There is a definite time to stand up for what is right - especially when the Gospel itself is at stake. There are other times that God calls us to be peacemakers and to diffuse volatile situations. Thankfully, there is biblical help for approaching these situations. We certainly need God's wisdom and discernment to recognize the best response in each case. In the New Testament, few churches had faced such bitter division as did the Corinthians. Here are a few tips from 1 Corinthians Chapter 1 - Paul's prescription for restoring unity in Corinth that give valuable insight for conflicts we face today.
1. Find common ground. As much as this sounds like common sense, it can take some effort on both sides even to be interested in this. When Paul was writing to the divided church at Corinth, that was plagued with "contentions," he urged them (1 Cor. 1:10), "I plead with you...that you all speak the same thing." The common ground that Paul pointed out to the Corinthians was rooted in the Gospel. Christ is not divided. Whenever two parties, both professing faith in Christ, are embroiled in conflict, the misunderstanding is, to some degree, theological. At least one of the parties has placed his interests above those of Christ and is seeking to serve self and not submit to Christ. Paul further urges the Corinthians to consider that it is Christ who died for them; therefore, we can all come together under the banner of His cross.
2. Align agendas. Paul continues, "I plead with you...that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." The word "judgment" here is the capacity to reason, and in context, it reflects that concept of having an agenda. Situations escalate when agendas are not aligned and when they compete more ferociously against one another. So very often, agendas promote self over Christ. The supreme goal is always to be the glory of Christ; we are all to be pressing toward the same goal. Agendas that get in the way of obeying the mandate of Christ must be dropped altogether. Upon close examination, you may find a surprising amount of overlap or that two given agendas in your church do not actually conflict with one another. If there's a way to keep these two trains from requiring the same track, there's your answer. To be of the same mind and same judgment, though, requires change - somebody has to budge. (And it shouldn't be the one whose agenda is selflessly aligned with Christ.)
3. Return to the Gospel. How much division is acceptable? Paul said, "I plead with you...that there be no divisions among you." Paul had a zero tolerance for division, and you should too. You say, "But wait - you said some conflict is good." Yes. Here's how those two ideas do not contradict. Sometimes you have to wage war against error to unify the body under the truth. That conflict is temporary. Where someone introduces error to an otherwise unified body, it is not appropriate to cave to the error just to preserve unity. The error must be rooted out. But returning to the Gospel is key. Paul asks, "is Christ divided?" "Was Paul crucified for you?" People were placing their allegiance to human leaders and not primarily to Christ. This led to division. Paul intentionally used the simplicity of Gospel truths to heal the division that had erupted in the Corinthian congregation. You will find that enslaving yourself and conflicted parties to the Gospel will set in motion a process to restore unity among the brethren.
Pastor Billy Shaw is a full-time pastor, husband, and father with a passion for helping other pastors.