. 58:6-7).
“And secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” — “Why are the … peoples devising vain things? … He Who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm. 2:1-4).
If “We The People” were going to “form a more perfect union,” there would have been no U.S. Civil War, and the U.S.S.R. would not have disintegrated.
If “We The People” were able to “establish justice,” there would never have been a revolution in the history of the world, and the United States would still be a part of Great Britain.
If “We The People” were able to “insure domestic tranquility,” I would never have granted a divorce.
If “We The People” were able to “provide for the common defense,” we would have stopped building nuclear weapons thousands of warheads ago.
If “We The People” were able to “promote the general welfare,” there would be no homeless, no foster children, and no crack houses.
If “We The People” were able to “secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity” — well, let me just ask if you believe in Armageddon.
And “We The People” have always had such high concepts of ourselves.
Thousands of years ago, a group of people said the following:
“Come let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly, … Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower, whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make a name for ourselves lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:3-4)
Is there any real difference between what they said and what WE THE PEOPLE said? Are not both equally secular humanism? Do not both deny the meaning, importance, and very existence of God?
And if we teach this to our children until it becomes belief, what do we do to ourselves and our children?
“Many may seek the favor of the ruler [judge, juror, politician, boss, etc.], but justice for man comes only from the Lord.” Prov. 29:26
Man can never establish justice through the systems which he creates or the laws he enacts. Justice, as we have seen, is an attribute of Almighty God, and reserved for His deliverance. Apart from God, there can be no justice.
Except we understand Him more fully, and maintain relationship with Him and with one another, we cannot even begin to be just.
Since the entire Bible, after Gen. 3:8, is nothing more than the story of God’s seeking after the restoration of relationship with His ultimate creation, we must assume that justice cannot exist absent relationship.
As I have pointed out earlier, the legal system can never be concerned over, or do anything about, relationship. Individuals cannot be forced to love one another or live together.
Furthermore, without relationship in the legal system, we are left with nothing but a decision making process consisting of judgment, condemnation, and division.
Now, none of what I have written is to say that the legal system in the United States is rotten or an abomination; in fact, as systems go, it is pretty good. And it is surely better than anarchy.
But it is not justice; it is just a system.
God, as we know from the Bible, is a God of order and system. But what happens when you make your system your god? Let’s look at an example.
Six hundred thousand men plus women and children left Egypt one day (Ex. 12:27). During the next 90 days (Ex. 19:1), the following things happened:
(1) The Red Sea parted and they crossed on dry ground, but Pharaoh’s army got drowned;
(2) They got sweet water from bitter;
(3) They received quail;
(4) They received manna;
(5) They were given a day of rest;
(6) They had water spring from a rock; and
(7) they defeated Amalek.
That is a lot for 90 days! Maybe it was because they received so much, and had nothing to do but walk towards the mountain, that they kept getting in so much trouble.
Be that as it may, before the 90 days were up, they had acquired not less than 300,000 lawsuits — “All the people stand about you, as judge, from morning until evening” (Ex. 18:14), “each man with his neighbor” (Ex. 18:16). Looks like lawsuits to me, and everybody has one!
So, Jethro — who arguable only became a follower of the God of Moses the day before (a baby Christian if you will) — suggests that Moses establish a system to deal with all of the disputes. If you calculate Jethro suggested that 78,600 judges be appointed.
Jethro also suggested that Moses check this out with God (Ex. 18:23), and we don’t know if Moses did or not. But we do know the judges were appointed.
Well, so what? It was the logical thing to do, the orderly thing to do, the systematic thing to do, wasn’t it?
One of the great differences between man and God is that man thinks in terms of structures and organizations to meet the needs of himself and others — the Tower of Babel and the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution prove that — whereas God thinks in terms of one man, at one moment, out of love for Him, doing what He asks (see II Chron. 16:9).
God sees one man in need and sends His Spirit forth to help bear the burdens of that one. Man sees one person in need, steps back, looks again, sees another 999 like that one, and says: “Let’s form a ministry (build a tower?) so we can make a name for ourselves and meet all the 1,000 needs.”
While man is organizing, the one he first saw dies with the need unmet.
No, it is not wrong to organize. But it is wrong to not respond to the needs of one whom God places in your path and to whom He wants you to minister at the moment.
“Is this not the fast which I choose? … Divide your bread with the hungry; bring the homeless poor into your home; when you see the naked, cover him with your clothes.”
It is wrong to make the organization or the system into our god.
So, what happened because of Jethro’s idea?
Imagine you are case number 300,000, at the back of the line, with the neighbor from the next door tent, waiting to get to Moses. At the end of the day, you are still in line, and the line has not moved. If the line moved, one case would have been completed, and all the people would not still be there at evening time (an example of legal logic).
On the way home, after a day at court, you pick up some quail for dinner and grab a bucket of sweet water. You sleep soundly, secure in the knowledge that the Lord watches the camp. The next morning, you get up and gather the manna for the day. Then you go get your neighbor, and head back for another day in court. And back you come the next day, and the next, and the next.
How many days will you keep coming back until something dawns upon you, and you turn to your neighbor, and you say something like: “I am made in the image of God. You are made in the image of God. I have some knowledge of God. You have some knowledge of God. Why don’t we step out of this line, and go find a tree to sit under, where we can speak quietly with one another? Maybe God will give us insight into what we should do with this problem. And if that doesn’t work, why don’t we ask a couple of others — also made in the image of God, with knowledge of God — to come help us?”
That would take a conflict and possibly build relationship from it, not shatter relationship by it.
However, the judges were appointed, and now you can grab your neighbor by the neck and drag him before someone who has only ten people to worry about. You are bound to get a hearing quickly. Relationship, and God, become unimportant.
There is another legal story in the Bible which speaks about the law: what it is, and is not; what it can do, and cannot do. I think now is the time to look at it, as we are talking about the law bringing division between people.
The wisest man the world had ever known just came out of the temple, having given thanks to God. On the steps are the people, with two women and one baby (I Kings 3:6-28). Solomon hears the evidence, and calls for a sword to divide the baby in two.
Do you believe God told him to do that? The Bible doesn’t say so. I don’t believe so. Every Monday afternoon for over five years, I had to choose between two people — husband and wife — as to who would get the baby. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I had no more idea of what was truth than did Solomon. But I knew that “two who were one” had determined to no longer be one, and that the children would now have to choose between two masters, either learning to manipulate, or being manipulated. Often I found these children later “dead” in Juvenile Court — running away, shooting up drugs, committing crimes.
Do you think God told Solomon that if he called for the sword, the real mother would give up rather than let the child die, while the non-mother would applaud the decision to kill the child? The Bible doesn’t say so. I don’t believe so. In Juvenile Court, I watched one parent choose his or her alcoholic, abusive spouse over the child time after time.
No, Solomon may have hoped that something would happen to stop the slaughter. But, you see, he had little choice. He was judge. He had to decide. He could weep over the decision later, but the law said a decision had to be made, a decision in which the matter of relationship could play no part.
He could give the child to “A”, and have “B,” and all of those who thought she was the mother, cry “unjust.” He could give the child to “B”, and have “A,” and all those who thought she was the mother, cry “unjust.”
But if he killed the child, the people might all be united, albeit probably in hatred of him, the judge, or of the law, or of the “system.”
I often asked myself, as I decided who would get the children in a divorce action, if a sword might not have been the kinder answer. At least the child would avoid the confusion, anger, bitterness, resentment, hatred, that he might otherwise carry for life.
No, my friends, the truth is that the moment you involve the law and the system, blood will flow and division will result. The deeper into the fight you plunge, the more blood and the more incurable the division.
God, on the other hand, says that if both parties will seek Him and His way, He will transform how they view one another, and how they view the importance of the dispute.
He will bring unity of the Spirit upon them so that they will know what is His will in the matter.
That unity will result in resolution of the dispute in true justice: reconciliation of relationship between each and God,
reconciliation with each other; and all who watch will know God is. Thus, God will be glorified.
Find a friend in legal conflict. Talk with him. Is he full of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”, or is he full of “impurity, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envyings?” (Gal. 5:19-26).
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves punishment.” I Jn. 4:18a
Why do we individual Christians, and the church, seem to fall so short of the Lord’s model when we find ourselves in conflict?
I suggest there are a number of reasons.
First, significantly in the United States but also in many other parts of the world, we have simply defaulted the matter of conflicts to the secular system. We think that the secular system is the place to go and do not even think of the church.
Second, we men have been raised in a macho environment. This makes us unwilling to acknowledge we have a conflict, or ask someone to help us in the conflict, or deal with the conflict other than on a win-lose basis. In short, pride, and even ladies are afflicted with that.
Third, we are intimidated by our knowledge of our own sins: “what makes me, a sinner, able to help someone else when I can’t even help myself?”
Fourth, we are intimidated by a sense that only professionals can help — lawyer, doctor, pastor, psychologist, counselor instead of a fellow Christian lay person filled with and led by, the Spirit of the Lord.
Fifth, because we hunger for relationship with others and for a pat on the head for doing well, we fear that if we deal Biblically with our conflicts we will lose all of our friends, and no one will tell us we are doing well.
Sixth, and most importantly, we fear sacrifice. We fear that the Lord might ask us to sacrifice and surrender our position, money, or what ever. We fear we may fail the people we try to help. When the conflict is within the church, we fear loss of offerings and budget crises.
Regardless of the reason, the fact remains that we do not follow His path, and in our failure we deny His sovereignty and ability. We do not even give His method a beginning try.
What can we, individually, do? What can the church, collectively, do?
We can teach one another. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6) I have watched so many good people destroyed by conflict because there was no one to teach them the Word.
We can identify the gifted, their particular gifts, and then encourage them in service to one another. I Per. 3:10 says, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” What gift has God given you to share with another, who is in conflict?
We can establish processes within every church and every community, and exhort others to enter the processes.
We can intervene, and send others to intervene, in the conflicts which we see about us. Isn’t that exactly what Christ did with the twelve in Matt. 10:1-42? Untrained, untutored, unskilled, by twos, He sent them forth and said that they would have power. He has promised us no less when we act in obedience to Him. He has likewise sent us forth.
What makes us individual Christians, and what makes the collective body of Christ (the church), able and competent to handle the disputes of one another?
First, we have been given the theology needed: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of men. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, but leave room for God … But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink … do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:17-21)
“And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. … For if you forgive men for their transgressions. your heavenly Father will forgive you your transgressions. But if you forgive not men, your heavenly Father will not forgive you.” (Matt. 6:12, 14-15)
Second, we have been given the mission: “Therefore, if any man is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away and new things have come. And all these new things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation, namely to proclaim that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our trespasses against us, and He has committed to us this word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating the world through us.” (II Cor. 5:17-20)
“And beyond all these things, put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity, and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col. 3:14-16)
“Live in peace with one another. And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men. See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men.” (I Thess. 5:13-15)
Third, we have been given gifts: “And He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers; [some as carpenters, lawyers, doctors, plumbers, housewives, mothers, victims of abuse, people who have abused, alcoholics, thieves, and with any other experience which you now see through the eyes of Jesus and are thus useful to help others in such situations; some to serve, some to exhort, some to give, some to lead, some with mercy] (Rom. 12:6-8) … to some the word of wisdom, to some the word of knowledge, to some faith, to some gifts of healing, to some the effecting of miracles, to some distinguishing spirits, to some various tongues, to some interpretation of tongues (I Cor. 12:4-11) for the equipping of the saints to their works of service, for the building up of the Body of Christ until such time as we shall all be unified in faith and the knowledge of the Son of God as a mature person, to a degree of the stature of the fullness of which is Christ and so
that we may no longer be children tossed about on waves of doctrine and carried away by trickery of men or by craftiness and deceitful scheming.” (Eph. 4:11-14)
“And God has placed the members (with their gifts and experiences), each one of them, in the Body exactly where He wants them.” (I Cor. 12:18)
Fourth, we have been given the model and told to follow: “For to you it has been given, for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflicts which you have seen in me and now hear to be in me. So, if there is any encouragement [to be a Christian] in Christ, if there is going to be any consolation for choosing to love others, if there is going to be anywhere that you can find fellowship of the Spirit, if there will be any affection or compassion one to another, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, let each one of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not look out merely for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others. And have this attitude about you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Phil. 1:29 to 2:1-8 (modified)
Peter, James and John were not, in the eyes of the world, competent. They were itinerant, ignorant, given to quarreling among themselves, shy of faith, fearful. But they knew He lived, and that made a difference, and so they went forth in faith.
Are we able? Are we competent?
No. But He is. And He lives.
We are His workmanship (Eph. 2:10), His hollow vessels (II Cor. 4:7). He can use each and every one of us, lay or professional, if we will empty ourselves of our interests and let Him work through us for His glory.
As you try, and maybe fail, remember that God is greater than our failures, and He can still use those failures to His glory as we acknowledge the failure and begin again to do what is right.
I rest my case concerning justice and why we must seek God’s way for dealing with our conflicts.
Now let’s start looking at how we are to behave when we discover that we are in a conflict.
For this commandment which I give to you this day is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of your reach. It is not in heaven that you should say: “Who will go up to Heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it that we may observe it?” Nor is it beyond the sea that you should say: “Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it that we may observe it?” But the Word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.
“For indeed, we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them for it was not united by faith in those who heard.”
There are, as best I can determine, four ways in which we get into conflict or discover we are in conflict:
(1) We wake up one morning and discover that someone “holds something against us”; i.e., thinks we have done them a wrong;
(2) We wake up one morning and discover that we think someone has wronged us;
(3) We discover that someone we know is in conflict; and/or
(4) Someone tells us about their conflict or the conflict of another.
God’s Word gives instruction in how to deal with each of these situations; but as Scripture notes, we need faith (an action verb) to unite with our belief so that we will act.
There is an interesting thing about this matter of faith. Today, the Greek word used for faith is a noun. It’s like sitting with chin in palm, sweat breaking out on your brow, and saying, “Faith, give me faith, I need faith.” And you sit and sweat, and sit and sweat, waiting for faith to arrive.
But, at the time of Christ, this Greek word was a verb. Faith was not something you thought up and thought about, but it was something you did.
Remember the ten lepers by the side of the road? They cried out to Christ for help. Christ looked at them and gave them a command, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Now, under the Old Testament law, when a person was healed from leprosy, they had to go to the priest who would establish that they were, in fact, healed. Then they would be readmitted to the community.
By the way, look over His miracles, and see often such was the case: a command was given.
So, here stand the ten men: puss seeping from open wounds;
missing fingers, noses, toes; wrapped in rotting rags. What would you do, in their place?
Open the rags to see if there had been some change in your condition?
Say, “Are you kidding?” “In front of all of these people?” “What if it doesn’t work?” “Don’t I get a promise?”
They did none of these things. They turned, walked (putting feet to faith), and as they walked they were healed.
Maybe you need to re-read Chapter 12 of Hebrews and reconsider how the saints mentioned there acted out their faith rather than sitting on their duffs and asking for some.
As we study what God says about how to deal with our conflicts, and how to help others who are in conflict, you will, I am sure, find yourself challenged by the thought, “Would I do that act?”
Your faith will be laid on the line.
“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which were not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, malice;
full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they were gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful, and although they know the ordinances of God, that they who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
It is often the way of lawyers to knock down the arguments of others before giving their own positive argument. Thus, before looking at what God says about what we should do with our conflicts, let’s look at what He says we should not do, beginning with the fourth way we find ourselves in conflict, gossip.
I believe it is critical for the Church, the Christian, and Christian leaders, to understand the part which gossip plays in conflict, and how to deal with it, for gossip causes great division and harm. But before we will deal rightly with gossip, three things are needed:
(1) to know how God views gossip;
(2) to know why gossip is so horrible; and
(3) to know how He tells us to deal with it.
First, let’s define gossip. Webster says: “Idle talk and rumors about others; chatter.” The Greek word in the New Testament is “whisperer” (one who will not speak openly or aloud). The Old Testament Hebrew word is defined as “slanderer or tale-bearer”.
But for a working definition, let me suggest the following: Gossip is the act of “A” speaking to “B”, something about “C”, when “C” is not present, which does not edify “C”. It is the giving of a negative report.
Please note that whether truth is spoken is immaterial. Truth may be a defense to man’s law of slander and gossip, but it is no defense to God’s law.
What does God think about gossips?
First, He tells us to not associate with such a person: “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets; Therefore, do not associate with a gossip.” (Prov. 20:19)
The quoted passage from Romans at the beginning of this chapter also tells us what God thinks about gossip. In short, God hates gossip. Gossip is an unmistakable evil, reprehensible and detestable; it is an abomination. Gossip is always making accusation against another. Prov. 3:30 says “Do not accuse a person for no reason if he has done you no harm.”
Gossip reveals things God would want kept secret. Prov. 11:13 says “He who goes about as a tale-bearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy conceals a matter.”
Scripture even indicates that one who gossips will hurt his own reputation (see Prov. 25:8-9).
Gossip is an outlet for hatred or envy against another, their position, or power. Prov. 10:12 says “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all wrongs.”
But worst of all gossip causes division. Prov. 12:18 says “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Prov. 16:28, “A perverse man stirs up dissension and a gossip separates close friends.”
Prov. 17:9 adds, “He who covers (does not repeat) an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”
Gossip causes offenses, and separates people.
It will separate because the one who gossips must now justify and defend his sin, preventing him from dealing with other sins in his life.
The victim of gossip gets angry and bitter and senses having been wronged, which may prevent him from receiving admonition about areas of his life.
The one receiving the gossip must make a choice: will he believe the one speaking to him or the one spoken about. Depending upon which choice he makes, he then chooses to divide his either the gossiper or the one gossiped about.
In short, gossip serves to break relationships, and that is what makes it an abomination before God.
Then, with time, each person becomes, as is shown in Prov. 18:19 “More unyielding than a fortified city, and the dispute becomes as barred gates of a citadel.”
Gossip keeps conflict going and keeps peace away, for “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” (Prov. 26:21)
Now we have some idea of the evil of gossip, and God’s attitude towards it. However, there are people who are just as bad as a gossip, although you find no reference to them in Scripture. The people I am speaking about might be called “listening posts.” They are the people who allow the gossip to gossip. They can terminate gossip and lessen its negative impact. They are the ones who must know how to recognize gossip, and deal with gossip.
“They” are “us.”
And there are other people just as bad as a gossip, although, again, you find no ready reference to them in Scripture. They might be called “rejectors”, or possibly “condemners,” or “side-choosers.” They are people who allow gossip to separate them from another person, or who choose to then deal unrighteously with another person based upon what they have heard rather than what they personally know to be true. They choose up sides without knowledge. Such people must know how to recognize gossip and deal with a gossip.
“They” are also “us.”
“Listening posts”, and “rejectors,” quickly choose up sides in the conflict, deciding who is right and who is wrong — all without real knowledge (we call it “hearsay” in the law) — and begin to spread the strife and discord even further.
There is a Proverb, 26:17, for those of us who do such things: “Like one who takes a dog by its ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.”
I had trouble with that Scripture because I am always stepping into the conflicts of others, feeling called and equipped to do so — until I gave it some thought.
First, what happens when we pick up a dog by its ears? Actually, the question is what is likely to happen when we let go? We may get harmed (bit) by our involvement in the conflict.
And, then, do you recall the photos of a politician picking up his dog by its ears? Did it not lower that man in our esteem? Do we not look down on those who gossip, even though we listen to them?
Now, this Scripture sounds as though I can not enter the conflict of others even to help; that it would be meddling. But the Hebrew word used here signifies, “passes the bounds of reasonableness.”
If I enter the strife as a presenter of peace, and do not make either side my side; if I behave rightly as to God; then I am not “meddling.”
We will look later at how a Christian may help others who are in conflict, but, for now, back to the matter of gossip.
We need to realize that: (1) God has provided instruction on how to deal with conflict, and (2) the act of gossip is an act done outside of His process. Therefore, merely speaking words which do not edify, and which are spoken outside of God’s process — even if what is spoken is truth — is sin just as much as if we speak falsely.
Merely listening to the words, except in God’s process, is sin as well.
Acting upon what is heard in a manner so as to cut off relationship or judge and condemn another is also sin.
We are going to look at God’s way for dealing with disputes later in this section of the book. Suffice it to say for the moment that if we were to practice His way, in right manner and attitude, there would never be any gossip, for matters would be “covered” between the people directly involved.
So, how should we deal with gossip? Let’s look at that question in light of attempting to determine the reputation of a Christian within the community, something Scripture clearly authorizes. The question then looks like this:
“How, other than directly speaking with Party A, may I find out in a godly manner the reputation of Party A?” In other words, may I approach godly leaders of the particular community and inquire about the reputation of A without being in violation of God’s commands concerning gossip?
Maybe the first point should be: Why not go directly to the person, and fellowship with them, and allow the Spirit to make a witness to you? Why begin with any investigation? At least, let me challenge you to search your heart very carefully about why you need to investigate, rather than go and fellowship.
Well, in a perfect world, the individual Christian, and the local assembly (hereinafter church) would function so fully as part of the universal church (hereinafter CHURCH) that this issue would never arise — for the CHURCH would always know of the discipline by a church being taken against a Christian (or Christian organization) who is acting in an ungodly way. It is only through discipline that a godly negative report should ever arise. But we do not live in a perfect world.
May I, seeking to know about Party A, seek out others and ask? At the risk of giving worldly council rather than Biblical, I will say, “yes, provided you know what to do when you receive a negative report.”
Asking the question will lead to, essentially, one of three responses: “He is a good man”; “I do not know him”; “He is an bad man”. The first two pose no problem. The third is a stick of dynamite now waiting to explode within you.
Because you asked the question, you are seeking to relate, in some manner, with Party A. Now, having received a negative report, the risk is very, very high that you will “meddle.”
Asking “Why do you say that he is a bad man” passes the boundary for it opens the door for gossip because the man himself is not present to respond to any accusation. Of course, the same thing happens if the one you are questioning simply begins to spew forth, in which case you must stop him before he contaminates you (“The words of the whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body” Prov. 26:22).
Considering the above, “investigate” — deal with gossip — with follow up questions:
“Is your opinion based upon your personal interaction with the man, or upon reports from others?” If the answer is “personal,” then proceed. If “reports,” then rebuke him for being a listening-post and now having gossiped to you. You may need to follow up with this man later to see if he is repentant (1) inner condition of the heart brought about by the Holy Spirit and repentant (2) outward actions moved by the Holy Spirit to right the wrongs done.
“Have you, pursuant to Matt. 18:15, shared with this man his sin as you see it?” If the answer is, “yes,” proceed. If “no,” then instruct him in the ways of Biblical conflict resolution, and gently rebuke him for his sin of giving a negative report having not confronted in love. Again, you may need to follow up with this man to see if he “listened to you” (Matt. 18:15).
“I assume that your speaking to him did not resolve the matter or you would not be still calling him a bad man. Did you then take one or two as witnesses to further confront him in his sin (Matt. 18:16), that you might recover the sheep which is going astray (Matt. 18:12-14)?” If the answer is, “yes,” proceed. If “no,” then rebuke, instruct, offer to be a “one or two,” and consider checking back later.
“May I know the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the one or two?” Assuming the information is given, thank the man for his time and faithfulness, and leave.
If at any point in this process the man gives the wrong answer then erase the negative report from your mind. If you find you are unable to do that, then you mustbegin to ratchet up the confrontational process with this man.
Then call the one or two, and confirm that there was a face-to-face confrontation within Matt. 18:16. If they confirm that there was a meeting, and that, in their opinion, Party A did not “listen,” then ask if they “told it to any church.” If they say, “yes,” ask for the identity of the church.
Now, at this point, you may — but you do not need to — go and see Party A. Insofar as your investigation is concerned, it is completed. The bad report has been confirmed by witnesses and proper process. You may choose your manner of relating to Party A as relating to an unbeliever or a stray sheep.
