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Is Seminary Really Necessary
September 24, 2016

The church has been well-served by pastors who ministered without formal seminary training. John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones are standout examples of men who had impactful and long-lasting ministries even though they never attended seminary. No wonder, then, that the question often arises: Is seminary really necessary? Might it be better to get straight into ministry instead of expending so much time and effort in preparing for ministry?

Jason Allen provides an answer in his book Discerning Your Call to Ministry, but he doesn’t do so without admitting his bias. He is, after all, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, an institution that exists to train men for ministry. But he provides a helpful answer nonetheless: Seminary is not necessary, but it is advisable. Let’s track with him and see how he expands on this answer.

In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul tells Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Allen says “Paul’s exhortation to Timothy rings through the ages, challenging every generation of gospel ministers to be maximally prepared for ministerial service.” The church has little use for ministerial amateurs. Amateurs are not necessarily those who lack academic degrees or formal training, but men who lack “the knowledge base, skill set, and experience for a particular task—in this case, Christian ministry.” A man with a fistful of degrees can be a rank amateur while a man without a single credential can be a faithful minister of the gospel. Yet in almost every case a man will benefit tremendously from receiving a formal theological education. Allen draws out four reasons why this remains true, and may even be especially true, in today’s climate.

The complexity of our times. While every generation of Christians faces challenges unique to their time, “our generation comes with unique baggage. It is not that the twenty-first century is more fallen or more secular than previous ones, but it may be more complex.” There are new questions of ethics and morality, there are “torturously complex ramifications of sin,” and a cultural elite doggedly committed to undermining Christians and their worldview. In the face of such challenges, “the lost need more than shallow answers from ill-equipped ministers. They need minsters prepared to bring the full complement of Christian truth to bear in a winsome, thoughtful, and compelling way.” This full complement of Christian truth is the core curriculum of any worthwhile seminary.

The centrality of teaching the Scriptures. The church has no greater need than the skillful teaching of the Bible and, for that reason, the minister has no greater responsibility than teaching God’s Word. This task requires “a renewed and informed mind. There is simply no place in ministry for sloppy exegesis, shoddy interpretation, or shallow sermons. One can be a faithful minister without a seminary degree, but one cannot be a faithful minister without knowing the Bible well.” Is seminary the only means of learning how to “rightly handle the Word?” No, but it is certainly an effective and time-tested one.

The consequences of ministry. “There is an alarming inverse correlation between the seriousness of the ministerial task and the casualness with which it is often approached.” We insist on trained professionals when caring for our children, our bodies, our dogs, and even our cars. Yet we content ourselves with very low levels of preparation when it comes to the care of our souls. No minister should be content to remain amateurish in his ministry. “Satan is serious about his calling; ministers must be serious about theirs. The ministry is too consequential to be taken casually.” Does this necessitate seminary? No, of course not. Does it make it advisable? Perhaps so.

The priority of the Great Commission. All ministers are to proclaim the gospel in furtherance of the Great Commission, and this requires “a great burden for the lost, a passion for the glory of God in the salvation of sinners, and an equipped mind to reason, teach, and persuasively present the gospel.” Though we often think of evangelism as first requiring zeal, it also requires knowledge. This is the very knowledge gained through a seminary education—knowledge that can set that zeal on fire.

Our times are complex, the church is in desperate need of men who can skillfully teach the Word, the ministry is too consequential to admit amateurs, and carrying out the Great Commission requires men who have zeal supported by deep knowledge. Is seminary necessary for a man called to the ministry? No, says Allen, but it is advisable. I cannot disagree, and if I had to live my life over again, I would certainly pursue such an education. I often feel and lament its lack.

September 24, 2016

It’s hard to believe that we’ve come to Autumn at last. It was a hot, beautiful, brilliant summer but I’m glad to see it finally give way to fall. I get to spend my day today in a church baseball tournament, but will leave you with a collection of interesting reading:

Glasgow University archivists find John Knox’s Bible

This is neat: “Experts believe a unidentified bible held by Glasgow University may have belonged to John Knox - a founding father of the Protestant Reformation.” 

