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William D. Bontrager, J.D.

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO. 81326




If you have read [Reconsidering and Redefining Justice and Man's Legal Concepts Compared To Biblical Concepts], then I hope you will be able to see that what follows is the Old Testament concept of restorative justice fleshed out in the New Testament. This paper will be a broad brush overview of the process, linked to other papers to flesh out the details.

What I am going to explore here is based upon some basic assumptions:

(1) Underlying most conflicts between people are acts of sin (Jas. 4:1-3) -- whether done to create the conflict or done in response to the eruption of the conflict;

(2) Each party involved has, in all probability, been guilty of sin relative to the conflict in either of both of those ways;

(3) Attempting to resolve the "commercial" aspects of a conflict without first addressing the "sin" aspects is very often counter-productive; and,

(4) Not addressing the sin aspect of the conflict is not honoring God or His process for dealing with conflict.

I accept the propositions that, in any given conflict: (1) sin may not be involved; (2) only one may have sinned; and (3) addressing the "commercial" aspects of the conflict may be necessary to gain the credibility to be able to address the "sin" aspect, or some other stumbling block to addressing sins. It is just that while I accept these thoughts, I generally start with the alternative concept in my mind.

I also acknowledge that I call "sin", acts others may see as: (1) resulting from ignorance; (2) justified actions in response to actions of others; or, (3) simple slight failure to follow precise process. But I believe God takes a far more serious approach to sin then we do.

Let's then consider God's process for dealing with conflict.

I do, to Sam, an act which is wrong before God -- an act which lacks love -- a sin. A conflict now exists between Sam and I.

The first step for Sam to take is in Pro. 19:11: "A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression." That is, Sam needs to look directly at my act, name it for what it was -- sin -- acknowledge to himself that it hurt, and then make a decision: "Do I confront Bill on this, or overlook it?"

There are at least three situations in which Sam should confront: (1) when he sees this as a pattern in my life of hurting others or hurting self; (2) when the Holy Spirit tells Sam to come speak to me; and (3) when he wakes up one morning and realizes that he has broken relationship with me because of what I did. Otherwise, Sam can "overlook", which has the idea of total erasure from the mind, unconditional forgiveness, and continuing in relationship with me as beforehand.

Sam might consider this as he considers whether to confront: "I do dumb stupid things that hurt people, things which I hope people could overlook and continue to go fishing with me. This looks like one of those things by Bill, so I will do unto him as I wish others would do unto me."

But let us assume that the matter needs to be confronted. What insights do Scripture provide for us? I will start with a contrast to man's ideas.

In the United States, litigation seems to be our first thought when we find ourselves in conflict. Unfortunately, Christians, and Christian organizations, practice this as frequently as do the non-professing people. For more on the issue of litigation, see [MAY WE SUE? SHALL WE SUE? WHOM MAY WE SUE?]

When we consider alternative ways to resolve conflict, we look at the ideas within arbitration, mediation, conciliation, and negotiation. Black's Law Dictionary, 5th Edition, defines these terms as follows:

"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."

Inherent in arbitration is a judgment. It also means force will be used. The inner peace (or it's lack) in the parties at the end of the process is of no concern to the process any more than it is in litigation. It is advocated as an option because it may be less expensive. Arbitration most often involves attorneys, and the process is almost as fully adversarial as is litigation. My experience is that people leave the process as disillusioned about justice as do those who litigate.

"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 an intermediary (neutral party)."

Inherent in mediation is resolution of the conflict, but without worrying about doing anything positive for the relationship of the parties. Lawyers are less often involved and the parties get to face one another more often than in either arbitration or litigation. Mediation is advocated as a way to give the parties some "ownership" of process and results. It is believed that greater ownership equals greater inner peace. But this is not necessarily true. Many people have complained to me that the mediator was unwilling to discuss the things most meaningful to me, and that the mediator over-powered their will to insert his or her own will for the outcome of the conflict.

"Conciliation: The adjustment and settlement of a dispute in a friendly, non-antagonistic manner. Used in courts before trial with a view towards avoiding trial."

Face-to-face is the norm in conciliation, and the sense of ownership of the process and outcome can be very high. However, the focus is still on resolution of the conflict, and not on restoration of a relationship.

"Negotiation is a process of submission and consideration of offers until an 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."

In the U.S., negotiation is almost always carried on by attorneys; seldom do the parties get to meet face-to-face. Resolution of the conflict takes center stage rather than issues of relationship. Inner-peace is often not present at the end of the process, primarily because the parties did not get to face each other and speak the deeper issues of their hearts.