Thus, if you go to Party A, you go offering to take him back to fellowship through the church and the witnesses and the other party. You may also, at this time, offer him the basic Gospel message as you might any other believer. But you do not ask Party A for his version any more than you needed to ask the first man, the witnesses, or the church, for their version.
Please note that I have not said you need to know the particulars of the negative report. I am very unsure if we should ever ask for the reason for the bad report, rather than just accepting the word of the witnesses. But I am open for a lot of discussion on this entire matter.
Now, what if you, in the reading of this, get convicted that you have engaged in all sorts of ungodly investigation in the past? What then?
First, I think you must agree that what you actually did was to engage in gossip. Gossip is not merely speaking a negative report. It can also be listening to a negative report in such a manner as to appear to give hearty approval to it (Rom. 1:28-32). I am fearful that anything other than proper confrontation in the process of investigation is automatically giving hearty approval. It enables the gossiper to continue in gossip without confrontation of his sin. It is enabling.
Second, you will need to do some acts of repentance for your sin of listening. At a minimum, that would seem to require that you call each person you listened to without confrontation, ask their forgiveness for listening, and then discuss with them how they need to behave. You also need to call people you later transmitted the negative report to, and ask their forgiveness. You may even need to follow up with any of these people later to ensure that they have now acted rightly. And you may need to call the one being gossiped about, particularly if they are already in some level of relationship with you.
Third, you must fully erase the negative reports from your mind, and interact with Party A on the basis of a fellow believer.
Finally, we must never forget that it is possible that Party A is always spoken of negatively, and yet he is righteous. This is particularly true if the “witnesses” are “religious figures.” If you had gone to the “religious figures” of 30 A.D., you would have received a negative report about Jesus! Thus if the witnesses are leaders of a church or ministry with whom party A had conflict, and if the religious figures never allowed outsiders to participate in the efforts to resolve that conflict, then they are not truly Matt.
18:16 witnesses. They were not uninterested or unbiased.
Later, we will look at “the witnesses” in Matt. 18:16, and “the church” in Matt. 18:17. These two elements have a connection to this matter of dealing with gossip,
* * * * *
The part-time pastor stood in his shop door and heard a towns-person comment about a relationship between Joe and Mary, both of whom were members of the church. The pastor was, unwittingly, a “listening post.”
Joe was new in the small town, having come from the big city. He looked and acted “citified.” Joe also had not yet moved his wife and family to the community. Mary was young, single, and impressionable. These “facts” gave credence to the “word heard.”
The pastor, because of what he heard from the passer-by, informed his elders (gossip: a negative report without the presence of Joe) that there might be an improper relationship between Joe and Mary, and asked the elders to investigate.
One of the elders went directly to Joe’s boss, another Christian, told her of the problem and asked her to fire Joe and send him home (gossip: pre-judgment; modification of relationship).
The boss, incensed over the matter, called in the pastor’s district superintendent (gossip) to put the pastor in his place.
On the day this erupted, I happened to be traveling by, 8,000 miles from my home.
As I listened to the initial outline of what had taken place, I took each person aside and spoke to him about the matter of gossip, and how the Lord wants His people to deal with conflict.
As a result, the pastor sought forgiveness from Joe and from his elders.
The elder sought forgiveness from the boss.
The boss sought forgiveness from the superintendent.
The matter of Joe and the young lady was then dealt with on a face-to- face basis and found to be without substance.
More importantly, several lives were profoundly altered.
And a community saw a godly example.
“Does any one of you, when he has a complaint against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more the matters of this life. If then you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is there not one wise man among you able to decide among the brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers. Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you that you have lawsuits one with another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defaulted? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud and that your brother.” I Cor. 6:12-8
A second wrong way to deal with conflict is through hasty resort to the legal system.
An attorney writes 10,000 words, and calls that “a brief.” For an attorney, Paul was brief when he wrote this. Let’s recall who Paul was. A Jew. A Roman citizen. A pharisee. Three legal backgrounds rolled into one!
One who held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen.
One who persecuted the church.
A man who, in his mind, had everything going for him, whose world seemed well in order. He was advancing rapidly in his religious organization and doing exactly what he thought God wanted him to do. I see myself much like Paul, for I, too, thought I had everything going for me, and going my way.
But, I suggest, Paul was a man who knew he was wrong, who was in internal pain for his rebellion against God, who was kicking against the goads (Acts 26:14). I was in pain but wouldn’t look at its source, either.
Later, he would get thrown into prison, beaten, run out of town, and, eventually, killed. I only got found in contempt.
Now, I want you to picture Paul, laying on a bed in Damascus, blind, with the Gospel of Love being laid out for him. But the attorney (the realist in Paul) had to be saying, “Lord, this is neat. But if you think it can work, you don’t understand the human animal.”
In the meantime, Christ has asked Ananias to go speak to Paul. Ananias, out of fear — or any of the other reasons I suggested that we will not deal rightly with a conflict — says, “No.”
Christ tells him to go, that Paul is His.
In stupid-to-friends-and-neighbors-in-the-church, obedience-in-action-verb, faith, not knowing what may happen to him, Ananias goes to bear the burdens of one who has wronged both him and those whom he loved. Love being lived out in relationship is being modeled to Paul, and to us.
He arrives, and reaches out, hugging Paul and lifting him to his feet. The scales fall off; the blind man sees.
And what is the first thing he sees? It is the answer to his question of “will this work.” It is like God saying, “Of course it will work, Paul; just look at who is hugging you!”
Before arguing about when to sue, or when not to sue, when to defend or when not to defend, let’s look at what God, through His servant Paul, wants to say to us in this passage.
“Does any one of you” — All Christians are included in this phrase. No Christian may say he or she is so unique as to be able to avoid the passage. Yet, I constantly have people tell me all the good reasons why, in their unique personhood, they don’t have to do what God’s word says.
“When he has a case” — All conflicts are included in this phrase. No Christian may say that his situation is of such a nature that he may avoid the passage. Yet, I constantly have people tell me that their case is too big for God, or that it is too late for God.
“Against a neighbor” — This verse, and verses 2-4 which follow, apply regardless of who (individual, organization, or corporation) or what (believer or unbeliever) the other person is. The Greek word used here is heteros; it means “another of a different kind.” It can also be translated as “the other involved.” Since we are called to be “light” and “salt”, to “go ye therefore,” to “love our neighbor as our self,” and because we are called “ministers of reconciliation, ambassadors for Christ,” the use of heteros is appropriate. Yet, I have any number of Christians tell me that they do not have to follow God’s word because the adversary is not a Christian or, if he once was a Christian he has lost his salvation, or that we need not follow God’s word until the other person first follows the word.
What is it that every one of us, in every conflict which we face, are told to do first?
Actually, the verse continues with what we should not do first: see an attorney and file a lawsuit!
“Dare you go to law before the unrighteous” — This is the reason I have written this book in the manner in which it is written. Man’s laws and systems have always been, will always be, and must always be, unrighteous, for they cannot deal with the “weightier matters of the law;” but we must have a system or have anarchy. But that system — designed by and presided over by fallen man — will not do justice even a substantial portion of the time. To the extent that restored relationships are needed for true justice, the system will never do justice, for it cannot deal with matters of relationships. Prov. 29:26 sums it up: “You may seek favor of the ruler (judge, jury, etc.) but justice (right behavior) for man comes only from the Lord.”
Thus, Paul says, before going to law, we should do something else; we should seek out the saints.
“And not before the saints?” — The saints are your fellow Christians; any person in whom Christ lives. Go to the Saints first, not the lawyer!
How extraordinarily simple; how great an act of faith God calls us to — go ask the church what to do before asking the lawyer!
Now, pray tell, why should we go first to the church? In verses 2-4 we find some explanation.
“Or do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? … do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church?” This shows the power, authority, and role of the Body of Christ in the conflicts of the members.
Here is what I believe Paul is saying:
When we find ourselves in conflict, we ought to be wise enough to recognize that we may have logs in our eyes, ears, hearts and minds, and we should then recall that our hearts are deceptively wicked and our minds not fully unregenerated. We probably would not know truth if it rose up and bit us.
Therefore, we come to the saints for guidance and counsel concerning our actions, inactions, attitudes, feelings, and motivations. We need to determine if our ways have been pleasing to the Lord so that our enemies may live at peace with us. We need guidance on how to practice Christ’s directions on making peace according to Matt. 5:22-26 and Matt. 18:12-35.
In the saints, we can find a multitude of counselors (Prov. 11:14), who can pray and anoint us with a unified Word of the Lord (Jas. 5:14) rather than phoning four people with our story, hoping one will say it is all right to do what we have already decided we want to do.
Would you go back and re-read that last sentence? You see there is a vast difference between the ways of counseling of the world and the ways of God. We will look at it further later in the book.
Another reason for going to the saints is found in the remainder of I Corinthians 6: we may incur losses which the Body needs to consider bearing, and they should be aware of this at the beginning (Gal. 6:2).
To this point, Paul has not said Christians may or may not file lawsuits, may or may not defend if sued. He only tells us what to do before making the choice — come to the church.
However, starting with verse 5, a different condition exists. In verses 5-8, the situation is that of one who professes Christ, who is in a conflict with another who professes Christ. Here, the Greek word used is adelphos, “brother of the same womb” — as all are who profess Christ as their Lord and Savior. (I use the word “profess” for that is the only basis upon which we can judge another. Beware of judging on any other basis so as to avoid the remainder of the passage!)
“Is it so that there is not one wise man among you able to decide between the brethren?” Christian, do not sue another who professes Christ. The two of you get together and agree upon one or more wise men and/or women from the greater Body of Christ and let them tell you what to do. Then, keep on playing golf together! Do this in trust that God will work through them. Do it out of love, and for the sake of relationship. Do it in obedience so God will be glorified regardless of what happens to you. Becausethere is yet a final point God wants us to understand from this passage.
“It (the lawsuit) is (will be guaranteed) a defeat for you.” The defeat may be anger and bitterness as you grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30-31). It may be getting consumed as you bite and devour one another (Gal. 5:15). It may be a prison of despair, confusion, or disillusionment (Matt. 5:25-26). Or it may defeat your witness to unbelievers — a witness that two who the world would expect to fight choose instead to be one, thus confirming that God was in Christ so that the world may believe (Jn. 17:21).
“Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” If such a defeat is going to result, would it not be better to suffer the wrong and stay free of the negative effects of the conflict, free to be used by the Lord rather than closed to being used by Him because of your focus on self-interest?
If your actions turned another from God, would it not have been better to be defrauded?
“On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that your brethren.” When you sue another, or defend in a wrong manner against another who sues you, you could cause him to be defeated, defrauded, wronged. You may turn him away from being used by Christ to serve others at this point in his life.
Does this passage say any of the following?
(1) A Christian who sues another Christian or Christian organization, or business in which all owners are Christians, without first practicing all of God’s processes for dealing with conflict in the manner God desires, commits sin?
(2) A Christian who refuses, when requested by the other party, to submit issues of a conflict to the church for counsel and judgment before suing or defending, commits sin?
(3) A Christian, when suing or being sued, who will not submit his actions, and the actions of his lawyer, to oversight by the church, commits sin?
Now, I confess that I am uncertain if the church should “judge” a matter between two believers who are unable to see and confess their sins relative to the conflict. For that reason, I think we should start with Matt. 18:16 rather than in I Cor. 6:5, and test the Spirit of the parties before arbitrating the dispute. God will let us know, in the Matt. 18:16 process, if we should judge or allow them to break on the rocks of litigation.
A final word on the matter of defending when sued. The passage gives no clear word. But, when we consider the potential for “defeat,” we need to ask the question to the saints: “Should I suffer the wrong, not defend?”
If we do defend, remember that “your ‘yes’ shall be your ‘yes’, and your ‘no’ your ‘no’, and anything beyond that is evil” (Matt. 5:37); that we are to “give an account in gentleness (towards our adversary) and reverence (in respect for those who are in authority Rom. 13:1-7)” (I Pet. 3:15)
We may not, in defending ourselves, maim, cripple, demean, or devour the other, or uncover the sin of the other.
Our attorney or other representative may not do on our behalf that which the Lord will not allow us to do.
Therefore, place your attorney under the authority and direction of the counselors (wise men) in all that he does on your behalf.
Keep in mind that, in some ways, a lawsuit also denies the sovereignty of God. When an attorney writes a legal complaint, he first says what the other person has done wrong, how that has harmed his client, and then he writes, “Wherefore the Plaintiff prays” that the judge do a list of things.
Do we pray to the judge because we won’t trust God to, some day, in some way, make things right (Rom. 8:28, 38-39; I Pet. 2:23)?
So what should we do when we have a conflict with another? We should follow the Lord’s very specific teaching.
“If therefore you are presenting your offering at the alter, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the alter and go your way; first be reconciled with your brother. Then come and present your offering.”
I said the Bible tells us how to deal with our conflicts. But in this case Christ, before telling us what to do, reminds us of what we are, for He wants us to be “doers” of the Word, not just “hearers” (Jas. 1:22-25).
First, however, I want to look at an outline of the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5-7.
In Matt. 5:3-12, Jesus outlines the process by which we become a Christian (poorness in spirit), and the things which will then develop within us as we grow in Him. He also tells us what to expect from the world due to our servanthood: persecution.
Then, in verses 13-16, He tells us what the fruit of our life should become — salt and light — and how we must allow the fruit to be seen and used. Being light and salt is another reason why I believe we should practice these principles, so far as we are able, with all mankind and not just within the church.
In verses 17-19, He affirms and establishes the law for the future. He knows that we need an objective as well as a subjective, guide to life.
Finally, in verse 20, He says that we must be more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees. What is He saying? The scribes and Pharisees were the greatest nit-pickers of the Law the world has ever known. They are the same people Christ will blast in Matt. 23. How can we ever be more “righteous” than they?
Do you recall the definition of righteous? It is not nit-picking obedience to the letter of the law, but right relationships with God and man.
So, how then do we become more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees? We allow the Holy Spirit to give life to the Law, in and for the situation of the moment.
Does this sound like situational ethics? Well, it is not. The Law remains intact, and the Spirit will never countermand the Law.
A quick example: A lady called me one day wanting the name of a Christian lawyer so that she could sue her Christian husband for divorce. When I asked her why she was going to do this, she denied any troubles with her husband of any nature, simply saying, “The Lord told me to.” Hogwash. “‘I hate divorce,'” sayeth the Lord God of Israel.” (Malachi 2:16)
The Spirit will not countermand the Law.
Then, beginning with verse 21, and continuing through the remainder of the Sermon, the Lord gives examples of the Spirit energizing the Law into a situation of the moment. And the first example He gives is one of two people in conflict with one another.
He begins by reminding us about ourselves before telling us how to deal with aa certain type of conflict. He reminds us that we are all worthy of burning in Hell for calling another person, made in the image of Holy God, a “fool” (Matt. 5:22). We are sinners saved by grace who are to love and forgive one another because He first loved us.
As we look at His instruction, as with the first four verses of I Cor. 6, let us not limit the application to our fellow believers. The Sermon On The Mount is God’s direction for how He would have all of His creation live in relationship to Him and to one another.
When Christ uses adelphos, “of the same womb”, in these verses, I believe He is referring to the brotherhood of all those God created in His image. That is, they are brothers of the womb of God, so to speak, but not necessarily brothers of the womb of the Spirit. If we limit His words, we will likely avoid considering the passage at all.
So, here we are looking at how to deal with one form of conflict:
It is Sunday morning. We have just had a week that defies imagination — everything has turned up roses. We are so overjoyed and aware of God that we are planning on spending six hours in the church, singing and praising God. We have with us a billfold which is ten inches thick, and the smallest bill in it is a $100. When the offering plate comes, we are planning to put the whole wad in, for we know it all came from God.
Get the picture?
And, as we walk down the isle, God places in our mind the face and name of: FRED.
Who is this FRED?
He is someone who thinks that we have done him some wrong. It does not say that we have done a wrong — and the instructions which follow have nothing to do with who is or is not wrong.
What is the instruction?
“Drop your billfold in the middle of the aisle” — your tithes and offerings are no longer of value to God.
“Leave the church and go find FRED” Forsake the assembly of the believers! Your worship is of no value to God: “I hate and reject your festivals; nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness (remember the definition — getting right in relationships?) like an ever flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)
“He has told you, o man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you? Do justice; love kindness; and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
Do you see something interesting here in Micah? It does not say, “RECEIVE Justice” but “DO justice.”
And, having left the church and found FRED, seek to be reconciled.
In summation: The highest form of worship which we can offer almighty God is that we be restored in our relationships.
And it is interesting that the Greek word used for “reconciled”, diallaso, is used only this once in the New Testament. It contemplates change in both parties to the hostility. Expect that you will change if true reconciliation is brought about.
Therefore when you go to the other, be prepared, for the sake of reconciliation, to drop position, power, etc., and to be willing to make concessions for the sake of possible reconciliation.
Please note that we are to go regardless of whether we think the other is believer or unbeliever, for we are to love our neighbor as our self (Matt. 5:43-48) and we are ministers of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:17-20). We are to “go ye therefore;” we are “light” and “salt.”
Before we go to the person with whom we are in conflict, we need to stop, set all other matters of life aside, and seek the Lord for wisdom.
We need to know our faults in the matter, if any, for we must confess them to the other when we meet with him, and that must be the opening of the conversation (Jas. 5:16). We must ask God for wisdom concerning ourselves so that we can remove the logs from our eyes (Matt. 7:5).
We need His wisdom concerning our adversary so that we may be able to see, hear, and offer to bear the burdens of our adversary.
We need to understand that we must go forgiving the other party his faults against us (Matt. 6:12, 14-15; 18:34-35) and know what forgiveness entails.
You may need counsel from others to discover your own faults, check your own attitudes, better understand how to approach the other. Now we will see some of the ways in which godly counseling (the process) is different from that of the world.
I want to focus on four issues within counseling: (1) historical one-on-one counseling vs. utilization of a team; (2) the idea of professionalism vs. laity; (3) the whole concept of confidentiality; and (4) that which is given to the counselee in the process of counseling.
The most typical method of counseling today involves one person with a problem meeting with one person (usually a professional) and seeking help.
The counselor — psychiatrist, psychologist, pastor, lawyer, doctor, etc. — ushers him into the office, closes the door, spends an hour with him, and ushers him out after setting another appointment date for a week or more later.
Now, let’s look at some reality problems.
First we can be assured that the counselee is talking to someone else, on some occasions, about whatever the problem is — family member, a fellow-worker, another professional. Here we meet the first problem with one-on-one counseling, which is doublemindness. The counselee will probably be getting highly conflicting advice from the various sources. How do we deal with this?
Second, we can assume that the problem will come up again in the mind (if not actions) of the counselee before the next meeting. Maybe that is why so much mood-altering medication is prescribed (in one manner or another) by professionals in the counseling field, and taken by so many counselees: the medication reduces the frequency and severity of the problem so that he or she can get from meeting to meeting. Of course, this does not deal with the problem, but only masks it.
So we see two problems. What does Scripture say about counseling? In Prov. 11:14, it says: “Where there is no guidance, the people fall; but in abundance of counselors there is safety.” Obviously, Scripture supports our seeking counsel. And we do have our “abundance of counselors” in our neighbor, fellow-worker, professional counselor, or pastor. But is there safety when the counsel is not united, or merely confusion?
Let’s compare this with Jas. 5:14: “Is any among you weak (if you are in conflict, you may be properly considered weak)? Let him call for the elders (Do you note the pluralism of the term? I personally prefer “wise men and women”.) of the church (not of the world), and let them pray over him (How will they do this if they are not all together at one time and place?), anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
Here, as I see it, is the principle: we are to seek to discover, when we are in conflict, who are the “wise men and women” whom the Lord would have us seek out for counsel and having discovered them, work with them as a team. They need to know who else is involved, and need to be sharing with one another. And we need to refrain from seeking advice from others once we have selected the team.
What I expect to see happen under this method is that God will bring the counselors into unity as they pray together, share with one another, and all hear me say the same thing (rather than five people getting five slightly different versions).
Well, this leads us directly to my second area of concern — the usage of the professional vs. the laity. I have no problem whatever with the use of a professional. Often times it is not only helpful but absolutely necessary. One translation of Prov. 11:14 is, “but safety is in a great counselor.”
However, the professional should be a part of the team, and as much submitted to the team for their assistance as they are submitted to him for his assistance. When the client sees the professional, one of the lay people should go along. If the professional is a lawyer, for example, he should take any action for the client without the approval and oversight of the lay people (even to reading letters and pleadings before they are sent out). We need unity of counsel and action!
By having a team, the other team members can fill in the sleepless hours between meetings with the professional, possibly cutting down on the need for medication. I find Alcoholics Anonymous fascinating in this respect. AA promises its people that if they call for help, whatever the hour, someone will be there to respond. The professional is just a part of the team, often participating in the group meetings.
Another thing that the team members bring to the process, which the professional usually can’t, is the ability to get deeply and emotionally involved with the person in need. Job’s three friends (who get a lot of bad press in the church community) gave up their affairs of life (hard for the professional with his list of appointments), traveled a distance and then sat on the dung heap beside Job for seven days before even conversing! (Job 2:11-13) An office-bound person can’t do these things.
My third area of concern involves confidentiality. Obviously, the use of a team throws confidentiality out the window. But the real question should be whether the thing we practice and call confidentiality is Biblical.
I define the world’s concept of confidentiality as follows: “I can tell you anything I want to and you can never do anything with what I tell you.” If this is an accurate definition, then I must say that my search of Scripture has not yet shown me a Biblical foundation for it.
True, I should not “uncover the sin” of others or be a gossip or a whisperer, but there is also the matter of “taking one or two as witnesses” and even “telling it to the church” (Matt. 18:16-17). How do these matters fit together?
What my study and life has led me to conclude is that I must treasure up in my heart the things people say to me. But I must also be prepared, as the Holy Spirit leads and guides, to care-front as needed, including sharing what I have been told. Thus, I do not grant confidentiality, as the world uses the term, to anyone.
Let me try to flesh this out. Someone comes to me and asks for advice about how to overcome a trait of a lifetime — let’s say it is gambling. I can counsel that person easily. However, I know the need for a team, and that is a part of my counsel. If he will not heed the advice, and wants me to be his savior (there is in this a denial of accountability; rebellion), I will probably refuse to continue offering help. But it is highly unlikely that I will bring in a “witness” to confront the person upon his refusal to follow my guidelines.
I may also discover in the process that his gambling is destroying his business (he has employees dependant upon him), his family (who are also dependant upon him), and that he is committing some illegal activities to hide his losses. Now I may need to confront him with witnesses for the sake of doing justice relative to these others. I may even need to report him to law enforcement (Rom. 13:1) if he won’t listen to the witnesses.
Again, each step of this process must be led and directed — in manner as well as in scope — by the Holy Spirit.
Let’s try another one. Someone comes wanting counsel concerning divorcing their spouse. I tell her what I see Scripture saying, but she refuses to listen. Do I chase after her? Probably not. Or she ask how to behave when her spouse has filed for divorce against her, and I share what Scripture seems to say, and she does not listen. I do not chase her.
In all settings, the question I must always ask myself is, have I been faithful to what God has asked of me in this matter? If I can answer that affirmatively, then I need do nothing more.
Well, this has led us to the edge of my fourth concern above: what are we to give to the counselee? To me, this is probably the most important of the four issues, for the other things are mere form; this is substance.
The first thing I note is that we are all called “ministers of reconciliation”, and “ambassadors for Christ”, II Cor. 5:17-20. Thus I should be calling the counselee to greater reconciliation to God and to man. This involves issues of confession and forgiveness.
Then, I note that we are all called to “make disciples” for Jesus Christ in Matt. 28:19. Making a disciple merely means helping a person grow in his relationship, understanding, and commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in that aspect of his life which is at issue at the moment (or is disclosed by the Lord though not disclosed by the “client”).
Then, I note what Jesus gave to the disciples after they found the tomb empty. He gave to them “all the things concerning Himself in all of the Scriptures” (Lk. 24:27; 44-47).