In His Own Words

I enjoyed reading Grant Osborne on the thrill of learning and teaching God’s Word: “Even after fifty years of studying and sharing I still get thrilled as I uncover the deep treasures of meaning about Galatians or Romans, and then I have the privilege of writing them down to thrill countless others who will read them…” 

The Bible Project Reading Plan

This looks like it could be an interesting way to read the Bible beginning in January.

Which Parts Of The Brain Do What?

This short video explains how researchers figured out which parts of the brain perform different functions.

Breakfast Leftovers

James Faris has a strangely interesting one here: “My students seemed to find history more palatable when they see that they are already familiar with it. So, let’s check out your breakfast menu…”

This Day in 1986. 30 years ago today five Muslim professors in Pakistan demanded Daniel Scot to convert to Islam, resulting in Scot becoming the first Christian charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. *

The Hidden Hours of Ministry

Peter Tong provides a strong encouragement for pastors to take sin seriously. “I want to discuss how struggles with sin, even if they are hidden from others, can undermine your ability to serve God more broadly.”

What Type of Steward Are You?

Pastors (and others) will want to check out Mike Leake’s excellent article on two kinds of stewardship.

When Toronto Was Eerily Empty

Torontotonians will find this photo essay interesting. It shows a time when the city had huge pieces of empty land downtown, something that’s almost impossible to imagine today.

Sand Bubbler Crabs

God created some strange and remarkable creatures. Like these Sand Bubbler Crabs.

The Lord is a friend who never changes. There is no fickleness about Him: those whom He loves, He loves unto the end.J.C. Ryle

Free Stuff Fridays Updated
September 23, 2016

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by Zondervan. There will be 5 winners this week and each of them will receive a great package of material from Nabeel Qureshi. The winners will receive:

  • No God but One: Allah or Jesus? “Former Muslim Nabeel Qureshi’s new, New York Times bestselling book No God but One examines the most important questions at the intersection of Islam and Christianity. Nabeel shares stories from his life and ministry, casts new light on current events, and explores pivotal incidents in the histories of both religions, providing a resource that is gripping and thought-provoking, respectful and challenging. Readers of Qureshi’s first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, will appreciate this careful and respectful comparison of Islam and Christianity. While Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus showed us the conversion of Nabeel’s heart, this new follow-up, No God but One, shows us the conversion of Nabeel’s mind. Both religions teach that there is No God but One, but this book will help you discern who deserves to be worshiped: Allah or Jesus?”
  • Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. “Nabeel Qureshi’s Answering Jihad is a personal, challenging, and respectful answer to the many questions surrounding jihad, the rise of ISIS, and Islamic terrorism. There is no question that innocents are being slaughtered in the name of Allah and in the way of jihad, but do the terrorists’ actions actually reflect the religion of Islam? Setting aside speculations and competing voices, what really is jihad? How are we to understand jihad in relation to our Muslim neighbors and friends? Why is there such a surge of Islamist terrorism in the world today, and how are we to respond? In Answering Jihad, bestselling author Nabeel Qureshi answers these questions from the perspective of a former Muslim who is deeply concerned for both his Muslim family and his American homeland.”
  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Better Way Forward (Expanded Edition). “In Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi describes his dramatic journey from Islam to Christianity, complete with friendships, investigations, and supernatural dreams along the way. Providing an intimate window into a loving Muslim home, Qureshi shares how he developed a passion for Islam before discovering, almost against his will, evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and claimed to be God. Unable to deny the arguments but not wanting to deny his family, Qureshi’s inner turmoil will challenge Christians and Muslims alike. Engaging and thought-provoking, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus tells a powerful story of the clash between Islam and Christianity in one man’s heart—and of the peace he eventually found in Jesus.
  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Video Study (DVD). “Building on the powerful story and arguments he shared in Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, author Nabeel Qureshi takes viewers deeper into apologetics and evangelism among Muslims with this complete video lecture course. In eight sessions of about 30 minutes each he explores Muslim culture, the most common Muslim objections to Christianity, and the core doctrines upon which Islam stands or falls. Compassionate and clear, Nabeel’s lectures will be a useful training tool for pastors, outreach leaders, and any believers wanting to winsomely engage Muslims in spiritual conversations. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Video Study develops in further detail the objections to Islam and case for Christianity that Qureshi introduced inSeeking Allah, Finding Jesus. When used with the accompanying Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Study Guide, this accessible course is perfect for adult classes, small groups, segments in college or seminary courses, and motivated independent learners alike.”
  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Study Guide. “The Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Study Guide develops in further detail the objections to Islam and case for Christianity that Qureshi introduced in Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. When studied with the accompanying Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Video Study, this complete course is perfect for adult classes, small groups, segments in college or seminary courses, and motivated independent learners alike.”

