How to Handle Conflict in the Church

church%20conflict.001The church should be the best in the world at handling conflict. We were taught by Jesus exactly how it is to be done. Yet we often side step the issue. We gossip. We talk about other people rather than to people. We avoid conflict.

If we handled conflict humbly, gently, and bravely, the church would be in much better shape. Plus, our testimony before the watching world would be better. So, how exactly did Jesus instruct Christians to handle conflict within the body of Christ?

“If your brother sins , go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 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 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 collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. 

Matthew 18:15-18 NASB

Let’s break this down and digest…

“If your brother sins”…

it is your BROTHER…you are family…you are part of God’s family…God is your father, God is the other person’s father…you are not enemies.

“go and show him his fault in private…” 

Go to your brother in private. Do not talk about it with others, do not post “generic” scenarios onto facebook or other public social media for support, and do not share “prayer concerns” for the other person. None of these things are beneficial to resolving the conflict and restoring the brother. And remember, the goal is not to be right. The goal is restoration.

“If your brother sins , go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

 Problem solved! That is to be our first step in resolution

. As MacDonald has stated,
“The matter should be handled privately between the two parties. If the offender acknowledges his guilt, reconciliation is achieved. The trouble is that we don’t do this. We gossip to everyone else about it. Then the matter spreads like wildfire and strife is multiplied. Let us remember that step number one is to
“go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”[1]

“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…”

Step two broadens the net of knowledge. If your brother does not listen to you, you pull in two or more witnesses. Again, remember the goal is the restoration of your brother. This is not about ganging up on him to make your case and seal your “win”. If that is the intent, then you have already lost. You are in sin. 2 wrongs will never make a right (but three lefts will!).

It is the taking of
“one or two more with you” 
that fulfills the principle of Deuteronomy 19:15, which states,
 

“A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.[2]

MacArthur notes,

More than one witness was necessary to convict a man of a crime. This principle was to act as a safeguard against the false witness who might bring an untruthful charge against a fellow Israelite. By requiring more than one witness, greater accuracy and objectivity was gained (cf. Dt 17:6; Mt 18:15–17; 2Co 13:1).

This principle helps to emphasize the seriousness of continued unbrokenness. But more, it provides the necessary protection of the testimony of the church body. If we in the church would but follow the instructions of the Lord in dealing with conflict.

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church…”

Now, if the brother remains in an unrepentant state, refusing to acknowledge and confess the sin, it is to be brought before the church. The goal here is still…you guessed it…the complete restoration of the brother!

As Christians, we are agents of reconciliation. Christ in us
must be restored to Christ in others. How can we in the church harbor hate against our brothers (1 John 4:20)?200502_086_squabble_350

“and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector…”

The final step in dealing with conflict between Christians is the excommunication of the sinning brother. If someone remains unrepentant after these three attempts at restoration & reconciliation, the church has no other choice but to remove them from the fellowship of the body. MacArthur continues,

“The idea is not merely to punish the offender, or to shun him completely, but to remove him as a detrimental influence from the fellowship of the church, and henceforth to regard him as an evangelistic prospect rather than as a brother. Ultimately, the sin for which he is excommunicated is a hard-hearted impenitence.”

This sounds harsh, unloving, ungodly, & judgmental to our politically correct culture. But, this is exactly the way Jesus told His followers to handle matters of sin & conflict. Remember, the goal is still the restoration of the offending brother. The ultimate purpose of this type of discipline is still to bring the offending brother to repentance and restoration in the body of Christ.

The treating of this brother as “
a Gentile and a tax collector”
is in effect, to treat them as an outsider. This removes from them the privileges of the local church body all the while protecting the church from sin.

Verse 18 is connected with what precedes.

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” 

This has nothing to do with the false teachings of “binding Satan”, or other such theological interpretations. This verse is tied to the previous ideas of discipline within the body of Christ. The “binding & loosing” mentioned here pertain to the judgment of the church body in the matter at hand—discipline.

So, how are we handling conflict with our brothers? Are we following the patterns of the world or the pattern that Jesus has given us?

Pastor Kevin

 

[1] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments

. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1273). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update

. (1995). (Dt 19:15). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible.

(Dt 19:15). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible.

(Mt 18:17). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.