In short, we give to them “The Great Counselor” (Pro. 11:14) and His Words from Scripture, together with ourselves and our agonies of life and experiences of life.
Here are some other thoughts for you as you seek counsel about how, and when, to go to someone who thinks you have done him or her a wrong.
Once having selected your counselors, stick with them and don’t seek counsel from others because you will then be looking for confirmation of what you think rather than wise counsel that points out your faults to you.
If experts are needed let the counselors get the experts to advise them and you, rather than your getting the experts.
Avoid divulging the identity of the other person involved in the conflict to your counselors (Prov. 16:28; 17:9).
The focus of meetings with your counselors is to be on your actions and attitudes, and what steps you must take, not the attitudes or actions of the other person in the conflict.
To the extent that you speak of the other person in the conflict, it is so that you may understand his need so that you may go prepared to bear his burden.
Let the counselors know when you are going to the other party, and have them in prayer at that time.
So, you take counsel, and then go, and it does no good. What then?
Take counsel again. Go back again and again so long as the other will “listen”. Continue to consider if you are to just forgive, and suffer any loss. Meet the terms of the other (Matt. 5:25-26), even at a sacrificial level (Matt. 5:39-48). Stay in relationship with this other person at whatever level he or she will allow (Rom. 12:18).
* * * * *
The doctor had been sued for malpractice eight years earlier. Five days before trial, he received notice that his insurance company had gone bankrupt. Suddenly the conflict had become personal! Seeking counsel, he realized that he had never gone to speak to his former patient.
The problem was that if he went to the former patient, the jury might see that as acknowledgment of guilt, rather than an act of love. God’s ways are truly upside-down from ours!
But heeding what God’s Word said in Matt. 5: 23-24, he went to the man’s home and made an effort.
Sunday, the doctor followed the man to church, went into the church, and introduced himself to the pastor. He told the pastor there was conflict, the trial would begin Monday, and asked the pastor to bring about a meeting.
The pastor, understanding his role before God, got the two men together. But that meeting also did no good.
The next day, on the way to court, the doctor remembered Matt. 5:25-26: “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, in order that your opponent not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly, I say to you, that you shall not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.” Realizing that he had been in prison for eight years over this case, allowing the matter to control and consume his life and lessen his ministry, the doctor wrote out a check, leaving the amount blank, gave it to his former patient, left the courtroom, and found peace.
* * * * *
My wife once asked me what to do about the fact that her prayer partner seemed to be snubbing her. I suggested Ellen go talk to Donna (I did not even know Christ at that point — it just seemed like the natural thing to do).
Ellen went, and asked Donna: “What have I done to offend you?” (Try that as a way to start a conversation when relationship is breaking down!) It turned out the problem was that I had been elected judge.
Ellen was trying to get Donna and her husband, Jerry, to come for dinner. Jerry felt unworthy, and wouldn’t come.
Do you see the potential for great future conflicts here? Divorce, potential church split, and loss of friendship?
I went and dragged Jerry over for hamburgers on the grill.
“And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”
Here it comes, my friends: God’s principal method of dealing with conflict.
You have just awakened to the fact that you think someone has sinned (against you or another).
What do you do?
It actually begins with Prov. 19:11: “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.”
We all have our foibles and idiosyncracies. When another’s affects us, we tend to take it personally and call it a sin. But God would often have us merely overlook the matter.
There are two times when you cannot overlook the matter:
(1) When you discover that you have altered the relationship because of what happened; or,
(2) When you realize that the other person is in a pattern of conduct which is harmful to self or others.
When either of these two situations exist, you must GO. Before going, consider all of chapter 18 of Matthew. The chapter begins with a question by a disciple: “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
The answer: “Those who will humble themselves (in obedience before God and man) as a child.” Then suddenly Jesus is talking about causing another to stumble. We think the sin of the other is the stumbling, and so it is “a” stumbling.
Christ is going to teach the disciples how to help the one who is stumbling. But first, he wants to warn the disciples, and us, that the manner in which we deal with sinners may cause them to stumble further.
If he is an unbeliever, we may drive him from God. If he is a believer, we may deprive him of an opportunity for the abundant life. If you are going to do that to another, better cut off your hand, pluck out your eye, tie a millstone about your neck and jump off a cliff.
“For the Son of Man came to save that which was lost [and asks those saved to be His ambassadors of His reconciliation]”.
Then Jesus, in verses 12-14 and 21-35 reminds us of something else which He would have us consider before we approach the one who is stumbling so that we may approach in the right manner:
One day, a sheep of the Shepherd’s flock went astray.
Note that the sheep chose to do this willfully, intentionally, sinfully.
Note, it does not say that the sheep wants to come back. For all we know, the sheep believes it is in the greenest pasture it has ever seen, having a ball.
Note, all of us, believers and unbelievers, are a part of the Shepherd’s flock — it is just that we will not all spend eternity in the same place.
Note, the Shepherd takes the initiative. He does not wait for
the sinner to repent and return of its own accord.
I was such a sheep, and still stray. You were once such a sheep, and still stray. And The Shepherd, for you and for me, while we were yet lost in our sins, left His mansion in heaven, gave up His position, power, and prestige, and came looking for us, because His love for us was greater than His sense of having been wronged so as to need revenge. His desire for reconciliation was greater than thoughts of Himself.
I have been in a lot of churches. I have seen a number of pictures of the Good Shepherd. Normally they are of two types. Type one is at night. It is raining. There are lightening bolts playing about. There is a craggy mountain side, with the Shepherd, holding onto a small branch, leaning over the edge of the canyon to rescue the little sheep. You look at the picture and realize that the Shepherd is insane: He might fall to His death. He did die, but He did not fall; we, the sheep whom He came to save, pushed Him.
Type two is daytime. The sun is shining; there is a lush meadow with grass and pretty flowers. The Shepherd has the sheep tucked inside His robe, and is bearing its burdens, meetings its needs, walking with it back to the fold till it can walk by itself.
The Spirit of the Shepherd lives within you and me, walking with us daily, bearing our burdens, also meeting our needs as we turn them over to Him.
In short when you go to the one who has wronged you, or is sinning, go as a shepherd; go as He came to you. Be willing to lay all else aside. Risk your position, power, prestige, life, and finances. Go seeking to determine his needs, and to bear those needs, sacrificially if necessary.
Then, in verses 21-35, after telling us what to do, the Lord gives us another attitude reminder, and some further instruction about how we are to go. We are to go forgiving, in the manner of forgiveness discussed earlier. We go knowing that we have been forgiven more by God for our sins than we could ever repay if we had ten lifetimes. We are to go knowing that no person owes us more than we owe God, and for which debt Christ died at our hands. We are to go forgiving lest we be tortured by anger, bitterness.
So, in accordance with verse 15, we go. And I believe that if the Lord were here today, He would add: “Don’t call; don’t write; get a plane ticket and get to where FRED is.”
Think about it. You telephone, he disconnects you — actually or mentally — for in his mind you are hounding. If you write, your name is on the outside of the letter, which he thinks is a bill; it infuriates him so he never hears the message of love, forgiveness, and hunger for relationship.
By going personally, the Spirit is able to witness our heart to him at the time of the meeting, and witness his heart to us.
If we do not go, how are we to determine what burdens he may have which the Lord would have us to bear?
But we think, “What about my job? Where will the finances come from to get to California? Will FRED even receive me?”
Sounds like a test of the action verb — faith.
Maybe if you explain to your boss what you need to do, and why, your boss mightaccept the Lord, or contribute to the costs. We may never know what our radically obedient behavior may bring forth for His glory.
We go in private (Matt. 18:15) and do not gossip about this to others.
We go confessing our faults so that we may be healed (Jas. 5:16), even if our only fault has been a wrong internal feeling towards him, a breaching of the prior relationship, or a delay in care-fronting.
How will we know if we have “won our brother?” (Note, it does not say you have collected the money he owes.)
You will know because the Spirit will witness it to you if you have gone with the right attitude.
* * * * *
The peacemakers traveled 1,500 miles, at $600 of their own monies, which they had to borrow, to confront a man (an unbeliever) who was in sin. The man, when confronted, listened, turned to the right, and a marriage was rebuilt, and a man restored.
* * * * *
Supposing we go, and he does not listen — or we do not hear?
The next thing I would do would be to seek two or three people whom I respect, get them together at one time, and submit to them the nature of the problem — not disclosing, if at all possible, the identity of the other person. The purpose for the meeting is to have them examine my actions, inactions, attitudes, feelings, “ways,” for “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord he makes even his enemies to live at peace with him.” (Prov. 16:7)
That is, I would seek godly counsel if I had not done so earlier. Even if I had, I might seek it again, to review what I think I heard FRED say.
Armed with the wisdom now acquired, I return to the other person, hoping for a better response. And I keep going back until he either “listens” or slams the door in my face.
If the door slams, seek the Lord about whether He wants you to take the next step. God’s Spirit may lead you up the ladder of confrontation, or He may stop you, for a season, while He does His work.
Maybe you have done, in this matter, all that the Lord wants of you. You have been faithful. If so, let go and let God handle the inner change of this person.
“But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that ‘By the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.'”
If you have failed to win your brother in accordance with Matt. 18:15, and if the Lord allows you to do so, you may then “take one or two as witnesses.”
Who are these people? How do I find them? What do they do?
First, since he would not listen to me, he will not likely listen to my friends. Therefore, I look for his friends, relatives, or others he may listen to. Since I am not seeking to “win” but to “gain a brother”, it does not matter to me who I take, even to the point of using an unbeliever!
However, at this stage of the proceedings, I do avoid taking a person who is in authority over this person, for when an authority person appears at the door, they are perceived to come as a judge rather than as a potential burden bearer.
I can even seek the wisdom of my counselors as to whom to take.
Second, in seeking these witnesses, if I know of a need of this person, say freedom from alcohol, I will take as a witness someone who fought alcohol. If the dispute is about plumbing, I will look for a plumber.
Third, in approaching possible witnesses I will not tell them anything except that there is some conflict, the name of the other party, and that I ask them to come with me for I think the other party will respect them. I do not say one word more — more would be gossip.
Further, I can tell the potential witnesses the names of my counselors, and authorize them to check with my counselors about my bona fides as a person.
Fourth, the witnesses are not normally courtroom witnesses to the past events between the parties. They might be, but not usually. Such persons might join the Biblical witnesses to establish truth of facts, as opposed to truth of Scripture.
Fifth, they are people selected through prayer and asking the Lord for direction in selection.
Sixth, they must be people familiar with the Scriptures, and willing to take the risk inherent in confronting people with the truth.
Seventh, they are people who will likely, because brought to the process by God’s Spirit rather than merely the request of man, also bring to the process gifts and life experiences which will prove to be important in the ministry of the truth. Their gifts are added to the group to complement and complete the group. But witnesses must learn to spend time together in prayer and seeking the Lord so they are in unity.
* * * * *
The husband had gone back to drinking, dropped out of church,
and stopped playing softball on the church team. Six months later, he filed for divorce “so that his wife might find happiness.”
The peacemaker, who had a prior problem with alcohol, went each night, at the start of softball practice, to the man’s house to invite him to play. When the man would not come out, the peacemaker gave up his ball practice, sat in his car in front of the man’s house, and read and prayed.
After two weeks, the man came out, played ball, and a life was restored to the Lord, and a marriage saved.
* * * * *
And what do the witnesses do?
What they do not do is negotiate, mediate, or arbitrate the conflict — it is conversation in front of people who do not have the same logs in their ears and eyes as do the parties who are in conflict.
In fact, one of the reasons, I think, why so few Christians will come to the table to discuss a conflict in front of witnesses is that they think this is going to be an ecclesiastical court. That is not what this verse is all about.
I begin with considering four words, all of which are words of secular law: conciliation; negotiation; mediation; arbitration. I will use definitions from Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th Edition, West Publishing, 1979.
“Conciliation: The adjustment and settlement of a dispute in a friendly, unantagonistic manner. Used in courts before trial with a view towards avoiding trial.”
“Negotiation: A process of submission and consideration of offers until acceptable offer is made and accepted. A deliberation, discussion, or conference upon the terms of a proposed agreement; the act of settling or arranging the terms and conditions of a bargain, sale, or other business transaction.”
“Mediation: Intervention; interposition; the act of a third person in intermediating between two contending parties with a view to persuading them to adjust or settle their dispute. Settlement of dispute by action of intermediary (neutral party).”
“Arbitration: The reference of a dispute to an impartial (third) person chosen by the parties to the dispute who agree in advance to abide by the arbitrator’s award issued after a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard. Arrangement for taking and abiding by the judgment of selected persons in some disputed matter, instead of carrying it to established tribunals of justice, and which is intended to avoid the formalities, the delay, the expense and vexation of ordinary litigation.”
Now, please note the following items which are missing in all the above definitions: sin; truth; “weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23); confession; forgiveness; reconciliation; and restoration to community. Even in conciliation — with its language of friendly, un-antagonistic behavior, these items are missing.
In comparison to words of law, God, in the Scriptures, gives us a process in whichHe explains what is to be done. Matthew 18:16 is a part of that process and has a particular meaning for the purposes of God.
In verse 16, my focus is upon two things: who are these witnesses, and how are they to function (or, if you will, what are they to do)? I believe the second question actually determines the first.
The Greek word translated in the King James as established (confirmed in the New American Standard), is histemi: “to cause to stand” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985). We find this word a number of times in the New Testament (see Eph. 6:11-14, for example, where it appears three times as “stand firm”). But the one I like most, and which is most illustrative for our purposes, is found in Acts 2:14: “And Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them, ‘Men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give heed to my words.'”
What then follows (verses 15-36) is a recitation of truths of God, given to people who were so blind and deaf that they killed the messenger of God sent to save them!
People in conflict tend to be blind and deaf, for the conflict has stolen truth from them, and the world has replaced the truth with lies. Only a firm stand will now suffice.
But a firm stand upon what? This brings us to every “word” (in the King James), for it is every word (“fact” in the New American Standard) which is to be established in Matt. 18:16. The Greek word used is rhema — and I quote from Vine’s (omitting passage references):
“Denotes ‘that which is spoken, what is uttered in speech or writing’; in the singular, ‘a word’; in the plural, speech, discourse; it is used of the Gospel, ‘the word of Christ’ (i.e., the ‘word’ which preaches Christ’); of a statement, command, instruction, e.g., ‘no word from God shall be void of power’. The significance of rhema (as distinct from logos) is exemplified in the injunction to take ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,’ Eph. 6:17; here the reference is not to the whole Bible as such, but to the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need, a prerequisite being the regular storing of the mind with Scripture.”
Now, before going any further, I want to state, as clearly as I possibly can, that rhema is not ex-canonical; it is not ex-cathedra; it is not future prophetic (it is present prophetic insofar as prophetic refers to speaking forth God’s word); and it does not order a person to do some thing (although it, together with the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the one hearing the word, leads to that justice which the Lord desires, often confession, repentance, and forgiveness.
I write these things because the word rhema is today being used in a manner of words of knowledge, future predictive, and orders to do tangible, physical acts rather than suffer an inner, spiritual, change.
In further proof of the distinction, I offer an analysis of the ways in which rhema isused in the New Testament. It is used a total of 67 times, 58 of which are either words of God, words of Christ, or direct references to words of God or Christ. Some of the places it is used are: Matt. 4:4; Jn. 5:47; Jn. 6:63; Jn. 12:47-48; Jn. 15:7; Acts 11:14; Rom. 10:8; Rom. 10:17.
Thus, the witnesses are to stand (set) forth the word of God as it relates to the lives of the parties in the conflict, as displayed by the parties as they speak to one another in the presence of the witnesses. Let’s try that again.
The witnesses come with the party who is saying that he has spoken to the other party in private (Matt. 18:15) and that the other is not listening. Now, in the presence of the witnesses, the parties speak to each other again. As they do so, they disclose things about themselves — their actions, inactions, attitudes, and feelings — relative to this conflict. The witnesses then speak back to the parties — normally in private sessions with a party, and not in the presence of the other party — the truths of God (the words of Scripture) which judge (Heb. 4:12) the disclosed things.
The witnesses act very much like the sower of seeds in the parable in Luke 8. If it is “good seed,” sown in peace (Jas 3:18), the Holy Spirit takes it and works it into the soil of the heart to bring repentance and confession and the doing of justice where that is needed; or He brings confrontation in love, forgiveness, release and inner peace where that is needed.
Of course, the individual may choose to remain blind and deaf, ignore the word and prompting of the Holy Spirit, and remain in bondage to the conflict.
For the one who hears and responds, the conflict becomes truly “resolved” by his inner peace. If both parties respond, they come back together in a shared time of confession and forgiveness. This is reconciliation. From the vantage point of people reunited in the Spirit of God, they will determine what to do with the visible conflict. They do not negotiate, and no one mediates; only God and His Spirit are at work at this point of the process.
It may be that the parties will ask the witnesses to then tell them what to do within the concept of I Cor. 6:5. However, to implement I Cor. 6:5 before witnessing the truth of Scripture in Matt. 18:16 is to risk compelling a result through judgment, ending the visible conflict while leaving the hearts untouched, full of anger, bitterness, confusion, and disillusionment.
I hope that you, at this point, can see why the words of law — conciliation, negotiation, mediation, and arbitration — are not the Biblical form.
“And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.”
Suppose that you have gone to the other person, and you have even taken one or two as witnesses, and this person is still not listening. What then?
Try some other witnesses, and go again, just as you may have gone many times in step #1.
If, however, no progress is made, and if, after prayer and consultation with the advisors, you feel the Lord desires, then you move to step #3, Matt. 18:17a, and “Tell it to the church.”
There are, I believe, a number of things tied up in these five words.
First, Step #3 is for the party accompanied by the witnesses, and not for the party alone. The witnesses “tell it to the church.” They tell it because if you tell it then it appears as if you are trying to win; you have an axe to grind. And, if you tell it, the church of FRED may automatically turn you down because FRED is one of “theirs.” When the witnesses tell it to the church of FRED, they will more likely be received, for they are neutral.
Secondly, what do they “tell”? That you and FRED have a conflict, that they have been witnesses, that they feel FRED is not listening. Again, beyond that would be gossip.
Third, to whom do they “tell” it? There are three possibilities: (1) pastor, the spiritual leader of Joe’s flock; (2) the leaders (elders, deacons, Council); and (3) the entire congregation. If the pastor is told, he may want to call in you, FRED, the witnesses, and possibly one or two from the church, and listen to the matter again, prepared to exercise authority over his member by discipline (I Cor. 5:5) if necessary.
If the entire congregation is “told,” the purpose is, at first, not to remove someone from the fold (remember, this sheep is already probably gone) but to let the Body know that a sheep is gone so the Holy Spirit may move others in the congregation to reach out to the one who has strayed away.
* * * * *
The witness told the church that Joe had fallen into alcohol and that his efforts and the efforts of others had not been effective. For many weeks, the pastor sent, by twos, men of his church. When that still brought no results, the pastor, with the help of other pastors in the community, sent more men to call on Joe.
After two years, Joe came back, and the sin was sealed at the foot of the cross. Then the people celebrated.
* * * * *
And the witnesses might take you and tell your church that you are suffering a wrong and have burdens which need to be borne.
And what do you do if you can find no witnesses? Or the witnesses side with FRED? Or the witnesses will not “tell?” Or the church will not listen? Or the church sides with FRED?
Do you sue? Or do you suffer the wrong?
Submit those questions to the counselors.
I believe that if we would get in the habit of following these procedures, we would seldom get to the ultimate question of suing or being defrauded, and the church would see revival from testimonies given by members who were once in conflict and have seen the healing grace of God work through peace-makers.
Before looking further at the work of peace-makers, we must examine the issue of what is “the church” in Matt. 18:17, for it is connected to the issue of the “witnesses” in Mat. 18:16.
“And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love me.”
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
Recently a friend of mine called to say the following: “The scourge of the Church in Africa is tribalism.” Another friend, the same day, said to me, “God will no longer tolerate tribalism in the Church in the United States.” Two men, from two different continents, with one message.
Is there really any difference between African tribalism of Ibo, Hausa, Tutsi, etc., and Church tribalism of Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Assembly of God, Evangelical Free, Brethren, etc?
For all of our discussion of “church,” it seems strange that our Lord only used the term twice, in Matt. 16:15-19 and 18:15-20.
The first deals with how, when a person under influence of the Holy Spirit declares Jesus to be “Christ, the Son of the Living God,” he or she becomes a part of the “called out ones.” In this sense, “church” must be seen as the universal body of those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. It is this which Paul calls the “body,” with many parts, each needed for proper interrelationship, for growth of the whole. And it has no doctrine or name.
The second use is found in a passage which deals with an issue of sin in a believer. Most often, we call this passage “church discipline.” What is this thing called “the church” to which the conflict is to be told (Matt. 18:17)? Is this group the same thing as the “church” in Matt. 16:18, or is it something else? And which of our modern entities may be considered a “church” within its meaning 18:17?
The reasons these questions are important to me is that, since the fall of 1983, I have been seeking to serve the body of Christ as a minister of reconciliation. As a minister of reconciliation, it is important to know to whom to address a matter of sin in the life of a believer. Lawyers see this as a jurisdiction question: which Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine the matters at issue? Under the law, action by a Court without jurisdiction is a void action.
These questions also have importance on the question of Appellate Jurisdiction: to whom may a party who feels wronged by a “church” appeal his case, other than to God in the day of final judgment? This assumes that there is to be a method of appeal from actions of a church on earth — possibly an invalid assumption.
Allow me to begin with a list of possible “churches.”
Obviously, there is the Church Universal of Matt. 16. Just as obviously, there is the local congregation, found most frequently in brick and mortar structures on particularparticular street corners.
Once we admit this second option, then we must add all the hierarchical/ denominational/conference networks which local assemblies form.
We may rightly add Christian corporate ministries, particularly those with employees, multiple members, and fund raising. What about Bible study groups — formal, such as Bible Study Fellowship, or as informal as people from many walks of life and many faiths gathering together in someone’s home to study? What about the Christian media, Christian authors, traveling itinerants, etc. — where do they fit into the picture, if at all?
Now, at the risk of being simplistic, it seems to me that the answer to the question lies in the purpose of the process set forth in Matt. 18:15-20, and the fact that verses 18, 19, and 20 define church for the purpose of the passage.
What is the purpose? In many Bibles which I have seen, there is inserted, above 18:15, “Church Discipline,” or its equivalent. Because we are more legal in attitude than merciful, we tend to act upon the word “discipline” so as to punish.
At this point, we should consider issues related to the law and man as compared to the law of God. Law must have a source, a purpose, and a method. These are matters of philosophy. Then we need a process for creating, enforcing, and interpreting. Those are matters of political science. And we need, individually and collectively within a society, a right attitude towards the laws and systems. In this day of secular humanism, man is elevated to the highest authority in existence. That means man is the source of law. It also means that there are no recognized absolutes which can be declared. Man, in his individual and corporate selfishness (a classic definition of sin: self-seeking), uses law to restrain evil, because evil interferes with our selfish desires. The method of the law of man becomes punishment: we will imprison you in a criminal case, or bankrupt you in a civil case.
The consequence is that when we are in conflict we immediately deny what we have done, regardless of how relatively trivial our error may have been. Then we begin to justify and rationalize. Eventually, we find an exterior place to put the blame.
Under such a source, purpose, and method, victims and community are left out of the action. All is conducted by an all-powerful, unmerciful, State, using Lady Justice with a blindfold, holding a sword, as a figure of justice. Victims and community are left out, and begin to grouse and complain about a lack of justice in the land. We turn resentful and hostile towards the law.
You may wonder what this has to do with Matt. 18 and “church.” Please stick with me as we look at God’s law.
If there is an absolute God, then He must be, by His nature, law itself. If He is the God of the Bible, as I believe, then His revelation to us consisting of the written word, Jesus the Christ, the Holy Spirit confirming the written word, and the life of Christ must constitute law. When we look at things from that perspective, we can see something very interesting.