Enter Here

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon. If you are viewing this through email, click to visit my site and enter there.

Are You Going to Hurt Me
September 23, 2016

Autumn has descended at last. The heat of summer has slowly, stubbornly given way to the cool of autumn. The long summer days have surrendered to evenings that come too early, nights that linger lazily before yielding to dawn. Most days I find myself outside long before the sun has shown its face, running through darkened streets—my morning ritual. My mind works better when my body has been pushed.

Three vignettes, three glimpses through my early-morning eyes.

As dawn breaks I run across a lonely parking lot, cutting a long corner. As I pass a building, a depot of some kind, I spot a young woman walking. She must be going to the neighborhood I’ve come from. Our paths will cross. She’s eighteen, maybe nineteen. As I come closer her eyes search mine and ask, “Are you going to hurt me? Am I safe?” “Hurt you?” I hear my mind say. “I’m called to love, to love you more than I love myself. How could I ever hurt you?” I’m grieved that the world is this way, that the world has become this way. I smile what I hope is an assuring smile and nod as I pass by.

Pitch darkness lit only by sporadic street lights and occasional headlights. I run one of my new routes, down a brutal hill and back up, down and up again until I’m too tired to go on. A woman, in her fifties perhaps, is on the sidewalk ahead of me. I approach her, the hill’s steep grade propelling me almost to a sprint. She hears or senses me coming, she clutches something in her hand, her body tenses, flinches a little. I think, “I won’t harm you. I would never harm you. I live by an ethic that says that I need to be willing to die for you even though I don’t know you.” Between breaths I say, “Good morning!” as cheerfully as I can. I continue down the hill and by the time I loop back she is gone.

I am far down a lonely walking path, a brilliant running path, forest on both sides. A teen girl approaches on her bike. She’s all alone, far from anyone but me. She sees me. She digs into her pedals, urging her bike to go just a little bit faster. I see what looks like uncertainty in her eyes. Or is it fear? I think it’s fear. “Are you going to hurt me?” they ask. “I would never hurt you. I’d die before I’d hurt you.” I step far aside to let her by, I smile, I say hello. I find myself hoping, praying, she gets safely to wherever she is going.

I hate the fear I see, I hate the questions their eyes ask me, but I don’t begrudge them. I don’t—can’t—know their wariness, their fear. I get to run confidently in the darkness, without backward glances, without ears pricked. But from all I hear, all I know, all I’ve read, their fear is well-earned and their questions legitimate. I have a privilege they do not, a privilege I take for granted.

I’m haunted by words from Karen Swallow Prior. A tweet: “Running on a deserted road today I came upon unfamiliar vehicle pulled over, trunk open, man standing next to it, waving to me. Called 911.” An article: “I was running uphill on a two-mile stretch of a private, uninhabited dirt road when I saw an older model car with an out-of-state plate parked up ahead. A man was leaning against the car smoking a cigarette. Quickly, I pulled my phone from the pack that holds all my necessaries and called my mother, whom I knew to be home. I stayed on the phone with her as I ran a wide berth around the man and his car.” I could stop to offer help. I could run by without making a phone call. Without fear. But she can’t. They can’t. I hate it. I hate that it has to be this way.