I want to suggest another option -- an option which, I believe, should be always first: communication with, as necessary, the help of mutually selected people. I do this because the following terms which are important to God are missing from the 4 earlier definitions: sin; truth; justice; mercy; faithfulness; confession; forgiveness; reconciliation; and restoration to community.

In comparison to words of law, God gives us in Scripture a process which we are to follow when in conflict. This is found in Matt. 5:23-26, 18:15-17, with an addendum in I Cor. 6:5.

Matt. 5:23-26 "If you are in church, and suddenly realize that another person thinks you have done some wrong, leave the church at once (even in the middle of the service), without making an offering. Go find this person. Try to reconcile, recognizing at the start that you may need to change as much as you expect the other person to change. Come back to the church after this is done. And if you are on the way to a court, settle -- give the person whatever they want -- for the court process of man might become a prison for you."

God sees reconciliation as more important than attending worship service or making an offering. It is reconciliation rather than resolution of the conflict which is stressed. God also warns us that the adversarial legal processes can imprison us -- a prison of anger, bitterness, confusion and disillusionment, among other possibilities. So He encourages communication.

It is also interesting that the Greek word for "reconcile" in verse 24 contemplates both parties to the conflict changing. Elsewhere in the New Testament, when you see "reconcile", it is a different Greek word which contemplates only one party changing as all the other references are to conflicts between man and God -- and God does not change!

But God also recognized that one-on-one communication between people in a conflict may not work. So we have:

Matt. 18:15-17: "If another sins, go to him and tell him of his fault just between the two of you. If he truly hears what you say, you will re-gain relationship with your brother. But if he will not hear it from you, then take one or two more with you and try again, for from the mouth of these others, truth may be spoken more clearly and heard more readily. And if he will not receive their words, bring the matter to the attention others of the Body of Christ who may have a spiritual persuasiveness with him."

There is here a recognition that the conflict may have made either or both parties unable to hear, see, or know truth. They have lost the ability to judge their own actions, attitudes, etc. They are likely operating from self-interest rather than the interest of the other or community. And any prior relationship has not only been destroyed, but is no longer of any interest.

Please note at the outset that both Matt. 5:23-24 and 18:15-17 have prefatory remarks which, when understood, show us the attitude we should have when we go to another person. We are all sinners worthy of death who have been saved by grace alone (5:22). We still sin and need the truth of God (Holy Spirit and Word) to be willing to sacrificially come after us as Christ did on the cross (18:12-14).

Thus God's process should not be called "church discipline" -- as it is frequently interlineated in Bibles between Matt. 18:14 and 15 -- but should be viewed asa process of recovery of a stray sheep from their sin. It is a process which calls people to confession, repentance, doing what can be done to make things right, confession, and bearing burdens.

Now, as we have seen in regards to God's process (strict liability), the motive for my act is basically immaterial. What needs to be understood is that the act was sinful and that sin is born in: (1) corners of the "not-as-yet- fully-renewed-mind"; (2) the "deceptively-wicked-heart"; and/or (3) the "tangled-emotions" of my being.

Trying to discover my motive, or trying to help me discover my motive, may be counter-productive (if not impossible) until such time as I can see, acknowledge, and confess my sin -- that is, until I come into agreement with God.

The first thing which God wants to happen is for one party to go to the other. It does not matter to God if you have done nothing wrong and the other merely thinks you have done wrong -- GO (Matt. 5:23-24). You think the other has done wrong -- GO (Matt. 18:15). And "go" does not mean a letter or phone call; it is very hard for the Holy Spirit to communicate what is in you heart in written form or from a distance. Face-to-face is best.

Of course, when you go, you need to be in the right attitude. You need the same hunger for reconciliation that brought God down from Heaven and into the Garden, with a spirit of forgiveness and a willingness to sacrifice to see that reconciliation take place. And we all know He was the innocent party in our conflict with Him.

This is God's first step. It is also the step most often avoided and/or by-passed. The reason it is avoided or by-passed (most often in the form of gossiping) is that going to the brother in sin is for restoration, and restoration may mean the one who seeks peace may be called to sacrifice (Gal. 6:1-2; Gen. 3:21; Christ on the Cross). We flee sacrifice.

For an excellent resource to prepare you to "go to" another, see Peacemaker by Ken Sande.

Well, Sam comes to me and I don't listen -- in the Greek that means "take within and agree with"; it is not merely an auditory process -- what then? Bear in mind that as to me, it does not matter how Sam comes -- he can come in anger, unforgiveness, unconfessing, etc. But as between me and God, those are Sam's problems and cannot be converted into my excuse for not listening.

For the next step, see [THE WHO, WHAT, AND HOW OF MATT. 18:16].