God is the Source, of course. The purpose of God’s law, as we see stated in Rom. 3:19-21, is to call us to reconciliation and restoration to Him. From that, we shouldseek reconciliation and restoration with man. For additional purposes, see Psalm 119.
God does not face us with punishment as His method. Instead, He calls us to confession and repentance. God’s way, in love but firmly in truth, confronts offenders with the nature of their acts and the harms caused. It calls them to admit their faults and seek to make them right. It offers restoration to the repentant. It calls victims to forgive following confrontation. It calls the community to bear the burdens of victims and repentant offenders.
In law and process which is restorative in nature, every one — regardless of title or position, — as well as the community, has a role to play. No arbitrary divisions are to make a difference; restorative justice transcends all lines established by man. So it should be for the “church.”
Now we can shift back to Matt. 18:15-20. One way to look at the Bible is as the story of God’s offer to man of reconciliation. The theme is repeated in Matt. 18, verses 12-14, immediately before the passage which involves the church.
This is a message of reconciliation and restoration. It is the “what for” of the “therefore” of verse 15. It elevates the rest of the passage from discipline (punishment) to confrontation, in love, with truth, extending forgiveness, offering to bear burdens, all sacrificially. It requires the action of the individual, the small group, and the larger community.
Now I can suggest how we should view “church” in Matt. 18:17. Our first view must be in the context of the prior two verses. Thus whatever “church” means, it means something in an order of events, operating for a particular purpose. It is not the first place that we go when we see a brother in sin; it is the last. The first is directly to the brother.
The second place we go is to the Universal Body of Christ. We look for one or two who the one we are confronting may, hopefully, “listen to.” That was the focus of the last chapter — who they might be, and what they do as between the parties.
But the confrontation at Matt. 18:16 having failed, we now turn to “the church” — but not as a place of discipline (call that “punishment”), but as a community of those who know the one and are prepared to continue the confrontation in love, offer assistance in renewal, test for repentance and kill a fatted calf when the prodigal returns.
Thus it is my belief that each and every way in which two or more of the Body of Christ get together constitutes, for purpose of this passage, “a church” to which the dispute may be told. Which one, or ones, should be approached and told is a question for the witnesses of Matt. 18:16, rather than for the aggrieved party.
It is then — at the point of telling it to a church — that we will discover what is the “true church.” Now, I hate the very thought of using those two words — “true church.” It comes so very close to judging the heart. It judges all the sheep within the particular fold, who are often ignorant that anything is even taking place, by the actions of one or more of the leaders.
But for the purposes of this discussion, these are the words I will stick with, in the prayer that you can see beyond them to the heart of the issue I will now present. If “the church” selected responds as a part of the Church Universal, it is “true church.” It does not demand its way. It does not set itself outside and above the rest of the Church Universal. It does not exclude outsiders from participating in the restoration process (particularly the Biblical witnesses of Matt. 18:16). It actively seeks outsiders whose gifts are needed in this particular sub-part of the Body, and welcomes them into the process.
A “true church” also answers the issue of appellate procedure, because it will always participate in a Biblical process upon the received testimony of witnesses. A “true church,” in short, defers in love to a sense of its position within the Church Universal.
Now, it is very common for Christian organizations to say, “We are not a church.” But, for the purposes of Mat. 18, they are. An example from my own years in ministry will present the issue.
Husband and wife are attending Church A. Wife complains about the ungodly behavior of husband. In the process of efforts of the church to help the couple, the husband refuses all counsel, refuses to mend any of his ways, and runs to Church B. Church B, knowing what is happening, says, “We can minister to husband.” They welcome him and make no effort to integrate the confrontational/counseling process. Husband is a telephone counselor at a Christian Ministry. Neither Church A nor Church B tells the Ministry of the domestic troubles.
Later, husband refuses all admonition of Church B and runs to Church C, taking four other couples from Church B with him. Church B, having learned a bitter lesson, now begins working with Church A. Jointly they go to Church C, and are rejected; jointly they go the Ministry, and are rejected.
Results? Church C later splits when husband leaves there, and Ministry (which I hold is a “church” within Matt. 18:17 to be told and which should act upon the telling as a part of the church universal) folds as a result of losing funds. Connection? You be the judge.
Well, what does this mean for the Christian lawyer or counselor working with someone in conflict? I have already spoken to the matter of counseling by “team.” Professionals must see themselves as a part of the Body universal rather than separate from it, and confidentiality must give way to godly confrontation. It means that they see themselves as but one of a multiple of counselors, and they seek after the other counselors so that there may be unity of counsel.
And what of the Christian author, e-mail junkie, or others who learn of the dispute but are outside of the process? It means that they must follow Matt. 18:15, 16, and 17 before “telling it to the Universal Church” through publication at large. Christian media are to report the existence of conflict between believers rather than report facts of the conflict. They should never refer to “an informed source” (gossip). They should seek to call the members of the universal church to, in turn, call the parties to the local church for conflict resolution according to God’s ways rather than man’s ways (I Cor. 6:1-8).
If God is a unity of Three Who Are One, Who calls husbands and wives to be “ofone flesh,” and Who calls His people to be thoroughly of one accord so that the world will be drawn to Him, then this description of what is “church” fits — it calls us to greater unity.
Are we willing to set aside our theological differences, at least in the matter of conflict, and display unity? That is the question.
My experience says to me that the church in the United States is engaged in tribalism, with all of the killing impact of the African tribalism. The only difference is that we kill the Spirit rather than the flesh.
Having set forth what I believe to be the majority of the Biblical principles which we need to understand in order to live in peace, and to help others in need of peace, I want to take the time to offer some thoughts about some specific types of conflicts. The first of these deals with internal, organizational, conflicts. While the principles remain the same, as does God, you may find the thoughts helpful.
Have you ever stood around and watched a Christian organization — church or ministry — disintegrate, come apart at the seams?
Have you ever asked yourself how people committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ could so lose focus on what they have in common that they would self-destruct their combined service to Him?
First, let’s consider the major sources of conflict in organizations, and some truths about these sources. The sources are:
(1) Conflict over how to do the work.
(2) Conflict based upon naked desire to rule, or ruin.
(3) Conflict over theology.
(4) Conflict within relationships.
Out of 100 conflicts, #4 will account for 97.
You cannot resolve #1, 2, and/or 3, except by methods that smack of legal judgment, until you resolve #4.
If you resolve #4, you should be able to resolve the others, as you will then be addressing them from a spirit of unity, rather than division.
Finally, when actually facing #4, we will think we are arguing over #1, 2, and/or 3.
Since the relational conflicts are the lion’s share, let’s look at how conflicts in relationship get started, and grow.
Step #1: Conflicts start when an individual offends — sometimes intentionally and sometimes without true thoughtfulness, i.e., without “other centeredness.” And that lack of love is, before God, sin. For example, I might fail to, privately or publicly, affirm someone for his or her efforts and work. Or I may publicly criticize someone rather than speak to him privately.
The other major cause of relational conflicts in organizations is that we feel a need and then create an expectation about an individual or group meeting that need. But the need is, first and foremost, a need which only God can meet. When the need is not met, the expectation fails.
Rather than seeing that we created a wrong expectation, or that we improperly expected the individual or group to meet the need, we create an offense in us towards the person or group who did not meet our expectation. And this matter of wrong expectations is, before God, sin.
An example might be expecting the new pastor to be involved in counseling. But if that was not communicated during the candidacy process, and if the pastor does not counsel, then the expectation fails. If we blame the pastor for not counseling, we have failed to see, and deal with, our own fault.
Step #2: The person offended by the act, or with the failed expectation, has, before the Lord, only two ways to deal with the conflict:
(1) Overlook the offense. Prov. 19:11 says: “It is the glory of a person to overlook a transgression.” But overlooking requires that there be no change in relationship with the other.
(2) They can care-front the other person, in love, by going to them pursuant to Matt. 5:23-24 or Matt. 18:15. This is demanded if relationship has become broken or if there is a sense that the wrong-doer needs to hear of his wrong so that he may grow in the Lord.
But what usually happens at step #2 is that an imperfect person reacts imperfectly to the imperfect acts of another. Instead of doing what God tells us to do, we appropriate the pain of the offense, making it personal to us. We “own” what we should have overlooked or confronted. And “owning” the pain is, before God, sin.
Step #3: Now, we have to do something with our pain. We want someone to know that we hurt. Since our self-defensiveness won’t allow us to acknowledge our sin, we tell someone else of the pain and of the offense against us. This is called gossip, and it is sin.
Step #4: The person who listens to our gossip now has a problem — he needs to confront us with our gossip, but he doesn’t. Instead, he allows the gossip to “go down into the innermost parts of the body like a dainty morsel” (Prov. 26:22). He “receives” the gossip. Then he either chooses my side or the side of the other, further dividing people. By “receiving” the gossip, he sins.
Step #5: Now many people are murmuring. As this goes on, others “pass by and meddle (pass the bounds of reasonable behavior) in a strife not of their own and become like people who pick up a dog by its ears (unable to let go without being bit).” Prov. 26:17. They choose up sides, and make the offense of another their own. And that is sin.
Step #6: From this point on, every word spoken by anyone drawn into this whirlwind becomes divisive because we have created apparent issues over how to do the Lord’s work when, in fact, we are engaged in a barnyard hen-pecking party. There are so many logs in so many eyes that we cannot speak to a true issue without slandering, judging and condemning.
About this time in the process, one or two people emerge as focal points for each side to rally around. “Camps” get formed. And now each camp also has a focal point to shoot at in the other camp. Sometimes, these focal points even become scapegoats and get wounded unto death.
While these focal points may have played a major role relative to the conflict, they are neither the cause nor the solution to conflict.
Once this normal process of institutional conflict gets going, several complicating factors take over.
(1) Those who have sinned don’t know what to do with their sin. Please note, they do know that they have sinned. Knowing it, they may even confess it to God, and it is against Him only that we have sinned. But they forget that the sin created an offense; that another, or others (the entire congregation?) have been harmed by the sin.
Then God brings them to conviction of all of this. Now we must cooperate by an act of the will, an act of humbling ourselves before any and all whom we have hurt, confessing the specific sin, owning the offenses caused, seeking forgiveness. But we will not do this.
Why? One reason is ignorance of how to deal with conflict according to Biblical principles.
Another is fear of rejection: “People will not love me (have anything to do with me) if I show myself as human.”
Another is grading of sin — “Well, what they did to me was far worse. They need to come to me. What I did was of little significance in the entire matter.”
Another is the need for restitution. We know God desires this, but we think of restitution in legal and financial terms. We look at the harm done and cannot put a dollar sign on it. Prison is certainly not an appropriate response! And forget that all we owe is love (Rom. 13:8). But if we will just give the love we owe — and that begins with confession and forgiveness — the Holy Spirit is then freed to reveal other acts of love which He may want, which then become equal to restitution. Our restitution becomes burden-bearing, in love (Gal. 6:2).
But most often we do none of this, and slowly, day by day, our heart becomes hardened.
(2) The second complicating factor is that the church is an organism, not an organization.
Chrysler is an organization which exists to produce cars. You can change personnel in the line like you might change socks and still pump cars out the end of the line.
The church, however, is in the “business” of assisting God in producing mature witnesses. The fact that I cannot stand the person next to me at Chrysler will rarely interrupt the flow of cars, but in the church, it will stop God’s love-flow through me, through my neighbor, and, to a greater or lesser degree, through the entire church.
Another difference is that as workers come and go at Chrysler, the manner of doing the work stays constant — the assembly line is still there. But in the church, as people come and go, the work to be done and the way of doing it continue to alter. Change is always a potential for conflict, for we develop different expectations, positions in the organism, and/or ownership of processes.
In addition, in the church people form naturally into groups: families, extended families, singles, young married, seniors, for example. Each segment becomes a lobbying force for needs to be met, and each creates expectations for how those needs should be met. The groups become stake-holders. Then, when the division gets started, it will cut through and across these segments, increasing the pain and the sense of swirling chaos.
(3) The third complicating factor is that church people — leaders and members alike — do not know how to deal with conflict. Add to this the perception that God’s way seems foolish and looks like it will take so much time that the work will suffer. And since God’s way means calling sin, sin, and leaders fear rejection like everyone else (plus pastor’s have a pay check at issue and there are worries about mortgage payments), wrong choices get made.
Well, once leaders start to move, they tend to move in four ways relative to the conflict:
(1) Avoid — but you can’t forever.
(2) Investigate — but never in the care-fronting manner. People now share their hurt with the leaders, but they still have not shared the hurt with the one who hurt them, the one against whom they have the offense. Thus, they still feel “unheard” and unless the leaders do exactly what they think should be done, their stake in the conflict not only remains but it grows, now having been “treated wrongly by leadership”.
(3) Judgment — against someone for something, and almost never in love. “If we crucify one for the good of all, we can end the conflict.” But this approach only further divides people and expands the conflict.
(4) Pass the buck — call in the area minister, or someone from the denominational home office, and let them handle the matter. The problem with this is that most of those people also have no understanding of how to deal with the conflict, have probably received gossip over the telephone or by letters, and can generally sweep in for a day or two rather than come and live among these hurting people for however long it will take.
So, in light of the above, what can leaders do?
First, what can be done in prevention? Teach the people God’s way for dealing with conflict and explain to them why God designed His way as He did. Then, establish people who can serve as “witnesses” (Matt. 18:16) when the steps of Matt. 5:23-24 and Matt. 18:15 have not worked.
Second, what can be done when you wake up to the fact that the barnyard is full of pecking hens? Acknowledge to the people what is happening, and have leadership commit to work through the matter. That commitment, in unity, will free the Holy Spirit to begin His convicting work. Speak some words of hope and truth to the Body.
As leaders, confess your own faults — not knowing how to deal with conflict, dealing with it improperly, receiving gossip, taking up sides — whatever they may be. (Judges 5:2) Call in an outsider to be a “witness,” one who is an outsider even as to denominational leadership, one who may be able to persuade people to sit down and speak to one another of the offenses they have felt.
And what about the other sources of conflict — #1, 2, and 3?
As to #1, you must learn to defer to one another in love. If you are one in relationship, you will find this easy to do. If you are not one, you will find it impossible.
As to #2, if you are absolutely certain that this is the situation, and the person involved is not the pastor, then church discipline is the only way available, probably dealing with the person as a divisive, factious, person.
As to #3, having attempted care-frontation, leave. As you leave, ask no one to come with you, do not open a competing church in the town, and never speak ill of those you left. Maintain relationships, insofar as possible, with those with whom you had relationship and who stay.
One very important issue within Christian organizations is whether the leader is able to be confronted. Far too often, leaders are so protected by the palace guard that you cannot approach them to confront. Also, far too often them will never allow Biblical Witnesses (Mat. 18:16) to enter into the process of confrontation.
That places the individual member of the organization (or church) in a very awkward position. What follows is my personal approach. It begins with the question, How do I, as a member of a church or a Christian ministry, deal with a leader who I believe is, in some way, wrong before God?
I am not able to say that there is Scripture for all I will share, but I do believe these thoughts are in line with, and not inconsistent with, all that Scripture has to say about conflict.
As with all other conflicts where I think someone else is wrong, I start by looking at Prov. 29:11. Is the matter which I want to speak to the leader about merely the same type of imperfection which I would hope others would overlook in me? Is this really something which God wants addressed?
But, I can no longer overlook if I find that I have allowed the matter to separate my relationship with the other person, or if I believe this leader needs to know about his conduct so that he might grow in the Lord. If either of those situations exists, then I must care-front the leader in accordance with Matt. 18:15.
Having decided to care-front, I then must examine myself: my attitudes, motivations, feelings, actions and inactions, looking to God’s Word for guidance. I must know if there are faults which I must confess to God and to the leader such as gossip, holding unforgiveness, receiving gossip, or making the offense of another my own.
Then I go — personally and physically — to the leader and speak to him about whatever is bothering me.
I know that this is not easy for most people to do, to confront a person who carries, by title and position, a certain degree of respect and power. But God leaves us with no other choice. The maximum avoidance we might be able to get away with is to have another person come with us to the door of the leader’s office, and there wait outside and pray.
Let’s assume that I do this, he listens, we part, and I feel that the matter is not resolved. What then?
First, I go back to the Lord: “Lord, have I done all that you desire? Did You just want a watchman (Ez. 33), did I serve that capacity, and am I now to leave it up to you?”
Well, I do this, and decide that I need to go further. Because we are dealing with a leader, I choose to return to the leader rather than proceed directly with Matt. 18:16. When I speak with him again, I acknowledge that I am still uncomfortable about the matter, and ask if he would be willing to meet with me and some others to talk further — to meet with “witnesses” under Matt. 18:16. If he agrees, then, with him, I talk about who these people might be. I do not demand “my people” as witnesses. I am even willing to accept as witnesses those whom he desires. If his selections make me uncomfortable, I say so, and ask permission to bring a witness of my own — someone I will listen to as I am having trouble hearing the leader — and I name some people. If that is refused, I come without a witness of my choice, trusting in the Lord, but having people praying for me “as I go to a meeting with one with whom I am in conflict (more would be gossip by prayer chain!).
Assuming that we agree upon the witnesses, we call them forth, and, in their presence, I speak through the matter again. I consider it very unlikely that I would ever proceed beyond this step with a leader, even if I did not like the actions of the witnesses. I am far more inclined to release the matter to the Lord to handle. I do not want to get into a position where I might be “touching the Lord’s anointed.”
But, if the leader says, “no, I will not meet with witnesses,” what then? I go back to the Lord. You see, I greatly fear my fleshly desire to “win”, and I do not want to go one step beyond that which the Lord desires. If I feel I must go further, I again go back to the leader, say I am still very uncomfortable, and tell him that I am going to ask for a meeting with the ________ (church board of which the leader is a member or which has authority over him) to bring the matter before them. This may result in his agreeing to Matt. 18:16, in which case, we back up to that stage.
If I do approach the Board for an audience, I do not tell them any details. I merely say I have a conflict with Sam, I have spoken to him, I feel he is not listening, and that I have asked for Matt. 18:16 but he refused. I also tell them that I told Sam I was going to come to the Board. To say anything more would be gossip!
So, I do this and the Board refuses to get involved, or does but then backs the leader, or it backs me and the leader refuses to do anything about the matter. What then?
In any of these instances, I go back to the Lord with a question: “Lord do I stay or leave?” I fear that as to a leader, it may not be right to ever “tell it to the church”. That would make me potentially a highly divisive person, force people to choose sides, and result in an open split (in the face of the world which is watching us).
Obviously, I can not gossip and murmur about this.
If I stay, I stay silently.
If I leave, I ask no one to come with me and tell none why I am leaving.
I try to remain in relationship with those with whom I had been in relationship.
I even try to lift up the ministry and do not ever give a bad report.
As I walk through this process, I try to stay aware of certain things:
First, I am not the congregation’s savior; that is God’s job.
Second, I remind myself how easy it is to be a divisive and factious person, causing many to stumble.
Third, I watch out for the possibility that I am making mannerisms of the leader into issues of theology.
Fourth, I must take care that my sense of how things ought to be done is not getting elevated to a position of theology.
Fifth, I keep in mind that God has all of eternity to work on this matter. Speed is not of great importance.
Sixth, regardless of what happens, I want to remember that no person can ever use this matter, or the handling of it, as an excuse before God for his or her own improper actions. We are all directly accountable to Him and are without excuse, for He wrote on our hearts before we were born. I am not a heretic hunter!
There is one other possibility to consider, however. If the sin of this leader is a crime before the law of man, I may, after appropriate warning to him, and after at least implementing Matt. 18:15, report the matter to law enforcement, for we are citizens of two kingdoms (Rom. 13:1-7).
If you feel that you have a leader who needs to be confronted, then before you do so, I suggest you also read, A Tale Of Three Kings, by Gene Edwards.
Another major issue today is the fact that every day, it seems, brings a law suit against a church, leading Christian figure or ministry. But Christ told us to expect persecution (Jn. 17:18-20).
So, how do we respond? I am going to offer some general propositions which I feel are applicable and then look at and comment upon some of the most recent and notorious cases.
Proposition #1 is that how we act when attacked does not depend upon whether we are an individual or a corporation. I doubt God sees our corporations and organizations. He just keeps looking for one of His people, called by His name, to act as He commands, in faith, at any instant in time.
Proposition #2 is that how we act when attacked does not depend upon the attacker being a person, organization, or government, and our actions do not depend upon whether the attacker is a Christian or direct agent of Satan. We are told to be light and salt; we are told to love our neighbor as our self; we are told to love those who persecute us; and we are told that we are ambassadors for Christ, ministers of reconciliation.
Proposition #3 is that the normal result of litigation conducted outside of God’s rules is a defeat for us (I Cor. 6:7), may wrong others (I Cor. 6:8), may imprison us (Matt. 5:25-26), and may consume us (Gal. 5:15).
Proposition #4 is that when we are in conflict, we need spiritual counsel (generally by several counselors who are physically present with us at the same time) from outside our own organization for we have logs in our eyes and ears which impede our knowing truth.
Proposition #5 is that when a claim is launched against us, we must seek the claimant out and try to speak with him or her. We must do this, not our attorney. We may speak with our attorney as a part of counting the cost, before we go to the other party, but go to them we must — physically, regardless of distance — before starting any legal defense (Matt. 5:22-24 and Matt. 18:12-15). We cannot simply turn all matters over to our attorney and allow our attorney to do what God would never allow us to do.
Proposition #6 is that we may never use the law or Constitution as a shield for our actions, words or inactions. When asked what we did, we must answer, allowing our “Yes” to be our “Yes” and our “No” to be our “No.” We must be “ready to make a defense to every one who asks us to give an account of the hope which is within us, yet with gentleness and patience.” (I Pet. 3:15)
Proposition #7 is based on the last portion of that verse: we may not demean or degrade our opponent, or cause them pain and anguish by attacking or counter-attacking them. If the only way we can “win” is to bite and devour them, then we must suffer the wrong and be defrauded, “entrusting ourselves to Him Who judges righteously” (I Pet. 2:23).
Now, some recent cases.
A pro-choice-in-abortion group sued the I.R.S. to revoke the tax exempt status of two Catholic groups. The claim was that the Catholics were engaged in political activity and lobbying in the area of pro-life in violation of the law granting them tax-exemption. To prove their case, the pro-choice group got a court order for the Catholics to turn over records of expenditures and minutes of meetings where the decisions were made concerning expenditures. The Catholics refused, on the basis of legal and constitutional theories. The judge held them in contempt of court and fined them $50,000 per day until the records would be produced. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Eventually, the case was dismissed on the basis that the plaintiff did not have a legal standing to bring such a suit; only the government could initiate such an action.
What troubles me is the method of defense. The defense chose to use the law of man as a shield of protection rather than to trust in God. The documents could have been turned over for examination, under a protective order that the contents not be divulged, and the issue of the power of the Court to enter the order raised in respectful appeal. It is the fact that Court was forced to enter an order of contempt which causes me such concern (being a personal expert on contempt!).
Such form of defense is also, I fear, a poor witness to the world. (See I Pet. 3:15, Matt. 5:37, and Rom. 13:1-7.) In comparison, recall how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego responded when they were attacked.
Yes, we may use the Constitution and laws in defense — but I believe it should be only after giving an account, only after responding to the questions asked. We are not to place our defense or our trust upon man, his ways, his laws, his systems, only upon God.
The second case I want to look at is where a lady in Oklahoma sued the church saying, “The pastor told the congregation I was an adulteress, which is true, but which he had no right to say for it invades my privacy.”
Here the church could appear and answer all questions put to it, for the woman has uncovered her own sin. The church can say what it did, why it did it and how it did it, reading the Word of God into the court record for its own witness. However, the church could not attack her or point out other of her sins. It cannot degrade or demean.
In contrast, in another case the church instituted a second case, filing a counter-claim for damages against the lady and her attorney for bringing the suit. I believe that was wrong. If the attorney, or the lady, violated the law by suing — which was the essence of the argument — the matter should be reported to the appropriate lawyer discipline organization, and that organization should be allowed to determine the matter. In that way, the law and not the church is the combatant.