But it does have to be this way because ever since our first parents were ushered out of that garden, men have proven their willingness to violate trust, to misuse strength, to blaspheme God’s good order. Not all men, of course. But some men. Enough men. Strength that was given to protect has been used to destroy, what was meant to bless has been used to harm. It has left this trail of fear, this trail of hurt, this trail of devastation.

Brothers, look and you will see. And when you see you are on your way to acknowledging and perhaps even gaining a glimmer of understanding—the fear is there, the fear is real.

September 23, 2016

If you’re into Kindle deals, you may want to grab This Is Awkward by Sammy Rhodes, Table Grace by Douglas Webster, and/or The Social Church by Justin Wise. I believe this is the first time This Is Awkward has ever been on sale. Get the deals here.

If you’re into audiobooks, perhaps consider starting a free trial with Christian Audio. I’ve selected 4 great books you’ll get for free and to keep if you begin your trial.

If printed books are more your think, Westminster Books has a deal on some accessible Puritan works. Their deals on parenting books are still in effect as well.

Leviticus Scroll Discovery Shows Scripture’s Inerrancy

WORLD reports on a neat discovery. “When archeologists in the 1970s found a charred scroll in the Holy Ark in the Synagogue of Ein Gedi, an ancient Hebrew town burned in AD 600, they never imagined they might be able to read it.” But then they found a way. (See also Joe Carter’s FAQ.)

Older, Restful, and Reforming

Jared Wilson reflects on the ten-year anniversary of Collin Hansen’s “Young, Restless, and Reformed” article in Christianity Today.

Why America Burned Spurgeon’s Sermons

Why would people in America have burned Spurgeon’s sermons? Christian George (who, by the way, is doing some top-notch blogging these days) explains.

Practical Guidelines for Reading the Old Testament Laws

If there’s any part of Scripture that’s especially hard to read and understand, it’s the OT laws. Here’s some guidance.

Why Are There So Many Varieties of Apples?

It’s apple season in Ontario. This video explains how we came to have so many different varieties (and, in theory, how you could create your own).

If We Are Really So Burdened…

Here’s a great question: “If we believe that God is good, sovereign, and holy and that he has told us to cast our burdens on him in prayer then, where are the public prayer meetings by God’s people? If we are so exercised by injustice and depravity, why don’t Christians flood to church prayer meetings to gather with their brothers and sisters and plead with God in prayer? Why aren’t prayer meetings overflowing with burdened and broken people who want God to intervene and act?”

This Day in 1950. 66 years ago today Tim Keller was born. Happy birthday, Tim! 

Delight in the Good

I enjoyed a lot about this essay by Karen Swallow Prior, though I’ll need to think more about some of her conclusions. (I believe she references the show I mentioned here.)

The Immense Value of Missionary Biographies

Yes! Missionary biographies can be a joy and a challenge to read. This article tells of their value and offers some recommendations.

Flashback: The Depth of My Depravity

My depravity was better displayed in my rejection of God and his grace than in my sins and unrighteous deeds. I proved my rebellion more in denying God, rejecting him, and shunning his grace than in any of the sinful acts I committed or could have committed. 

The fear of the Lord tends to take away all other fears. —Sinclair Ferguson

Set An Example
September 22, 2016

I was always lousy at painting. In my high school art classes the teacher would give an assignment that involved studying a car or a human form or a bowl of fruit. Our task was to observe and then paint. I would do what she said. I would look at it, I would study it, I would observe its form, its curves, its angles, its colors, its shadows. But when I put brush to paper it would never look like it was supposed to. It didn’t look realistic, it didn’t look impressionistic or abstract, it just looked like a mess. It’s for good reason that I skipped fine arts in college so I could pursue liberal arts—English, history, humanities. That was where I was meant to be.

Yet there is still an area where I know I have the calling of the artist. I may not have the eye, the hand, the skill for painting, but I believe God has given me everything I need to succeed at this other form of art. Francis Schaeffer describes it like this: “No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life, and every Christian is cared upon to be an artist in this sense. … The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.” That’s a work of art I want to create. That’s a work of art God calls and equips each one of us to create. Even you.

