Conflict in Christianity: When and How?

by | Oct 4, 2012 | Best of!

Conflict.  The very word often stirs up negative emotions in us as humans.  Our comfortable little world where we just get along in total harmony with those around us is suddenly pulled out from under us.  A great day at the office or home suddenly becomes a day full of fear, pain or anger as conflict interrupts our perfectly self-designed plans.
The Pharisees and the Saduccees Come to Tempt ...
But should we fear conflict?  Should we avoid conflict at all costs?  There are some conflicts we should avoid if at all possible.  If you are driving your car and suddenly someone cuts you off, it is best to avoid retaliation and conflict.  Tempers and egos may flare, accelerating an emotional situation out of control and jeopardizing safety and even lives.  Also, it is probably a good idea to avoid conflict and argument when a gun is pointed in your direction.  In most cases, discretion is surely the better part of valor in those instances.
But what about conflict between husbands and wives or between Christians?  Should we avoid conflict at all costs in those instances at the risk of a short term peace that might fester and cause serious damage in the future?  Or should we embrace conflict in hopes of resolving the issue?
Jesus was often in conflict with certain Pharisees.  He was also in conflict with His disciples, who often never quite understood what he was teaching and even why He came to earth.  He always had not only the perfect answer, but being God knew the perfect way to deliver his message of love and truth.  Unfortunately we as humans lack His wisdom as the Son of God.  So we must move forward as best we can in embracing conflict and seeking a resolution that honors God and those we are in conflict with.
First, decide if the conflict is a matter of high importance.  From a scriptural point, I am always fascinated when Christians get in a heated argument over the timing of the rapture.  Christians have too often broken fellowship over opinions on the timing—is this issue really worth breaking fellowship over?
If, after prayer and reflection, it is decided the conflict is worthy of strong discussion, we must determine if our motive is sharing truth—or proving we are right.  Is the discussion one where both parties are open to gaining knowledge, understanding and wisdom?  Or are we simply out to prove how smart and right we are?  These conflicts usually never end well.
Third, humility must always be present.  We must communicate with grace, realizing that communication is more art than science.  If you disagree with something you hear from the pulpit, first go to your pastor with an open mind and heart.  Tell him what you heard him say and give him the opportunity to explain what he meant to say—it may differ from what you think you heard.  Go in with an attitude seeking clarification, not justification.
Lastly, is your motivation in the conflict one where both parties can benefit from the discussion and one where God is glorified?  Are you open to an exchange of ideas and interpretations that will build each other up?  Or is your goal to prove your “superiority” in spiritual or practical matters?
As “Watchmen on the Wall”, we are saddened, and sometimes angered, when we think we hear the Word of God twisted, minimized or changed.  This certainly can be a righteous anger.  However before we open up in full blown conflict with another believer, let’s make sure we understand exactly what is being said.  It could indeed be an instance of false teaching or deception—but it could also be simple miscommunication.  Let us be very careful and slow to wield the charge “heretic”.
And if conflict is warranted, let us not shy away from it.  Rather let us pursue it with wisdom, humility and grace—along with a willingness to learn.  Every conflict is an opportunity to be better understood and to bring clarity.  How we approach conflict says a lot about our spiritual maturity.  Let us not only love well—but let us fight well, when necessary.