In Oklahoma, the jury awarded the lady a judgment of some hundred thousand dollars, demonstrating the church has appealed to a higher court, which is an appropriate respect for law and those in authority. Of course, none of this says the church acted righteously in the manner in which they chose to discipline the lady in the first instance. That would mean going back and reviewing those actions by biblical witnesses.
The final case I want to look at, and the most difficult to discuss, is Nally v. Grace Community Church, John McArthur, et al. This case has been called a case of clergy malpractice. Briefly, the facts are that in 1979 a young adult committed suicide. Later, his parents blamed individuals within the church, and the church body, for the death. The church sought to resolve the matter without litigation (Matt. 5:23-26), but could not do so. The parents filed suit.
In this case, the church, as it would defend the case, would be faced with two basic questions: (1) What did you do or say (or not do or not say) to the deceased; and (2) Why? To answer the first question causes no problem in light of Matt. 5:37. The second question presents a problem.
To answer the second requires uncovering the sins of the dead man. It means talking about what troubled him. It may even mean talking about others of his family. It means causing further pain to those who grieve. It says to the world that one’s reputation is less important than another person’s rights or property. “When reviled, He reviled not in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats but kept entrusting Himself to Him Who judges righteously and He Himself bore our sins in His Body on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness for by His wounds we were healed.” (I Pet. 2:23-24)
Maybe the parents would be healed of their anger, bitterness, pain, and confusion if the church chose to bear the stripes. By choosing to suffer the wrong, we may lose the building, furnishings and accounts over which we see ourselves as stewards. But first and foremost, we are to be stewards of our actions as ambassadors to the world for Jesus Christ and as ministers of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:17-20). We must never hold on to material things so as to defeat witness. Let us, as we face these situations, keep in mind that our church properties can be as much mammon as our personal wealth. Let us keep in mind that God does not think in terms of rights and property but of relationships, sacrifice, and bearing the burdens of others. Our example and model is Jesus Christ who laid down all rights, position and properties, and died when He could have called upon ten thousand angels.
From what I see in the news media and read in legal reports, I find the church, when attacked, far, far too often responding exactly as do the unbelievers — without any regard for relationship, witness or impact upon others. Do we choose to respond to these attacks in the way of the world rather than the way of the Lord because of fear? Allow me to explain some things of the law, and then judge for yourself.
When the church receives the court papers, the papers say that the church has a limited number of days within which to appear and file an answer. If they fail to do so, they may be “defaulted”. The lay person believes that “being defaulted” means that a judgment for millions of dollars will be entered against them. That is not always true.
In all cases, before judgment can be entered, the plaintiffs (the party bringing the suit) must ask the judge for a judgment. The plaintiffs could die before that happens, or the Lord could call the elect home before then (Matt. 6:25-34).
Before the judge grants judgment he must determine: (1) that the church was negligent in some manner; (2) that harm resulted; and (3) if any monetary damages are appropriate.
Before the judge can find liability, he must find that: (1) there was a legal duty owed the plaintiff; (2) the duty was violated; and (3) the Constitution does not prohibit this type case. The judge must decide these things even if no one defends.
The judge can require the plaintiff to present evidence proving liability and can decide that no wrong act was done, or that a wrong act was done but there was no duty owed, or that there was a wrong act and duty but the Constitution forbids judgment.
Before the judge can award damages, plaintiffs must prove that they were damaged. In Nally, for example, the judge could have decided that any wrong done by the church died with the young adult man and the parents suffered no loss.
My point is this: God calls us to act according to His commands by taking one step down an unknown road, in faith that He is sovereign and working, being aware that we might die tonight before anything could possibly happen to us as a result of that one step. We fail to take the one step for fear that it will result in something horrible later.
I now want to consider the role of leaders in dealing with conflict — not in creating it, although failure to hear and follow some of this might cause conflict. I will begin with the Pastor who, thank God, I am not!
I was once asked, “Bill, what makes you weep and pound the table?” — two things which I do often.
I weep watching Christians, and others, destroying themselves emotionally, spiritually, financially, and even physically, because they know not how to deal biblically with conflict.
I pound the table because I think the church is doing nothing about it and there is so much potential for glory to God and revival for the church in these conflicts.
Allow me to offer some thoughts about how I would run a church. All that I would do would be focused on conflict. One reason is because of my background; another is because conflict is a guaranteed part of life; another is that conflict involves relationship and relationships are important to God; and one is because I see conflict as a way to evangelism, revival, and spiritual growth.
In case you do not know the extent to which legal conflict is having impact the Body of Christ, here are some figures: one of every 15 men, women, and children in the United States involved in some legal conflict. Studies show a person’s self-description as a Christian seems to make no difference in how he handles these disputes. We go to law in as high a percentage as do non-believers. Interviews with Christians in legal conflict show that they are unaware that the Bible has anything to say about the matter.
Well, in addition to giving us guidelines for resolving conflict, God gave us a textbook case of how the church and pastors should deal with conflicts in Acts 6:1-6.
As an attorney, I look at this passage and I see a potential lawsuit resolved.
I see job descriptions for pastors, leaders, and members of the Body.
I see a process.
I see the Lord Jesus Christ honored and unity displayed to the world which was intently watching these strange new people.
In this dispute, the plaintiffs were the Greek Jews and the defendants were the Hebrew Jews. Notice that the pastors (apostles) were aware of the dispute and that they initiated the process. This says to me that two of the jobs of the pastor are: (1) mingling with the people looking for needs; and (2) exhorting the people to meet the needs of one another.
Then, the pastors acted. They did not wait for an eruption. They did not wait for others to do something. They acted quickly, decisively, and with authority. They showed no concern for their position, salary, church budget, housing or how others may choose to negatively receive their actions (Matt. 6:25-34).
They called in the “congregation of disciples” (“those who are learning”) but not the entire congregation. As they mingle, they must be getting some idea for who the wise and mature members are — who will receive, accept and act upon the Lord’s direction issued through them.
Then, they define their role. I can see them, sitting there, looking at the disciples, and saying, “First, we want you to know that we are aware of the problem. That problem has the potential of splitting this church, dividing some golf foursomes, ending some quilting bees, and giving Jesus a bum reputation in the town. That must not be. I bet you folks thought we were going to do something about this conflict. Well, we aren’t, ’cause it’s not our job. Our job is to read the Word, teach, train, equip and exhort you to know and use your gifts to help one another, and pray. We are not table waiters, counselors, visitors to the sick and shut-in, secretary, janitor, and so on. The Body does those.”
These pastors knew that the laity was competent and these pastors were not worried about a clergy malpractice suit. Most pastors I speak to start to applaud about this point, although they will later tell me privately all the reasons why they can’t be the way the apostles were. Well, pastors can be, if they are willing to trust God and let go.
To continue, the apostles turned away from the dumb-struck disciples, and went back to their reading. The disciples went to the congregation and said, “We need to tell you folks what the apostles just told us.” And they do so.
Then a funny thing happens. The entire congregation picks the table waiters; the leadership does not. This says to me the members of the Body know the gifts of each other.
Let me give you a challenge. Drop a questionnaire in the bulletin which says, “Assume there are no people in the world except those sitting here with you right now. Assume all the pastors are dead. Assume there are no outside service agencies of any nature. Your marriage is falling apart (or you have a rebellious son, or you have a financial nightmare, or you have a legal dispute). Who will you ask to help?” Leave several lines of space for them to write in names and then look at who they write in. You will be amazed at their understanding of one another.
The disciples selected, and a funny thing happened again: the majority (Hebrews) decided to defer to the minority (Greeks). That is something we have forgotten how to do, to defer to one another in love. Maybe it should be taught. Maybe it has something to do with trusting God to work things together for His Glory some day in some way. Maybe it helps resolve conflict.
All I have written is preamble for how I would be as a pastor. Let me outline how I would behave, beginning the first day I enter the church.
My sermons would be teaching sermons on matters of practical application of the biblical lessons to life today, with plenty of current stories to drive the points home, stories of living people in other churches. With time, I would expect to get my people up front giving their own stories.
I would begin with messages on conflict, being peaceable in personal life, and how to help others you meet who are in conflict. If I felt limited in knowledge or understanding in this area, or any other area I wanted to teach on, I would call in an expert (might be an expert lay person) and let them have the pulpit.
Then, when I would see the first person in the congregation who was in need, my wife and I would get that person aside and start to work with them.
Note, I start by using my wife in this role, not the role of pianist.
Note, it places “two or more” at the opening scene.
Note, there will never be a man counseling a woman or a woman counseling a man.
Finally, be advised that as soon as I have selected up my first counselee, I will not select another until I have ended involvement with this one.
At the first meeting with this person, I would begin in the manner I have described earlier for those who seek to help others in conflict. At this time I will make the person in need aware that if we are going to proceed further, future meetings will include any existing counselors which he may have, and one or two others from the congregation; I will not proceed with out that commitment.
The next meeting, again within three days, will have the counselee, my wife and myself, as many of the counselors as possible, and one or more members of the church (assuming there are none within the group of counselors). As we move together down the road of life, I will be teaching the counselee what he needs to do and the counselors how they can help and how their help can harm. After a time, I expect to see the counselors being able to move along fine without my wife and me.
Finally, we withdraw, but remain available to the counselors to give them assistance, but we are not available to the counselee. My wife and I then start a new counseling relationship with someone in need, and repeat the process. Once every month, at a minimum, there would be a meeting of all counselors for a time of sharing and learning from one another, led by myself.
Once that group got to about 15, I would withdraw and have someone from within the group take over leadership of the group (no, I would not select the leader; God can do that).
Sooner or later, a counselee or one of the counselors will see that God has done something special in his or her life, and will want to share that with the congregation — my first testimony!
What else would I do, other than read and study and preach? Well, I would set up small groups of men (five per group?), one for each of the five days of the week. I would try to teach them principles of leading a godly life in all that they do and with all whom they meet.
My wife might have five groups of women, doing the same.
I would also have a weekly meeting with my personal overseers, three to five people, some selected from outside the church, who would hold me accountable. The congregation would be told who they are, so that if there was a complaint against me, they would know where to go.
Finally, there is one thing I would not be or allow: I would not be the Protestant equivalent of the Catholic confessional. If you walked by me and dropped some comment about some other person, I would stop you so fast you would get whiplash. I would then deal with you in the manner of “giving a negative report” discussed earlier. Now, let me speak to the matter of how other leaders of the church may assist in conflict resolution, and may so act as to not increase the amount of conflict within the church. “Leaders” includes pastors, CEO’s, deacons, elders, trustees, and/or members of boards of directors.
The first role of all leadership is to teach their people the ways of God for dealing with conflict. This is not limited to the pastor. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)
Second, leadership must listen less and confront more, particularly when people walk by and drop morsels (gossip) into ears of leadership. They need to bring confrontation between the speaker and the one spoken about, rather than begin to “investigate.” They need to bring the two together long enough to assist in the process of finding who God wants to serve as biblical witnesses in the matter, without listening to the offense.
Third, leaders should never attempt to order the parties to submit to arbitration unless the Matt. 18:16 stage has already taken place — and maybe not even then.
When leaders approach those in conflict in order to explain what to do, what is said to them about the process is critical. Do not say, “We will assist you in resolving this conflict” or “We can mediate this conflict.” They will hear “negotiate and compromise,” they will believe they have done no wrong, and they will refuse to sit down with the other person to discuss the matter. Leaders merely command that the parties come before “witnesses” in accordance with Matt. 18:16.
Fourth, there are times when leaders warn a congregation of divisive, factious people. This assumes that the Matt. 18:15-20 process has been used and this person refuses to quiet down and submit to leadership. I do not believe that it is necessary to evict such a person; just declare him to the congregation and tell them not to hear the gripes and complaints of this one. This allows them to still eat, fish, and otherwise fellowship.
Fifth, leaders should develop a strong prophet streak within them, boldly proclaiming the Word of God to people who are in conflict.
Sixth, they can begin to gather information from the members about themselves: motivations, gifts, talents, and life experiences (the valleys of the shadow of death through which they walked, which they can now look back into and see Christ was with them, and into which they can walk to be as Christ to another in the valley at this time) so that they can pick good witnesses to use in the conflict settings.
Seventh, they can develop a process whereby people in the church in conflict — regardless of the nature of the conflict, and regardless of who their adversary is — can come and receive wise counsel and practical help.
Eighth, they rethink confidentiality. Confidentiality should never stand in the way of confronting sin in the Matt. 18:15-20 process. Nor can it stand in the way of reporting crime, if Biblical confrontation produces no fruit, to law enforcement under Rom. 13:1-7. Nor can it stand in the way of sending forth helpers to those who are in need (Matt. 10). Ninth, they can demonstrate that God’s way is the right way by how they deal with their own conflicts and with conflicts which come to them. One classic place to do this is in Board or committee meetings.
These meetings begin with the matter of how to do the work at issue. But soon they become personality centered. At that point, someone needs to call time, point out that issues are taking a back seat to personalities, and seek to re-focus the meeting. This may take place more than once during any given meeting.
Then, someone must take the initiative to see that everyone, even the silent ones, have a chance to speak.
As people begin to re-state the same point for the third time, someone needs to call time, review the main points offered, check that all have been heard, and ask if anyone has anything new to offer. In other words, seek a closure to the discussion.
Once discussion is closed, there needs to be discussion on whether this is a matter in which unity is important or not. What color to paint the nursery is not something which needs unity: so vote. Those who lose must learn how to defer in love to those who win. If it is a matter where unity is considered important, try to first determine: (1) do we have to decide today and (2) might Scripture offer some insights. If decision is not needed, and/or the Scriptures might offer insight, then table until the next meeting, with all to come armed with what they can find in searching the Scriptures. If it is felt that speed is important, then put it to a secret vote, announce the results, and then take a break, asking those in the minority to individually determine if they are able to defer in love to the majority. Come back and vote again. If one or more still hold out, table the matter until the next meeting. The need for speed should give way to desire for unity of spirit.
Finally, someone needs to end each meeting by checking with everyone that each can hug the other and go fishing with the other tomorrow. If that is missing, everybody hits the floor on their knees, facing away from one another, and prayer begins. It is awfully hard to throw stones from that position!
Tenth, leaders can schedule periodic talk sessions for the congregation. Yes, these can become gripe sessions, and highly divisive, unless certain precautions are taken in advance, and certain things are understood by all.
Pre-planning primarily is the selection of a person to preside over the meeting and do those things which I outlined for a Board meeting: re-focusing, summarizing, and the rest. What needs to be understood by all is that these meetings are not for the purpose of voting on something, nor are they really for massive discussion.
Second, when someone says “there is this need in the church,” what they are most often saying is, “I once had this need, found it met through Christ and the Body, and want to see others receive that same benefit.” Their statement can become the impetus for a new, unleashed ministry within the church, led by them.
Third, if a matter is raised which Scripture speaks to, then the matter should be tabled for a period during which a Bible study for those interested in the topic will beheld. Then the matter will again come up at one of these talk sessions. Leaders should avoid making “legal rulings” (sermon messages) until people have searched
Scripture for themselves, and thrashed out feelings in small groups.
Eleventh, leaders need to get a firm grip on the sovereignty of God, and truly see God as their provider, not the people and their offerings. If this does not happen, leaders will not fully lead, for they will fail to speak candidly and forcibly in fear of loss of salary.
Twelfth, leaders will, where the right approach has totally failed, be sometimes required to exercise loving discipline (I Cor. 5), while having a process of keeping periodic contact with the one disciplined, still offering love, lest they perish (II Cor. 2:6-8).
Lastly, there will even be times when the leader will have to leave, laying down his life for the sheep. Our Lord, our Leader, did that. I have seen many Christians defeated by their conflicts, but I have also seen that when leaders lead, the people will volunteer (Judges 5:2).
Another important concern for the church should be the finding, and recovering of, those who have strayed. This is not merely a matter for the leaders, but for the individual member.
Connected with this issue is the matter of finding out if a person who has come to the church is bringing with him some baggage of conflict within another church which ought to be dealt with before full membership privileges are extended.
Every year many Christians leave the church community. Some are even leaders. What can be done to restore them, either to the specific fellowship, or to the Body of Christ?
First, let’s look at why they leave.
(1) Their theology changes and they look for more comfortable surroundings.
(2) They fail to feel a sense of belonging.
(3) They simply fail to continue in prayer, the Word, and fellowship.
(4) They get into conflict with another and leave rather than deal with the matter, or leave having, they think, attempted to deal with it and felt let down by the church.
(5) Leaders get burned out and drop out, primarily from inability to handle the conflicts and needs of the people.
TO RESTORE YOU MUST DETERMINE WHICH SITUATION YOU ARE DEALING WITH. YOU WILL NEVER KNOW WHICH UNTIL YOU GO TO THE ONE WHO HAS LEFT AND ASK HIM WHY HE LEFT, BEFORE YOU GO TO THOSE FROM WHOM HE LEFT. You will get gossip in either instance, but you are trying to restore the one who left, not those who stayed.
THE SOONER YOU SEEK HIM OUT, AND THE MORE KNOWLEDGEABLE ARE THE SEEKERS, THE BETTER THE CHANCE FOR RESTORATION. YOU NEED TO KNOW HOW TO GO.
Before going further on the matter of restoration, I want to make some comments about these five types of people.
(1) First, these situations will happen. I believe we are called to deal with them by never allowing the leaving to end whatever our individual level of prior relationship with such a person may have been.
Reasons (2) and (3) If a church develops small groups who seek to care for one another, the number leaving will be limited and the ease of restoration enhanced.
Reasons (4) and (5) These are the result of fearing conflict and not knowing how to deal with conflict Biblically.
I conclude: restoration is a matter of proper teaching in how to build a caring church and in how to deal with conflict. However, since conflict of one form or another is a guaranteed fact of life for every person, and since conflict can’t be dealt with in a caring manner without having a caring church, we can build a caring church by focusing on dealing with conflict.
Overseers for all, including pastors and leaders, is a part of the small caring-group church. One function of overseers/oversight is to intervene in conflict when knowledge of the conflict arrives, to be willing to enter into the conflict when called in, and to go
after those who are leaving or have left.
We need to introduce sound teaching and training on conflict into churches through: (A) training seminars and retreats for pastors, leaders, members, couples, and individuals; (B) written materials for pastors as a sermon series; (C) written materials for adult and Junior/Senior level Bible study classes; and (D) books/tracts for general dissemination written so the lay person in conflict can begin to work on the conflict in a biblical way.
I am also concerned about what is or is not being taught on the subject in the Bible colleges and seminaries. I wold urge these institutions to develop some required curriculum on reconciliation.
We, as individuals, the churches, and the colleges must discover who are the “wise men” (I Cor. 6:5) who can teach, train, or help us when there is conflict. They need to be identified and published to the congregation, with statements of expectation that members will seek them out when in conflict.
Now, back to restoration.
TO RESTORE YOU MUST DETERMINE THE SPIRITUAL STATUS OF THE ONE WHO HAS LEFT. When you go to him or her, you should find this individual in one of several conditions: (1) at peace with God, man, and self, and maybe in fellowship; (2) at significant peace with God but not with man as to the matter which led to their leaving; (3) at peace with God and man as to what led to the leaving but not yet restored to the fellowship; and (4) still at war with God and/or man.
YOUR ROLE IS TO ASSIST; THE PRIME WORKERS ARE CHRIST, THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND THE WORD — IN RECONCILIATION OF THE INDIVIDUAL TO GOD, TO THOSE HE/SHE HARMED, THOSE WHO HARMED HIM/HER, AND HIS/HER FORMER CONGREGATION. This process of reconciliation is the same, and requires the same understandings, gifts, talents, and actions, as does biblical conflict resolution. All of this is what this book has been dedicated to.
However, I meet those who argue that there are some people with whom we are to have nothing to do; that they are beyond restoration. Interestingly, I understand this was the position of the Pharisees at the time of Christ concerning the publicans with whom Christ ate!
Allow me to give an example of their argument. “Shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” (Titus 3:9-11)
Some people love to argue about such matters as law, process, and how churches are to be governed. You find them in every church. I may well be one of them! Paul tells us not to get involved in such discussions, for they will never be profitable. “Shun” — periistemi — them (such discussions): i.e., turn yourself about from them; go from them. Remember, there is a banquet table in Heaven. If we allow discussions to divide us on earth, God just may, in His infinite humor, make us sit opposite each other at that table, and glare at each other, for all of eternity. So, as we part, let’s hug one another, laugh about how great but eternally meaningless the discussion was, and set up our next time to meet.
Paul says “reject” — paraiteomai — the person who does these things. We take thisto mean that after two warnings we can give that person the boot from fellowship and never speak to them again. We equate this to I Cor. 5:5,11, “render him unto Satan for destruction of the flesh that the soul may be saved in the day of Christ Jesus; do not associate with any so-called brother.” Then, we take the “reject”, the “render”, and the “do not associate”, and sit back and wait for the sinner to crawl to us in brokenness and repentance, even then demanding “fruits of repentance”.
When I was a judge, I had a father and son in chambers. The boy had been in rebellion and foster care for some time. He would get his act together, and hold it together, maybe for several months. Then he would blow it again. He wanted to come home. I asked the father to set the conditions, and he did so. The list was highly subjective (dealing with attitudes rather than actions and seemed difficult to measure). I asked the dad how long the boy had to abide by the rules. The father refused to fix a time! The time was to be when he, the father, deemed the boy had learned his lesson. This guaranteed failure — the boy could never meet the standards.
I tell this story because demanding some nebulous “fruits of repentance.” over an unspecified period of time, is the way we often deal with the fallen. But that is not God’s way. If it were, God would have, at the latest, cut Abraham off after the second time Abraham peddled Sarah off as his sister. God would have wiped out the nation Israel before they ever got to the mountain to get the law. God would have wiped each of us out a long time ago. And God would never have sent His Son to die for us in the mere hope that we would accept the gift and be restored.
All I think Paul is saying to Titus is, “Stop feeding this man’s energies. When he starts on his soap-box-of-the-moment, stop him. If he won’t stop, turn and walk away. Eat with him, play golf with him, fish with him — all that is fine. Just don’t stand and listen to his complaining. When he does it, rebuke him. As pastor, Titus, feel free to tell the congregation how to behave in this type situation.” An interesting thing will happen if this is done: either he will wear himself out, or he will remove himself from fellowship.
On the other hand, Jude wrote, “And have mercy on some who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” (Jude 22-23). To me, “some who are doubting” is a person who is in danger of falling, not one in the process of falling. This is the person with whom we fellowship, see wavering in their faith or commitment, getting burned out. We exhort him to stand firm while assisting him as his needs indicate. If conflict with others is a part of the reason — and it often will be — we become peacemakers.
Then there are those we are called upon to “save, snatching them out of the fire.” I equate this to what Paul wrote in Galatians: “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass (sin), you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself lest you be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1) I see this as reaching out to the falling one. This is, very often, the person who has dropped out of fellowship. There is a calmness about you, a quietness, open arms, pain in your face, constant contact. You are like Christ, asking yourself to dinner with one caught up a tree. Acting rightly and promptly towards this person will, more often than not, restore them.
But there is another person who needs to be restored, through “mercy with fear.” This one is fallen. This is the one who is flaunting his sin. This one may well have been all the way through Matt. 18:15-17, plus I Cor. 5, and still is in sin. Even this one we are to seek to restore. Now, however, our process is different.
It is my belief that no person can ever fall so far, or sin so greatly, that we are allowed to treat him as dead or cease efforts to restore him. Paul says in II Cor. 2:6-8: “Sufficient for such a one is the punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary, you should rather forgive and comfort him lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed with excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.” I believe this person is the same one who Paul wrote about in I Cor. 5, the man who was living with his father’s wife. The majority, evidently, had cast him forth and were not fellowshiping with him at all, having cut off rights and privileges of citizenship (epitimia).
