1 Corinthians 6
1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!
I clipped a newspaper article some years ago that told a sad but interesting story. Listen:
Magistrate tells church, pastor to settle their own dispute
The Associated Press
Spartanburg, [SC] – A magistrate told church members and the pastor they are trying to fire that he may not have the authority to settle their months long dispute and urged them to resolve their differences out of court.
The dispute involves Foster Chapel Baptist Church and its efforts to oust its pastor, the Rev. Douglas E. Dennis. On several occasions, the church has voted to fire Dennis, but he has refused to stop representing himself as pastor or to leave the parsonage.
On Thursday, Magistrate Robert Hall told about 60 church members crowded into a Spartanburg County courtroom for Dennis’ eviction hearing that they need to settle the issue themselves.
“I’m asking you as a judge, and maybe I shouldn’t, but I’m asking you as a Christian, to resolve this matter,” Hall told the crowd, which included Dennis’ supporters and church supporters…
Dennis refused to comment on whether he thinks the dispute is resolvable. “I’ll be back in the pulpit on Sunday. That’s all I can say.” he said.
I am less concerned about the particulars of the actual case than I am the wider dynamics involved:
- A church has a conflict between members.
- The church finds itself unable to resolve the conflicts.
- The church goes to a secular court for resolution.
- The judge, a Christian, pleads with the church to reconvene and resolve the issue.
This raises lots of questions: Why could the church not resolve its conflicts? Were they right to go to a secular court? What did the judge see as a Christian that the members of the church could not (would not?) see? What happened? How were they supposed to resolve their issues? Did they?
These questions and the dynamics lurking behind them were present in the early church as well. In an intriguing text, the Apostle Paul reprimanded the Christians of Corinth for their going to a secular judge for conflict resolution, but, moreso, he reprimanded them for not being able to handle conflict better.
To be human is to live on the edge of conflict. Try as we might—when we try, that is—the possibility of conflict with other people is always there and, tragically, we too often see these possibilities actualized in interpersonal clashes. We might think that the church would be a safe-haven from such, that, somehow, people who all profess Christ would have no reason to conflict. To think this, however, would be naïve. For one thing, the scriptures contain many references to conflict and conflict resolution. This, in and of itself, tells us that this is an issue we need to consider soberly and diligently.
Let us consider, then, the nature of conflict in the church and how we might resolve such conflicts rightly. We will consider a number of introductory considerations first, and then move to specific and particular actions as we progress.