Today I want to begin a short series that I’m writing with younger Christians in mind. If you are sixteen or eighteen or in your twenties, if you are in high school or college or just moving into marriage and career, I want to speak to you. I want to speak with you. Maybe you found this article on your own or maybe it was forwarded by a parent or grandparent, an aunt or an uncle. Either way, I hope you will read it and the ones that follow. I hope you will hear me out. Best of all, I hope you’ll read the Scripture passages and pray about them, asking God to help you apply them to your life. If you’ve got questions, you can send me an email and I’ll do my best to reply. (Just be sure to mention you’re writing about the “Set An Example” series.)

Through these articles I want to focus on one key verse: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). In these words we encounter art, we encounter the ideas of modeling and imitation, of studying a form and attempting to recreate it. But this art does not exist on paper or on canvas. This art exists in a life. Your life is the canvas.

Before I close out this introduction, I want to back up just a few verses. In verse 7 of the same chapter Paul uses a different metaphor, walking down the hall from the art room to the weight room. “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7b–8). Physical training is good, whether you’re training for strength, speed, agility, or distance. Just this morning, long before the sun rose, I was training, I was trying to beat my personal best in the 5k run. But this kind of physical training needs to take a back seat to spiritual training—training in godliness. Shaping your character is so much more important than shaping your body. The kind of formation that concerns God most is not physical but spiritual.

There are many good ways to invest your time at this stage of life, but none is better than the pursuit of godliness. The Bible calls you to be an example in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. We will see that these five terms speak to your inner and outer self, to what you think and what you say, to what is hidden in your heart and what is broadcast in your life. We will see that God means for your life to be a canvas, the setting for a beautiful work of art. And he also expects this work of art to be seen, admired, and imitated.

I hope you’ll join me for the rest of this series as we learn how you can train yourself to be an example to others, even to people far older than you. We’ll pick it up again next week.

September 22, 2016

Here are some Kindle deals: New from GLH Publishing is Til He Come: Communion Meditations and Addresses by Charles Spurgeon. There are several Warren Wiersbe books on sale: Be Equipped (Deuteronomy), Be Strong (Joshua), Be Concerned (Minor Prophets), Be Right (Romans), Be Mature (James).

The Abuse of Authority in Prosperity Gospel Churches

D.A. Horton: “It became clear there’s not been enough reflection on the abuse of authority in prosperity gospel churches. I hope this article will jumpstart a worthwhile discussion that will ultimately recalibrate hearts toward a biblical understanding of authority as a good gift that God intends to be expressed in the context of a healthy local church.” Death to the prosperity gospel! 

Dealing With Someone Else’s Sin

As pastors (and leaders) we are often left dealing with other people’s sins. Jared Olivetti says, “Consider this my cheat sheet – gathered through study of God’s Word and more-or-less successful conversations with others.”

Collecting the World

This video is too short, but still a neat glimpse behind-the-scenes at the Smithsonian.

The Naked and the Nude

Karen Swallow Prior: “The recent skirmish over Facebook’s removal of a harrowing image—the Pulitzer Prize-winning, 1972 photograph of a young, naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm explosion—certainly raises questions of censorship. Yet it also strikes me as a symptom of our porn problem.”

This Day in 1871. 145 years ago today Charlotte Elliot, English devotional writer and author of “Just As I am”, died. An illness had left her invalid at 33 and for the next 50 years of her life. *

Save Your Soul: Stop Writing

Here’s a thoughtful article from Lore Ferguson Wilbert: “As writers, we often hand over our souls and stories for the price of approval, advances, page-views, speaking opportunities, and more book deals. But sometimes (not always) the best thing to do is to be silent. To listen. To hear. “

What is the New Perspective on Paul?

Dr. Robert Cara of Reformed Theological Seminary answers the question in 5 minutes or less.

Let’s Get Serious about the Sacred Mystery of Sleep

“God created us not only with a need for sleep, but with an incredible capacity for it—most of us need to spend at least one-third of our life in sleep. Is all this sleep really a waste? a luxury we can’t afford? a haven for the lazy? Or is it an expression of our humanity, an act of submission to God, a celebration of his creation? Might it be valuable in its own right?”