Ponder this: nowhere in all of Scripture do we have any evidence that this man has confessed his sin, or repented. For all we know, he is still living with his father’s wife. Paul does not say, “Restore him to rights and privileges of citizenship.” Paul does say, “GO. Reaffirm your love for him, lest he perish. If you have shunned him — no communication at all — stop that and go call upon him. Show love. Point him to Christ. Don’t let him perish.”
I have spoken to many people who have plummeted downward on a slide of sin. Without exception, they point to the time when, early on, had someone boldly come to them in love as in Jude 22-23a or Gal. 6:1-2, they believe they would have turned back. But they also point to a time, much later and much deeper in sin, when they stopped and looked for a hand to snatch them from the fire, as in Jude 23b, and, seeing none, let go and slid deeper into sin.
This reaching out should always be in person, physically rather than by phone or letter, as we carry Christ, the Great Restorer, with us and want Him seen. He does the work; we are the vessel. This reaching out needs to be over and over and over again. This reaching out must include confession of our own fault, if any. Since we may have fault in this, or could cause harm by going in the wrong manner, we need to seek counsel and analyze our own actions, inactions, and attitudes before going. The analysis must be conducted in fashion so as not to be a gossip against the other.
When we go, I think we go in pairs of the same sex as the one we are calling upon. If at all possible, one of the pair should be a person who has in the past fallen deeply in the same sin, or in a sin which can be readily related, or who previously dropped out of fellowship.
The attitude in which we go is not as judges of this person’s heart. We are seed throwers, not harvesters of crops. We are God’s emissaries, not man’s. We have deep love for this person, and we are in pain over his separation from God and from the Body of Christ.
The God Who I know will, I believe, cry at the time of the Great White Throne Judgement, for He will, that day, forever separate some of His creation from Himself, and He does not want to do that (Matt. 18:12-14). I believe this because I served five years as a judge, and I often cried as I separated people from family and community and sentenced them to prisons which were, literally, hells on earth.
If there is sin still present, we must be willing to clearly declare the sin of the moment, rather than the sins of the past. The sin of the moment may be simply being out of fellowship, or failure to confess to some person directly harmed, or failing to forgive some person for a wrong done. The latter two sins are very common reasons why people separate from fellowship, and give the appearance of having fallen into sin. In fact, the heart may be repentant, the sin may have been forsaken, but the fallen person is still outside fellowship due to shame or pride.
We do restoring by doing towards the fallen person the “fast” God told us to practice in Is. 58:3-11. As we do so, we become “rebuilders of ancient ruins (of life), raisers of (new) foundations, repairers of the breach (of relationship and fellowship) and restorers of streets in which to dwell (peace),” Is. 58:12.
IT IS THE ROLE OF GOD TO RESTORE THE FALLEN TO MINISTRY AND/OR POSITION. God restores the temple (Jer. 12:15), the hearts of fathers to their children (Mal. 4:6), fortunes (Zph. 3:20), people from captivity (Amos 9:14), land (Jer. 42:12), and the past (Joel 2:24).
I believe that one sign of a person who appears to be humbled, but is not, is that he/she is actively seeking his/her restoration to position, rather than awaiting God. That future ministry of the restored fallen person will, if both fallen and the restorers are patient, be custom tailored by God to the gifts and life experiences of this person, including this highly negative life experience (Rom. 8:28). Some areas of ministry which we may want the person to enter (or reenter) God may keep closed. Some areas which we may want to close, God may open. The fallen person merely places and keeps himself under supervision, “subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph. 5:21), and awaits the work of the Lord. Those to whom the fallen one subjects himself must not fall to the charisma or manipulations of the fallen one. These “restorers” are agents of oversight for the Lord. If this is done, I believe on day Christ will speak, through unity of the overseers, return to ministry. (See Beyond Forgiveness, Don Baker, Multnomah Press, 1984.)
SOME PREVENTATIVE STEPS. First, we need some covenants to be entered into between pastor, leaders, and congregation, husbands and wives, and business associates concerning how conflicts will be dealt with. These should even name the “witnesses” who will assist as needed, possibly empowered to make binding judgements (I Cor. 6:5). Two examples, drawn from a business environment and a Board environment, follow this section of the book.
Second, we must have a process to which pastors can turn when feeling lay leadership or congregation is not dealing rightly with them. And lay leadership and the congregation need a place to which they can go when they feel the pastor is out of line. Again, there should be advanced declaration of who the “witnesses” (Matt. 18:16) or “wise men” are who will be called upon.
Third, conflicts must be seen as having such a priority that all other business and matters of the day are laid aside until the conflict has been dealt with (Matt. 5:23-24). We must trust God to take care of evangelism and outreach and building projects and such while we get about the matter of healing.
Finally, you might ask: Why should we go to all this trouble? DO YOU BELIEVE THAT REVIVAL IS NEEDED? Every time a person re-reconciles with God, or reconciles with another person, revival is a possible by-product. The settings for such reconciliations is conflict. Moreover, we will be demonstrating that we are one, the world will see, and they will be drawn to Christ (John 17:19-21).
It may be possible to lessen the potential for conflict as you begin, or pursue, business or ministry. Consider the following for their practicality and theology.
A COVENANT FOR LEADERSHIP
The undersigned occupies, as to (name of organization) a position of membership and/or authority. Yet, I know that unless the Lord builds the house, we all labor in vain. I know that I am but His workmanship in that process, and that He has prepared the work.
Knowing that nothing good lives within me (Rom. 7:18), and knowing that disputes and dissensions of every nature may arise among us, yet knowing also that we are destined to sit together at God’s banquet table in heaven — I do now execute this covenant to express my commitment to deal rightly one with another.
I hereby profess Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and acknowledge that I have granted Him Lordship over my life. At the same time, I acknowledge that while I have committed my heart to Christ, I continue to hold control over areas of my life which Christ would control.
Therefore, I express my desire and willingness to receive fraternal admonition, in love, one from another as to my personal life. I also commit to give, should the need arise, fraternal admonition, in love, to others. I accept as genuine the profession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior made to me by any other person involved in this organization.
I am personally committed to the practice of peace in my relationships — personal, marital, commercial, or other — and will strive to display Christ in my daily life. I will also seek to avoid any action, personally, professionally, or otherwise, which would prevent reconciliation of others.
I believe that this organization is one founded upon the Word of God, as best expressed in the Holy Bible. Therefore, I will look to His Word for guidance of this organization. But I also know that His Word is, first and foremost, a lamp unto the path for my feet; that it is, secondly, a sharp sword against my adversary, the Devil; and, thirdly, that as to my fellow human beings, His Word is for teaching, reproof, correction, and for training in righteousness that all may be adequate and equipped for His works (II Tim. 3:16-17), and to therefore be used only with kindness, forbearance, and patience (Rom. 2:4).
I acknowledge that it is my desire to be led by the Holy Spirit in all that I may do, or we may collectively do, in this organization. I set no boundaries upon those doing His work as to what they may or may not do under His leading. Should one commit an act which I believe to be error before God, I will deal with it as directed by Jesus Christ in Matt. 18:15-17a with the attitude displayed in Matt. 18:12-14 (the searching shepherd) and Matt. 18:21-35 (as one forgiven more than can be owed me or repaid by me).
I further believe that this organization is a ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, worked out through our individual hollow vessels, which He has filled with good gifts, working together and deferring one to another in love, for His glory and not our own. As such, I am willing to have my name associated with this organization though the organization may lack any measure of success before man or be considered a failure, or disband, or suffer due to errors of leaders. I also trust that the ministry of Jesus Christ will continue regardless of what may happen to this organization or to any one of us, individually.
I am committed to an attitude of oneness to all those involved in this organization, as I am one with them in Jesus Christ. That oneness shall persist, in so far as it rests within me, regardless of what might happen to the organization or my participation within the organization.
Should I discover that there is any matter of issue between me and another person within this organization, I will quickly seek to resolve the same as provided for in Matt. 5:23-24 or Matt. 18:15-17a, understanding that reconciliation of our relationship is more important than victory in the conflict.
Prior to executing this document, I have gone to every person within this organization with whom I have had an unresolved matter, confessing my own faults as God has displayed them to me, extending forgiveness, and recommitting my love and fellowship to them.
If any person involved in this organization has a dispute with me, now or in the future, I entreat that one to come and speak quietly with me that we may be reconciled. Should any person feel that I am not listening unto him or her, and desire to bring witnesses to confront me, I declare the following persons to be ones whom I respect and to whom I am committed to listen when they speak: ______________________
A COVENANT OF BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP
Recognizing that anything devised by man without Jesus Christ as the cornerstone causes God to laugh and scoff (Psalms 2), we, ________________ and _____________________, desire to enter into a covenant: (1) with and before the Lord Jesus Christ; and (2) among ourselves as to the glory of the Lord and not ourselves.
By this document, each of us reaffirms our acceptance of Jesus Christ as personal Savior, submission and subjection to His Lordship, and commitment to the Holy Bible as a light to our paths of relating one to another.
Additionally, each of us accepts the profession of faith of the others and sees ourselves as bound together in an inseparable oneness in the Body of Christ which oneness shall always survive any other relationship which we may have with one another.
We accept that our first relationship must be with God through Jesus Christ, and that Christ asks to be center of all our actions with regards to spouse, family, friends, church, community, and business. We covenant one with one another to seek after His center.
________________________ and _________________________ are entering into a joint business venture. For this venture we have selected the name ________________________. The business will operate in the area of _________________, for the purposes of __________________________.
We proclaim that this business is the business of the Lord Jesus Christ and not the business of either of us, individually, or of us jointly. As such, this business has the right to fail in the eyes of man, but the relationship between us does not have the right to fail before God.
__________________________ and _______________________ as the spouses of the parties, each consent to his/her spouse entering into this business relationship. We, the spouses, covenant with one another to keep our spouses, their relationship, and the business lifted up in prayer. We further covenant with one another that we will not receive from our spouse any gossip concerning the other or the spouse of the other and will call forth witnesses to confront such should it occur.
_________________________ and ________________________ have discussed with one another what each brings to the business: not merely money and property but gifts, talents, skills and life experiences given us by the Lord. We see all of these matters and things as of equal value and worth in the sight of the Lord, and necessary for the building us up in unity in Jesus Christ and in unity in business and personal relationship.
All those who sign this document also acknowledge that we are sinners, saved only by grace, and that we often walk after the flesh instead of by the Spirit of God. We recognize that as we hereafter walk after the flesh, such actions can serve to divide us and bring dispute among us and offer our common adversary, the Devil, an opportunity to prey upon us. We also recognize that Jesus Christ taught us, by Word and action, how to deal with dispute and division when it occurs. Therefore, we each pledge to the other, and agree with the other, to practice the principles of Matt. 5:22b-26 and Matt. 18:12-35, and to refrain from action at law as directed in I Cor. 6:1-8, should disputes arise among us.
_________________________ and ________________________ also acknowledge that should dispute arise among us, it is likely we will not “listen” to the other (Matt. 18:15). Therefore, to assist us in carrying out the Lord’s principles of biblical peace-making, to serve as “witnesses” (Matt. 18:16), and to serve as “wise men” empowered by us to decide matters between us (I Cor. 6:5), we each name our witnesses as follows:
Witnesses of Party A: ________________ _______________
Witnesses of Party B: ________________ _______________
If, after having gone to the other party, the dispute remains unresolved, then whichever of us believes himself offended shall inform the other that he intends to call the witnesses of the other for further confrontation. If such notice fails to resolve the matter, he shall then ask the witnesses to come forth, without bearing any tale against the other in the process.
After confrontation with the witnesses and the matter still being unresolved, then the remaining two witnesses shall be called in, and the four witnesses shall then act as “wise men” and render decision. In so doing, the witnesses may call upon expert assistance from whomever they deem necessary. Any decision of the witnesses shall be based upon Scripture, and not man’s law, and the parties agree to be bound by any such decision.
The parties further agree that should there ever be a need to divide the business — because of dispute, or death, or upon request of a party, or for any other reason — the witnesses shall be called upon to determine values, manner of division, and method of payment if the parties are unable to agree among themselves.
Acknowledging that no disagreement among us can ever separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:38-39), nor from the love of one another, we now sign this covenant as unto the Lord and unto one another this ______ day of _______________, 19_____.
________________ _________________ _____________________ ___________
Party A Spouse of A Party B Spouse of B
As the “witnesses” named above, we also sign this covenant, understanding our role as witnesses, and bound to the Lord to serve Him as His witnesses as needed.
A CHRISTIAN GRIEVANCE/DISCIPLINARY POLICY
(Designed with business and educational institution in mind)
It is recognized that conflict is no more foreign to employees (members of management, students, etc.) than to any other person. Conflict is a natural result of our sin nature. Conflict, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad; it is neutral. It is inevitable. How we deal with conflict will be either good or bad, for us and others, to the extent that we do or do not bring the conflict and our manner of dealing with it under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. From God’s vantage point, all conflict is capable of being used by Him for His glory if we will focus on Christ and His light and methods in faith.
As an employee (student), you will have many possible conflicts, but all may be boiled down to one of two types: (1) a conflict where you believe another has wronged you; and (2) a conflict where you discover another thinks you wronged him or her. This other person may be a fellow worker (student), a supervisor (staff member), or a member of management (faculty). It does not matter who the other person is insofar as how you are to deal with the conflict; the steps are always the same.
Step 1: Pause and take spiritual inventory. Get yourself right with God so that you will be in “right relationship” with Him (righteous) before you embark upon Step #2. Allow His Spirit to search you for your fault in the matter, and for the things you must confess to this other person when you first meet with him. Search His Word for direction. If you are unsure of your own actions, gather two or three other people together in a room, and take counsel of them. In doing this, do not divulge the identityof the other person unless absolutely necessary. Select people who are not awed of you, and will be forthright with you. These counselors are to help you place your actions, inactions, and attitudes against the plumb-line of the Lord. They are to help you turn your focus away from the wrong possibly done to you, and toward God’s call upon your life for unity, reconciliation, and peace.
Step 2. Physically go to the other person, seeking reconciliation and resolution of the conflict, rather than victory. Your going is more important to God than your corporate worship or sacrifice (Matt. 5:23-24). You go as a searching shepherd (Matt. 18:12-14), and as one who has been forgiven more than this other person could possibly owe you and more than you could ever repay (Matt. 18:21-35). Go confessing your faults, such as tale-bearing, so that you may be healed regardless of the actions of the other (Jas. 5:16). (The only exception to this need to personally go alone would be if you feared physical harm. In such an instance, move to step #4.)
Step 3. Seek the Lord. If Step 2 did not resolve the matter, should you drop the matter or proceed further? Take counsel of the others, the Lord, and the Word. Regardless of your decision at this point, do not allow relationship with the other person to be terminated. “Insofar as it rests with you, live at peace” — Rom. 12:18. After all, God does not stop relating towards you when you sin.
Step 4. Take one or two others along. In seeking out these “others”, there are two things to be aware of: first, you cannot tell them what the problem is, only that there is a problem, for you would otherwise be gossiping; and, second, select people who you have reason to believe the other party respects and will, therefore, listen to: a fellow-worker (student) or a close friend. Do not select this person from a position of authority over the other party, or from the leadership of the other’s church.
Step 5. Seek the Lord. Repeat step 3!
Step 6. When the other party is a fellow-worker, and you have attempted step 4 without success, have the people who became involved at Step 4 contact (Name of Official). When the other is a supervisor, have them contact _____________________. When the other is a member of management, have them contact _______________. In contacting the appropriate person, the witnesses are not to disclose details, only that conflict exists, they were witnesses, and the conflict continues. Those who helped at Step 4 are to make the contact because they are witnesses, not parties, and not biased. You must begin to release this conflict to the Lord and His authorities so that if judgment should become necessary, you can accept the judgement of those placed in authority rather than become a complainer and possibly divisive. In each instance, the appropriate official will then assist. This step is the equivalent of Matt. 18:17a. These officials have people available who have been trained in helping disputants be reconciled and conflicts resolved. If necessary, these people may even render a judgment and order appropriate future conduct. If your dispute is with a person in authority in this company (college), you may bring your own “witnesses” from the Bodyof Christ to any meetings held under this Step 6. We, as authority over you, are, nevertheless, always willing to have others from the Body of Christ view and review how we act, and give fraternal admonition to us when we stray.
Step 7. Seek the Lord.
Step 8. Appeal. If, as a result of the above steps, actions have been taken against you which you consider disciplinary in nature, you have a right to appeal that order to _________________ who has the right (not duty) to exercise grace and mercy in the matter. As an example, let us say that you have been terminated from work. That is an act of discipline from which an appeal would lie. The ____________, as might God, could remove any or all of the penalty from you although you might be totally unworthy. As another example, let us say that you were ordered to pay the other party $500. That is not an act of discipline, and there would be no appeal. You are required to accept the judgement of those the Lord places in authority — right or wrong — and trust for your ultimate justice from Him Who judges righteously, just as did Christ (I Pet. 2:23).
Now let us consider the matter of the new sheep who comes to a particular church. Are they a “lost” sheep (un-saved), a “stray sheep” returning to the fold like a prodigal, or a “wolf (or wolfish person) in sheep’s clothing?” Should this be a concern to the church to which this person comes? What should a church do to “check it out?” My comments will be brief.
As previously noted, we have, in the church, something that looks very much like African tribalism. One reason for this is that people may move from one unit of the Body of Christ to another unit with impunity. In one respect, I do appreciate the Russian Orthodox, who see the impossibility of there being other than one church, or of a person being saved and existing apart from that church.
Wisdom says to me, as does the entire notion of “body,” that we cannot simply accept new people into our churches without some form of meaningful “background check.” Let me try to walk through this for you.
One day, a new person shows up at your church. I think your church should have some sort of a process which will take note of this person for future follow up. There is then the need to track his/her attendance. By the third or fourth “visit,” he/she is starting to look a lot like a permanent fixture. Now some special action needs to be taken.
Begin by two or more meeting with this person. If it is a woman, have women conduct the meeting. The questions are something like this:
“I see you are new among us and we want to truly welcome you. But we do need to ask a few questions. The purpose of this is so that we may be truly a part of the universal Body of Christ, and help you in areas of need, should they exist.
“Are you new to our community/city? Where did you come from? Were you in a Christian fellowship there? Where? When?
“If you are not new to our community, have you been in a Christian fellowship somewhere else? Where? When? Why have you decided to come here?
“Now, we would like to know if you left any unfinished business behind, particularly matters of conflict with some others within that congregation.”
Obviously, if the person says they are not a believer, then little needs to be considered other than presenting the Gospel, and offering to help on any outstanding conflicts or other matters of life. If the individual says he/she is a Christian, you will need to follow up on whatever is said in the process of the questioning, while avoiding getting into gossip or choosing of sides.
If the person indicates a problem that he/she have left, offer (insist) on taking him/her back and facing that issue, with members of your church as witnesses. If he refuses to do so, be very careful about allowing him to participate in fellowship. I, personally, would not allow him to take communion, and would probably tell the congregation not to interact socially with this person, and the reason why that is being said.
Even if the person indicates no problems, two or more should go to the leaders of the other church to be certain. A conference call might work when the individual is coming from out of state, or away from the community.
In short, we must act more like a part of the Body than apart from the Body. This is but one part of that process of acting in unity.
There is one final matter which I feel I must address, although I do so with the utmost fear and trembling. It is the matter of “church governance.” But I choose to address it because it seems to me to be such a fertile field for the creation of conflict.
Several years ago, after I has addressed a number of pastors on the subject of conflict, one came to me with a question:
“In your wanderings about, have you ever encountered an example of proper church governance?” My response was: “I have not in my wanderings, but I have in my readings.”
He quickly pulled out a pad of paper, and asked for the name of the reading. I called his attention to Mark 10:42-45:
“And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all, for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
I then told him that it seemed to me that if we begin to talk about “governance,” we have entered the way of the Gentile and not the way of the church; that we are into power and position rather than service.
He looked shocked, folded his pad, and walked away with out a further word, leaving me a bit stunned. Upon arriving home, I soon found myself having lunch with my pastor. In the process, he said, “Bill, the people are wanting to know what the Elders are doing.” I was, at that time, an Elder.
Literally before I could even give it thought, my mouth said, “That is the wrong question. The proper questions are, ‘Who are the Elders, and what is any one of them doing in the way of ministry.'” And then I understood what I was saying.
“What are the Elders doing” presupposes a group of people getting together, at one time, and doing something. It is a corporate Board of Directors model. It also carries a sense of Title, Position, and Power. And if the church has a Board of Directors, it must have a Chief Executive Officer — the Pastor. Again, with the Title comes Position and Power (which is why I have capitalized each word).
But, equally insidious, comes an expectation that the work will be done by those with the titles. There also comes a sense that I might not be worthy to do any work because I have no title. And, of course, confrontation of a person with a Title is much harder than a person without a title.
Well, the questions of these two pastors set me upon a study of Scripture about church governance. What I found can be divided into two categories: a few “case examples,” and a lot of words. Question: have we added to the words things which the words themselves never included? Have we added concepts of power and position never intended? Have we made a word of general nature into a Title? Have we taken “gifts” and “calls” and made them into titled positions with power?
I concede that these are not easy question to pose, let alone try to answer as a partof a book on conflict. So I will only share a few ideas to provoke your thoughts. The first of these is the most intriguing.
In I Tim. 3:1, Paul writes to Timothy (whom he had left behind to set elders in place) the following: “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires (oregomai) to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires (epithumeo) to do.”
Oregomai translates into, “To stretch one’s self out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something; to give one’s self up in love to something”. It is used three times in the New Testament.
Epithumeo translates into, “To turn upon a thing, to have a desire for, long for, to desire; to lust after, covet, of those who seek things forbidden”. It (and it’s two variances) is used 55 times in the New Testament.
What is interesting is that either word can be used in a sense of a negative or positive character trait. But, unless Paul is the author of Hebrews, he only used oregomai twice. One we have seen, I Tim. 3:1. The other is in I Tim. 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many a pang.”
If Paul only used it twice — and one is a known negative — is it reasonable to presume that his other use was also in a sense of a negative character trait?
Was Paul saying, “Even if a man lusts for the office of overseer, it is still a good work he desires to do?”
Is he trying to draw a distinction between office and work by his choosing two different words to use in one verse — when either word could have been used twice?
Did Paul already see (or had Timothy experienced and written Paul of a concern) that Title equaled Position equaled Power in the way of the Gentile?
Did Paul then give a list of specific character traits to Timothy to use to confront a “luster for Title” with his shortcomings so as to gauge the Spirit (spirit) which brings the person to seeking the office?
Did Paul ever use any word, such as the words we write as deacon or elder (let alone apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher), in the sense of a title for a position which carried power to rule?
Paul, to me, was a lawyer, and we lawyers write in funny ways at times. I have no problem, as a lawyer, with answering every one of these questions with, “yes” — except for the last question, which answers, “no.” I answer the last with “no” because to do otherwise would be to destroy the meaning of Mark 10:42-45.
Please, just treasure this up in your heart. Now let me talk about a model for operating a church — but after one more point of law, made in the form of a question.
How much of our need for governance is tied directly to the ownership of property? I understand the historians don’t think church ownership of property began until about 300 AD. But because we own properties in the name of the church, the law of man requires a certain level of legal organization to which the State can look to] when legalmatters are at issue. If we had no properties, would that automatically remove all sense of power from the title? Would it even negate any sense of “office?” Think about it.
Well, at one time — 33 AD before Acts 6 — we only had apostles (those sent forth to lay a foundation), disciples (those growing in wisdom and understanding), and members of the congregation. Then came the reality that there was more work than the titled persons (apostles) could handle. But have you looked at how we arrive at this point in time?
Acts 2:45, “and were sharing them [possessions] with all, as anyone might have need.” Here are people, seeing others in need, personally meeting those needs by direct interaction (relationship).
Acts 4:34-35, “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the feet of the apostles; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need.” Whoa, did you catch the difference? Now I see you in need, so I sell some property, and give the money to Sam to take care of you. No longer is it direct interaction.
