Dietrich Bonhoeffer's lesser known (than The Cost of Discipleship)but equally profitable book Life Together speaks of how Christians are to get along with one another in the church, not with illusions of everything being in perfect accord all the time (for we are sinful and short-sighted), but rather the beauty and benefits of struggling within the bonds of love.
So, both Tim Keller's comment on my last post, and a moving sermon on the gospel in the midst of relational conflict by Scott Roley(Christ Community, Franklin, TN), have got me thinking about this.
There was a lot of conflict in the early church. We see it in Acts on how the Gentiles were to be incorporated into the church, and the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark. Corinth was fraught with conflicts over personality and false teaching. Galatians mentions the conflict with Paul and Peter.
The church does not do conflict well. The Scriptures lay down clear teaching on how to deal with conflict, both in situations of interpersonal offense, and in situations of false teaching or false practice.
Having grown up in the mainline (Reformed Church in America) and coming into the PCA, I thought it was a city set upon a hill. But, what I realized is that though there are significant sins of liberalism, the sins of orthodoxy are more heinous. A radical statement that! But, we are accountable for the knowledge that we have. My friend J. R. de Witt used to talk about the sins of dead orthodoxy a lot --and I have experienced them firsthand. A cold, censorious, judgmental and narrow spirit, a lack of compassion and brotherly love, a hidebound insistence that one's own way is THE WAY, anger, consumerism, Spirit-quenching, and cathedral-building (yes, I know, I hate Reformed cathedrals --they are sinful in an age of poverty and hunger, sorry people, but it's my blog).
And I say again: these are far more egregious than the sins of the mainline, simply because we ought to know better. IF we have the Holy Spirit, then why isn't he more manifest?
I have to note that: a.) I am incredibly guilty of everything I say above, except that I haven't built a cathedral (yet). b.) these sins are no respecter of party in the PCA, but seem to me to be equal on all sides. Each party has its jerks, and all of us are jerks now and again.
The danger in our post-modern context is multi-form. One of the chief dangers is confusing persons with arguments. This happens in two ways: either my opponent in an argument is my opponent in life, and therefore not only mistaken but evil, or at least stupid, or, that an attack on a person's position is an attack on their person.
We need to understand that Satan loves to push us to both of these poles. I have both experienced each of them, and been guilty of them in debates in the church. Both of them hinder understanding, and the advancement of the truth. Both of them leave lingering resentments.
We also have a false understanding of unity that says it means we must be in complete conformity of opinion and practice all the time. Disagreements and disputes ought never to arise among a family, or the people of God. This is conflict avoidance, and it hinders the triumph of truth.
So, I don't know how to do this. But, I know it's crucial that we do it. We need to find ways to deliberate and debate without horns and without teeth. We need to understand that good men may differ.
But, the most disheartening thing of all is that I have never seen a minister challenged on the grounds of his deviating from the truth who has been humbled, confessed his sin, and returned to the straight and narrow. I have seen men who have sinned in their behavior broken and contrite, and returned to the fold, but I have yet to see a minister chastened as to his beliefs and teachings who humbly confessed, and returned. I believe I have a pretty good grasp of church history, and even there, I can find no examples of a man whose doctrine was challenged, who admitted he was wrong. Surely someone in the course of the history of the church has indeed been wrong, and been humble enough to admit it!
So, how do we debate, discuss, and rebuke in the church? It's Monday, and per usual, I have no answers on Mondays, only questions :-)