Flashback: On the Shore of Glory

“Old age is the harvest of all the years that have gone before. It is the barn into which all the sheaves are gathered. It is the sea into which all the rills and rivers of life flow from their springs in the hills and valleys of youth and manhood.”

You can’t understand God’s love if you don’t understand his anger. Because he loves, he’s angry at anything that harms those he loves. —David Powlison

The Beginners Guide to Conflict Resolution
September 21, 2016

One matter of continual concern to me is interpersonal conflict within the church. It’s not the existence or even the quantity of conflict, but the inability or unwillingness to deal with it when it arises, and this despite the Bible’s clear teaching that Christians are to resolve conflict and how Christians are to resolve conflict. It’s simple: As believers we are not permitted by God to have open, unaddressed quarrels with other believers. We are to work to bring any and every interpersonal conflict to appropriate resolution.

Yet our churches have too many people who are willing to grumble and complain about one another, who allow disputes to go unresolved, who allow petty quarrels to fester and to threaten to grow into full-out battles. Today I offer this brief piece on how to identify conflict within local church relationships and how to bring them to healthy resolution. It involves just two questions: What kind of conflict are we in? And what do we need to do to resolve this kind of conflict?

What Kind of Conflict Are We In?

Before you can resolve any conflict, you need to understand its nature. Broadly speaking, you will encounter three different kinds of interpersonal conflict in your local church relationships. I’ve been helped here by Lou Priolo who in turn draws from Wayne Mack.

  • Conflicts of differentness arise between people who disagree on matters of preference, especially when it comes to ministry. Here we think of Paul and Barnabas and their conflict over whether to bring John Mark on their missionary journey (see Acts 15:39). Both wanted to do what was best for the sake of ministry but right there a sharp disagreement arose. They saw the situation differently and were unable to bring it to healthy resolution.
  • Conflicts of righteousness arise when people have different understandings of how Christians are to interpret God’s guidance in matters of conscience. In the first century, Paul addressed Christians eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols (Romans 14). Contemporary examples might include Christians using birth control, abstaining from alcohol, or enrolling their children in public schools.
  • Conflicts of sinfulness arise when one person commits sin against another. Biblical examples abound and, undoubtedly, each of us can think of many examples from our own lives, families, and churches.

Most, if not all, conflicts will fit into one of these three categories. The way to resolve a conflict depends on its nature and this is why we must give thought and prayer to discerning what kind of conflict it is. Once we have made that determination, we are ready to work toward resolution. We are ready to ask, What do we need to do to resolve this kind of conflict?

Resolving Conflicts of Differentness

While we may resist differentness in our churches, it can actually be a sign of God’s blessing. After all, God means to call us into countercultural communities that include representatives of all kinds of backgrounds, cultures, races, and socio-economic groups. The very differences that give opportunity for believers to grow in love, unity, and Christlikeness also represent an opportunity for Satan to incite conflict.

Generally, such conflicts are not resolved through a formal process of confrontation, but through growth in Christian character and deliberate expression of that character. If you find yourself in a conflict of differentness, learn to listen, learn to appreciate rather than fear or resent the differences in other believers. Find ways to express the Christian virtues of kindness, love, and patience. Guard yourself against making rash and unfair judgments about another person’s motives or maturity. Do what you can to care more for the other person than for defending your own views. And if you realize that you have sinned against another person along the way, humbly seek their forgiveness (See “Resolving Conflicts of Sinfulness” below).

Resolving Conflicts of Righteousness

God calls his people to himself but does not make us clones. He does not make us utterly uniform in all we believe when it comes to understanding and applying his Word. This is especially true when it comes to matters of conscience such as the number of children we have, whether we have liberty to enjoy alcohol, or whether we must set aside Sunday as the sabbath. We cannot be without convictions in these areas, but we soon realize that our convictions may differ from those of other people in our local church.