Acts 6:1-6, “and the distribution system broke down as there was more work than titled workers.” Bontrager Simplified Version, copyrighted 1995.
The apostles knew their call, and were not going to be sidetracked. How many pastors get burned out by trying to be all things to all members, instead of concentrating on their gifts and calling? Does this happen because of needs of self (workaholism; justification through works)? Because of fear (if I don’t, no one will, and people will suffer; if the work is not done, people will leave and the offerings stop)?
So the apostles told those who were showing growth, “You must serve one another” Sounds like a repetition of Mark 10, doesn’t it?
The disciples told the congregation and the congregation chose the seven. Now, how do you think they decided upon whom to choose? I suggest they chose from those who were already serving, people who were out there doing ministry under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, with no position or title, just doing it.
Then the apostles confirmed the selections made — those who had been serving with title recognized publicly for service those who had been serving without title, so that the others in the congregation would:
(1) seek them out if in need of service, or
(2) ask God which one they should join with to learn how to serve in the manner in which they felt God leading them: a reproductive, discipleship model of growth in wisdom and stature in the Lord, without plan or program, but spontaneously through the Spirit of the Lord.
Is it any wonder, “having favor with all the people, and the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47)?
And there, I suggest, you have a model for governance of the church: those serving with titles recognize in front of the congregation those who have been serving without title (or who have come alongside for discipleship in service) so that a new generation
of servant leaders appears. You came up through the ranks, so to
speak. It sure would tend to avoid the “laying on of hands” too quickly problem.
Central to this is that each one who serves is serving according to the call of the Spirit, and gifting of the Spirit.
And each is forced to defer to the work of the other rather than trying to take on all the work alone.
And each has faith in God to take care of the matters he/she cannot take care of.
No, not a Board of Directors meeting to vote on policy and other operational matters. I think it was more likely a periodic meeting to exhort and encourage one another, and to share with one another what each was doing, and to see in the process if new people should be recognized publicly.
I once issued a challenge to the six Board members of a church, and to the pastor. This church was then in conflict over what the pastor was, or was not, doing.
I asked each Board member and the pastor to come to a meeting and to bring a list of all the things which they felt the church ought to be doing. We then filled a black-board with their lists.
At that point, I turned to the pastor and asked him to remain silent. I then asked the six to prepare a list of what they believed the pastor, and only the pastor, could do. The list, on the first draft, would have been too much for the Lord, so some time was spent paring it down to a size that would allow the pastor to be father, husband, involved in day to day affairs of life, and have leisure. Important here is that the six had total unity with the final product.
I then returned to the pastor, and asked him to accept, reject, or ask for discussion on the list. But I first gave him some advice: “If you do not like the list, maybe the Lord has another place for you, and another pastor for here, as these leaders are in unity. If that is the case, step off the cliff of faith, and trust God to provide for your future while the church seeks its new pastor.”
Well, he accepted the list without hesitation, saying that the things really were the things he enjoyed and felt called to do.
I then turned back to the six, and said, “Now, let’s type the rest of these things from the board onto paper, and make copies for all members of the congregation. Let’s then ask any member who wants to take an item for their ministry to volunteer (subject to a check of the Spirit, call, gifts, and understanding). Yes, we are going to display trust in the Holy Spirit to work through common clay pots. Those items taken by members will be stricken from the list, and the remainder of the list laid on the alter for God to handle. Yes, we are going to trust sovereign God to be sovereign.”
Well, they thought that was the greatest idea they had ever heard — until I suggested that servant leaders lead by example, and asked each one of them to take one or two items from the list.
Three dove for the list in excitement to serve in a manner other than as a member of a Corporate Board of Directors.
Three showed what had been the true conflict within the church: some who wanted to rule rather than serve, some who had no trust in the Holy Spirit, some who had no trust in the Lord, some who were committed to the appearances of the church ratherthan to being the Lord’s common clay pot.
In conclusion, I give you a model. I firmly believe that if we were to function in this manner — an organism and not an organization — the level of conflict in the church would plummet. I also believe the world would beat a path to our doors.
However, by now you should be well aware that I think a bit strange.
“And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will raise up the age-old foundation; and you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell.” Isaiah 58:12
There is a fourth way in which we find ourselves in conflict: we see people we love, people we care for — friends, relatives, neighbors, others beside us at work — who are in conflict. And our heart aches.
We have just become a part of their conflict, like it or not. We have become a part of their conflict because God’s Spirit has just quickened us to another who is in need.
Now, the questions are but two:
(1) Will we be obey the Spirit and intervene?
(2) If we decide to intervene, what do we do?
We answer question #1 affirmatively by casting aside fear, and stepping in (sometimes called “dying to self”). It is an act of faith, done out of love for Him Who loved us.
It is done not in the thought that we have the answers, but that we know Who does. It is done in the belief that He will work through us if we allow Him.
We answer question #2 by surrender of ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit within parameters of the Law of God.
Before giving further guidance, let me question a standard Biblical translation as a way of making a point.
I used to call me seminars on conflict resolution, “Peacemaker Training Programs.” Two verses were the key to the title: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” Matt. 5:9, and “the seed, the fruit of which is righteousness, is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Jas. 3:18.
However, since early in 1982, in addition to teaching, I have also been involved in the effort to make peace between people in conflicts. And I have discovered that I cannot make peace between others.
That knowledge sent me to a concordance and dictionary. I discovered something interesting.
The Greek word in Matt. 5:9 and Jas. 3:18 which is translated as “make,” is poieo. It is used 566 times in the New Testament, and is translated into 84 different English words.
However, except for Matt. 5:9 and Jas. 3:18, all the times that poieo is used to designate the effectuating of an inner change in a human being of free will, it is not man who is working, but rather God, Christ, The Word, or The Spirit. In fact, relative to peace, the Bible says of Christ:
“For He Himself is our peace, Who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall by abolishing in His flesh the enmity (which is the law of commandments contained in ordinances) that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.” (Eph. 2:14-15)
So, I started looking at other translations of poieo.
In 384 instances, poieo was translated: act or acting, bearing, bringing, committing, giving, offering, performing, practicing, showing, treating, and do, does, did, done, doing!
“Blessed are those who bring, act out, give, offer, perform, practice, show, and do peace, for they shall be called sons of God.”
I like that better. And that frees me! If I must make peace between others whom I cannot control — and I cannot control them — then I will fear to become involved. Or I will strive to dominate and to control them if I do become involved. I will get angry if they do not respond thereby failing to show love and peace. I will blame myself and very likely become defeated or depressed if unsuccessful.
But if it is not my job to make peace, but merely to live peace and present peace and do those things of peace which God asks of me, in the manner He asks, then I can get involved. I do not need to control, to see fruit. I don’t need to be discouraged if things don’t seem to work out.
It is His job to break down the walls, and it is His fruit, in His season, for His glory, from the seeds which I merely sow.
I want you to get involved in helping others who are in conflict. It is one of the two reasons for writing this book. I hope that this little word study helps encourage you to jump in, fears and all, knowing that He is always there, working with and through you.
“And behold, two of them (disciples of Christ) were going that very day (the first Easter Sunday) to a village named Emmaus, which is about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were conversing with each other about all things which had taken place. And it came about that while they were conversing and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them.” Luke 24:13-15
How does one “present” peace?
The first thing you have to be, not do, is be aware of the needs of others. People in need will pass you on many occasions. The Christ within you sees their needs, and you may be the one He wants to minister on His behalf, at that moment. However, if you are so wrapped up in self that you see nothing, the ministry goes undone. Cultivate awareness!
Step two is to do an intervention — jump in. As long as you hang back, turn away, look down at the ground, or whatever, the ministry goes undone. You have to get involved. Right then the fear sets in, which is why I wanted you to see that He is the Minister, not you; He is the Peacemaker, not you; you are just a vessel entering into the life of another.
I can think of three different examples from the Bible:
In the Book of Job, we discover Job’s three friends; I mentioned them before. They never gave any thought to the matter of whether or not Job would receive them.
May we all, when in the pit, have friends like Job had!
A second example is David’s prophet, Nathan, who boldly walked up to the king (that is the guy with the sword, by the way, and with the power to swing it and get away with it as well) and said, “King, I hate to say this, but you are in deep do-do.”
May we all have a friend like Nathan when we are standing in a pile of do-do that we created.
And, there are the actions of our Lord Jesus as set forth on the Road to Emmaus. His intervention was to leave whatever else He was doing (talking to Mary in the garden), and run down the dusty road after two disciples who were dropping out. Then, when He caught up with them, He walked silently with them for awhile.
You see, when people are in the pit, they are also frightened. They fear you may hurt them. So they don’t always talk readily; you have to form a relationship first.
Job’s friends reestablished relationship as they sat; the Lord established relationship as He walked along side. You may form your relationship over cups of coffee, or playing golf, or fishing, or any of other myriad ways to enter into the life of another. But form a relationship you must.
It is not that you must make them think you are interested — you must be interested. They, and their needs, must have become center stage for this time in your life. Your schedule and agenda must be set aside.
Step 3 is where you get a conversation going.
Do you see where, so far, you are doing small acts of faith that can not possibly have cost you anything?
Now, what do you think was the condition of the two men on the road to Emmaus that morning? Maybe confused, disillusioned, angry, frightened that they were the next ones for the cross? Maybe every one of those emotions, and more. They were, in a word, in deep conflict.
Often times when people are in conflict, they close others out. Depression results. They won’t talk. You need to prime the pump. So you start a conversation, trying to get them to speak.
Many people tell me they lack the talent to ask the “penetrating questions” that a lawyer, pastor, counselor, psychiatrist, might ask to draw people out. Look at Luke 24:17 and 19 to see the two very brilliant and insightful questions asked by the Lord to the two who were so confused that they could not even recognize the man with Whom they had just spent three years:
(V. 17) “What are you talking about?”
(V. 19) “No, what things happened?”
It does not take brilliance; merely genuine interest.
Step 4 takes place after they start talking — you shut up and listen! If you keep interrupting, since you think you know what is or is not important and relevant, they will see you as having an agenda, as lacking true interest, as a prosecutor examining them. Just listen. You can go back later, with questions, to help get clarity.
But, let me warn you, people in conflict tend to weave a tortuous path in explaining what is going on. You are going to want to “get on with it.” If you jump in with your questions, you say to them, “I am not really interested; I have an agenda; I have a time table to stick to.”
It changes conversation into an inquisition.
Be mindful, at this point, of one possibility: as the person discloses who the conflict is with, it may be right to stop all conversation, ask him if he has gone to the other person about his complaint, and/or maybe take him by the hand and go that very moment.
That is an interesting way to show up at one’s door — with another with whom he/she is in conflict, saying you know nothing but that conflict exists and that you want to help. It could break down barriers which would otherwise result from your getting many details from the first party alone.
But I somewhat digress, and we spoke to some of this earlier.
When listening to a person in conflict, or two or more at once, how do you listen, and what do you listen for?
When I begin, I begin in silent prayer:
“Lord, I am stupid. My ways are not your ways. I have no knowledge of truth, only that You are truth and You are here with us. So, Lord, you gotta help. You have to let me know what it is that is important, from Your vantage point. Finally, Lord, I am willing to do whatever You ask of me in this situation, at this moment and in the future. Amen.”
I do this actually expecting Him to respond, in His time and way (Matt. 18:19-20).
I make that promise of cooperation because I find that effective peace-presenting often means doing something very tangible: weeping with those who weep, laughing with those who laugh, hugging the un-hugable, and perhaps bringing them home, feeding, clothing, and helping financially.
Or, hardest of all, looking them in the eye and telling them that they have sinned, they need to confess to the other party, they need to forgive the other person, they need to turn away from a charted course or drop a cherished notion.
When I make myself willing to do such things, I know that I will be risking friendship, progress and relationship in the process, so I ask for His help to be bold, yet gentle (speaking the truth in love — Eph. 4:15).
I listen with commitment and expectancy. I also listen with certain presuppositions:
The offended person is the primary solution to his or her problem, rather than the other person in the conflict.
He is made in the image of God and, to the extent that I understand something of God, I can understand how this person, in his depths, was made to behave. For example, someone who has not paid his bills is acting contrary to the image of God in which he was made, for God has honored every word He has ever given.
He has knowledge of God, and that means he can receive godly instruction; I do not have to instruct from the world’s viewpoint.
I know that I do things I don’t want to do, and do not do the things I want to do (Rom. 7:14-24); I cry out to God over these things in the middle of the night. And I know that this person cries out in the dark of the night the same way. That cry in the night is what the Lord wants me to hear, touch, and minister to, above all else.
Then, as I listen, I take all that I hear and run it through my knowledge of Scripture and through my knowledge of life, my life experiences.
I am listening for the thing which does not line up with God’s plumb-line. I am listening for a discordant note, fingernails on the blackboard, the thing which is out of synch. That is something the Lord wants addressed.
I listen carefully for his expressions of his feelings. His feelings are as real to him as a rock, and he tends to cling to them just as hard. Yet, feelings can be very sinful: anger, bitterness, resentment, for examples. Feelings are things the Lord wants to bring under His lordship.
* * * * *
One day a lady called, and before I could say more than hello, she launched into a five minute story, telling of six lawsuits she was going to file. I broke in, and gently said that I heard a great deal of anger and bitterness in her voice.
She replied, “You are right, and I am entitled! My husband got $3,500 more than I did in the divorce, three years ago.”
I asked her if she was happy feeling this way, and if she thought God was happy she felt this way.
She began to weep. You know, no one had ever asked her that before.
That opened the door to ministry, and within three days the anger and bitterness were gone.
* * * * *
I am listening for the facts of the case, true, but far more for the facts of his/her behavior (his/her actions and inactions, not the actions and inactions of the other party), for the other party may never enter into the Lord’s process. But the one to whom I am talking can still be helped to see his own responsibilities in the matter, and to make his peace with God, self, and, just maybe, the other.
I am listening for who are all the people that need to be involved if total healing is to take place. In a business dispute between partners, the spouses are often critical parties to the conflict. Left out, they will undermine any progress. Parents or children of people in marital or family strife may be critical to the process.
Within this list of people, there are also God’s peace-bringers and Satan’s destroyers. They are present in the guise of “counselors.” They may be a pastor, lawyer, counselor, next-door neighbor, fellow worker, man at the pub. They are the others to whom this person is talking and from whom he/she is getting advice. They are people who represent a degree of authority over the one in conflict. Left out of the process, these other people can cause double-mindedness and worse. Brought in to the process, and limiting who they are, offers the Lord the opportunity to bring unity to all counselors so that the counselors can give a united Word to the people in need.
Then, I listen for complaints — of soul as well as finances.
I listen to determine what this person’s connection is to God and others at the moment. Where is he in his spiritual life; is he in church; in study of the Word; in prayer; what prayers; united in family; at peace with employer for example.
And I want to know if he/she know Jesus as Lord and Savior.
As I listen, I try to stay totally open; I do not want or need to form any conclusions about the conflict.
I can, and do, form conclusions about this person, and I test these conclusions as time goes on with questions and comments, confirming or rejecting the tentative conclusions. I know that learning is an evolutionary process.
Since I am a vessel, and not a judge, I need not form conclusions about the case (as opposed to conclusions about this person and his actions) until I have the parties face to face in the Matt. 18:16 setting, with other witnesses present.
And I listen for where they are in the Lord’s process at the moment, Matt. 5; Matt. 18; I Cor. 5; I Cor. 6. Has he spoken to the other person? When? Who was present? Has there been gossip? Has a law suit been filed? Is any Church involved?
Once I have a good solid grip on what is taking place in this person’s life — all aspects of that life — I can begin to minister to him.
I may be able to begin to minister before I have complete understanding, if I am very cautious; but beware of trying to minister before he has poured out his story, his complaints and excuses. You may drive him away by displaying lack of interest.
Moreover, I try to keep in mind that every complaint he has which is not laid out on the table — and every excuse he has for his own wrong behaviors or emotions — are like sticks of dynamite inside of him, with fuses lit, waiting to blow everything apart again.
But, you ask, how do I know what it is that the Lord wants me to speak to this person about, let alone how to say what it is He wants said?
It is not as hard as you may think; let me show you.
* * * * *
The lady came to me because her husband had filed for divorce, and she wanted to be reconciled.
She talked about the wonderful home in which she grew up. She told of accepting Jesus at the age of eight, and re-dedicating her life to Him when 15.
I really thought to myself: “We should all be so fortunate as to be raised in such an environment, and to know the Lord so early.”
I asked her how she met her husband.
She said she was at a bar.
Did you just hear fingernails on a blackboard? Did the Lord just tell you all is not what it seems?
I asked what she knew of her husband before the marriage.
She said she knew he had been married and divorced, and had a child out of wedlock.
Hear some more fingernails?
I asked her what her family thought of the proposed marriage.
She said that she never spoke to them about it; she merely eloped.
She mentioned that they flew to Hawaii to be married. I asked her what the Lord was saying to her on the airplane. “Don’t do it,” she cried.
* * * * *
Let’s not worry too much about reconciling the marriage for the moment; let’s consider what God wants her to understand about herself.
Let’s consider what unmet inner needs which she had — needs only God could meet — drove her to seek answers in a man who did not represent God’s standards for her marriage.
That is as much an offering of peace as is working on the husband to come back into the marriage.
And if she becomes more the woman God wants her to be, that is probably the best bet on getting the husband to consider coming back.
“But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.”
Why did they not recognize Christ? Was God dabbling with their eyes? Were they so fearful that anyone coming from Jerusalem was likely part of the lynch mob so they kept their eyes averted when He pulled up alongside? Was confusion and despair so great that their heads were downcast, feet kicking at the stones, as they walked and talked, so, again, they never looked up into the face of the Lord?
Maybe all of those things were true. But I find that people in conflict do not think Christ has anything to do with their conflict, or that He can offer any help. They often think only the lawyers and the law can help.
“And He said to them, ‘O Foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning with Moses and all of the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all Scriptures.” Luke 24:25-27
What do you give to people in conflict?
Give them Jesus — His Person, His reason for coming to us, His Words, His faith, hope, trust and expectancy towards the Father.
And you give them His Word.
Look at the following portions of the “Psalm of the Law” — Psalm 119:
(24) “Thy testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors.”
(45) “I will walk at liberty for I seek Your precepts.”
(52) “I have remembered Thine ordinances from of old, O Lord, and comfort myself.”
(98) “Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies.”
(99) “I have more insight than my teachers.”
(100) “I understand more than the aged.”
(130) “The unfolding of Thy words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”
(142) “Thy Law is truth.”
(160) “Every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting.”
(165) “Those who love Thy law have great peace.”
Notice all of the things which flow from God’s Word. And notice that you do not attempt to give them things of the world. Psychological theories are of no value; the fact of the resurrected Christ, and His Word, are of value.
Teach them who they are in Christ and what that means.
Teach them of the power of the Spirit to transform as we yield ourselves, with action-verb-faith, to His guidance.
Notice that you can not be remotely effective if the Word of God is not alive and well within you. Where are you in personal prayer, study, and meditation of the Word? Have you got some active sin in your life at the moment which needs to be confessed? How do you stand with forgiving others what they have done to you?
As I begin to work with a person who is in conflict, there are some things which I know about this process which, as it is appropriate to disclose, I want them to know.
First, and simplest, is that we are here to please God. That means we — party and peace-actor alike — are to be constantly seeking what it is that God wants us to do in our lives at this moment, relative to this conflict. If any one of the people involved determines this, and, in loving obedience does what is requested, then God is glorified.
Nothing else concerning outcome of the conflict is of any meaning. The parties might resolve the conflict, seeing God’s process as cheaper or faster, but suffer no change or impact of the heart. In such a case, God receives no glory. Also, one party, by his obedience, might have his life transformed by the process, yet not see a resolution of the conflict. He may even suffer great loss. But God has been glorified in that situation.
It is also important that I let the parties know how I will function in their conflict.
For example, I will not tolerate continued slander and gossip. The first time we talk about the conflict, I expect it and deal with such matters by not logging what is being said in my brain. But if they continue, it displays an attitude of heart that needs to be confronted with God’s light of correction, the Bible. I want them to know that I expect them to reach the point where they confess their faults to the other party — without any commitment from the other in advance — and forgive the other his faults; again, without advance commitment.
I also want them to know that I will be talking with them individually, as well as jointly, and that when I am working with them individually it is to address matters of their individual confession and forgiveness which may be needed, not to discuss the sins of the missing party.
Then, I want them to know that I will be asking others in to help in this process: friends, family, relatives, business associates, members of church — and that I expect them to stop “counseling” with others who do not become a part of the process. If they have an attorney, professional counselor, or pastor involved, for example, these people must become a part of the team, or the client must make a choice concerning whom they will work with. Double-mindedness must be avoided.
This means that we must also discuss the matter of confidentiality.
Once a person’s conflict enters the Matt. 18:16 stage, confidentiality, as the world understands it, ends.
If I need to share with Sam something I have learned about Joe — not a sin, but an area of need in life — so that Sam might gain empathy with Joe, then I may (not must; Spirit leads) share.
If I need to let an outsider know that Sam and Joe are in a conflict, and ask for the outsider to join in the process, then I may speak to them and invite them in.
If I need to draw in the leadership of Sam’s church, because Sam is not listening and needs the loving corrective discipline of the Body, then I may ask the church leadership to get involved.
The world’s process of mediation is different than God’s process of peace making. Mediators of the world consider themselves to be neutral and non-directive. Peacemakers are neither. Peacemakers are on the Lord’s side, which means they are not neutral. As to the parties, they are impartial; but they are not neutral.
In addition, peacemakers are highly directive; they tell people what the Word of God says about their behavior and attitudes, and invite — not order — them to a path of obedience.
Since God spreads His gifts among His people in abundant and diverse ways, and since those gifts are multiplied when several are working together, the first peacemaker on the scene should try to quickly get others involved. In fact, if the party wanting help refuses to let others get involved, the peace-maker must seriously consider withdrawing, at least for “a season.”
As the team is assembled, the peacemaker wants the team to spend time together, meeting one another, discovering their gifts and how they are being united for God’s purpose in this case. The peacemaker wants the team to have a relationship that is solid, for that will display to the parties what they, the parties, need to develop: unity.
Every meeting the team has with the parties — individually or jointly — needs to be preceded by a team meeting for prayer and development of process. I have found it a waste of time to try to devise step #2 until after step #1 has been taken, for it seems that as soon as step #1 is taken, the Holy Spirit starts re-directing towards His path; if I have already chosen a path, I may take mine instead of His, to great disaster.
Another thing which I want the parties to know is that since I will be sacrificing my time and emotions, I expect them to do likewise. I want to move rapidly at the start; it helps evidence my concern and interest.
Also, since I will be in prayer and study about their situation, I expect them to be in prayer and study as well. In fact, I often assign homework on points that they need to understand. That homework helps define their level of commitment to a process, general biblical knowledge, and openness to hear God’s Spirit speaking to them.
There are also some things which I need to be.
I must be an encourager and exhorter of movement towards resolution of the conflict and reconciliation of the relationship. Sometimes that means holding someone’s hand and walking with him or her to the door of the other person.
I need to encourage openness and honesty, and praise every small and hesitant step taken by any party at any time. Celebration is important in peace making!
Since I want to invite them to be loving, forgiving, confessing, I will share my personal failures and defeats. One excellent way to teach spiritual principles is to demonstrate those principles in one’s own life (II Cor. 1:3-4).
In fact, I have discovered that effective peace making seems to hinge on two things: boldness in confronting people with the Word (teaching right behavior and admonishing wrong behavior), and being vulnerable (in time, emotions, finances, and sharing of my own past).
If a peacemaker sits on one side of the table, and withholds all that he himself is from the process — as seems to be the world’s way for the professional counselor — he has no reason to expect the party to become vulnerable, take risks, be open or demonstrative.
The peacemaker should be, after all, as Christ was in the flesh — compassionate, available, selfless, vulnerable, hopeful, expectant.
