A church leader commented that they had not had conflict in their Church for years. Another responded, “Sure. No movement; no friction.”
We don’t want our churches to be like the married couple who said that they haven’t fought for years and then admitted that they also haven’t talked to each other for years.
While Christians are supposed to be distinguished by their love for one another (John 13:34-35), please don’t conclude that this means they won’t have conflicts.
God’s Spirit within us longs for unity among us, but experiencing such unity will not happen without effort. This is what stands behind the call to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Some Christians become too easily discouraged by disunity because they hold unrealistic (or even utopian) notions of trouble-free fellowship among those who walk with God.
If you are praying for conflict-free fellowship, God might take you to the only place where this is possible – heaven. Conflict is unavoidable on earth, especially where sinners are joining together to advance God’s kingdom.
There’s a reason why Jesus prayed for the unity of His disciples before leaving this world (see: John 17:20-23). Jesus placed our unity in the context of our witness to the world when He prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
There are many threats to Christian unity but the key to unity in a Church is not the absence of conflict but a shared commitment to pursue reconciliation when conflict occurs (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15-18).
But we also must have the maturity to understand that sometimes division is necessary. On one occasion, the Apostle Paul actually said,
“….when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (I Corinthians 11:18-19).
Most Christians would be surprised to observe how much of our New Testament is written to address issues of conflict, both potential and actual.
A close look at the early church reveals points of division common to churches throughout history:
- Division over leaders – I Cor. 1:10-17
- Division over social distinctions – I Cor. 11:17-19
- Division over traditions – Acts 10:11-13 w/Gal. 2:11-14; Acts 15:1-2
- Division over economic status – Ja. 2:1-11
- Division over racial distinction – Acts 6:1; Acts 15, Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:15
- Division over material needs – Acts 6:1; I John 3:18
- Division over doctrinal matters – Rom. 16:17; Ga. 3:1, 4:16-20; II Pe. 2:13; Ac 20:28-31
- Division over moral issues – I Cor. 5:1-13; Jude 4; and selfishness – Ja. 4:1-3
- Division between leaders – Acts 15:36-40
- Division between individuals – Phil 4:2
When you combine this list with the repeated emphasis on the need to maintain unity and purity in the church (e.g. Rom. 16:17; I Cor. 1:10; 5:7-13; Eph. 4:3; Phil. 2:3-5; 3:16; I Thess. 5:14-15; II Thess. 3:11-16; Ti. 3:10-11; I Pet. 3:8), it becomes even clearer that churches should expect many threats to unity.
Let’s call our churches to the priority of pursuing reconciliation when conflict occurs by following the two primary New Testament directives for resolving conflicts — Covering in love and Confronting in love (see: Two Principles For Resolving Conflicts).
“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT).
Other resources for unity in the Church:
- OVERCOME DIVISION WITH CORE VALUES
- RECONCILED RELATIONSHIPS MATTER TO GOD
- FIVE MOTIVATIONS FOR PROTECTING UNITY
- CONFLICT AND UNITY IN THE CHURCH
- JUDGE NOT, LEST YOU BE JUDGED
- UNITY ON DEBATABLE MATTERS