Once more, conflicts of this nature are not resolved by a formal process of confrontation. They, too, are addressed through Christian character. In Romans 14, Paul uses the language of “weak” and “strong” and warns of the unique temptations that will threaten to divide Christians. The temptation of the strong will be to despise the weak while the temptation of the weak will be to condemn the strong. The strong may see the weak as ensnared by legalism and immaturity and this will lead to hatred and mockery. The weak will see the strong as licentious and will condemn them for lawless behavior. Both will distance themselves from the other. Paul’s solution is two-fold: Welcome one another and refuse to pass judgment.

When you find yourself in a conflict of righteousness, understand that healthy resolution involves self-confrontation, not confrontation of the other person. (Lou Priolo says, “If anything, some form of self-confrontation may be in order to bring about repentance for any selfish thoughts, motives, and attitudes (if not words and actions) that have been brought to light by the differentness conflict.”) Deliberately seek out the people who differ from you, get to know them, and learn to express love to them. Do your best to understand how they have arrived at their convictions. Be aware of your temptation to divide from people who differ from you (and group together with people who agree with you) and utterly refuse to judge others as godly or ungodly, mature or immature, worthy or unworthy, on the basis of similarity or difference.

Resolving Conflicts of Sinfulness

And then there are the conflicts of sinfulness in which one Christian has sinned against the other. In many cases, the best course of action is to overlook the offense in love (1 Peter 4:8, Proverbs 10:12). This is not pretending that it never happened, but identifying it as a minor matter that does not need to confronted.

The second option is to confront the sinner, and this is advisable or even necessary if the sin is too hurtful, habitual, or significant to overlook. The purpose of such confrontation is to bring reconciliation and it involves a process that begins informally but may end with the gravest formality. Jesus lays it out in Matthew 18.

Step 1. Speak to the person who sinned against you. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (15). Approach that person in a spirit of gentleness and humility, explain how he sinned, and allow him to express repentance. Be sure to ask clarifying questions instead of relying on bold accusations. Be willing to believe that perhaps he did not sin at all and that you simply misunderstood the situation. In most cases, forgiveness is sought and extended and the issue goes no further.

Let me add two pieces of counsel here. For church leaders: Some of the most common phrases pastors should utter is, “Have you spoken to him about this?” or “Have you confronted her for what she said?” Leaders can be too quick to short-circuit this Christian-to-Christian process. For church members: There is a fine balance between confronting too often and too rarely. Immaturity or fear of man may keep us from confronting sinners and pursuing reconciliation. Many relationships remain broken simply because no one had the courage to confront. On the other hand, immaturity and pride can compel us to address even the smallest issues. There is a balance that can be attained by seeking counsel from wiser, more seasoned believers. But all the while, know that it is your responsibility to maintain discretion and, initially at least, to protect the reputation of the other person. The best outcome is when the matter is known only to you and the other person.

Step 2. If the person does not express remorse or ask forgiveness after your confrontation, you are bound to follow the second step: “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (16). Appeal to one or two mature believers in the church, explain the situation, and let them affirm that you have taken the right approach to this point. Be willing to hear that the other person did not sin or that you misunderstood the situation. But if they affirm your actions, take them with you as you approach the person a second time. As you confront that person, make it clear that you are following the steps laid out in Matthew 18. Once again, the hope and expectation is that the person will seek forgiveness and the matter will be closed. If the person remains unrepentant even now, then it becomes a matter for the church membership and leadership. You may still be involved, but the main responsibility passes out of your hands.

Conclusion

Conflict between believers is a sad, inevitable reality. If even Paul (the great Apostle) and Barnabas (the son of encouragement) had a sharp disagreement, what is the likelihood that we will live out our Christian lives unscathed? Yet conflict is an opportunity to grow in grace, in character, in love, in humility. It all begins with two simple questions: What kind of conflict are we in? And what do we need to do to resolve that kind of conflict?

Note: Lou Priolo’s Resolving Conflict is an excellent book that I’ve drawn from substantially (as well as from his previous writings that formed the basis of this work).