We are to incarnate God into the conflict — sometimes by hugging a person who sees himself as unlovable.
In short, a peacemaker does not just swoop in, listen, and spout forth the Word; he gets involved in relationship with the ones in need. He walks with them, weeps with them, rejoices with them.
When I see people in conflict, and they pour out their story, I have a very bad habit; I often start grinning and laughing and shouting!
You see, I am expectant and I want them to know that I am, and why I am!
I know God lives and performs miracles and I am inwardly wondering what He is going to pull off this time!
I know there is no condemnation for the past failures of these people to behave rightly (Rom. 8:1).
I know that if they choose to follow according to His purpose and deal with those failures of the past then He will be glorified (Rom. 8:28).
I know that if any of us — party or peacemaker — goofs tomorrow as to what God would have us do, that still will not separate us from His love (Rom. 8:38-39).
That is expectancy! And I have great hope.
I may not know what will happen from any act of obedience — other than the fact that God will be glorified — but I know that life will be better for me because I chose to be obedient, and better for all those I touch as a result.
People often say, “It’s too late; I’ve blown it too bad; there is no way to overcome the great harm caused.”
But I know that God does make up to us — albeit often with only inner peace — for the wasted years the locust have eaten (Joel 2:25).
So I try to give hope, but not the false hope of the world. I do not give any hope that obedience will bring instantaneous reward with no possible adverse effects. There are a lot of saints referred to in the later verses of Heb. 11 who never received the promise during life. But I try to give a true hope — hope in Him Who judges righteously (I Pet. 2:23).
As I meet with the parties individually, there are some things I am seeking to accomplish in them.
I want them to see options.
I want them to lessen their defensiveness.
I want them to learn how to confront in love, and how to receive confrontation that is not given in love.
I want them to increase in their understanding of themselves, and in understanding of the other. I want them to stop posturing, and advocating their own position and become other-person centered. I want to help them clean up their story — get rid of the judgmental, condemning, and angry words. I want them to examine their motives, actions, attitudes, feelings.
But, most importantly, I want to prepare them to confess, receive confession, forgive and receive forgiveness.
Breakthrough in conflict resolution follows immediately after any of these events — confession and/or forgiveness — take place.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I Jn. 1:9
We have earlier looked at forgiveness; now a look at confession.
I cannot confess for another, and I cannot forgive for another; these are things each must do for himself.
But if I must confess to another that I fell asleep and ran the stop sign — maiming them in the process, even far beyond my insurance coverage — that I can do and, before God, must do, regardless of the consequences.
And if a person has failed to pay me the $5,000 owed, and I am to forgive him his sin of breaking his vow, and seek to discover his burdens, and offer to bear his burdens — that also I can, and before God must, do.
I know these things; the question is, how do I transmit what I know, including the joy that comes from obedience, to the parties in this conflict? Let’s look at some Biblical principles relative to confession, as we looked at forgiveness earlier.
“He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper; but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” (Prov. 28:13)
John preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk. 1:4) so that people might receive Him Who was yet to come. People in conflict need Jesus Christ in a bold new way. The open door to Him is always confession and repentance, turning the other way.
But our confession must be more than to God.
When another has been harmed or offended by our sin, we need to confess to them, as well: “Confess your faults, one to another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed,” Jas. 5:16. We need to be healed, regardless of what happens in the conflict.
If we will not confess to those we offend, then we will never be able to “stand in the presence of our enemies as we will have matters under the ban in our midst.” Joshua 7:13
And so, in short, the role of the peace-bringer is nothing more than helping a person see his actions and attitudes in light of Jesus Christ and Scripture, bring him to confess his faults and to forgive the faults of the other, and then walk with him as he works it out in fear and trembling.
Once that has happened — the Word of Truth has been spoken into the conflict — the peace-bringer steps back and awaits the work of the Word upon the hearts of the parties. The “word” falls onto the ground of the hearts of the parties. Several things may happen.
(1) It may fall upon hard hearts, be trampled, or eaten by the birds. The conflict will remain.
(2) It may fall on rocky soil, spring up, but wither at first heat. Maybe the witnesses left too early. Maybe they needed to continue with the parties, watering with additional Word, or doing acts of peace.
(3) It may fall in the weeds, and get choked out. It may be that the witnesses needed to sacrificially bear a burden which would remove the weeds and allow growth.
(4) It may fall on good ground in the heart of one. That one then does the justice which the Lord asks of him (not what witnesses tell him or need even suggest to him).
Note that God made peace within the one party not the witnesses.
(5) It may fall upon good ground in both hearts so that they come back together in a shared humility before the Lord. They will then be able to determine what to do with the conflict. One thing they might do with the conflict would be to ask someone to tell them what to do (I Cor. 6:5, arbitrate) while they get on with important matters, like playing golf together.
Note, God resolved the conflict (mediated) not the witnesses.
(6) It may fall and lay dormant for years, and later produce fruit which the witnesses never see.
Based upon whatever happens, witnesses may shake the dust, tell it to the church, applaud the work of the Lord, or weep for the hardened heart. But in all instances, God receives glory, because someone did His will — witness and/or one of the parties to the conflict.
And note that no one was asked to negotiate or compromise anything in the process, merely to listen to truth.
This whole process may be summarized thusly:
How to know what is going on:
Hear them, and hear the Lord.
What to seek from each party:
Confession of his faults and
forgiveness of the other’s faults.
How do you lead people to this:
Pour out yourself, pour in the Word.
A man by the name of Tim Lautzenheiser said it all this way:
“Shalom can be realized if you:
“Care more than others think is wise;
“Risk more than others think is safe;
“Dream more than others think is practical;
“And expect more than others think is possible.”
There is one more thing to consider, and that is celebration.
I sometimes think that the entire reason God wants us to walk through this process, and help others along the way, is so that we can have some celebrations to His glory and honor; celebrations which, in turn, encourage others to walk the same paths.
Suddenly, many are walking a new direction. We call that “revival!”
* * * * *
As I heard the stories:
In the early 1960’s, two brothers in a small town in Canada, at war with one another for years, became reconciled and sang a duet at a revival service to the town which had watched them fight so long. That duet launched what is now known as the Western Canadian Revival.
In 1971, a student interrupted a chapel service at Asbury College, testified to how God led he and another to reconciliation, and the Asbury Revival was launched, sweeping through the Bible colleges of the United States.
A woman in a small New England town sees that she must return to Illinois to free a man in prison whom she had falsely accused of crime, and the town sees revival.
A church invites back a former pastor, who had fallen in sexual sin, for a “service of repentance and restoration.” Their carpet is now stained by the grape juice spilled as people who had been divided for years got carried away crying, laughing, hugging and dancing in joy.
* * * * *
Patients return to doctors; businessmen play golf together again; children hug parents and parents hug children; a man, forgiven a large debt, helps reconcile the marriage of his creditor years later (restitution in God’s way and time?).
The stories abound. Yet, we do not follow.
Fear impedes us — fear of the road to the cross, the road of sacrifice for the benefit of the warring parties.
Let me tell you something amazing.
If you should be asked by the Lord to sacrifice in the process of conflict resolution, the grace of God will be such that you will never feel the sacrifice. You will be too busy singing anthems of praise to your Lord and Savior.
I say that because it has happened to me in my life, both as a party to conflict and as peace-maker, when I was called by the Lord to sacrifice.
A closing story from the Bible shows what I mean.
One day, a large group of people came to a boundary fence. They sent 12 spies in who came back with tales of great wealth — and giants. Two of the 12 reminded the people that God had promised them this land, and had said that He would fight the battles for them.
But the people decided upon the “democratic” process, and voted to turn back. As a result, only the two faithful ones entered the promised land. The rest perished in the wilderness.
One day, the children of those who died came to the same border. But they did an amazing thing: they stepped into a flowing river rather than even delay to build a bridge. They were confident; they were sure.
Why the difference? Maybe every night for 40 years, those who were perishing gave testimony to their children, “If God ever gives you a chance, and an order or promise, take Him at His Word. Act!” Even out of defeat, God can get a testimony.
After the children passed through the river, God told them to go back and get 12 rocks. That night, they were to use those rocks to build a monument.
And what was the purpose of the monument?
To inform the next generation that God dried up the waters of the river just as He had done at the Red Sea for an earlier generation. Grace.
To let all of the people of the earth know that the Hand of the Lord (sometimes a simile for the pre-incarnate Christ) was mighty. Power for the living of life.
To help the people, Israel, maintain a right attitude towards God. Law so the darkened mind can know the proper response to the God of love and grace.
In the Book of Joshua, there are many piles of rock. Some, like the rocks of Jericho, resulted from the destruction of a city by the Lord. Some, like those from the river, celebrate another work of the Lord. Sometimes, like after they got beat at Ai (because Achan kept some things which were “under the ban”), to remember the fierceness of the Lord.
The people Israel could hardly move about in the land without stumbling over a pile of rocks as reminders of the greatness of God.
At the close of the Book of Joshua, Joshua gave that famous challenge to the people: “Choose you this day whom you will serve.”
I think we sometimes look at that as a once-in-a-lifetime choice (salvation), but there is also the moment-by-moment choosing, such as in the midst of a conflict.
But then, according to the second chapter of the Book of Judges, all those who had been involved in building the monuments died, and were buried.
There then arose a new generation “who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals.” (Judges 2:10-11)
Each generation gets it’s chance to build in acknowledgment of the Lord, or to try rest on a work of those already dead.
Will you be a builder, or a rester?
What fractured relationships of the past — looking like so much scattered debris — are really little square rocks, waiting to be built into a monument?
Who might be watching you, so that, from your act, they might be revived?
Choose you this day.
And so, what I am I doing today? And what have I seen?
At the end of 1987, Ellen and I felt the Lord saying that we were to step out from the Christian Conciliation Service of Minnesota and make ourselves available, quite literally, to go anywhere at any moment to minister to anyone as He would direct.
Another cliff edge to step off.
We looked at each other, and decided that if we were going to be going hither and yon, it would not matter where we would live. We also decided that if we were going to starve to death, we could do that wherever we chose. So we gave in to our lust to live in southwest Colorado.
But, finances being what they were, we could not afford to buy any existing place, so we became carpenters (and electricians, plumbers, sheetrockers and such) at the age of 47.
We bought a piece of land outside of Durango, Colorado, had a hole dug, and hired the basement to be poured. Then, with some help from each of our sons, we started banging and sawing away.
In the middle of construction, a letter came: “Can you come to Africa in two months to teach at a Bible college?”
We went to Africa.
Actually, that was a good idea. It was winter here, spring there. In Colorado, we had no running water or electricity; we had each, some of the time, in Africa.
The house in Colorado is not finished, but very habitable so long as you listen for the deer and elk so they don’t stampede over you when you take out the wash.
What do we do?
When asked, we work with people locally who are in conflict by helping put teams of peacemakers into place and then shepherding the teams.
When invited, we go to churches which are in internal conflict and live with them for however long they, or the Lord, want us present, trying to minister peace.
I write pamphlets on matters of conflict as I gain additional insight and understanding and as I experience new settings of conflict.
We also teach seminars in prisons for Prison Fellowship, which is a form of the ministry of reconciliation.
I work with Justice Fellowship, a part of Prison Fellowship, and have traveled internationally for Prison Fellowship International. You see, the rules for how we, as a people, ought to establish our juvenile and criminal justice systems are the same as how we should establish processes within the church for other conflicts.
As asked, we conduct conferences for pastors, church leaders, and spouses on the role of leaders relative to conflict.
We conduct seminars for lay Christians on how to deal with conflict and how to help others who are in conflict (the same subject matter as in this book).
In 1994, we spent eight months in Moscow, Russia. There I taught law in two secular universities, together with the principles of Restorative Justice (ministry ofreconciliation in law and legal system; for more, see my book, Restorative Justice: A Primer). I also had some small opportunity to interact with some Russian Christian lawyers about their role as minister of reconciliation within the new legislative system of Russia.
Ellen taught conversational English, developing a course entitled Americana with a strong emphasis on the impact of Christianity in the United States.
In March, 1995, I repeated this course in Minsk, Belarus while also teaching on conflict at a newly formed Bible College. Ellen and I then went to Minsk in September, 1995. We have just completed four years in Minsk, and are taking a sabbatical. Along the way, I have taught in the Czech Republic (Prague), Kazakhstan (Ust-Kamenegorsk), and in the Ukraine (Simferopal).
Beyond that, we await the Lord’s direction.
And, what have we seen?
One final story, spanning, to date, 10 years:
The man called in early 1984, from 100 miles away. His marriage was disintegrating.
Over the next several months, I gave direction and attempted intervention — albeit, less radically than as I would today, for I have learned more along the way.
Note that I start with an admission that all did not proceed at God’s best level, yet fruit came.
This man got so caught up in the ministry of reconciliation that he arranged for me to come to that city in October of 1984, and speak at a Rotary Club luncheon. Then he went out and got eight pastors to attend that luncheon.
At the end of the luncheon, one pastor asked if I would be willing to come speak at his church one Sunday. We scheduled a sermon message for the third Sunday in January, 1985.
In 1981, the then pastor of this church had committed a great sin. But the sin was not unearthed until 1983. The then associate pastor had unearthed it, but, at first, did nothing with his knowledge. Later in 1983, when he was “fired,” he told the elders of what he had learned.
The elders confronted the pastor, who confessed the sin, spoke openly of a long time in his life when he was plagued with sinful thoughts, claimed that this was the only time he had physically fallen and claimed that he had subsequently been delivered from the root sin.
The elders, unsure about how to proceed (this church was, at that time, unaffiliated with any denomination; it lacked, if you will, oversight), sought about for counsel. But while they were doing this, the pastor resigned and fled.
Over the next several months, the congregation divided into three camps: (1) the “how dare you treat a man of God this way” camp; (2) the “how could you let him get away without horse-whipping him out of town” camp; and (3) the “a plague on all of you” camp which left the church.
The church, in diminished size, continued on, although divided down the center aisle with quiet hostility. They called a new pastor, the one who invited me to speak.
During the Christmas season of 1984, the pastor began preaching on forgiveness. On the first Sunday in January, in the midst of the worship service, a couple from the “horse-whipping” side stood to ask if forgiveness extended to the former pastor. Before anyone could respond, they answered their question: they had forgiven him, and had written a letter to him expressing that forgiveness.
Every possible emotion burst forth from the congregation.
The next day, the pastor did the following:
(1) He called the church where the former pastor was now working as an electrician, and where he was being ministered to for his wounds. He found that, in the opinion of the leaders of that church, the pastor was genuinely repentant and could be restored to ministry.
(2) He then spoke with the former pastor and asked if he and his wife would be willing to return and “face the congregation.” The former pastor said that they would, but had no money for the trip.
(3) He then called a couple from the “man of God” camp, and asked if they would be willing to pay for the trip. They agreed.
(4) He contacted the former associate pastor who agreed to write a letter to the church exposing his role in the disclosure-non-disclosure of the matter.
(5) Then he called me and asked if Ellen and I would mind coming one day earlier to help walk them through the issues related to reconciliation. I was overwhelmed with terror; I had only entered this ministry 18 months earlier, had never faced anything like this, and felt totally unequipped, ignorant and inadequate. But we agreed to come.
(6) With all arrangements made, he then let the word out into the community that a reconciliation service was going to be held in two weeks. He even arranged for calls to be made to former members, inviting them to attend, as well as making contact to the victims of the offense.
We arrived Saturday morning, and started into meetings.
The first meeting was with the current pastor, in which we reviewed the letter from the former associate pastor. In that letter, the former associate acknowledged that he had sinned by failing to confront the matter the moment he became aware of it (fear of loss of job), by failing to bring the victims to confront the matter, and by only bringing the matter forth as a way to “get even” for being fired. He was asking forgiveness for his falling short of the mark.
We then met with the former elders and current pastor. As we listened to what they did and did not do in 1983, we were moved by their contrite hearts. Their sin was simply not understanding that God’s Word gave specific directions for how to deal with conflict. They stood willing to ask the congregation for forgiveness for their having fallen short of the mark.
Then we met with the former pastor and wife, the current pastor, and the former elders. At this time, two things took place:
(1) The former pastor spoke openly, and in detail, of his sin in 1981. The Holy Spirit witnessed to all of us that here was a truly repentant heart, and that full disclosure had been made.
(2) The former elders asked forgiveness from the former pastor for their not having followed what the Bible has to say with how to deal with conflict.
We then met with the couple from the “horse-whipping” camp who had, by their testimony in church, launched this day. We asked them if they could see where their persistent, and very vocal, unforgiveness and “positioning” had, in fact, been divisive to the church. They accepted instruction, and agreed to confess that to the congregation the next day, and to seek forgiveness.
We then met with the couple from the “how dare you” camp who had paid for the trip of the former pastor. We also asked them if they could see where their persistent “positioning” had led to division, and we spoke of the need for that to be acknowledged before the congregation. However, they appeared unable to accept this.
Rather than attempt to pressure them, we ended that meeting. We knew God’s truth (rhema) had been spoken, that this couple truly loved the Lord, and that the Holy Spirit was still working in their lives.
The next morning, the pastor of the church began the service with discussion about how the service would proceed. He then acknowledged that Satan would be actively seeking to thwart the service, and, in the name of Christ, exiled Satan from the gathering (note the authority to “bind and loose” granted in Matt. 18:18; this represents one of several implications of that verse). With that, he then led us all into worship for a brief time.
Oh, I should mention that it was standing room only at the church that day. Those who had left 18 months earlier were back, as were a number of local “curiosity seekers.”
The former pastor, with his wife at his side, rose, acknowledged that he had sinned greatly against members of the congregation, that no one except he, himself, bore any blame for his leaving the church, and then he asked the congregation for forgiveness. He did not specify what the sin was, or who the victims were.
The current pastor then rose to tell the congregation of our meeting with the former pastor the day before, and of our having received full, detailed confession with the witness of the Holy Spirit. He then told the congregation that they were being asked, by the Lord, to grant forgiveness on the strength of the witness of the leaders and the movement of the Holy Spirit within them as they listened to the former pastor that morning. He told them that they were not going to have their ears tickled.
The congregation, with one voice, thundered its forgiveness.
The former elders acknowledged their offense and asked forgiveness.
The “horse-whipping” couple acknowledged their offense and asked forgiveness.
And then the “how dare you” couple rose, spoke of their offense, and asked forgiveness!
I then delivered a brief message about what true forgiveness requires.
With that, the current pastor and his wife gave Communion to the former pastor and his wife, thus signifying that they were restored to the ability to minister as God might grant them opportunity.
The former pastor and his wife then turned and delivered Communion, one by one, to each person present.
While this was taking place, the grape juice got spilled all over the front of the sanctuary, as people hugged, and wept, and laughed, and praised God. I watched the elders get down on their knees, with rags, to try to wipe the spots off the new beige carpet. I found myself rising and, in front of everyone, asking them to stop. “This is your monument,” I said. “If anyone ever asks you why you have a dirty carpet, tell the story.”
No, this is not the end of the story.
Later in 1985, because of the word of reconciliation having gone out into the community, we returned to conduct a weekend seminar. Over 50 people, from three towns and seven churches, attended.
Who knows what fruit may have come from that.
Later, in 1989, that church supported Ellen and me going to Africa to teach Nigerian and Cameroonian pastors on the ministry of reconciliation.
And, while in Africa, I know of several reconciliations which we assisted the Lord in bringing about, including one written earlier in this book.
Late in 1989, this church had a new conflict. As a result, a new pastor arrived.
The day he arrived, we also arrived, a fact unknown to all except the Lord.
Coincidence? Or a miracle in which the Lord remained anonymous? I guess it depends on your view.
After the worship service, I took the new pastor down to the front of the sanctuary, got him down on his knees, and pointed out the stains. We then sat there as I told him the story.
The new pastor, armed with the hope of the story, ministered reconciliation to that church over the ensuing months.
No, this is still not the end.
In the spring of 1990, at the instance of the new pastor, we were asked to teach the principles of reconciliation to a group of 25 pastors and wives.
While teaching them, I asked, at the mid-point, if they could share with us some of the things they might be currently struggling with.
After a pause of significant duration (We really do not want to let people know that we are having troubles, do we? Particularly our peers), a pastor’s wife quietly spoke of the fact that she was in conflict with two of the pastors who were present in the room, and had been for over two years without resolution!
Once again, I was struck with terror. I was standing with my back to a window, three stories up in the air, and no way out of the room except by going through the group.
And the two men she named were the ones who had invited us, and would be signing the check for our teaching!
So, I proceeded to discuss the generic concept which she raised, a not uncommon church leadership type of conflict. That bought me 15 minutes. But, then, I had to take the plunge.
Turning to the two men, I first acknowledged that I had no authority among them, and would only proceed with their approval. Then I offered our help, if they desired.
To their credit, they did not make a decision on the spot. Instead, they spent timetogether in counsel and prayer. Later that night, they asked for our help.
The next day, we had a meeting of the three principles, the husband of the lady, Ellen and I, another pastor (whom the leaders had asked to be present) and another pastor’s wife (whom the lady had asked to participate). At the end of several hours, the conflict was resolved, and relationships healed.
Then, just as it looked so good, the Lord divulged another conflict, this time between two of the men in the room. Back to the reconciliation process and, again, the Lord brought healing.
And, no, this is not the end.
In the fall of 1990, through the efforts of those pastors, we did a seminar for 205 people, from 17 churches and 5 states.
One of the things which we do in our seminars is a role-play of a conflict. In this instance, the lady we picked at random to play “Mary”, in the middle of the conflict, blurted out: “But, if I do forgive him, that means I can’t be angry at him any more, doesn’t it.”
Now, I expect that people doing this role-play may let a piece of themselves out unintentionally. Mentally, I asked myself: “And where did that come from?”
By the time we got back to Colorado, there was a letter waiting from her. It seemed that she went home that night and asked the Lord where her comment had come from. He pointed her back to her husband having divorced her 35 years earlier. She went the next morning (instead of going to church, for it was Sunday [see Matt. 5:23-24]) to her former husband, and asked his forgiveness for her anger and bitterness. She found forgiveness and healing.
No, it is still not over.
A man not of the host church or of the group of sponsoring churches, happened to live only one block from the location of the seminar. In light of his occupation — a probation officer — he thought the seminar might be of benefit.
He was also a member of a church in the area which was in great inner turmoil.
The day after we arrived home, we got a call from the pastor of that church: could we turn back and come help them. After some discussion, it was decided that I would return January 2, 1991 and that I should start by doing the same seminar on the 3rd, 4th and 5th.
While that was what was decided, it was only because it was what the pastor wanted. I told him it would never work: last weekend of the Christmas vacation, nobody will come, it’s not the normal way I approach church conflicts, and so forth.
Fortunately, the pastor was hearing the Holy Spirit, and I was willing to concede to the pastor. Over 100 members of the church attended, and the annual business meeting, January 17th, turned into a praise celebration, rather than a war.
And that is still not the end.
Then, in March of 1991, that church hosted a conference for church leaders from other churches and other denominations. The word of reconciliation was spread further.
And, although the story appears to have now ended, I know it has, in fact, not ended.
What other fruit has come from this simple matter of one man calling for help? I don’t know. Often, God does not let us know all that results from our faithfulness lest we become big of head.
But I know fruit continues to come forth, for His Word promises that It will not return void.
But I regret to say that the wife of the man who first called eventually divorced him. That seems strange, doesn’t it?
[Mr. Bontrager is available for speaking, teaching, and technical assistance to churches, Christian colleges, ministries and businesses on resolving conflict biblically.
He has also written Restorative Justice: A Primer, which reviews the development of American law and legal system, the major components of the law, all with a biblical comparison suggesting the ability of law and system to offer to participants reconciliation and restoration through conflict.
He also has a number of pamphlets on various aspects of conflicts, and matters of law and justice, not addressed directly in this book.
Finally, there is available The Lawyer As Minister, a booklet written for Christian lawyers who wish to incorporate biblical peace-making into their daily practice of law.]